The Mass

The highest prayer of the Church is the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, where Jesus Christ offers perfect praise to His Father.  When we participate in the Eucharist, we are drawn into the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and we join Christ in offering our lives, “through him, with him and in him,” to the Father.  We then receive Christ back as our food in Holy Communion, which unites us more fully to Him as members of His Body.

It goes without saying that participating in the Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation is important for discernment, since it is a law of the Church.  But for those who are earnestly seeking God’s will, participating in daily Mass even once a week is a great help.  Daily Mass is usually quieter than Sunday Mass, so it can provide a great, reflective environment for discernment.  And receiving the Eucharist more regularly is a wonderful way to grow in loving union with the Lord Jesus.

A great way to prepare for Mass is to read and reflect on the readings before and after Mass. Luckily, all of the readings can be found online.

To find where Mass is celebrated near you, visit MassTimes.org

Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours is the official prayer of the Church, second in importance only to the Mass.  It is a set of prayers involving the psalms, Scripture readings, and other texts by which the Church fulfills the Lord Jesus’ command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).  Clergy and religious promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily to intercede for the Church and the world, but many lay people join in this prayer as well.

Here are a few ways to join in this prayer of the Church:
iBreviary app
DivineOffice.org

A-R-R-R Prayer

St. Teresa of Avila said, “For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”  The A-R-R-R Prayer is a simple method of coming to the Lord as you are.  It can be used almost any time of the day and in just about any circumstance.  It can also be used within any other method of prayer, such as Lectio Divina or Ignatian Contemplation, as a way of conversing with the Lord.  The “A-R-R-R” stands for different movements within the prayer:  Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond.  Below, along with these steps, are illustrations of how these movements work, from the example of Mary at the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38).

Acknowledge

Openly and honestly, without prejudice, acknowledge how you are before God.  What you are experiencing?  What is moving in your heart?

Marian Example:  At the Annunciation Mary was “troubled” and pondered what the words of the Angel meant.

Relate

Bring yourself as you are into relationship with God by relating your experience to Him.  Speak to him from your heart.

Marian Example:  At the Annunciation Mary asked, “How can this be?”

Receive

Listen to what God is doing with the movements of your heart. Receive his presence and the constancy of his love.

Marian Example:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”

Respond

What we receive impels us to respond in gratitude and with renewed heart.

Marian Example:  Mary’s fiat, “May it be done unto me…”

 

Examen Prayer

The Examen is a way of praying by looking back at the events of my day, noting where the Lord was present.  This kind of prayer, which originates with St. Ignatius of Loyola, is especially helpful in developing a discerning heart, sensitive to the ways the Lord is speaking to us in everyday life.

You can find a great summary of the steps of the examen here.

Eucharistic Adoration

The Church highly encourages us to extend our worship of Jesus in the Mass into other times of adoration of Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.  Eucharistic adoration can take place in front of the tabernacle in any Catholic Church, but there are many churches that have weekly times of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, or even a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed 24 hours a day.  For those discerning their vocation, this intimate time in silence before the Eucharistic Lord is incredibly important and fruitful.  In adoration, you can use any of the other types of prayer described here.  Or, you can simply sit and allow the Lord to look at you with love--and look back at Him.

Marian Devotion

One of the most important things in a good discernment is a relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary teaches us, by her obedient response to God’s will, to entrust our lives to our heavenly Father. In fact, if we look closely at the Gospel account of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), where the Mary, a mere girl, hears from the Archangel Gabriel the news that she is to be the Mother of God’s Incarnate Son, we see that Mary has already given her permission to God even before she knows what He will ask her. Her response of faith, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” reveals to us the key to discernment:  to give God permission to do with our life what He wills. The more we strive to say “yes” to God, even before we know the question, the more we will know the peace of living in trusting abandonment to His will. Mary is the one who can teach us this better than anyone else.

To cultivate a relationship with Mary, praying the Rosary is a key tool.

In addition to the Rosary, consecration to Jesus through Mary is a powerful way to align our heart with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Besides the traditional consecration of St. Louis de Montfort, here are a couple of other recent adaptations:

Ignatian Contemplation

Attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) and articulated in his "Spiritual Exercises," the Ignatian method of praying with Scripture invites us to enter actively into the mystery presented in a Scriptural text by using our imagination. Generally, Ignatian prayer works best with narrative material in which actual characters live an experience of faith, e.g. in the Gospel stories.  Ignatius commended the imaginative use of the five senses in such meditation. You apply your senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling to draw you into the scene of the story and then carry it forth just as you were there.  You can imagine you are in the place of one of the characters or a random observer being drawn into the action.  Most of all, the aim is to draw near and encounter God and to enter the mystery being prayed.  

