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Mental Prayer in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

What is Mental Prayer

The practice of mental prayer is a time where we are with God in solitude and silence for sharing love in loving communion. Mental prayer is an interior action, in which we share with God where we naturally engaging the three powers of the soul - memory, intellect, and will (followed by resting). It is for anytime, or it may occur spontaneously or intentionally after Lectio Divina. There is no formula. It can be proceeded or not by other prayers.


Mental Prayer during the Spiritual Exercises

St. Ignatius’ mental prayer methods within the Spiritual Exercise using a chosen subject are encased with a prayer format:  beginning with recollecting what we are going to do, with moments of adoration in honoring God, with offering every faculty and action (interior and exterior) to be of service and praise. 

This preparatory begins (in silence and gaze) and ends in a prayer (the Colloquy). This way of meditation on the Mysteries and other Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is a formalized ‘mental’ prayer.


Imagination and Memory

One may use imagination to construct a scene as a prelude to entering into the meditation.  Then a brief petition for special graces one hopes to obtain, then the ‘meditation’ begins.  The memory recalls the subject, repeating recalling if necessary, using the act of faith until our intellect (mind) understands the truth during a process of consideration, reasoning and studying how it may apply to our life, and what desires rise up in us on what we may be resolved to do.  We are to recall a leading thought, motive, or affection to take with us.


Different ways for Mental prayer such as a prescribed time of the day, with a specific time frame, or it could be spontaneous because it is an affair of the heart where we may find ourselves reflecting and listening out of pure love. It is a conversation as if with a friend yet far beyond.


Contemplative prayer, mental prayer, interior prayer, colloquy are different terms for the same practice. Exterior or Vocal prayer is what is expressed in words or gestures while Interior or Mental prayer – the word mental tends to denote thinking thoughts in our today’s culture, so best to use Interior.



A Definition[1]

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.


In mental prayer the three powers of the soul are engaged:

o   the memory, which offers the mind material for meditation or contemplation*;

o   the intellect, which ponders or directly perceives the meaning of some religious truth and its implications for practice; and

o   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.


*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.





Fr. Jacques Philippe book Time for God he states mental prayer is not a technique “True contemplative prayer is a gift that God gives freely, we do need to understand how to receive it.”pg 9


“(T)he human mind is forever tempted to try to make life, including human life, including spiritual life, into something to manipulate out well.”…It is false because it leads us to cling to methods that depend ultimately on human effort, where is in fact, as Christianity sees it, everything is Grace, a free gift from God.”pg 10


 “There is room for a certain amount of initiative and activity on the human side, the whole edifice of the life of prayer is built upon God’s initiative in his grace. We must never lose sight of that fact for one of the permanent and sometimes subtle temptations of the spiritual life is to rely on our efforts and not on God freely given mercy.” pg 11

[2] Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe


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