THE SPIRITUAL LIFE: A TREATISE ON ASCETICAL AND MYSTICAL THEOLOGY by Adolphe Tanquerey, tr. H. Branderis, Desclee, (New York, 1930). BOOK I : The Purification of the Soul or the Purgative Way,  Ch. I, The Prayer of Beginners,

 §VI. The Principal Methods of Mental Prayer

 688   . Since mental prayer is a difficult art, the Saints have ever been  eager to offer counsel on the means of succeeding therein. One finds  excellent advice in Cassian, St. John Climacus and other spiritual writers.  It was not, however, until the XV Century that methods properly so called  were elaborated, which have since guided souls in the ways of mental  prayer.

Because at first sight these methods appear rather intricate, it is well,  before introducing beginners to their use, to prepare them by what may be  called meditative reading. They should be told to read some devout works,  like the First Book of the “Following of Christ,” the “Spiritual Combat” or  some work containing brief, solid meditations; and they should be taught to  follow up this reading by asking themselves the following questions: (1) Am  I thoroughly convinced that what I have just read is useful and necessary  to the welfare of my soul? How can I strengthen this conviction? (2) Have I  up to the present exercised myself in such an important practice? (3) What  must I do today in order to improve? If an earnest prayer is added asking  for the grace that one may carry out the resolutions taken, all the  essential elements of a real meditation will be contained in such reading.








 We find in all the various methods certain common traits which are  manifestly the most essential; hence, attention must be called to them.



   689. (1) There is always a remote, a proximate, and an immediate  PREPARATION.



a) The remote preparation is nothing more than the effort to make our daily  life harmonize with prayer. It comprises three things:

1) the mortification  of the senses and of the passions;

2) habitual recollection;

3) humility.

These are, in fact, excellent dispositions for a good meditation. At the  beginning they are imperfect; still, they suffice to enable us to meditate  with some profit, and later on they will become more and more perfect in  proportion as progress is made in mental prayer.

b) The proximate or, as others call it, the less remote preparation,  includes three principal acts:

1) to select the subject of meditation on  the preceding evening;

2) to revolve it in our mind in the morning upon  awakening, and to excite in our heart corresponding sentiments;

3) to  approach meditation with earnestness, confidence, and humility, desiring to  give glory to God and to improve our life.

In this way the soul is placed  in the best dispositions to enter into conversation with God.

c) The immediate preparation, which is in reality the beginning of  meditation itself, consists in placing ourselves in the presence of God Who  is present everywhere especially within our heart, in acknowledging ourselves unworthy and incapable of meditating, and in imploring the aid of  the Holy Ghost that He supply our insufficiency.



690. (2) Within THE BODY of the MEDITATION, the different methods likewise  contain more or less explicitly the same fundamental acts:




a) Acts of worship rendering to the Majesty of God the religious homage due  to Him.

b) Considerations, to convince ourselves of the necessity or the great  importance of the virtue we want to acquire, so that we may all the more  earnestly pray for the grace of practicing it, and firmly determine to make  efforts necessary to co-operate with grace.

c) Self-examinations, to see our failings in this regard and survey the  progress yet to be made.

d) Prayers or petitions, asking for the grace of growing in the said virtue  and of using the means conducive thereto.

e) Resolutions, whereby we determine from that very moment to practice that  virtue.




   691. (3) The CONCLUSION, which brings the meditation to a close, includes:



1) an act of thanksgiving for the favors received;

2) a review of the  manner in which we have made our meditation with the view to improve  thereon the following day;

3) a final prayer asking the blessing of Our  Heavenly Father;

4) the selection of some impressive thought or some  telling maxim, which will during the day recall to our mind the ruling idea  of our meditation.



The different methods are reduced to two principal types called  respectively the method of St. Ignatius and the method of St. Sulpice.








 692. In the “Spiritual Exercises” St. Ignatius presents several methods of  mental prayer, according to the subjects meditated upon and the results  desired. The one best adapted to beginners is the one called the exercise  of the three faculties, so named because it consists in the exercise of the  memory, the understanding and the will, the three chief faculties of the  soul. It is explained in the First Week of the Exercises in connection with  the meditation on sin.



693. (1) THE BEGINNING of the MEDITATION. It begins by a preparatory  prayer in which we beg of God that our intentions and all our actions be  solely directed to the service and honor of the Divine Majesty.




Two preludes follow:

a) the first, which is the composition of place, has  for its purpose to center the imagination and fasten the attention upon the  subject of the meditation, the more easily to banish distractions.

1) If  the object falls under the senses, for instance if it is one of the  mysteries of Our Lord, it is presented to the mind as vividly as possible,  not like an event having taken place in the distant past, but as if one  were actually witnessing the facts and taking part In them.

