✠ Mary’s School of Sanctity ✠
In our last lesson we learned what meditation is and the importance of setting aside some time every day to meditate. In this class we will see the difference between meditation and contemplation and look briefly on why we should beg God to grant us the gift of contemplation because we cannot do this contemplation by ourselves.
In meditation we are doing the considering, with God’s help of course, because without God we can do nothing. The considerations inspire acts of the will or affections, in which we say something to God.
In contemplation our prayer is more God’s work, and He is directing the soul and thereby drawing the soul closer to Him by degrees. We do not and cannot give ourselves this state of soul.
We can beg for the gift of contemplation. St. Theresa of Avila mentions in her Autobiography that we should ask for this blessing.
What Mystical Contemplation is not: Contrasting it with Ignatian Contemplation
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which we will be discussing in the upcoming months in Mary’s School of Sanctity, St. Ignatius divides the exercises he gives into two types. He calls the first type meditation and the second contemplation. However, he does not mean mystical contemplation here, because contemplation, in the mystical sense, is something that God brings a soul to, and not something that we simply turn on and off. In other words, we can enter into the mental prayer of meditation because we are doing the considering and applying what we consider in order to make acts of our will, namely, pray. Whereas, in mystical contemplation, God does the action and the soul is passive because God is drawing the soul up to Him. When St. Ignatius speaks of contemplation, he is directing the person making the Spiritual Exercises [whom St. Ignatius calls the exercitant] to meditate on the life of Our Lord and in these meditations the exercitant is going to consider one mystery of Our Lord’s life, for example, the Annunciation [or Incarnation].
St. Ignatius has the exercitant take this one mystery and makes a picture in his imagination. Then, in the scene just made, he will consider the event by pondering what he sees in his scene and what he hears going on in the event. Then he considers what lessons the Holy Ghost wants to show him or maybe he will consider what virtues are being practiced in the event being pondered. Then the exercitant proceeds through the time set for this type of meditation, making acts of will like he did with the regular meditation, ending his prayer session with some prayers of thanksgiving.
Mystical contemplation, however, is solely God’s work where God directs the soul. This is a passive prayer. The mystical doctor St. John of the Cross discusses the stages that the soul goes through as God directs her (viz., the soul) to this higher state of prayer. It is by slow degrees that the power to meditate disappears and a simple affectionate look, (without any scaffolding of considerations or too complicated details) becomes the only prayer possible. When the soul reaches this higher stage of the spiritual life, where God has drawn her, then she finds she can no longer meditate. During the prayer of contemplation, the intellect becomes more and more powerless and the will suffers a sort of purification because the will has the desire to love God more and more and wants to tell Him of its love. 
St. Theresa of Avila explains she suffered for many years because she found that she could no longer meditate. In her book The Relations, she says:
The method of prayer I observe at present is this: when I am in prayer, it is very rarely that I can use the understanding because the soul becomes at once recollected, remains in repose, or falls into a trance, so that I cannot in any way have the use of the faculties and the senses, – so much so, that the hearing alone is left; but then it does not help me to understand anything.
St. John of the Cross further explains:
In the third place, the most certain sign of this state is, when the soul delights to be alone, waiting lovingly on God, in interior peace, quiet, and repose, without any particular considerations; without acts and efforts of the intellect, memory, and will, at least in a discursive way, that is without passing by consideration from one subject to another.
St. John of the Cross further explains that after a period of time, the will is fixed on God and a persistent need of a more intimate union with God takes hold of the soul. There is a longing, like home-sickness, that transforms the soul and the soul finds that it cannot do without God, and would like to be inflamed with divine love – i.e., to possess God because merely to love Him no longer satisfies her, she aspires to union with Him.
St. John of the Cross teaches that there are moments of quiet union, and once the soul has experienced these, then she wants to return to these moments again and again. God works with the soul, thus purifying her and is drawing her to closer and closer union with Him, and ultimately, to a mystical marriage. He explains how our souls are all called to be the brides of Christ in this mystical marriage. Unfortunately, however, we put obstacles in the way.
It is clear to see how the gift of mystical contemplation is something for which we should beg God. Contemplation is the life of heaven begun here on earth, and we should desire to have this life. Let us thank Mary for this invaluable lesson on exactly what contemplation is, and beg Our Queen, Our Mother, and Our heavenly Teacher to intercede for us and obtain for us this stupendous gift for our poor unworthy souls. In this way we can be intimately united with her Divine Son.
We now bring Our Mistress our lowly apple of a poem to show our gratitude for being in her classroom.
Mary, Queen of Contemplation
O Mary to us please relate,
What it means to contemplate,
Thou to whom God this gift did give,
In the first moment thou didst live.
Teach us Mother oh most fair,
To want this precious gift most rare,
That we not throw within our way,
An obstacle to cause delay,
And interferes with God’s desire,
To enkindle us with His Fire,
That leads us to be, His dear bride,
And keep us ever at His side.
Thou understand the lofty heights,
That the Lord giveth with His lights,
Which only when we contemplate,
Our poor human minds satiate.
So thank you tender Mother true,
For letting us be taught by you,
You are the best teacher by far,
Be thou ever our guiding star!
 Summary of the explanation given in the Ways of Mental Prayer, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. Rockford, Illinois, 1982; third part on Mystical Prayer, chapter 3.
 St. Theresa of Avila, The Relations, ch. 1, line 1.
 St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel, bk. 2; chapter 13.
 Concerning this mystical marriage between Christ and the soul, read these articles: https://catholiccandle.org/2021/07/09/spiritual-nuptials/ & https://catholiccandle.org/2019/06/20/our-souls-should-be-docile-brides-of-christ/