Dear Dan, I have been studying prayer, primarily the Ignatian method and the Carmelite method. What would you consider the differences between these two methods? Also, how can I determine which is best for me?
Dear friend, this is a great question. First, it would be helpful to ensure we understand what we are talking about when we use the terms “prayer” and “method.”
The prayer we are speaking of here is an interpersonal exchange of love between a human person and the Divine person. This personal exchange has three different expressions according to the Catechism (part four): vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
When speaking of “methods” of prayer, to remain within the teaching of the Church we must limit ourselves primarily to vocal prayer and meditation. This is because the realm of contemplation, and particularly infused contemplation, is solely the work of God in the soul and cannot be attained via any methods.
General Distinctions in Meditation Methods
When most reference a “method” of prayer in the Ignatian tradition, they are speaking about meditation. Though St. Ignatius composed at least six methods in his spiritual exercises, the most commonly referred to method consists of putting oneself in a scene in a gospel and following a specific set of steps aimed at drawing the heart into an encounter with Christ. The Ignatian method is a beautiful gift to the Church and important for all Christians, especially in the purgative or early stage of spiritual development.
- Acts of faith and reverence in the presence of God
- General preparatory prayer to ask the grace of making a good meditation
- Composition of place (exercise of the imagination)
- Petition for the special grace sought in the meditation
II: Body of the Meditation
- Exercise of the memory to recall the material to be meditated upon
- Exercise of the intellect by reflection and consideration of the material of the meditation and practical applications and conclusions to be drawn from it
- Exercise of the will by arousing devout feelings and affections and by making practical, particular resolutions
- Colloquy or conversation with God
- Vocal prayer such as the Our Father or Hail Mary, etc.
When we speak of a Carmelite method of prayer, we are on less solid ground than in the Ignatian tradition not because Carmelite prayer is inferior but because there really is not one “method” that can be distinguished as Carmelite. Carmelites tend to de-emphasize method and instead focus on the devotion of the heart. Even so, one can derive a method of Carmelite “meditation” that is similar but simpler in form than that of Ignatian meditation.
- Imaginative representation of the material
- Reflection or meditation properly so called
- Affective colloquy or conversation with God
Regardless of which method is used, it is important to note that Christian meditation is a transitional form of prayer that God uses to draw the soul to Christ in the early stages of spiritual development. Said another way, meditation is a form of prayer that is germane to the purgative or beginner stage of prayer and is left behind when the soul begins to transition into the illuminative phase of spiritual maturation.
Ignatian or Carmelite – Which is best for me?
The answer to the question of “which is best for me?” can be found in the answer to this question: Which works best for you? Another way to come to clarity on this question is to read the works of St. Ignatius along side of those of St. Teresa of Avila. If your heart is more particularly drawn to one or the other, then follow that lead. Both approaches are good and important in leading the soul to Christ and helping it to mature in the interior life. Check out our “Resources” page for recommended books in these areas.
To learn more about this and many questions about the interior life I have developed a course for the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation called “Foundations of Prayer and Union with God.” In this course I provide the wisdom of the saints including St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and others regarding how to understand where we are in our spiritual progress and what path we need to take grow more deeply in prayer and love of God. To learn more go to www.Avila-Institute.com and scroll down to register or send an email to email@example.com with any questions you may have.
Note: Both meditation method outlines can be found in Fr. Jordan Aumann’s book, Spiritual Theology.
Art: Mirror of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Paul Rubens, 1600s, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. St. John of the Cross illustration, courtesy of Dan Burke.