Contemplative Prayer Question

I’m confused about contemplative prayer. CCC 2714 says, “Contemplative prayer is also the pre-eminently intense time of prayer.” And CCC 2709 quotes St. Teresa saying, “Contemplative prayer [oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”

But then CCC 2710 says, “The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter. One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state.”

And St. Ignatius is considered a “contemplative in action” (what all Jesuits strive to be).

I’m having trouble understanding all of this.

Also is this the right forum?

The CCC presents a broader definition of contemplation than you’ll often find in threads on these forums (which tend to focus primarily on the infused graces). In these passages the CCC is describing St. Teresa’s mental prayer. In short, speaking to God in the silence of one’s heart using one’s own words. This is something we can do in all times and circumstances. Sickness or health, consoling times or dry … it doesn’t matter. All that’s necessary is a “determined will” and perserverance not to give up. The CCC contrasts this “informal” and spontaneous way of prayer with structured types of meditation (such as lectio described in earlier passages) which require one to set aside "formal’ times to practice and to follow set formulas. Hence the explanation that “one cannot always meditate.”

Another good example of the type of contemplation the CCC is describing in these passages is the Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence … speaking to God in our hearts in everything we do in order to “find Him among the pots and pans” of our daily lives. Very much the contemplation in action you mention.

Dave :slight_smile:

So maybe contemplative prayer has more than one meaning?

I’m also interested to see what people say regarding prayer while experiencing dryness or emotional upheaval. All my experience of what I understand to be contemplative prayer, a quiet “being with the Lord” and sort of enraptured by Him was at a time of intense consolations in prayer. While I understand it isn’t about feelings but rather the will, when I’ve been going through the desert if I stopped actively praying I would get distracted and prayer remained at best offering my physical presence since depression didn’t very often allow me to think clearly.
So how does one go about contemplative prayer in the desert?

There are different levels of contemplative prayer that need different spiritual direction.

Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us right where we are, and desires us to grow in His grace.

You may find this site a great help. Father Venard Poslusney, O. Carm. now deceased, gave many conferences on prayer, and other topics. You can read his short bio on the site, and then see the list of topics available.

May the Lord and His Holy Mother be with you on your prayer journey! means is that you pick a certain number of minutes. And a topic to think about. And just close your eyes or imagine this for the set number of minutes.
St Theresa of Avila used to imagine herself prostrate at Jesus feet for a set number of minutes.


Contemplative Prayer is actually a new term which is being used recently.

Neither St Teresa of Avila nor St John of the Cross used the term, “contemplation,” but quiet interior prayer or silent prayer.

St Teresa’s term, “mental prayer,” refers to her teaching on praying in the presence of God. This she instructs must be done whether one is praying verbal prayers or quiet interior prayer.

The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia used the term “Prayer of Quiet.”

In any case, today the term Contemplative Prayer is used to refer to a method of prayer, which opens us to Contemplation, which only can come from God.

Contemplative Prayer can be Centering Prayer, Prayer of Quiet, or Contemplative Practice as some have used the term.

In all, the individual turns to God who dwells within and becomes aware of His presence. They rest in His presence not expecting anything other than God and whatever God’s will is for them. They experience God’s love and through His transforming grace, begin to see God in everyone and everything. This is the life of a contemplative.

Unfortunately, CAF has muddied the waters on the subject and those of us who are contemplatives, are often forced to defend our knowledge and experience to the point we just have to remain silent.

The link Dorothy Posted, with Father Venard Poslusney, O. Carm’s talksm is very good and anyone who wants to learn what we now call “Contemplative Prayer,” will do well listening to him.

Centered in Christ Jesus

:thumbsup: I appreciate everything you said, but that one phrase stood out to me, and it applies in more than one way. :slight_smile:

This sounds similar to Ignatian spirituality which I’m more familiar with. Gazing on Christ with faith and seeing his presence through all things. Which then of course prompts us to act in response to God.

