Meditation or Mental Prayer
following the Method of St. Ignatius of Loyola
(A plenary indulgence once a month to all who meditate half or even a quarter of an hour a day. --Benedict XIV.)
The most serious business of the interior life is mental prayer, of which some spiritual writers and even saints have spoken, as if it were almost necessary to salvation: certain it is that it is necessary to perfection, and that there can be no spiritual life without it. For mental prayer means the occupation of our faculties upon God, not in the way of thinking or speculating about Him, but stirring up the will to conform itself to Him, and the affections to love Him. The subject on which the mind is engaged are the works of God, as well as His perfections; but above all, the sacred Humanity of our Blessed Lord. The length of time to be spent in it will vary with individual cases; and there are a variety of methods out of which all may choose; but it is most important to keep to a method once adopted. The following is the method introduced by St. Ignatius, and for which most books of meditation are adapted.
Method Of Meditation
Preparation for meditation is remote or immediate.
Remote Preparation consists in prayer for the gift of meditation, in removing the obstacles, which are, a good opinion of ourselves, dissipation of mind, negligent custody of the senses, and all that tends to wean us from God; and lastly, in obtaining the necessary aids, humility, simplicity, purity, a custody of the senses, and some degree of mortification.
Immediate preparation consists in carefully reading the matter of our meditation over-night; in thinking of it as we go to sleep and as soon as we awake in the morning, so as to exclude all dissipating thoughts and images.
These two preparations are followed by an act of adoration, and a preparatory prayer.
Act Of Adoration
"What am I about to do? Who am I, O Father Almighty, that I dare present myself before Thee? The heavens cannot contain Thy glory, the Angels and Saints ever sing Thy praises, and how shall I, who am but dust and ashes, offer Thee aught? Overwhelm me with a sense of my dependence and of Thy condescension, and accept the homage of my being, which I now humbly offer Thee. Forgive me any irreverence in Thy awful presence, and reject not Thy weak and sinful creature.
O my God! prostrate before Thee I implore Thy pardon for the manifold sins by which I have offended Thy Divine Majesty; I detest them from the bottom of my heart, and will endeavor henceforward, by due consideration of Thy holy law, to walk in the way of Thy service. I render the homage of my being and life, and consecrate all my powers to Thee. Grant me Thy grace, O Lord, to meditate now in a manner pleasing to Thy Divine will, and let all my thoughts, words, and actions be directed to Thy honor and glory and my own salvation. Amen.
Then picture to yourself the matter of the meditation, of an incident in the life of our Lord, endeavoring to fix it so as to prevent the mind from wandering, and in a short prayer solicit earnestly the grace you especially seek to gain.
After all these comes the body of the meditation, which consists in three things, the use of the memory, the use of the understanding, and the use of the will.
1. Memory.--To apply the memory, put to yourself the following questions, as to the mystery or text. Who? What? Where? With what means? Why? How? When? For instance, if you meditate on the text," What will it profit a man," &c., ask, Who says this? You must answer, "Jesus Christ, the Son. of the living God, who neither can deceive nor be deceived," &c. What is this doctrine that he declares?
If on the Nativity: Who is thus born in a stable?&c. The object of these queries is to fill the mind well with the matter in all its bearings, so that the understanding may apply it to ourselves.
2. Understanding.--We next apply the subject of the meditation to ourselves, we draw conclusions, we weigh motives, we examine past and present conduct, and we anticipate future dispositions. To do this the following questions will materially aid us.
What am I to think about this? What practical lesson am I to draw from it? What motives persuade me to it? How have I hitherto acted? What must I do in future? What obstacle must I remove? What means shall I take?
3. Will.--The understanding thus convinced, we must now adopt resolutions and produce affections; and for the latter it is well to have texts of Scripture, or words of the saints in our mind, to express our various emotions. As to our resolutions, they must be few, suitable, practical, and, if possible, with reference to the very day.
Having thus finished the body of the meditation, we conclude by pious and somewhat familiar colloquies with God, Our Lady, or the Saints, begging the fruit we need, rejoicing in the mystery, praising, giving thanks, &c.
Then we may close with an Our Father, and a Hail Mary, or other short prayers.