2) If the  object does not fall under the senses, e. g. sin, “the composition of place  will consist in picturing and considering my soul imprisoned in this mortal  body, and myself, that is, my body and my soul, in this vale of tears,  exiled, as it were, midst animals devoid of reason”; in other words, one  considers sin in some of its effects in order to conceive a horror for it.

b) The second prelude consists in asking God what we want and desire, for  example, shame and confusion at the sight of our sins. As can be seen, the  practical purpose of the meditation--the resolution --is clearly pointed  out from the very outset: In all things look to the end.



694. (2) THE BODY of the MEDITATION. This consists in the application of  the three faculties of the soul, the memory, the understanding, and the  will, to each point of the meditation.




Each faculty is in turn applied to  each point, unless one point furnishes adequate matter for the meditation.  It is not necessary in every meditation to make all the acts; it is good to  dwell upon the affections and sentiments which the subject suggests.

a) The exercise of the MEMORY is performed by recalling the first point of  the meditation, not in detail, but as a whole; thus, says St. Ignatius:  “This exercise of the memory as regards the sin of the Angels consists in  calling to mind how they were created in a state of innocence; how they  refused to employ their freedom in rendering their Creator and Master the  homage and obedience due to Him; how pride, taking possession of them, they  passed from the state of grace to a state of reprobation, and were cast  from Heaven into Hell.”

b) The exercise of the UNDERSTANDING consists in reflecting in detail upon  the same subject. St. Ignatius proceeds no further, but Father Roothaan  supplements his teaching by explaining that the office of the understanding  is to make reflections upon the truths the memory has proposed, to make  application thereof to the soul and the soul’s needs, to draw therefrom  practical conclusions, to weigh the motives for resolutions, to consider  how we have heretofore conformed our conduct to the truths upon which we  meditate, and how we must conduct ourselves with regard to them in the  future.

c) The WILL has two duties to fulfill: to conceive devout affections and to  form good resolutions.

1) The affections, indeed, must find a place in all  parts of the meditation, at least they must occur very frequently, since it  is these that make the meditation a real prayer; but it is chiefly toward  the end of the meditation that they are to be multiplied. One must not be  concerned about the manner of expressing them; the simpler the manner, the  better they are. When some good sentiment spontaneously lays hold of us, it  is well to entertain it as long as we can and until our devotion is  satisfied.

2) The resolutions should be practical, designed to improve our  life, and therefore particular, accommodated to our present condition, and  capable of being carried out that very day; they must be based upon solid  motives. They must be humble and therefore accompanied by prayers to obtain  the grace of carrying them into execution.



695. (3) THE CONCLUSION. This comprises three things:




[a] a summary view of  the various resolutions already taken;

[b] devout colloquies with God the  Father, Our Lord, the Blessed virgin or some Saint;

[c] and lastly, the review  of the meditation, or the examination upon the way we have made it, in  order to note its imperfections and to seek a remedy for them.




To give a clearer understanding of the method, we add the following  synoptic table of the preludes, of the body of the prayer, and of the  conclusion.



(1) A rapid recall of the truth to be considered

(2) The composition of place through the imagination

(3) The petition for a special grace in harmony with the subject


 II. BODY of the MEDITATION. Exercise of:

(1) The Memory by : A representation of the subject as a whole together with the chief  circumstances

(2) The Understanding by asking:

1) What should I consider in this subject?

2) What practical conclusions should I draw from it?

3) What are my motives in drawing these conclusions ?

4) How have I heretofore lived up to this?

5) What must I do in the future the better to conform my life thereto?

6) What obstacles must I remove?

7) What means must I employ?

(3) The Will by:

1) Affections produced during the entire course of the meditation,  especially at the end

2) Resolutions taken at the end of each point: practical, personal, sound,  humble, full of trust


(1) Colloquies: with  God, Jesus Christ, the Blessed virgin, the Saints

(2) Review:

1) How have I made this meditation?

2) Wherein and why have I failed, or succeeded?

3) What practical conclusions have I drawn ? What requests have I made?  What resolutions have I formed? What lights have I received?

4) Choice of a thought as a reminder of the meditation.


696. Advantages of this method. As may be readily observed, this method is  highly psychological and highly practical.

a) It lays hold of all the  faculties, the imagination included; applies them one after the other to  the subject of meditation, and thus introduces an element of variety that  makes it possible to consider a truth under its different aspects, to  revolve it in our mind so as to assimilate it, to form convictions, and  above all to draw therefrom practical conclusions for the present day.

b) Whilst this method lays emphasis upon the important part played by the  will, which acts only after lengthy consideration of the motives, it does  not minimize the role of grace, since one begs for it from the very outset,  and again in the colloquies at the conclusion.

c) It is most suitable to beginners, for it states precisely, to the  minutest details, what must be done from the preparation to the conclusion  and thus prevents the faculties from wandering. Besides, it does not  presuppose a deep knowledge of dogma, but only the contents of the  Catechism, and hence adapts itself easily to the laity.