Steps in Ignatian Contemplation:

  1. Remote Preparations. Know your time and place for prayer. Know what Scripture passage you’ll be using ahead of time.
  2. Immediate Preparations.
    1. Consider how God looks at you lovingly as you begin to pray, or make another kind of Act of Presence.
    2. Briefly ask for God’s assistance.
    3. Ask for the grace you desire.
  3. Read the passage once or twice, slowly and prayerfully.  “Compose the place” in your mind--that is, imagine the setting and visualize the characters involved.  Put yourself in the story, either as a bystander or as one of the characters.
  4. Pray imaginatively with the story.  Allow the event to unfold through your imagination. Apply your senses:  watch, listen, taste, smell, and feel what is happening around you.  Allow yourself to creatively interact with the other persons in the event, especially Jesus, Mary, or whoever the central character may be.
  5. Allow yourself to be drawn to the point of greatest interaction and being with God.  Pause and remain where you feel consolation, i.e. thoughts, feelings, and desires that lead you towards God and an increase of faith, hope, and love.  Whenever during your prayer you experience that God is giving himself to you, loving you, touching you, or filling you, then simply stay there quietly and receive. Also, slow down and be attentive to areas of desolation, i.e. thoughts, feelings, and desires leading away from God.  Bring these desolations conversationally to God humbly and relate them honestly with trust.  Take a moment to receive his love for you even in your weakness.
  6. Colloquy.  Conclude your time of prayer by responding spontaneously in a conversation with God the Father, with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and/or Mary.  You may choose to converse with just one, or two, or all of them.  It may be helpful to conclude each conversation with learned prayers such as the Our Father, Anima Christi, Glory Be, and the Hail Mary.
  7. Review of Prayer.  After your formal prayer time, take some additional time to review your prayer. What did you notice in your mind, feelings, sentiments, emotions, desires, etc.? Write these down, and try to discover what they are saying to you.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina, or “divine reading,” is an ancient way of praying with Scripture.  We move from the words on the page into intimacy with Jesus, the Living Word who speaks to us today.  Lectio divina has four steps:

Lectio – Reading

LECTIO DIVINA begins with a prayerful reading of Scripture. This prayerful reading differs greatly from the fast and cursory reading of novels, magazines, or online material. It is different from the information–gathering task of reading textbooks or instruction manuals. There is a reverential and prayerful listening that accompanies the reading. With a spirit of silence and hopeful anticipation, I listen for the words that speak to me personally and intimately. In lectio I read slowly and attentively, honing in on the word or phrase that attracts me, draws me; the words with which God is inviting me to rest.

Meditatio – Meditation

ONCE WE have found a word or a passage in the Scriptures that speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and “ruminate” on it. The image of the ruminant animal quietly chewing its cud was used in antiquity as a symbol of the Christian pondering the Word of God. Christians have always seen a scriptural invitation to lectio divina in the example of the Virgin Mary “pondering in her heart” what she saw and heard of Christ (Luke 2:19). For us today these images are a reminder that we must take in the word – that is memorize it – and while gently repeating it to ourselves, allow it to interact with our thoughts, our hopes, our memories, our desires. This is the second step or stage in lectio divina – meditatio. Through meditatio we allow God’s Word to become His word for us, a word that touches us and affects us at our deepest levels.

Oratio – Prayer

THE THIRD step in lectio divina is oratio – prayer.  Prayer here is understood both as dialogue with God—that is, as loving conversation with the One who has invited us into His embrace—and as offering to God our very selves, including our thoughts, feelings, desires, fears and weaknesses. We allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the word of God.

Contemplatio – Contemplation

FINALLY, WE simply rest in the presence of the One who has used His word as a means of inviting us to accept His transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships when words are unnecessary. It is the same in our relationship with God. Wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One Who loves us has a name in the Christian tradition – contemplatio, contemplation. Once again we practice silence, letting go of our words; simply enjoying the experience of being in the presence of God. Contemplation, strictly speaking, is a gift of God, so we cannot produce it ourselves, but we can dispose ourselves to receive it as a gift—for as long as God wishes to give it to us.

The more you practice lectio, the easier it gets, and the easier you will begin to move through these steps, disposing yourself more and more to the gift of contemplation.