Rosary vs. Mental Prayer?

Hi everyone,

trying to understand something that I read in both St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Francis De Sales’ works. Both of them are in agreement that praying the rosary is a good thing when prayed properly, but both encourage their spiritual pupils to seek to practice mental prayer as the saints have. When I read things about the rosary, it can be involved in mental prayer when prayed properly. Yet, these saints clearly mean the prayer of the rosary to be something different than what they are recommending when they talk of mental prayer. So what are they recommending when they say mental prayer, and why is that recommended over the rosary?


From the catechism-

2559 “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” 2 But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart? 3 He who humbles himself will be exalted; 4 humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” 5 are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.” 6

2562 Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain

2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

I can’t speak for the saints, or any other person. However, because of the ritualistic aspects of the rosary one can become focused on the execution of the rosary vice the core aspects of prayer. Raising one’s heart and mind to God, bringing our heart closer to God. The Rosary is one means of doing that, but not the only way, and I think occasionally reminding oneself of the goal vice the method is helpful.

Some folks don’t find the Rosary as useful as other methods of prayer.

Funny, I always thought the other way around, that mental prayer might, might, mind you, not be as efficacious as the Rosary. Our Lady seems to place great stock in the Rosary. I use both the Rosary and mental prayer. I even throw in the LOTH when I have time.

Spiritual writers distinguish nine levels of prayer. Vocal prayer, including the rosary, is the first level; mental prayer is the second level. What do the “levels” mean? It means that as we advance in prayer, it is less our work and more God’s work. It also means we are more closely united to God, transformed by him, and perceive him more clearly.

From Fr. John Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary:

MENTAL PRAYER. The form of prayer in which the sentiments expressed are one’s own and not those of another person and the expression of these sentiments is mainly, if not entirely, interior and not externalized. Mental prayer is accomplished by internal acts of the mind and affections and is either simple meditation or contemplation. As meditation, it is a loving and discursive (reflective) consideration of religious truths or some mystery of faith. As contemplation, it is a loving and intuitive (immediately perceptive) consideration and admiration of the same truths or mysteries of faith. In mental prayer the three powers of the soul are engaged: the memory, which offers the mind material for meditation or contemplation; the intellect, which ponders or directly perceives the meaning of some religious truth and its implications for practice; and the will, which freely expresses its sentiments of faith, trust, and love, and (as needed) makes good resolutions based on what the memory and intellect have made known to the will.

I’m still stuck on the ground floor. I hope to move up a level or two though before I’m done. St Theresa D’Avila talked about a quiet prayer that she described as a garden where everyone worked really hard, but got nowhere until God poured down His grace like rain and made the sun shine down on the plantings. We don’t have it in our power to make that happen on our own, so I’ll keep praying the rosary and hope for a sunny day with plenty of rain.

What you are talking about is a higher level of prayer which to attain, one must engage in mental prayer.

Here’s a pretty thorough explanation of the various level of prayer.

It was informative reading the suggestions here. But I rarely meet any people who function propheticly . which is what saint Paul 1cor 14:25. Where an infallanble word or healing is the result. I know the plans to prosper you says the lord

I recently read St. Teresa of Avila’s Way of Perfection.
She wrote the book for the sisters in her charge. Her examination of the Our Father is a excellent.
She constantly reminds readers that contemplative prayer is a gift from God. It is He who draws us with His love into His very heart. We allow this to happen by praying slowly and thoughtfully.

When we pray the rosary, we meditate upon the mystery of the Gospel. Pope John Paul II stressed that the rosary should always be seen as a path to contemplation. This is done by praying with a “quiet rhythm and lingering pace.”

The Rosary is/can be a* form *of mental prayer.

Especially when we take our time and focus on each word as we pray.
Both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II spoke on the contemplative nature of the rosary as a backdrop that allows us “to sit at the feet of Mary,” and of it Christocentric nature.
As we pray, we are meditating on Gospel, while the Ave Maria provides the background. It is what gives the rosary it liturgical nature as we lift both our hearts and minds to God.

St. Theresa of Avila challenged the authorities of her own time who would limit prayer to mere recitation. The Great Commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. When we pray reverently and devoutly, our recitation become mental, and by God’s gracious gift He pulls us into the contemplative.

In recent times I have greatly reduced my praying of the Rosary after having spent years praying it at least once a day if not multiple times per day. It is ONE method of prayer, albeit a very popular and widely promoted method of prayer. In fact I would go so far to say that many Roman Catholics may overemphasize the devotion to the point that many may be lead to believe that it is a must in the spiritual life and faith practice.

I know that the repetition of the Jesus Prayer, verbally or mentally, is a quite popular and widespread devotion within Eastern Christianity. I would recommend looking into doing that as it have been very helpful to me as of late. I think reading the book The Way of the Pilgrim is a good start.

I was given Jesus Beads by Abbot Gerald from Pecos when I first became a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal after hearing a talk of his in Galesville, WI. Another excellent means of moving into contemplation.

I follow Pope John Paul II’s recommendation of reading a scriptural passage before each decade of the rosary. I have never been one to recite the rosary more than once a day. Pope Paul VI warned that it could be an empty shell without the meditation on the mysteries. Since Saturday is dedicated to Mary (the day she mourned the death of her son on Good Friday), I may pray a scriptural rosary that day covering the twenty mysteries. .

For now I have landed on Sts. Alphonsus/ De Sales’ recommendation of reading scripture and stopping at a “luscious” pericope and “chewing” on the meaning then speaking to god with acts of confessions and acts of love. Trying it for 30 minutes at a time to start out.

I learned years ago that a person could read the Bible in one year by reading 3 chapters a day plus 5 on Sunday which takes approximately15 minutes a day. I have done this several times using different translations.
Lectio Divina is popular among Benedictine monks. It is the idea of savoring a single passage of scripture throughout the day. My spiritual director suggested that I use the practice for my journalling. The single scripture passage becomes the first line in my journal for the day. He had me begin with Romans.

Mental Prayer, as St Terese of Avila taught, is a “way of praying,” not a prayer of itself.

It is being in the presence of God dwelling within, when you pray.

This can be done in active vocal prayer, the Rosary or quiet prayer.

It is not, Christian Meditation, but Christian Meditation is done with the same focus, being in the presence of God, dwelling within.


One of the example she used for this in her Way of Perfection was a nun who constantly prayed the Our Father throughout the day.
Consider yourself blessed if you cannot get past the first line of the Our Father because the Lord has called you into His presence.
We are to give our complete focus to God in prayer as lovers gaze into each others eyes, oblivious to anything else.

I wanted to add a link from a ewtn program which talks about the stages of prayer. The program is Sunday Night Prime with Father Andrew Apostoli.

Sunday Night Prime - 2016-07-24 - Stages Of Prayer And Spiritual Growth

When I was looking for the link I saw two other videos about prayer so Ill add them here, I have not seen those but Father Apostoli is great so I would say they are good too.

Sunday Night Prime - 2016-10-09 - Writing Our Own Prayers


Sunday Night Prime - 2017-01-08 - Prayer And The Will Of God

Thank you for these links; they look very helpful!

I guess I am wondering why these two doctors of the Church drew a distinction with the rosary as opposed to the mental prayer they were talking about. Could it have been cultural taste? One Italian, one French? I would think the rosary would have been huge in both of their times and lands. Just curious if any other saint tried to address that regarding either of these saints. I haven’t come across anything like that.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit