As with many aspects of spirituality, two millennia of inspired thought and writing by the greatest saints and theologians have given us an organized classification of the the levels of development in the life of prayer.

For this article I will use the following video by Fr. Chad Ripperger (1:07:13 minutes).

Spiritual Theology Series: Levels of Prayer ~ Fr Ripperger

To start with, he defines prayer as lifting of the mind and heart to God. By “mind and heart” he means the will. Here are the nine levels with the time mark in the video where each is discussed. The discussion for each level is valuable. The following list is more of an index into the list of the various levels.

  1. Vocal prayer (4:20): written or spoken prayer. There are two forms, public and private.
  2. Mental prayer (meditation) (9:46): employs the imagination.
  3. Effective prayer (19:47): the will rather than the intellect is the predominant aspect.
  4. Prayer of simplicity (24:08): involves the single loving focus on a spiritual object or thought. This is the highest level one can reach on their own. This is the last level where man alone maintains control.
  5. Contemplative prayer (27:12): is characterized by God taking over. In each higher level He captivates successively more faculties.
  6. The prayer of quiet (33:34): the will is captivated by God but the intellect, memory and imagination remain free.
  7. The prayer of union (41:11): is characterized by all faculties being captivated with only the senses remaining free. One experiences the “pain of loss”.
  8. The conforming union (44:04): the last stage of thee purgative level. The soul is no longer in the body. There is no sensitive awareness.
  9. The transforming union (46:36): this level is permanent. There is perfect communication with God. Forgetfulness of self and perfect sublimation of all the faculties.

This hierarchy of prayer in entirety is for those who have adopted a contemplative life. For the rest of us, effective communication with God should be our goal. To this end, I will be seeking to publish articles that provide a more detailed description of the first four levels and how we can have a constructive prayer life.

Some Thoughts on This Breakdown

Although this description of prayer is well structured, in practice, it describes a continuum in which our human faculties are slowly brought under control and sublimated to spiritual precepts. At the same time, we relinquish increasing control over our spiritual life to God.

There are no formal checkpoints with exams to distinguish the end of one level from the start of another level. Some persons might seem to skip certain aspects of the prayer life associated with a level that another person might not. Prayer is singularly individual based on one’s unique relationship with god. Progression through the levels is entirely personal.

Articles in This Series

Refer to the series index in Notes on a Spiritual Journey.


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I started a blog in 2011 called The POOG, an acronym for "pissed off old guy". This is the current incarnation.


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