Although now I’m wondering, is the contemplative prayer which St. Teresa advocates just a particular way to grow closer to God, or is there something which makes that more effective than other forms of prayer? It seems like this is a major part of Carmelite spirituality (St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross), so how does this differ from Ignatian spirituality? Ignatius was undoubtedly a mystic (think Manresa), too.

I’m not familiar with Ignation Spirituality, but my guess is that they’d have similarities.

St Teresa said that interior prayer was the deepest form of prayer and where God communicates with the soul best. This is because spoken words are often misunderstood, where the silent voice of the God within the soul, is understood even when the individual is unable to explain it.

It probably explains why St Teresa is difficult to understand and even she admits to being poor at writing what she means.

She often goes off on tangents and finally returns to the point.

Personally, I prefer St John of the Cross, who’s writings I understand very well.


The Science of the Cross

We already know from the Night of the Senses that a time arrives at which all taste for spiritual exercises as well as for all terrestrial things is taken away from the soul. She is put into total darkness and emptiness . Absolutely nothing that might give her a hold is left to her anymore except faith. Faith sets Christ before her eyes: the poor, humiliated, crucified one, who is abandoned on the cross even by his heavenly Father. In his poverty and abandonment she rediscovers herself. Dryness, distaste, and affliction are the “purely spiritual cross” that is handed to her. If she accepts it she experiences that it is an easy yoke and a light burden. It becomes a staff for her that will quickly lead her up the mountain. When she realizes that Christ, in his extreme humiliation and annihilation on the cross, achieved the greatest result, the reconciliation and** union **of mankind with God, there awakens in her the understanding that for her, also, annihilation, the “living death by crucifixion of all that is sensory as well as spiritual” **leads to union with God. **Just as Jesus in the extreme abandonment at his death surrendered himself into the hands of the invisible and incomprehensible God, so will the soul yield herself to the midnight darkness of faith which is the only way to the incomprehensible God. Then she will be granted mystical contemplation, the “ray of darkness,” the mysterious wisdom of God, the dark and general knowledge that alone corresponds to the unfathomable God who blinds the understanding and appears to it as darkness. It floods the soul and does this all the more easily the more the soul is free from all other impressions. This wisdom is something much purer, more tender, spiritual, and interior than all that is familiar to the intellect from the natural life of the spirit. Also raised above temporality, it is a true beginning of eternal life in us. It is not a mere acceptance of the message of faith that has been heard, nor a mere turning of oneself to God, who is known only from hearsay, rather **it is an interior being touched and an experience of God that has the power to detach the soul from all created things, and to raise her, simultaneously plunging her into a love that does not know its object.
Stein, Edith (2011-03-17). The Science of the Cross (The Collected Works of Edith Stein Vol. 6) (Kindle Locations 2226-2230). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.

emphasis mine

Prayer is the point of departure, faith the path, and union the goal.


Contemplative prayer is NOT a new thing. Monks and mystics have been writing about it since the desert fathers. The way that people use it to marry Catholicism and Buddhism is new and I resent it. We have a rich history of prayer and mysticism in the Church, we don’t need to use faux Buddhism to pray. Can we please limit the discussion to Catholic prayer?

There is no connection to Buddhism in Contemplative Prayer.

The idea comes from those who don’t know what Contemplative Prayer is.



The Kinds of Divine Union .
The Different Kinds of Union with God

We must remember here that John has distinguished three kinds of union with God. 1 By means of the first God dwells substantially in all created things and sustains their existence. By the second, we are to understand the indwelling of God in the soul through grace; by the third, the transforming union through perfect love that divinizes the soul. As John states at the quoted source, between the second and third kinds, there is only a difference in degree. If we look at other passages and evaluate the matter as a whole, there seems to be a difference in kind, and within each of the kinds, a series of steps. In the Spiritual Canticle, for instance, the saint mentions the same three categories, without speaking of only a degree of difference between God’s presence by grace and that by love. Rather, he emphasizes the perceptible feeling of the presence of the highest good in the union of love and what it effects: the ardent longing for the unveiled beatific vision of God.

