Vocal and mental prayer


There are two kinds of prayer: vocal prayer and mental prayer.  Vocal prayer is prayer using words either out loud or silently.  So, for example, when we say the Our Father, out loud in church or silently in our heads when we are at home, that is vocal prayer.

In mental prayer we pray with our mind without using words.  In fact this distinction between vocal and mental prayer is only a rough one because in vocal prayer we need to keep our minds on the words we are praying, and in mental prayer we shall from time to time say a word or two. (1) But having said that, the distinction between vocal and mental prayer is widely used and is helpful in understanding more about prayer.

Vocal prayer

Our private prayers

Vocal prayer includes our daily morning and evening prayers.  Unless we speak to God every day, it means we are treating as a Stranger the one Person to whom we owe everything, our very life and existence.  By speaking to God in prayer we keep in touch with him and get to know him.  We can use our own words as well as the words of ‘set’ prayers such as the Our Father.

Morning prayers

As you know, prayer is something very much wider and greater than asking God for this or that.  It is the lifting of the whole mind to God.  Before we say our prayers, therefore, we should choose a time and place where we can be quiet and undisturbed, and then kneel down, make the sign of the Cross and begin by spending a few moments in remembering God’s Presence with us.  Then we should say the Our Father and make an act of adoration, such as the Sanctus from the Eucharist, “Holy, holy, holy…”.  After that, thank God for your past life, and then offer yourself to him completely for the whole of the coming day, and ask him to be with you and help you in all you do.  Lastly ask your patron Saint to pray for you and your Guardian Angel to protect you.  End by saying the Grace.

Evening prayers

In the evening, you begin in exactly the same way.  Make the sign of the Cross, remember God’s Presence, say the Our Father and make an act of adoration.  Then, having thanked God for his goodness to you during the past day, you make a self-examination and find out all the sins you have committed during the day in thought, word and act.  Tell God you are sorry for what you have done, and make an act of contrition, such as, “O my God, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you, and by with help of your grace I will try not to sin again”.

Then pray for your friends and relations, people who are ill or suffering in other ways, the Church, for yourself and for the Faithful Departed.  Next, ask your patron Saint to pray for you and your Guardian Angel to protect you, and end by giving yourself completely to God.  End by saying the Grace.

Besides the Our Father and the Sanctus, you can also use other set forms of prayer, such as we use in church.  For example, you could say the Prayer of St Richard of Chichester (“Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ….”), various hymns, such as “My God I love thee; not because I hope for heaven thereby…”, and of course we can always say the Apostles’ Creed as an Act of Faith.

Arrow prayers

We can and should pray at other times as well.  Arrow prayers are short prayers which fly like an arrow to God and they are very useful during the day.  So you might be sitting in the bus going to school and you see an ambulance racing along with its lights flashing.  You could say a quick prayer for the sick person and his or her family and for the doctors and nurses who will be caring for the person in hospital.  You don’t have to use a lot of words, in fact, just holding them all in your mind and saying the name of “Jesus” is all that is needed.

The Angelus

Another well known set form of prayer is the Angelus, the signal for which is the ringing of the church bell, usually in the morning, at midday and in the evening.  The bell for the Angelus is ring in a special way – three groups of three strokes each, with a short interval between each group, and then nine strokes of the bell straight off.

This fits in with the prayers which consist of three groups, each containing the Hail Mary, and ends with the Collect for the Feast of the Annunciation.  It is called the Angelus for that is the Latin word for angel with which this form of prayer begins.  And it is said in honour of God the Son’s gift of himself to us through Our Lady, when, in the words of the Creed, for us and for our salvation, he “came down from Heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man”.

We say it like this:

V. The angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary;
R. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.  Amen

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
R. Be it unto me according to thy word.

Hail Mary…

V. And the Word was made Flesh;
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary…

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God;
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his Cross (we make the sign of the Cross) and Passion we may be brought unto the glory of his Resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Regina Coeli

During the eight weeks from Easter to Trinity, we say instead the Regina Coeli, which means the Queen of Heaven.  This is always said standing, and the bell is rung in two groups of nine strokes each.  The words are as follows:

Joy to thee, O Queen of Heaven, Alleluia!
He whom thou wast meet to bear, Alleluia!
As he promised hath arisen, Alleluia!
Pour for us to him thy prayer, Alleluia!

V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia!
R. For the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Let us pray
O God, who by the Resurrection of thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, hath vouchsafed to give (that is, has graciously given) joy to the whole world: Grant, we beseech thee, that with the help of his Mother, the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sometimes the Regina Coeli is sung to the same tune as the Easter hymn, “Jesus Christ is risen today”.

Mental prayer

You remember that there are two kinds of prayer, vocal prayer using words, and mental prayer which is without words, or only involves a few words.  In this kind of prayer, we close our eyes and look at God with sorrow for our sins, or love or trust or longing, or offer ourselves to him without necessarily saying anything at all.

We can divide mental prayer up into three parts: Picture, Pray and Promise.  I will give you an example so that you can see what I mean.

Picture and Pray

First, after remembering God’s Presence, we picture to ourselves one of Our Lord’s parables, or some event in his life.  It might be, for example, his Crucifixion.  So we close our eyes and imagine that we are at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady and St John.  We think how he hung and suffered there to save us from our sins.  That will lead us to pray by looking at Jesus in sorrow for the sins we have committed.  Then, after a time, we can go back and picture the Crucifixion again and think how Jesus must love us to have suffered like that for us.  And that will lead us to pray again by looking at Jesus with our eyes closed and our heart filled with love for him.


Picture, Pray and Promise.  We end our mental prayer by making a promise or resolution to Jesus, using our own words  It might be, for example, that we will try especially hard not to commit this or that sin again, or to be nice to someone whom we do not like.

It is most important, of course, that we should have a quiet place for mental prayer.


1. There are two kinds of prayer: vocal (with words) and mental (without words or only using a few words).

2. Vocal prayer includes our daily morning and evening prayers, and all set forms of prayer, as for example, the Our Father and the Angelus.

3. A rule for mental prayer is to Picture, to Pray and to Promise; and we pray by closing our eyes and looking to God with penitence or trust or love or longing or self-offering.


Clements, B. (1939) When ye pray, London: Student Christian Movement Press.