Year of Faith Retreat – Week 4, Day 2: The Three “Venues” of Prayer (Forms of Prayer, Part I)

Year-of-Faith-Sidebar-150wWEEK FOUR: Prayer

DAY 2: The Three “Venues” of Prayer (Forms of Prayer, Part I)

Take a moment to think of all of the ways we can communicate with someone nowadays:



  • In person (orally)
  • Handwritten note
  • E-mail
  • Text message
  • Skype
  • Tweet
  • Voice mail
  • Telegram
  • FAX
  • Instant message

In today’s world we have many different ways by which we can send and receive messages. In our prayer lives, as well, we have many different ways in which we can speak and listen to God. In particular, we can describe these forms of prayer according to three categories: vocal, meditative, and contemplative.

Think of it this way. Picture a teenage couple who have just begun dating. They can’t get enough of talking to one another, constantly calling, texting, chatting. Now picture an elderly couple, married over 50 years, sitting on a porch swing, gently swaying back and forth without a word being spoken. Both couples are “in communnion” with one another. One end of the spectrum relies mainly on words. At the other end of the spectrum, words no longer seem as necessary. That’s the same dynamic that we find on the spectrum of prayer running from vocal through meditative to contemplative.

Here’s an image to help you remember these 3 forms of prayer. Right before the Gospel, at Mass, we make the Sign of the Cross over our forehead, lips, and heart, while silently praying, “May the word of God be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.” Mind, lips, and heart – these are the three “venues” so-to-speak, of prayer.

  • Vocal (lips)
  • Meditative (mind)
  • Contemplative (heart)

Vocal prayer, using words either spoken out loud or in the silence of our hearts, is the most natural form of prayer and, for most people, is the place where prayer begins. We can speak to God using our own words or using the words of traditional prayers and liturgical prayers such as the Liturgy of the Hours.

Meditation, or reflective prayer, is thinking about God—often with the aid of a Scripture passage, an inspirational reading, or sacred images. When we meditate, we attempt to become aware of—and “plug into”—God’s power and presence in our lives. Examples include the Daily Examen, the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and Lectio Divina.

Often, the words meditation and contemplation are used interchangeably. Contemplation and meditation are not mutually exclusive. Meditation is often called contemplative prayer. Meditation leads to contemplation. However, a fine distinction is helpful. Meditation involves actively focusing. Contemplation is simply resting quietly in God’s presence. In contemplation, we do not attempt to speak to God but simply marvel at his glorious presence. It can be compared to enjoying a beautiful piece of art or a nature scene. No words are needed. An example of this is Centering Prayer.

No matter what our personality type is – introvert or extrovert – we can find ways to enter into a deeper relationship with God through prayer. It means that we can truly pray without ceasing, knowing the prayer is much more than talking to God, but is our awareness of and response to God’s presence in our lives.

Reflection Questions: Choose one of the following questions and share your thoughts with your fellow retreatants by adding your comments in the comments box below this post.

  • Who is someone that you would feel comfortable sitting in silence with?
  • Who is the person you talk with the most? How often and what do you talk about?
  • What can we learn about prayer from how we communicate in our own relationships?
  • What’s your favorite traditional prayer? When did you learn it and from whom?
  • How do you feel about praying spontaneously? About leading others with a spontaneous prayer?
  • What’s your favorite form of meditation?
  • What kind of experience have you had with contemplation?
  • What form of prayer that you would like to learn more about were you introduced to for the first time in this article?


Holy Spirit, you teach your people to pray through the guidance of the Church. Thank you for showing me so many ways to be in prayerful communion with you and with the Father and with Jesus. Help me to find the way to pray that is best for me right now in my life. Help me to grow in my prayer life, so that I may better recognize God’s presence in my life and respond by loving him and by loving my neighbors.

Additional Reading

CCC References: 2697-2724

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I hope you’re enjoying our online summer retreat, Preparing for a Year of Faith! Take a few minutes each day at your convenience to “gather” here on my blog as we seek to add some flavor to our faith lives by deepening our understanding of the truths of our faith as given to us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Learn more about the Year of Faith. Watch a brief video explaining what this online retreat is all about.

