Friday 21 March 2014

Frequent Ejaculation

                                          Detail from Ecstasy of St Teresa by Bernini

For many centuries Catholics have been encouraged to practice a devotion known as ejaculatory prayer. My copy of Our Lady's Prayer Book from 1929 has, indeed, a list of indulgenced ejaculatory prayers with the amount of time off purgatory added in brackets afterwards. Saying, for example, Sacred Heart of Jesus I trust thee is worth 300 days. In recent decades the Church has adopted a less apparently mechanical approach to purgatory. Also for reasons which might or might not be obvious to the reader the term 'ejaculatory prayer' has fallen out of favour. Various other names for the practise have been used with 'exclamatory prayer' being perhaps the most straightforward replacement.

However it is described the practice is one of those deceptively simple and seemingly easy devotions which are actually both harder to practice and considerably more beneficial than you might suppose. The idea is to take a word or group of words, perhaps a short scripture passage or a mini prayer, and repeat it frequently during the course of the day out loud or silently. This is different from a mantra in that the prayer is not intended to be uninterrupted, rather it is itself intended to be an interruption. That is, by using an exclamatory prayer at odd moments, waiting for the kettle to boil, queuing up at the shops, in a boring meeting or whatever, one calls to mind the sacred whilst in the midst of the workaday business of you just being you and doing your thing.

The unexpected power of this prayer lies in the simple fact that a word is never just a word and a phrase is never just a collection of words. Every time we name something or enunciate a concept, even if we do it hurriedly or only half consciously, then it invokes with it a connection of memories and associated ideas and emotions. These act upon us as frequently as we invoke them and that they may be doing so at a level below our awareness does not make them any the less powerful. If we say, for example, I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief. then we will be recalling a particular episode from the Gospel, we will be imaginatively entering into the lives of our Lord, His Disciples and those who went to seek Him and we will be making a plea for conversion which, in its turn, calls into our mind and heart the recollection how much and for why we so desire to be converted. All of this occupies but a few seconds of the day and much of it occurs, as I said, at a level below our discursive mind's awareness. Nonetheless, repeat the action dozens of times a day and thousands of times a year then it will have a gradual transformative effect upon our very souls.

Another substitute for 'ejaculation' is 'aspiration'. The concept of prayers of aspiration is my favourite way of thinking about the devotion because aspiration is such a delightfully multi-layered word. It can indicate that we have a desire to achieve something or to become something. Thus if we pray Be thou my speech, be thou my understanding.  then we are aspiring to make God central to everything we see and everything we think. Aspiration also refers to breath so this devotion is a way of making prayer as natural to us as breathing. And, of course at the centre of the word is the root 'spirit' reminding us that Spirit and breath are closely united in meaning and closely related to each other so aspirations are ways of calling down the Holy Spirit upon us. Incidentally previous generations of Catholics would have been familiar with the idea that "'Come Holy Spirit' is an ejaculatory prayer" but modern minds might be minded to rephrase that slightly differently.

Another difference between this and the mantra is that we are not restricted to using just one aspiration or exclamation. During the course of the day or week or year we can use several different ones. Whatever serves to help raise our mind and heart to God in the situation in which we find ourselves. I used to like saying this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118) on grey, gloomy, rainy days. I stopped because other people seemed to find it annoying. When feeling down I might say For I know that my Redeemer lives (Job 19:25). When feeling beleaguered by life or by my inner demons I might call O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me (Psalm 69/70)  and so on and so forth.

The devotion could take the form of simply using a single word, most usually a name either Jesus or Mary being the obviously Catholic choices. If a word is never just a word then a name most certainly is never just a name. This is particularly the case with names with which we have been familiar since childhood. Every time we invoke it we call up a huge range of associations. Of course these names are also often used in negative ways in cursing or casual blasphemies and as we do ourselves unsuspected good in invoking them prayerfully so, I would suggest, we do ourselves unsuspected harm in using them thus disrespectfully. Be that as it may, the Church holds that both these names contain and convey power within them and if we use them prayerfully during the course of the day then we allow that power to irrupt into our lives and seep into our consciousness as an important part of our own identity.

Personally, over the years I have used a wide variety of such aspiration but at any one time there is usually one which I use massively more than any other, when I walk, when I wait for a train, while I am cooking a meal, when too tired to read, when about to fall asleep. Currently my fave is Mary, help of Christians, pray for us which seems appropriate on all sorts of occasions. It is also a prayer to be found in the Litany of our Lady and the practise of praying litanies is a rich source of aspirational prayers as is the practise of Lectio Divina, both forms of prayer which I hope to be able to write about in future blogs.