d) When simplified, this method is just as well suited to the most advanced  souls; in fact, if one limits it to the main outline traced by St.  Ignatius, it can be easily transformed into an affective prayer, which  allows a wide scope to the inspirations of grace. The important thing is to  know how to make an intelligent use of it under the wise guidance of an  experienced spiritual director.

e) It has at times been criticized on the score that it does not give due  prominence to Our Lord Jesus Christ. True, in the exercise of the three  faculties Our Lord’s place is but incidental; but St. Ignatius has given us  other methods, in particular, that of the contemplation of Mysteries and  the application of the senses wherein Our Lord becomes the central object  of the meditation.

There is nothing to hinder beginners from employing one or the other. The  objection, therefore, has no foundation if the Ignatian methods are  thoroughly followed.








697. A) Origin. This method, coming after several others, has been  influenced by them as to the details; but its underlying idea and broad  lines originated with Cardinal de Berulle, Father de Condren, and Father  Olier, whilst the supplementary details are the work of Father Tronson.

a) The underlying thought is that of union with the Incarnate Word in order  to render through Him the religious homage due to God and to reproduce in  ourselves the virtues of Jesus Christ.

b) The three essential acts are:

1) Adoration, wherein we consider one of  the attributes or one of the perfections of God, or else some virtue of Our  Lord as the model of that virtue we are to practice. Then we offer to God  or to Our Lord, or to God through Our Lord, our religious homage in the  form of adoration, admiration, praise, thanksgiving, love, joy or  compassion. By thus paying our duties to the Author of grace we render Him  propitious to our prayers. [Jesus before our Eyes]

2) Communion, whereby through prayer, we draw unto ourselves the perfection or the virtue which we have adored and  admired in God or in Jesus Christ. [Jesus in our heart]

3) Co-operation, wherein under the  influence of grace we determine to practice that virtue by forming at least  one resolution which we strive to put into practice that very day. [Jesus in our hands]

 This is the broad outline found in Cardinal de Berulle, Father de Condren  and Father Olier. As found in these writers it is rather a method of  affective prayer, cf. n. 994-997.

698. B) The additions of Father Tronson. It is evident that this meager  outline, sufficient to souls already advanced, would prove inadequate for  beginners. This was readily perceived at the Seminary of St. Sulpice, and  whilst preserving the spirit and the essential elements of the original  method, Father Tronson added to the second point, the communion, the  considerations and self-examinations so indispensable to those that begin  to meditate. Thus, once convinced of the importance or necessity of a  virtue and realizing their lack of it, they ask for it with more  earnestness, humility and perseverance. In this method, then, prayer is  stressed even for beginners as the chief element of meditation. Hence, the  name given to the third point-- Co-operation--to remind us that our good  purposes are more the effect of grace than of our own volitions, but that  on the other hand grace works nothing in us without our co-operation, and  that all the day long we are to work with Jesus Christ in striving to  reproduce that virtue which has been the subject of our meditation.


699. C) A Summary Of the Method. The following table will give an adequate  idea of the method. We omit the remote preparation which is the same as the  one explained in n. 689.








Proximate or Less Remote

(1) To choose the subject of the meditation the night before and determine  what we are to consider in Our Lord; to foresee in particular, the  considerations and requests we are to make and the resolutions we are to  take.

(2) To remain henceforth in great recollection and keep in our mind the  subject of the meditation whilst going to sleep.

(3) Upon rising in the morning, to avail ourselves of the first free time  to make our meditation.


(1) To place ourselves in the presence of God, present everywhere and  especially in our heart.

(2) To humble ourselves before God at the sight of our sins. Contrition.  Recitation of the “Confiteor.” Act of union with Our Lord.

(3) To acknowledge ourselves incapable of praying as we ought. Invocation  of the Holy Ghost: recitation of the “Veni, Sancte Spiritus.”







1st point, Adoration; Jesus before our Eyes

(1) To consider the subject of our meditations in God, in Our Lord or in  one of the Saints: His sentiments, words, actions.

(2) To offer our homage: adoration, admiration, praise, thanksgiving, love,  joy or compassion.

2nd point, Communion: Jesus in our heart

(1) To convince ourselves of the necessity or importance of the virtue  through motives of faith, through reasoning or through a detailed  examination.

(2) To reflect on our conduct with sorrow for the past, confusion for the  present, and desire for the future.

(3) To beseech God to grant us the virtue upon which we are meditating. (It  is chiefly through this prayer that we participate in the virtues of Our  Lord).--To beg also of God whatever else we need, to pray for the needs of  the Church, and of all those for whom we are bound to pray.

3rd point,  Co-operation: Jesus in our hands

(1) To form a resolution: particular, present, efficacious, humble.

