BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (232): What do we mean by “meditation”?

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

“Christian tradition has preserved three forms for expressing and living prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. The feature common to all of them is the recollection of the heart” (CCCC 568).


The CCC reminds us that we do not only pray with our heart. We need to pray with our lips and in fact, with our whole body as well. When the Apostles saw Jesus praying, they asked him to teach them how to pray. And our Lord teaches them the Our Father. Furthermore, the CCC (2701) adds that Jesus “not only prayed aloud the liturgical prayers of the synagogue but, as the Gospels show, he raised his voice to express his personal prayer, from exultant blessing of the Father to the agony of Gethsemani.”

The CCC (2702) explains that external forms of prayer are important because we are not pure spirits. We also have a body, and we need to express our prayer also through the body.

“The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication.”

Moreover, God himself wants us to do so. It is proper, it is just, that we express our inner thoughts and desires in a visible way. The CCC (2703) explains: “This need also corresponds to a divine requirement. God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is his due.”

We should not belittle the importance of vocal prayer, because it is the beginning of contemplative prayer (cf. CCC 2704). As Saint Josemaria says in his homily “Towards Holiness” (Friends of God, 296): “We start with vocal prayers which many of us have been saying since we were children. They are made up of simple, ardent phrases addressed to God and to his Mother, who is our Mother as well.…

“First one brief aspiration, then another, and another… till our fervor seems insufficient, because words are too poor…: then this gives way to intimacy with God, looking at God without needing rest or feeling tired. We begin to live as captives, as prisoners. And while we carry out as perfectly as we can (with all our mistakes and limitations) the tasks allotted to us by our situation and duties, our soul longs to escape. It is drawn towards God like iron drawn by a magnet. One begins to love Jesus, in a more effective way, with the sweet and gentle surprise of his encounter.”


The word “meditation” can have different meanings. For Christians, “Meditation is a prayerful reflection that begins above all in the Word of God in the Bible. Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion and desire in order to deepen our faith, convert our heart and fortify our will to follow Christ. It is a first step toward the union of love with our Lord” (CCCC 570).

This is different from Buddhist meditation, which aims to liberate one from the cycle of rebirth and from suffering. Eastern meditation has nothing to do with God.

In Christian meditation, we can make use of many spiritual books (cf. CCC 2705), but also draw from the book of life (cf. CCC 2706) because God our loving Father is interested in the things that happen to us. Saint Josemaria gives very practical advice that could help improve one’s meditation: “You don’t know what to say to our Lord in your prayer. You can’t think of anything, and yet you would like to consult him on many things. Look: make some notes during the day of whatever you want to consider in the presence of God. And then take these notes with you to pray” (The Way 97).


Contemplative prayer is described in the Compendium (571) as follows: “Contemplative prayer is a simple gaze upon God in silence and love. It is a gift of God, a moment of pure faith during which the one praying seeks Christ, surrenders himself to the loving will of the Father, and places his being under the action of the Holy Spirit. Saint Teresa of Avila defines contemplative prayer as the intimate sharing of friendship, ‘in which time is frequently taken to be alone with God who we know loves us.’”

The CCC (2710) also explains that “One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state.”

This means that contemplation is for everybody, whatever occupation or situation in life they find themselves in. Everyone is called to be a contemplative, because everyone is called to share intimately in the friendship of Jesus who, through His Holy Spirit, leads us back to the Father.