Contemplative Prayer and the Angelic Doctor
What are the three types of prayer?
There are three types of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. Vocal prayer can include basic prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, etc. and also the words in our mind that we share with God. However, vocal prayer is not enough to sustain a growing relationship with God because we actually need to speak with Him through another form of prayer, meditation. To reflect or think about God is to meditate. Our imaginations can be sparked when we focus on and listen to how God is speaking to us. This reflective prayer leads us to a conversation with God as we enter into a sacred time and space. Contemplative prayer is so important because it is the highest form of prayer. As we rest quietly in the presence of God, we spend time with Him in speechless silence. A fruitful time of silence starts with us having a calm spirit and seeking union with God in a sacred space. We can learn from the saints about the three types of prayer.
What is contemplative prayer?
St. Teresa answers: “Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2709.
According to the Catechism, “Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.” (CCC 2724). Prayer is more than just an activity on its own, but a way of living out one’s life with God. It is communicating with the Creator of the universe, expressed in a variety of ways. Our attentiveness to His Word is an act of obedience in faith. We can welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit with our whole being to be strengthened, purified, and transformed as we sit at the feet of Jesus.
Why is Saint Thomas Aquinas called the Angelic Doctor?
The Doctors of the Church are given titles that designate their characteristics of greatness. Saint Thomas Aquinas is known as the “Common Doctor” because of his great knowledge and learning in all areas of theology. Too often, our modern minds consider Aquinas to be something of a rigid and sterile academic, but nothing could be further from the truth. St. Thomas gained perfect purity after he struggled against a temptress who was forced on him, and he was girded with a mystical belt of purity by two angels. And so, he was named “Angelic Doctor” because of his great virtue and purity, his angelic wisdom, and his expertise in the area of angels. His piercing intellectual receptivity, his child-like purity, and his poetic intuition are just a few reasons the Church lifts him up as Her Common and Angelic Doctor. Known to levitate ecstatically before the Blessed Sacrament, Aquinas writes as a man deeply in love. As such, he serves as a model for our contemplative lives.
Taught by John Johnson, this course will survey a small sample of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ work on contemplation and the mystical union as well as present a humble program for that work’s practical application in the life of any Catholic seeking to have a relationship with the One who has loved us into being. Register here to take a Fall course at The Avila Institute called “Contemplative Prayer and the Angelic Doctor.” It will be given Fridays on Nov 10, 17, Dec 1, 15, 22, Jan 5 at 8:30 – 10:30 pm EST. Check out more information on another course called “Angels and Demons” here.
Apply for admission at avila-institute.com.
Art for this post contemplative prayer: St. Thomas Aquinas detail of All Saints – The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, Fra Angelico, 15th century about 1423-24, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Thomas von Aquin, Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), unknown date, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, author’s life plus 100 years or less; Wikimedia Commons. Quotes from Catechism of the Catholic Church.
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