In the following decree, the delegates of the 31st General Congregation assert “the importance of prayer,” while proposing “specific orientations on the manner and conditions of prayer” for members of the Society of Jesus. The decree closes with a reminder for “every Jesuit that personal daily prayer is an absolute necessity.” To that end, it makes several recommendations, including that each Jesuit conduct an examination of conscience for fifteen minutes twice a day, that the Jesuit communities share “some brief common prayer,” and that every Jesuit makes the Spiritual Exercises each year.
For more from the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
1. The Second Vatican Council, encouraging the work of renewal in the Church, wishes every Christian, and particularly all priests and religious, earnestly to advance in the spirit of prayer and in prayer itself. At the same time, difficulties and doubts, both theoretical and practical, are raised against prayer and these cause no little harm to the Society. Hence the General Congregation considers that it must recall the importance of prayer and propose specific orientations on the manner and conditions of prayer in the Society so that superiors and each individual member may be able to weigh their responsibilities in God’s presence.
2. Our entire spiritual life is in Christ Jesus. We share, of course, the adoptive sonship of God which all the faithful have through faith and baptism, but belong in a special way to God through our consecration as religious in the Society which our founder wished to bear the name of Jesus. We desire to know only Christ Jesus who, sent forth from the Father, consummated the work of saving creation by His life, death, and resurrection. Risen now and exalted by the Father, He draws all things to Himself through the Holy Spirit whom He has sent into the world, so that in Him all may be one as He and the Father are one. Thus, through the grace of our vocation, at once both religious and apostolic, we share in the salvific work of Christ, partaking more fully and intimately of Christ’s own love for the Father and for all men, for He loved us unto the end and gave Himself as a ransom for all. Here, then, is our vocation, to love the Father and His children, to work with Christ in His Church for the life of the world that the Father may receive greater glory, to strive towards our goal in the Spirit—this is the ever flowing font of the joy of our charity and the offering of our strength.
3. The Spiritual Exercises of our father St. Ignatius are both the heritage of our spirituality and the school of our prayer. They indeed open the way through which we may penetrate ever deeper into the mystery of salvation which in turn feeds our lives as apostles in the world. For it is faith, progressively encompassing all reality, that must permeate us as persons if we are to give authentic witness to the living presence of Christ the Lord. The witness is what we seek in mental prayer as we enjoy God’s presence and try, with the aid of His grace, to see all things in the light of Christ. Through mental prayer our individual lives receive clarity and meaning from the history of salvation, are set against the background of God’s speaking to us, and hopefully are enriched with that freedom and spiritual discernment so necessary for the ministry of the Gospel. These reasons apply to all religious involved in the world of today, which far too often ignores its God. For these religious, formal prayer is a precious chance to see the unity of creation and to refer creation to the Father. Our own men, conscious of our special task of challenging atheism, find further apostolic significance in prayer as it fosters in us a sense of the living God and an encouragement of our faith.
4. The Jesuit apostle goes from the Exercises, at once a school of prayer and of the apostolate, a man called by his vocation to be a contemplative in action. For the closer and more firmly we bind ourselves to Christ, denying self-love in our association with His salvific work, the more fully do we adore the Father in spirit and truth and the more effectively do we bring salvation to men. Witnesses to Christ in our apostolate, we see Him praying always to the Father, often alone through the night or in the desert. We, too, must enjoy familiar conversation with Him in continuous and in formal prayer. This very intimacy with Christ forges a union of our life of prayer and our life of apostolic work. Far from living two separate lives, we are strengthened and guided towards action in our prayer while our action in turn urges us to pray. Bringing salvation to men in word and deed through faith, hope, and love, we pray as we work and are invited to formal prayer that we may toil as true servants of God. In this interplay, praise, petition, thanksgiving, self-offering, spiritual joy, and peace join prayer and work to bring a fundamental unity into our lives. Truly this is our characteristic way of prayer, experienced by St. Ignatius through God’s special gift nourished by his own generous abnegation, fiery zeal for souls, and watchful care of his heart and senses. He found God in every thing, every word, and every deed. He relished God’s omnipresence. If the Jesuit apostle is to live this intimate marriage of prayer and action in today’s world, he must return each year to the school of the Exercises, so that, spiritually renewed, he may take up his work again with deeper faith and love.
