Here are some questions relative to the Church's view of meditation:
Does the Church approve of meditation?
Yes. In the documents of Vatican Council II it is made clear that Christians are called not only to pray with others, but to “enter into their rooms to pray to their Father in secret” (Mt 6: 6); and it goes further to cite St Paul and his exhortation that Christians pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5: 17). The practice of Christian meditation, faithful to the ancient tradition of the Church, is a way that fulfils the Christian prayer vocation. The Council encourages the deepening of prayer in contemplation and later documents stress the importance of recovering lost or neglected Christian traditions of contemplation.
Pope John Paul II, in November 1992, preached that “Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.” The one who meditates enters the stream of Jesus’ prayer which always flows to the Father in the power and love of the Holy Spirit. Other Christian denominations today are increasingly eager to reclaim the universal mystical tradition of Christianity. The World Community for Christian Meditation has been recognised canonically by the Catholic Church.
Does Christian meditation accord with the general teaching of the Church?
Of course. Prayer is always seen by the Church as the fount of wisdom and compassion in the Christian life.
- It is a pilgrimage in faith of being wholly attentive in the presence of God. It involves leaving the self behind, going beyond ourselves to God, who is always beyond us, yet closer to us than we are to ourselves.
- It is about being at prayer which is always a gift of God, not about technique.
- It leads those who meditate to look for the fruit of prayer in love.
(“Contemplative Christian prayer always leads to love of neighbour, to action and to the acceptance of trials, and precisely because of this it draws one close to God.” (from The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, 1989, p18)
How does this relate to the Mass/Sacraments?
The spiritual life, as Vatican Council II explained, is not limited to participation in the liturgy. In this light Christian meditation forms part of the whole of one’s spiritual life. Meditation clearly does not replace or substitute for other forms of prayer but, by making us more aware of the centrality of the prayer of Jesus, enriches all forms.
As faithfulness to Christian meditation is of the Holy Spirit, so through the Spirit we can expect participation in the Mass and sacraments generally to be all the richer.
Doesn’t Meditation mean thinking about God?
The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius (16th century) contain certain methods of mental prayer, and since the time of their composition many religious congregations have adopted and adapted the spirituality taught and practised by the Jesuits. The Ignatian way has come to be known and practised as a method of ‘discursive meditation.’ Ignatius however saw his method as leading to contemplation. Other schools of spirituality have also emerged in the life of the Church, for example St Francis de Sales in An Introduction to the Devout Life. St Ignatius also, however, taught the importance of contemplation as the goal of all prayer and action.
Contemplative prayer has a long history in the Western and Eastern Churches. St Benedict (c.480 - 547) has been called the Father of Monasticism in the West. In writing about
St Antony (c.250 - 356) of Egypt, ‘the father of all monks’, St Athanasius wrote that “He prayed frequently, for he had learned that one ought to pray in secret, and pray without ceasing.”
What about the mind and reason?
Meditation is not antirational. The clarity and insightfulness of reason and imagination are enhanced by the practice of meditation. (See Pope John Paul II’s letter on 'Faith and Reason'.)
In Christian meditation the mind is alert, yet not aiming at anything other than being still and silent in God’s presence. Recall the Psalmist says: “Be still and know that I am God.”(Ps. 46:10)
Where does it say that Jesus meditated with a mantra?
It doesn’t. Jesus taught no ‘methods’ of prayer but his teaching on prayer directs us to the condition of interiority, trust and simplicity. We know from Jesus’ teaching on prayer that he instructs us not to “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.” (Mt 6: 7-9)
In Christian meditation there is an implicit recognition that the Father knows what we need before we ask. St Augustine said “we say nothing that is not found in this prayer of the Lord, if we pray, properly and fittingly”, and “we have Christ within us as our Teacher".
Is meditation the same as contemplation?
Now and then we will find these words with a different meaning. However, we note that in the general introduction to Word into Silence Fr John Main chooses to use the term meditation synonymously with such terms as contemplation, contemplative prayer, meditative prayer, and so on. Then he adds, “The essential context of meditation is to be found in the fundamental relationships of our lives, the relationship that we have as creatures with God, our Creator.” Meditation could be said to be the work we do in faith and love to receive or enter fully into the gift of the state of contemplation already present in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.