(2) To renew the resolution relative to our particular examination.







(1) To thank God for the many graces He has bestowed upon us during the  course of our meditation.

(2) To beg His pardon for our faults and negligences during this holy  exercise.

(3) To beseech Him to bless our resolutions, the present day, our life, our  death.

(4) To select some striking thought that impressed us during our meditation  in order to remember it during the day and thus recall our resolutions.

(5) To place ourselves and the fruit of our meditation in the hands of the  Blessed virgin.

Sub tuum praesidium


700. D) Characteristics of this method. a) The method is based upon the  doctrine of our incorporation into Christ (n. 142-149), and upon the  resultant obligation of reproducing in ourselves His interior dispositions  and His virtues. To succeed therein we must, as Father Olier puts it, have  Jesus before our eyes, in order to gaze upon Him as our model and offer Him  our homage--adoration; we must have Him in our heart, drawing unto us  through prayer His sentiments and His virtues--communion, we must have Him  in our hands, sharing with Him in the work of reproducing His virtues --co- operation. An intimate union with Jesus, then, is the soul of this method.

b) It places the duty of religion (reverence and love towards God) before  that of petition. God comes first! The God it places before us is not an  abstract, philosophical concept, but a concrete, personal God, the living  God of the Gospels, the Most Blessed Trinity living in us.

c) In asserting the need both of grace and of our cooperation, it lays the  emphasis upon grace and hence upon prayer, whilst at the same time it  demands the energetic and persevering effort of the will, of specific,  pertinent, oft-renewed resolutions on the keeping of which we examine  ourselves at the end of the day.


701   . d) It is a method of affective prayer supported by considerations. It  begins with religious sentiments in the first point; the considerations in  the second are designed to elicit from the heart acts of faith in the  supernatural truths on which we meditate, acts of hope in the Divine mercy,  acts of love towards God’s infinite goodness; the self-examinations are  accompanied by sorrow for the past, confusion for the present, and a firm  purpose of amendment for the future; the aim of all these acts being to  prepare a humble, confident and persevering prayer. In order to prolong  this petition, the method furnishes various motives, explained at length,  and further suggests a prayer for the whole Church and for certain souls in  particular. The resolutions are to be made with distrust of self, absolute  confidence in Jesus Christ, and accompanied by a prayer that we may be  enabled to put them into effect. Lastly, the conclusion is but a series of  acts of gratitude, of humility and further petitions. Thus we avoid giving  a too philosophical turn to our reasoning and to our considerations, and  prepare the way for affective prayer and for prayer of simplicity; for the  method tells us that it is not necessary always to perform all these acts,  or in the order prescribed, but that we should rather abandon ourselves to  the affections that God excites in us, and repeat frequently those to which  we feel particularity attracted by the Holy Ghost. No doubt, beginners as a  rule give more time to reasoning than to other acts, yet they are  constantly reminded by the method that affections are preferable, and thus  they gradually give to them a larger place in their meditation.

e) This method is especially suited to priests and seminarians. It  continually reminds them that being other Christs by virtue of their  character and their powers, they should be so likewise in their  dispositions and virtues, and that all their perfection consists in causing  Jesus to live and to grow in their souls.

702   . These two methods, then, have their respective excellence according  to the special object they have in view. The same may be said of all the  other methods, which more or less approach one of these two types.[3] It is  well that there are many of them, so that each one may with the advice of  his director choose, according to his own supernatural attractions, the  method that suits him best.

As Father Poulain[4] says, these methods are like the numerous rules of  rhetoric and logic; beginners must be taught these, but once they have been  so schooled in them that they possess their spirit and their elements, they  need but follow the broad lines of the method, and then, without ceasing to  be active, they give greater heed to the movements of the Holy Ghost.


[1]  Spiritual Exercises,” 1st Week, 1st Exercise; (Translation by Father  Rickaby, S. J.); See CLARE, S. J. “The Science of the Spiritual Life;”  CRASSET, “A Key to Meditation:” FABER. “Growth in Holiness,” C. XV,

[2] G. LETOURNEAU, “La Methode d’oraison mentale du Sem. de S. Sulpice,”  Paris, 1903, especially p. 321-332; FABER, “Growth in Holiness, C. XV.

[3] We make special mention of the method of St. Francis de Sales, “Devout  Life,” II Part. ch. II-VII; of that of the Discalced Carmelites,  “Instruction des Novices” by V.P. J. de Jesus-Marie, III Part. ch. II;  Aurelianus a SS. Sacramento, “Cursus Spirituel” by Dom Lehodey, 1910, sect.  V, ch. IV; of that of the Dominicans “Instruction des Novices,” by Fr.  Cormier.

[4] “Etudes,” 20 mars 1898, p. 782, note 2.




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