5. The People of God, in whom Christ shows us the way to the Father, are our people. Hence the prayer of every Christian is rooted in the prayer of the Church and flowers into liturgical action. Thus the celebration of the Eucharist is the center of the life of the apostolic religious community, bringing fraternal union to its perfection and blessing every apostolic endeavor with the waters of holiness.
6. Since it has pleased the Father to speak to men both in His Son, the Word Incarnate, and in many ways in Scripture, the Bible, a treasure bestowed by the Spouse on His Church to nourish and guide all men, is truly the ever-flowing font of prayer and renewal of religious life. In each of us, as the whole tradition of the Church attests, Holy Scripture becomes our saving word only when heard in prayer that leads to the submission of faith. Lectio divina, a practice dating back to the earliest days of religious life in the Church, supposes that the reader surrenders to God who is speaking and granting him a change of heart under the action of the two-edged sword of Scripture continually challenging to conversion. Truly we can expect from prayerful reading of Scripture a renewal of our ministry of the word and of the Spiritual Exercises, both of which derive their vigor from our familiarity with the Gospel. And, since the word of God comes to us in the living tradition of the Church, our scriptural reading can never be improved apart from revived interest in the Fathers and the outstanding spiritual writers, especially those of the Society. Nor can we ever forget that spiritual reading played a key role in the conversion of St. Ignatius. Similarly, our theological studies, which ought to be continued through our entire apostolic life, should be united to prayer to lead us to an ever deeper experience of the Lord.
7. Those means which unite us to God and aid us in helping souls are mentioned in the Constitutions as “integrity and virtue, especially love, purity of intention in serving God, familiarity with God in spiritual exercises of devotion, and sincere zeal for souls for the glory of Him who created and redeemed them.” Hence our father St. Ignatius urges us to advance “in zeal for solid and perfect virtue and spiritual matters,” pointing out how vital it is for each of his men to seek that manner and kind of prayer which will better aid him progressively to find God and to treat intimately with Him. With brotherly union, each Jesuit and his superior must collaborate in this humble and oft-repeated search for the divine will.
Every one of us, therefore, must keep some time sacred in which, leaving all else aside, he strives to find God. Through prayer he must seek to develop his spiritual life. In his dialogue with God he will grow in knowledge of God’s ways with him, of the choices God desires him to make, of the apostolate God has for him, of the height and manner of perfection to which God lovingly invites him. His prayer thus becomes a truly vital activity whose progressive growth evidences increasingly the action and presence of God in him. His prayer teaches him and tries him in faith, hope, and charity through which we seek, love, and serve God progressively in all things.
Prayer, then, becomes not only a matter of obeying our religious rule, acceptable as that is to God, but also a personal reply to a divine call. Prayer is thus a faithful response to the law of charity towards God and men which the Holy Spirit has written in our hearts. The charity of Christ urges us to personal prayer and no human person can dispense us from that urgency.
8. To live his life of prayer, which in the Society is never separated from apostolic action, each of us must first deny himself so that, shedding his own personal inclinations, he may have that mind which is in Christ Jesus. For while on the one hand, prayer brings forth abnegation, since it is God who purifies man’s heart by His presence, on the other, abnegation itself prepares the way for prayer, because only the pure of heart will see God. Progress in prayer is possible for those alone who continually try to put off their misguided affections to ready themselves to receive the light and grace of God. This continual conversion of heart “to the love of the Father of mercies” is intimately related to the repeated sacramental act of penance.
Self-denial, which disposes us for prayer and is one of its fruits, is not genuine unless amid the confusion of the world we try to keep our hearts at peace, our minds tranquil, and our desires restrained. Abnegation for us will consist chiefly in fidelity as we daily live our first consecration to God and remain faithful to Him even in insignificant details. Growth in prayer and abnegation necessarily implies spiritual discernment by which a man is willing to learn from God, so that these gifts appear more clearly externally while they strike deeper roots into his inner life.