About Joe Paprocki 2760 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

11 Comments on Year of Faith Retreat – Week 4, Day 2: The Three “Venues” of Prayer (Forms of Prayer, Part I)

  1. The form of prayer that I was introduced for the first time in this article is contemplation. I would have to teach discipline to myself to be able to do this form of prayer. I meditate with the help of a prayer book when I go to Adoration. It is sometimes hard for me not to be distracted.
    I have read about contemplation now and I hope with the grace of God I will be able to try this form of prayer.

  2. Ive enjoyed the retreat immensely. The presentations are so down to earth yet lift me up spiritually. I’m going to use several of the days for my RCIA program. Maybe your next book will include this retreat. Thank you so much for all you do Joe. I always look forward to reading your material.

  3. I am finding that as I grow older, I get much more satisfaction from praying the rosary or making the Stations of the Cross with a group, rather than individually. I like being surrounded by a group of people all joined together for the same purpose. It’s different from Mass for me because, although we are not forced to attend Mass, there is the sense of obligation. At other services, all are joined out of a strong personal desire to pray together. This communal gathering brings me a sense a belonging to a wonderful church.

  4. I’m tied with the people I speak to the most and sit in silence with the most.

    My husband of 20 years is one whom I can sit comfortable in silence with. He is also the one whom I speak with the most. We discuss our children, our lives, our future, we joke, we tease. We share our hopes and fears. Most importantly, we share our faith.

    So right away I thought of my husband. And then I wondered, how could I possibly ignore that same kind of relationship I have with God? I love to go into Church and just sit quietly with Him. I certainly also share every part of my life with Him. I am always worried if my actions will be pleasing to Him and if I am honoring his Great Name by the things I do and say. I feel guilty when I fall short and I am immensely happy when I know the work I have done is true to my faith. Always, I bring it back to God.

  5. the person that I speak to the most is really God. I ask for guidance all throughout my day. strength, especially and wisdom in situations. I love to pray at 3:00 hour the Divine Mercy Chaplet it gets me back on track and always the Rosary. I noticed when I was at playground with my kids I was watching them build a sand castle and walked the larger perimeter as I prayed the DM chaplet at the 3:00 hour , as we were there I could see a couple praying from a book that was arabic and turned out they were from Saudi arabia. Our kids were playing I noticed the accents so I asked where they were from and they said Saudi Arabia we talked about the situation there in syria and the middle east the end results were that there were NO winners in war and much needed peace. God works in mysterious ways. Prayer is so needed to really obtain peace first in our hearts then with our neighbor.

  6. My favorite form of prayer is spontaneous. I always encourage my youth group to spontaneous prayer because I want them to get used to talking to God just like we talk with one another. This way they can establish a comfortable relationship with God without having to feel that if they don’t say a standard form of prayer they aren’t in communion with God. I also find that praying the “Our Father” is a great prayer because this prayer encompasses all that you can ask of God and all that He will do for you. This prayer is your covenant with God.

  7. My favorite form of meditation is the rosary. It was not until I was an adult that I learned and began to pray the rosary. I purchased a rosary CD that includes background music. I often say it before going to bed and will sometimes pray the rosary through the website It is such a beautiful prayer and I feel very close to Mary and Jesus as I meditate on each of mysteries.

  8. Centring prayer was a new form of prayer for me. I often use lectio divina or just go and sit in front of the blessed sacrament to be in God’s presence but wasn’t aware that there are different forms of contemplative prayer and that they centre around the Holy Trinity. I would like to know more about the other forms.Thanks Joe. I too have really enjoyed this online retreat from afar ( Malta , in the Mediteranian ).

  9. God the Father, Creator — Lord, Jesus Christ — Come, Holy Spirit. What an awesome God! So many ways to experience, connect, pray. We have overnight Eucharistic Adoration once a month at our Church. This has been a new experience for me and have been amazed at the fruits of the prayer in our lives and the life of our parish. Come, Holy Spirit – I would be interested in learning more about Praying in Tongues. We also have a Charismatic Prayer Group that meets almost every week. Many, many paths of prayer to follow – oh, yes – speaking of paths – just loved the labyrinth prayer garden outside at the retreat center.

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