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Holy Wisdom Or Directions For The Prayer Of Contemplation by Ven. F. Augustine Baker

CHAPTER II. Of Vocal prayer.à

§ 1. Of Vocal prayer.

§§ 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. By vocal prayer the ancients attained to perfect contemplation. And why this cannot so well be done in these times.

§§ 10. How voluntary vocal prayers may he made instrumental to contemplation.

§§ 11. That vocal prayer of obligation is upon no pretence to be neglected.

§§ 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Of attention required to vocal prayer, and of the, degrees of it.

1. The design of this Treatise being to deliver instructions concerning internal contemplative prayer, therefore little shall be said of Vocal prayer, and that little also shall be of it considered, as it may among others be, an instrument or mean to bring a soul to contemplation.

2. It cannot be denied but that in ancient times many holy souls did attain to perfect contemplation by the mere use of vocal prayer; the which likewise would have the same effect upon us if we would or could imitate them both in such wonderful solitude or abstraction, rigorous abstinences, and incredible assiduity in praying. But for a supply of such wants, and inability to support such undistracted long attention to God, we are driven to help ourselves by daily set exercises of internal prayer to procure an habitual constant state of recollectedness, by such exercises repairing and making amends for the distractions that we live in all the rest of the day.

3. Notwithstanding God's hand is not shortened, but that if He please He may now also call souls to contemplation by the way of vocal prayer, so as that they are their general and ordinary exercise; which, if He do, it will be necessary that such souls should, in their course, observe these following conditions:

4. The first is, that they must use a greater measure of abstraction and mortification than is necessary for those that exercise mental prayer. The reason is, because internal prayer, being far more profound and inward, affords a far greater light and grace to discover and cure the inordinate affections; it brings the soul likewise to a greater simplicity and facility to recollect itself, &c., and therefore vocal prayer, to make amends, had need be accompanied with greater abstraction, &c.

5. The second condition is, that those who use vocal prayer must oblige themselves to spend a greater time at their daily exercises than is necessary for the others, to the end thereby to supply for the less efficacy that is in vocal prayer.

6. The third is, that in case they do find themselves at any time invited by God internally to a pure internal prayer (which is likely to be of the nature of aspirations), they then must yield to such an invitation, and for the time interrupt or cease their voluntary vocal exercises for as long time as they find themselves enabled to exercise internally. These conditions are to be observed of all those who, either in religion or in the world, desire to lead spiritual lives, and cannot without extreme difficulty be brought to begin a spiritual course with any kind of mere menial prayer.

7. And, indeed, if any such souls there be to whom vocal prayer (joined with the exercise of virtues) is sufficient to promote them to contemplation, certain it is that there is no way more secure than it, none less subject to indiscretion or illusions, and none less perilous to the head or health. And in time (but it will be long first) their vocal prayers will prove aspirative, spiritual, and contemplative, by their light and virtue illustrating and piercing to the very depth of the spirit.

8. But in these days this case is very extraordinary, and indeed unknown; and therefore contemplative religious persons ought not, upon any pretence, to dispense with themselves for the exercise of mental prayer, whatever pretensions or temptations they may have thereto. They may, perhaps, find their vocal prayers to be more clear and undistracted, and, on the contrary, their recollections to be painful and disturbed; but yet, in time and by constancy in pursuing internal exercises, they will find the contrary, and perceive that the ground of the difference was either some present corporal indisposition, or perhaps a temptation of the devil, to move them to a neglect of exercising in spirit. Since certain it is, that little less than a miracle will cause vocal prayers, to imperfect souls, to become contemplative, or sufficient to produce profound recollection; the which effects even those that have long practised internal exercises do not find in the reciting of the Office. Such seeming extraordinary contemplations, therefore, as seem to come to souls, none knows from whence, without any great merit or due disposition on their part, are not much to be esteemed, but rather to be suspected; and, however, they deserve not that therefore the solid exercises of internal prayer should be neglected.

9. To the like purpose we read that St. Ignatius found extraordinary illustrations in soul being at his study of human learning; whereas at his ordinary mental prayers he could find no such effects, but, on the contrary, much difficulty and obscurity; but this in time he discovered to be the working of the devil.