Though modern living seems to make it hard for us to provide these conditions for true prayer, with trust in God we must try courageously to actualize these aids to prayer in our own lives. Then we can truly serve our neighbor better.
9. Superiors must actually lead the way in this matter of growth in prayer, inspiring by their example, helping their men, encouraging them, and aiding their progress. If their leadership is to be truly spiritual, they must understand the consciences of their men and get to know them through dialogue which is based on mutual trust. Further, it is the superior’s function to promote the prayer life of the entire community as well as the individual’s and to provide those conditions which favor prayer. He should see that the daily order and house discipline give each enough time for his customary prayer and its preparation and aid him to pray better.
Spiritual fathers, as well as superiors, show the true charity of Christ towards those placed in their charge when they guide them and aid them in this art of prayer, at once most difficult and divine.
10. Liturgical celebrations, especially those in which the community worships as a group, and above all the celebration of the Eucharist, should mean much to us. For it is the Eucharistic sacrifice, the highest exercise of the priesthood, that continually carries out the work of our redemption, and for this reason, priests are strongly urged to celebrate Mass every day, for even if the faithful are unable to be present, it is an act of Christ and of the Church. Concelebration, by which the unity of the priesthood is appropriately manifested, is encouraged in our houses when allowed by the proper authority, while each priest shall always retain his right to celebrate Mass individually. Priests themselves extend to the different hours of the day the praise and thanksgiving of the Eucharistic celebration by reciting the divine office. Hence our priests should try to pray attentively and at a suitable time11 that wonderful song of praise which is truly the prayer of Christ and that of His Body to the Father.”
11. The General Congregation wishes to remind every Jesuit that personal daily prayer is an absolute necessity.
But the Congregation, recognizing the value of current developments in the spiritual life, does not intend to impose upon all indiscriminately a precisely defined universal norm for the manner and length of prayer. Our rule of an hour’s prayer is therefore to be adapted so that each Jesuit, guided by his superior, takes into account his particular circumstances and needs, in the light of that discerning love which St. Ignatius clearly presupposed in the Constitutions.
The Society counts on her men after their formation to be truly “spiritual men who have advanced in the way of Christ our Lord so as to run along this way,” men who in this matter of prayer are led chiefly by that “rule . . . which discerning love gives to each one,” guided by the advice of his spiritual father and the approval of his superior.
All should recall that the prayer in which God communicates Himself more intimately is the better prayer, whether mental or even vocal, whether it be in meditative reading or in an intense feeling of love and self-giving.
12. As for what concerns the approved scholastics and brothers in particular, account should be taken of the following:
1° During the entire time of their formation they should be carefully helped to grow in prayer and a sense of spiritual responsibility towards a mature interior life, in which they will know how to apply the rule of discerning love which St. Ignatius prescribed for his sons after the period of their formation.
2° To foster this growth, the Society retains the practice of an hour and a half as the time for prayer, Mass, and thanksgiving. Each man should be guided by his spiritual father as he seeks that form of prayer in which he can best advance in the Lord. The judgment of superiors is normative for each.
3° In the communities in which they live, since these are ordinarily more tightly structured and larger in numbers, the daily order should always indicate clearly a portion of the day fixed by superiors, within which prayer and preparation for it may have their time securely established.
13. The exercise of prayer known as examination of conscience, aptly designated by St. Ignatius to develop purity of heart, spiritual discernment, and union with God in the active life, should be made twice daily. The Society, following its approved tradition, recommends that it last a quarter of an hour.
14. The prayerful reading of Scripture is a spiritual exercise that all should highly esteem and faithfully perform. As we read, we should try to deepen our familiarity with the word of God, to listen carefully to His voice, to sharpen our perception of salvation history in which the mystery of Christ is foretold, fulfilled, and continued in His Church. We should truly seek and find Christ in the pages of the Fathers and of all Christian writers, especially Jesuits.
15. