The Three Types of Prayer

By Sean Mulcare

There is nothing more beneficial for the soul than prayer. Prayer transforms the soul and is the place where God can work to bring about peace and happiness — the goal of every person. But how does a person pray? We hear all the time about how it’s important to pray, but in my experience, I am rarely told how to pray. For something so important, I think there should be a good amount of teaching on how to pray. The truth is, there have been hundreds of years of teachers teaching us how to pray and books written about prayer, but we rarely hear about them.

So, what is prayer? Prayer is the development of love between God and the soul. The goal of prayer is to grow in love with God. It’s pretty simple, and we don’t need to overcomplicate it.

The first thing that must be understood is that prayer develops. How you pray when you first start praying will be different from how you pray after 2 years of regular prayer, which will again be different from after 10 years of praying. Generally speaking, prayer becomes simpler but more profound over time. We will now look briefly at the three types of prayer. We start with the first and grow into the third:

  1. Vocal Prayer
  2. Meditative Prayer
  3. Contemplative Prayer

(1) When someone first starts to pray, they typically start with vocal prayer. Vocal prayer is prayer in which you read prayers or say memorized prayers such as the Our Father or Hail Mary. This is a great place to start. An example of this is praying the Rosary without meditating on the mysteries.

(2) After a while of praying vocal prayers, there will be a desire to pray in a deeper way. This is the Holy Spirit leading you to come closer to God. The next form of prayer is meditative prayer. In this prayer, the imagination starts to engage. In meditative prayer, you come up with your own prayers, and you say things from your own mind and from the heart. An example of this is Lectio Divina. The Holy Spirit will guide the imagination in prayer and will show the individual God’s great love for them.

(3) The last and deepest form of prayer is called contemplative prayer. This type of prayer is a great gift from God, and it is understood to be a simple gaze of the heart. It is the heart simply being in love with being in the presence of God. Few words are said, and it is mostly just enjoying being in the presence of God. When one gets to this point, prayer continues to develop and deepen, so this is not the destination but an important stage in the journey to God.

Prayer is essential to spiritual growth. I have found that many people who go to Mass every Sunday don’t have a daily prayer life. To go to Mass every Sunday but not to pray daily is like going into a beautiful building but not turning on the light switch. We need to turn on the light switch of prayer to see the beauty and goodness that surrounds us in the Mass and in our daily lives. God wants to transform our lives, but we must allow him to work in our hearts through prayer.


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