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  1. Thanks Steve for sharing your experience with prayer.Totally agree with your application during our days.Staying open to God thru out our day is of most importance,any thought of God let's Him in,any thought of Gods will enables us.St.Catherine of Sienna said" only think of God and He will think of you".I use the type of prayer you describe myself and I have prayed simply"come Holy Spirit". And the results have been as you describe.One of my favorites,or most helpful is"thus it is your will O Lord and you always will what is best for us all".That prayer has helped me to develop an attitude of acceptance along with a degree of humility.Simple prayers of right relation help in any situation at anytime.I like this post because it shares with me and anyone else who reads it simple tools that definitely can break thru our tendency to fall asleep and be caught off guard by that pharoah within us that keeps wanting to be back in power.The more we work at opening up to the Light the weaker that egotism becomes.Conscious effort like you describe though sometimes difficult truly does gradually permeate our entire being.God bless you for passing along a very useful message.

  2. Dear Catholic Crusader,

    Five hundred years ago in 1517, Martin Luther made public his 95 complaints against the Roman Catholic church (hereafter, RCC). Today, we shall do likewise, with another 95 reasons. However, in this critique, we will exclusively fixate on the nucleus of all Catholic doctrine called, Transubstantiation. This teaching is built on the premise that when the priest utters “This is my body” over bread and wine that the “combustible” syllables of these four words ignite with such power and energy that, unbeknownst to our cognizant senses, the substance of bread and wine miraculously change (“by the force of the words” says the Council of Trent; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1375). They are then abruptly replaced with something else entirely; namely, the very body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ in some mysterious form which leaves only the outward appearance of bread and wine (i.e., the color, shape, size, taste, weight and texture -- or "accidental" properties, remain unchanged in objective reality). It is claimed that the supernatural power that creates this miracle on a daily basis, 24 hours a day in Masses worldwide, “is the same power of Almighty God that created the whole universe out of nothing at the beginning of time” (Mysterium Fidei, 47). The question is: does the sacred rhetoric of Jesus lead us to conclude He intended it be recited like a magician recites his incantations? (Reason 6, 74). That at the recitation of these four words, the world is obligated to be transfixed on Transubstantiation???

    We should think that a rollercoaster of 95 reasons against this doctrine should at least pique your curiosity, let alone make you wonder if, like the calmness of a ferris wheel, you can so calmly refute them. The issue is far from inconsequential, since it’s claimed our very eternal destinies are at stake. So while sensitive to the fact that many are captivated by this doctrine, we are persuaded that the theological framework of the Bible conveys a persistent and vigorous opposition to this theory. God's word tells us to, "study to show yourself approved" (2 Tim 2:15) and we have indeed done just that.

    The almost “romantic fidelity” to Transubstantiation springs forth from the opinion that consuming the “organic and substantial” body of Christ in the Eucharist is necessary for salvation (CCC 1129 & 1355; Trent, "Concerning Communion", ch. 1 and “Concerning Communion Under Both Kinds”, ch. 3; Canon 1; Mysterium Fidei, intro). Our burden here is to safeguard the gospel (Jude 1:3). If a religious system professing to be Christian is going to demand that something be done as a prerequisite for eternal life, it is vital to scrutinize this claim under the searchlight of Scripture and with “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Proverbs 25:2 says, "the honor of a king is to search out a matter". We shall do likewise.

    Determined to test all things by Holy Writ (1 Thess 5:21; Acts 17:11, 2 Cor 10:5), the following 95 reasons have been compiled to an extravagant length to provoke you to consider the cognitive complexities of this doctrine which we conclude are biblically unbearable. We are so convinced the Bible builds a concrete case against this superstition, that we will not allow the things we have in common to suppress the more urgent need to confront the differences that divide us, such as Transubstantiation. We are told this issue directly impacts our eternal destiny, so it must not be ignored. The Lord Jesus came to divide and conquer by the truth of His word. He said, "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Luke 12:51-53).

    For the full essay of 95 reasons, kindly e-mail me at

  3. Quoting a certain priest, "I note that nowhere here do you cite John chapter 6, wherein our Lord insists that his flesh is real food, and “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life.” Honestly, that’s enough for me. I’m with Peter: “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of spirit and life.”