How to Pray Vocally

Father Guibert notes: “If formularies are profitable to us in proportion to the way in which they awaken interior prayer within us, it follows that the repetition of them must not be mechanical and lacking in attention. If they were said in a merely material manner, with no other anxiety than to utter them without missing anything, they would be hard labour, and not a benefit to the soul. Therefore the soul must pray while the lips are speaking.”

“Certainly the ideal would be realized and the soul would always pray, if attention were always maintained, each word calling forth a corresponding thought or feeling in the soul. It is also preferable to repeat fewer words, in order that the heart may have the time to ponder them and to adapt itself to their meaning. But such a strain on the mind would overdrive it harshly, because of the swift succession of thoughts and different impressions.”

“The best plan, in my opinion, consists in fixing one’s attention on some fruitful thought drawn from the very object of the prayer. . . . In the same way one can dwell in mind on the moral personality of a saint, on the necessity of a virtue, on the sense of some urgent need; each word then becomes an expression of the one prayer that stirs the activity of the soul.”

And, if one finds it difficult to fix one’s attention or is plagued with distractions, Father Guibert insists that prayer is still possible. He suggests this course of action: “Before beginning our recitation we shall say to God in all simplicity: ‘Lord, Thou knowest the poverty of Thy servant; Thou knowest the feebleness of his will, the levity of his mind, the inconstancy of his heart, and, therefore, how great is his difficulty of keeping himself in Thy presence; but Thou knowest also, that in the depths of his heart, he loveth Thee, and desireth to pray to Thee; accept, then, as my intended prayer, all that is meant by the words I am about to utter, for I abandon myself to Thy Spirit that He may speak them to Thee by my lips.'”

“God is our Father; He knows better than we the wretched clay of which we are made, and He will bless—let us not doubt it—prayers begun in such a spirit of self-surrender. Thenceforward, it is not us, but Jesus Christ living in us, that He will hear.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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