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Father Nicholas Nelson: How to make mental prayer

Friends, during this “stay at home” time, this is an opportune time to develop the habit of mental prayer.

What is mental prayer?

Father Nicholas Nelson
Handing on the Faith

It's the form of prayer in which the sentiments expressed are your own. Mental prayer is accomplished by internal acts of the mind and affections based off of simple mediations. In mental prayer the three powers of the soul are engaged: 1. the memory, which offers the mind material for meditation or contemplation; 2. the intellect, which ponders or directly perceives the meaning of some religious truth and its implications for practice; and 3. the will, which freely expresses its sentiments of faith, trust, and love, and makes good resolutions based on what the memory and intellect have made known to the will.

Why do mental prayer?

It enlightens the mind. It disposes you to practice the virtues. It helps us pray as we should.

How to do mental prayer?

Mental prayer consists of three parts: the preparation, the meditation, and the conclusion.


Preparation consists of three acts:

  • Faith, in the presence of God, saying, “My God; I believe that you art present with me, and I adore you with all the affection of my soul.”
  • Humility, with a short act of contrition and of prayer to be enlightened, saying “O Lord, by my sins I deserve to be now in hell. I repent, O Infinite Goodness! with my whole heart, of having offended you.”
  • Finally, pray, “My God for the love of Jesus and Mary, give me light in this prayer, that I may profit by it.” Then say a Hail Mary to the Most Blessed Virgin, that she may obtain light for us, and a Glory be to the Father, to St. Joseph, to your guardian angel, and to your patron saint, for the same end. (These acts should be made with attention, but briefly; and then you go on directly to the meditation.)


You can always make use of some book, at least at the beginning, and stop where you find yourself mostly touched. St. Francis de Sales says that in this we should do as the bees, which settle on a flower as long they find any honey in it, and then pass on to another. It should also be observed that the fruits to be gained by meditation are three in number — 1) to make affections, 2) to pray, and 3) to make resolutions — and in these consist the profit to be derived from mental prayer. After you have meditated on some eternal truth, and God has spoken to your heart, you must also speak to God, and first, by forming affections, be they acts of faith, of thanksgiving, of humility, or of hope; but above all, repeat the acts of love and contrition. St. Thomas says that every act of love merits for us the grace of God and paradise!

So you must pray; ask God to enlighten you, to give you humility or other virtues, to grant you a good death and eternal salvation; but above all, his love and holy perseverance. And when the soul is in great dryness, it is sufficient to repeat: “My God, help me! Lord, have mercy on me! My Jesus, have mercy!” And if you do nothing but this, your prayer will succeed exceedingly well.

And, before finishing your prayer, you must form a particular resolution, as, for instance, to avoid some occasion of sin, to bear with an annoyance from some person, to correct some fault, and the like.


Three acts are to be made: in the first, we must thank God for the inspirations we have received; in the second, we must make a determination to observe the resolutions we have made; in the third, we must ask God, for the love of Jesus and Mary, to help us to keep our resolution. The prayer concludes by the recommendation of the souls in purgatory, the prelates of the church, sinners, and all our relatives and friends, for which we may say an Our Father and a Hail Mary.

St. Francis de Sales exhorts us to choose some thought which may have struck us more especially in our prayer, that we may remember it during the rest of the day.

Father Nick Nelson is pastor of St. Mary, Cook; St. Martin, Tower; and Holy Cross, Orr. He studied at The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome. Reach him at [email protected].