Sunday, October 4, 2009

Carmelite method of prayer

"Prayer is a characteristic of Carmelite life. The aim of Carmelite spirituality is, indeed, contemplation, and the proper means to arrive at this goal is prayer. For this reason prayer will be the chief occupation of the Carmelite, and ought, so far as possible, to be continuous and to animate every act of the Carmelite. The Carmelite Rule and Constitutions prescribe this life of prayer, and the Holy Founders of the Order insist on it.

Each day, morning and evening, Carmelite religious devote one hour exclusively to prayer. They prolong this prayer through the whole day by remaining in contact with Christ who lives in them. If occasionally there are free moments in their occupations, they are employed in holding conversation with Christ and in recollecting themselves in God. Their is truly a life of prayer.

Beginners must ordinarily be instructed how to pray, first because they do not know how to go about it, and in the next place, because the method of prayer varies with the aims pursued by the different Orders. Thus most Orders have a method of prayer adapted to their purpose.

The method of prayer characteristic of Carmelite spirituality is affective and designed to lead to contemplation. It is a conversation with God and consists above all in loving Him. It might seem that no special method is needed for this kind of prayer. However, to hold proper converse with God and to draw from it all the profit that it can bring, a method is necessary. Beginners must be instructed in prayer, because in the beginning prayer is ordinarily discursive.


Whether one wishes it or not, a prayer well made is composed of acts which in themselves conform to the Carmelite method prayer.

First, there is the preparation. One cannot pass suddenly from noise to meditation. One cannot approach God without suitable preparation.

Then there is reading. So long as one is not familiar with the practice of prayer, one will find in suitable reading matter a subject capable of inspiring thoughts which will enlighten, instruct, enkindle love and guide our conduct.

The meditation itself: the intellect reflects on some chosen subject; the imagination represents the subject to itself, if this is possible; the memory retains it and associates with it that which will complete the idea. The operations of these last two faculties are not, however, indispensable.

Finally, the will, influenced by these considerations, expresses itself in affective acts. These can be more or less numerous and varied. They end in loving, silent contemplation.

Prayer is concluded with a resolution, because prayer has also a practical purpose. It is not merely establishing contact with God; nor a conversation with Him which would run the danger of producing little practical fruit. Its aim is to transform our life, to share the sentiments of Christ and to model our life on His, to unite ourselves with God.

It is clear that these acts are usually to be found in every well-ordered prayer, and it is these precisely which form the method recommended by St Teresa, St John of the Cross and other Carmelite writers. One may note, indeed, that this method is very similar to that practised in antiquity. While it is claimed that the ancients did not have any method and, of course, one will not find them practising the same order as that followed in modern methods, yet their prayer included: reading, meditation, affectionate colloquy and contemplation. A disciple of St John of the Cross relates that he sometimes analyzed prayer into these same elements. It seems, therefore, that there is no reason to condemn a method of this kind, especially if it is not employed any longer than is necessary. The soul will reduce the complexity of the method in the measure that it makes progress.

However, for a soul which seeks God, prayer is not limited to this passing exercise. This latter is rather a more intense phase in a life devoted wholly to prayer. The soul must strive to keep itself united with Christ all day long, to live in God by an habitual act of loving faith, in order to reproduce in itself the life of Jesus so far as it can."

-- The Spirit and Prayer of Carmel by Fr François Jamart, ocd

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