St. Teresa of Avila’s Tips on Vocal Prayer

Ideas taken from Dubay, Thomas. Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, 
St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel—On Prayer. San Francisco: 
Ignatius Press, 1989. Print.

For St. Teresa of Avila, vocal prayer is verbalized mental prayer. This is poles apart from rote recitation. As a result, vocal prayer should prepare the soul for contemplation.

St. Teresa gives 3 tips to improve your vocal prayer:

(1) Active recollection

You must work hard & persevere to gather yourself together, to still wanderings of your mind and the restlessness of your heart. Begin with examen and sign of the cross. Then seek out a companion: “Imagine that this Lord Himself is at your side and see how lovingly and how humbly He is teaching you” (Way, chap. 26, p. 173). Just look at Him. Get an image of the Lord that you like and use it regularly whenever you talk to Him. We need concrete beginnings! Teresa realized how to apply to the question of prayer the profound theological principle of the Incarnation: No one goes to the Father except by me” (Jn 14:6).  

(2) Focus on the indwelling presence of the Trinity

Learn to find the Lord in the deepest center of your being. Focusing on the indwelling presence, says Teresa, is for wandering minds “one of the best ways of concentrating the mind” in prayer.

(3) Speak intimately and affectionately

We must speak with God in a very familiar and close manner. Teresa says: “Speak with Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord and a Spouse—and sometimes in one way and sometimes in another” (Way, chap. 28, p. 184).

To conclude, here are 3 quotes to think about for vocal prayer from St. Teresa of Avila:

“If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips.” ~ IC, mans. 4, chap. 1, p. 32; KR, no. 7, p. 286

“It follows logically enough that one vocal prayer, even so little as one petition of the Our Father, if well said, is better than many recited thoughtlessly or hurriedly” ~ Way, chap. 31, p. 209

“Those who are able to shut themselves up in this way within this little Heaven of the soul, wherein dwells the Maker of Heaven and earth, and who have formed the habit of looking at nothing and staying in no place which will distract these outward senses, may be sure that they are walking on an excellent road, and will come without fail to drink of the water of the fountain, for they will journey a long way in a short time” ~ Way, chap. 28, p. 185


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