Stein, Edith (2011-03-17). The Science of the Cross (The Collected Works of Edith Stein Vol. 6) (Kindle Locations 2919-2928). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.


Contemplative prayer is often used in the general sense in referral to any from of prayer that is akin to resting or basking silently in God’s Presence, but also in the technical sense in mystical theology.

The Catechism’s use of ‘contemplative prayer’ uses it in regards to the general sense, whilst inferring its technical meaning.

Traditionally speaking there two grades of prayer: ordinary prayer and mystical prayer. Ordinary prayer (not to be confused with ‘not important’, since it’s vital in the Christian life) is prayer which can be attained by human effort aided by grace. Mystical prayer cannot be attained by human effort aided by grace, but is wrought solely by God’s grace whom bestows such prayer on those whom He wills. The accepted teaching is that we can dispose ourselves however for mystical prayer, through being recollected and living moral and sacramental lives.

These are the types of ordinary prayer which we all can practice:

-Vocal Prayer:

-Meditation: A from of mental prayer, which is the intellectual reflections on mysteries of the faith: i.e. on the life of Jesus, on the Incarnation, on Mary’s role as Mother of God etc.

-Affective Prayer: A form of mental prayer which is more explicitly ‘prayer from the heart’ than ‘the head’. Thus unlike meditation it involves less thinking, more intuition, resolutions, and ‘bursts’ or ‘surges’ of the heart in affection.

-Recollection: A form of mental prayer which is also called ‘acquired contemplation’. It involves more stillness and quiet, and involves the notion of ‘in-gathering’ all of one’s faculties -intellect and will- in gazing simply and lovingly at God, resting in His Presence. Gazing here in the metaphorical sense, since one’s eyes might be closed. Often people confuse this form of prayer with what is ‘infused contemplation’.

These are the degrees of contemplative prayer which one cannot induce at-will, but only God can grant:

  1. The prayer of quiet: Otherwise known as infused contemplation or infused recollection. During this prayer the imagination can often roam wildly says St. Teresa without our being able to help it. It’s to rest in God’s Presence like an infant in a mothers arms. A loving attentiveness which gently pulls and draws the soul toward God like a magnet says St. Francis de Sales.

  2. The prayer of full-union: A stronger form of contemplative prayer, distinguished from the former since it involves the absence of all distractions.

  3. The Ecstatic-Union: Ecstasy where the senses are fully suspended, and new knowledge is infused into the soul. This is often more ‘rough’ on the body the mystics says - not so gentle but more like a spiritual ravishing.

  4. The Transforming Union/Mystic Marriage: Ecstasy in general become less frequent, and it is a habitual union with God, where the soul is habitually conscious of God’s Presence in a special way (more so than a similar awareness possessed since the ‘prayer of quiet’/‘full union’). This grace is often accompanied by a vision of ‘a mystic marriage’ but not necessarily. Very few souls attain this level.

Note A: The Dark Night of the Senses is the transition between the way of ordinary prayer and contemplation. The Dark Night of the Spirit, is the entire process of purification that takes place between the prayer of quiet and the mystic marriage, states Poulain based on St. John of the Cross.

Note B: The higher forms of prayer do not exclude lower forms of prayer.


In brief contemplation is often used in the generic sense, so that it really means what meditation or recollection is according to the above description. Yet Contemplation strictly speaking is a form of prayer infused by God. It is called the beginning of mystic prayer since the term mystic in the strict sense means: prayer which we cannot be attained by human effort or strain. But we can dispose ourselves to receive such a grace. It’s okay to use contemplation in both the general and technical sense, but it helps to remain aware of their difference.

