What is Contemplative Prayer?

Apparently Catholics have three forms of prayer… Contemplative, Mental and Vocal. I still don’t really understand what contemplative prayer is. I tried to get some info on it, but really what I found didn’t quite sound right. It seemed more like some sort of eastern mysticism than something the Church would teach.

Have you tried looking in the Catechism? Here’s the online version. You can search contemplative prayer.


Hope that helps!

Peace in Christ,

A good question. There is an entire book that answers this question:“Fire Within” by Thomas Dubay, a Catholic priest. Some excerpts from it:

(Page 57) Christic contemplation is nothing less than a deep love communion with the triune God. By depth here we mean a knowing loving that we cannot produce but only receive. It is not merely a mentally expressed 'I love You". It is a wordless awareness and love that we of ourselves cannot initiate or prolong.

(Page 7) There is is another segment of individuals who have dabbled in Christian and oriental mysticisms and consider that they are more or less indistinguishable. An expert will not, of course, make this astonishing mistake, but others notice similarities (for example, an asceticism, an imageless awareness, a reaching out for the transcendent), while they fail to recognize vast gulfs between the two. Buddhist “contemplation” is impersonal, not a love matter at all, whereas that represented by (Christian mystics) is preeminently a profound personal love union with God.

Because we’re on the apologetics forum, I’ll note that many Protestants have criticized Catholicism by saying that Christianity is “a relationship, not a religion”. I will observe that contemplative prayer as experienced by Catholics perfectly fulfills this “relationship”.

Thomas Dubay may be confusing “impersonal, not a love matter at all” with the “I love you” thing.
I agree that the “I love you” kind of love is personal, however …

The “wordless awareness of love that we ourselves cannot initiate”,
is not at all incompatible with the Buddhist’s impersonal contemplation.

I can surmise that Thomas Dubay had no inclination to experience Buddhist contemplation firsthand,
and therefore is making something of an “astonishing” assumption based on second hand inferences.


Thanks to google books, you can read much of it online. Here’s a direct link to the chapter, What is Contemplation?

:newidea:You know what? That is absolutely true!!:thumbsup::thumbsup: An excellent point!!

Saint Theresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross were both Discalced Carmelite mystics who wrote about contemplative, meditative, and mystic union prayer. I don’t understand what you are distinguishing between contemplative, mental, and vocal, though.

The Carmelite mystics mentioned above talk of meditation prayer as becoming contemplative prayer after reaching a certain stage of becoming more passive to God in prayer. Mystic union is passing beyond that and becoming completely subject to God in prayer. I just finished reading a short book by Paul-Marie of the Cross, O.C.D. explaining the basics of these things. Pretty interesting, if that is what you are seeking.

Contemplative, mental and vocal prayer are the expressions of prayer, i.e. how I pray, (CCC part 4,chp 3, article 1) while blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise are the forms of prayer, what I pray (part 4, chp 1, article 3).

Oh, that’s nice. It’s something so simple that I don’t really think about it, then it gets explained to me and it’s like, wow, I don’t think about the simple things so much. Sometimes the ordinary is just so beautiful. I suppose it would be like going over the basics again, but still, it’s rewarding to do so… appreciating the simple things.

In that case, what’s the difference between contemplative prayer and mental prayer?

Meditation is when you’re seeking more of God… contemplation (the result of contemplative prayer) is when He’s been found and you’re just adoring Him. It’s not “eastern mysticism” at all :slight_smile: it’s very much Catholic and something the Saints practiced.

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