10. The use of voluntary vocal prayer in order to contemplation may, in the beginning of a spiritual course, be proper: 1. For such simple and unlearned persons (especially women) as are not at all fit for discoursive prayer; 2. yea, even for the more learned, if it be used as a means to raise and better their attention to God; yet so that it must always give place to internal prayer when they find themselves disposed for it.

11. But as for that vocal prayer, either in public or private, which is by the laws of the Church of obligation, no manner of pretences of finding more profit by internal exercises ought to be esteemed a sufficient ground for any to neglect or disparage it; for though some souls of the best dispositions might perhaps more advance themselves towards perfection by internal exercises alone, yet, since generally, even in religion, souls are so tepid and negligent that if they were left to their own voluntary devotions they would scarce ever exercise either vocal or mental prayer; therefore, inasmuch as a manifest distinction cannot be made between the particular dispositions of persons, it was requisite and necessary that all should be obliged to a public external performance of divine service, praising God with the tongues also (which were for that end given us), that so an order and decorum might be observed in God's Church, to the end it might imitate the employment of angels and glorified saints in a solemn united joining of hearts and tongues to glorify God. This was necessary also for the edification and invitation of those who are not obliged to the office, who perhaps would never think of God, were they not encouraged thereto by seeing good souls spend the greatest part of their time in such solemn and almost hourly praying to and praising God.

12. Now, whereas to all manner of prayer, as hath been said, there is necessarily required an attention of the mind, without which it is not prayer, we must know that there are several kinds and degrees of attention, all of them good, but yet one more perfect and profitable than another; for, 1. there is an attention or express reflection on the words and sense of the sentence pronounced by the tongue or revolved in the mind. Now this attention being, in vocal prayer, necessarily to vary and change according as sentences in the Psalms, &c., do succeed one another, cannot so powerfully and efficaciously fix the mind or affections on God, because they are presently to be recalled to new considerations or succeeding affections. This is the lowest and most imperfect degree of attention, of which all souls are in some measure capable, and the more imperfect they are the less difficulty there is in yielding it; for souls that have good and established affections to God can hardly quit a good affection by which they are united to God, and which they find gustful and profitable for them, to exchange it for a new one succeeding in the Office; and if they should, it would be to their prejudice.

13. The second degree is that of souls indifferently well practised in internal prayer, who, coming to the reciting of the Office, and either bringing with them or by occasion of such reciting raising in themselves an efficacious affection to God, do desire without variation to continue it with as profound a recollectedness as they may, not at all heeding whether it be suitable to the sense of the present passage which they pronounce. This is an attention to God, though not to the words; and is far more beneficial than the former. And therefore to oblige any souls to quit such an attention for the former would be both prejudicial and unreasonable. For since all vocal prayers, in Scripture or otherwise, were ordained only to this end, to supply and furnish the soul that needs with good matter of affection, by which it may be united to God, a soul that hath already attained to that end, which is union as long as it lasts, ought not to be separated therefrom, and be obliged to seek a new means till the virtue of the former be spent.

14. A third and most sublime degree of attention to the divine Office is that whereby vocal prayers do become mental; that is, whereby souls most profoundly and with a perfect simplicity united to God can yet, without any prejudice to such union, attend also to the sense and spirit of each passage that they pronounce, yea, thereby find their affection, adhesion, and union increased and more simplified. This attention comes not till a soul be arrived to perfect contemplation, by means of which the spirit is so habitually united to God, and besides, the imagination so subdued to the spirit that it cannot rest upon anything that will distract it.

15. Happy are those souls (of which God knows the number is very small) that have attained to this third degree, the which must be ascended to by a careful practice of the two former in their order, especially of a second degree! And therefore in reciting of the Office even the more imperfect souls may do well, whensoever they find themselves in a good measure recollected, to continue so long as they well can, preserving as much stability in their imagination as may be.

16. And the best means to beget and increase such a recollected way of saying the Divine Office is the practice of internal prayer, either in meditation or immediate acts of the will, the only aim and end whereof is the procuring an immovable attention and adhesion of the spirit to God. And this, as to our present purpose, may suffice concerning vocal prayer.

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