Eastern spiritualities use these terms differently to how the Catholic Tradition understands them and uses them, and centering prayer is a subtle form of quietism (a condemned form of heresy) which tries to induce the state of contemplation (in the technical sense) through human effort - it’s really a form of self-hypnosis. It is not in accord with authentic Catholic practice and one must be cautious of certain texts ‘out there’. It’s best to begin with spiritual classics like ‘The Way of Perfection’, ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ and ‘Interior Castle’.

Objectively the best form of prayer is contemplation, and ultimately the mystic marriage; but subjectively - this is what applies to us - the best form of prayer is any prayer that God wills for us that moment.

Addition: The Contemplative and Active States of Life

Traditionally here are two states of life: the active and contemplative. The active includes religious orders involved in active apostolates such as working in hospitals, preaching missions etc. The contemplative refers to those enclosed religious - cloistered nuns and monks. The lay man who lives in the world generally falls under the active state.

However every state of life involves a blend of both the activity of Martha and the contemplation of Mary. Thus those termed actives are those primarily ‘active’ and those termed contemplative are those primarily who spend their day in prayer. Some orders refer to themselves as active-contemplative since they are balanced between the two with an emphasis on the contemplative; whilst others call themselves contemplative-actives, since they are mainly active but a fair amount of time in spent in prayer, perhaps more than other ‘more active’ orders.

A handy link:

Bless :slight_smile:

I was with you until you posted this;

centering prayer is a subtle form of quietism (a condemned form of heresy) which tries to induce the state of contemplation (in the technical sense) through human effort - it’s really a form of self-hypnosis.

This is false, but we’re not allowed to discuss it in this forum.

Also, in contemplation there are two forms, infused contemplation, which is a gift from God, and acquired contemplation, where the soul through quiet prayer comes to contemplation in time, but in either case, contemplation is a gift from God,


I should note that various authors and *various theological schools *use terms such as “contemplation” differently.…such needs to be kept in mind when one goes back and forth between them.

One can say that in relation to the Catechism that the CCC draws from these varied fruits and uses of the term within the Church for that section.

Descriptions like these can be helpful … to a point. The reality of prayer, however, is not always so clean cut. For example, in recollection one may certainly pray in an “affective” manner (aka prayer of the heart) or practice the “simple gaze” of the Cure of Ars (aka prayer of simplicity) that the CCC wonderfully describes as a type of contemplation where “I look at Him and He looks at me.”

Further, St. Teresa shows that infused graces are most typically granted to those who practice this interior recollection … and, in her words, “learn to make it a habit.” Once again, the experience isn’t always so black and white as definitions make it out to be. There is a definite “flow” between these various levels of prayer: for example, the prayer of quiet (infused) is experienced in a deeper, more interior way than recollection (acquired). Likewise, ecstatic union is deeper and more interior than full union which, in turn, is deeper and more interior than the prayer of quiet.

By "deeper and more interior, " St. Teresa is referring to the degree of absorption or suspension of the faculties (intellect, will and memory) during prayer. Our thinking and reasoning abilities lessen as we are moved by the Lord through these various prayer states until they are stopped entirely. We simply love … but in an entirely non-conceptual way. We experience the “delight” of being “captivated” by the Lord. And in the deepest of these contemplative states, we lose even the very awareness of this loving, delight and captivation. All is profound silence.

Importantly, the duration of these contemplative prayer states are typically brief. One can practice recollection and, God willing, be brought to the infused states of quiet, full union, ecstatic union … and back again … at a single time of prayer. Thus it is not always so easy to know where one is “at” with regard to the definitions given in the quote above. Everything just kind of blends together. But knowing where on is “at” according to definitions and schematic depictions is besides the point anyway when this type of prayer is given. It’s the last thing we care about.

The important point according to St. Teresa is this: recollection is the lynch pin between the ways of contemplative prayer we can practice … and those only God can grant. To see how she describes the “flow” between these prayer states, please read chapters 28-31 of Way of Perfection found here:

The key passages can be found on pages 87-99.

Dave :slight_smile:

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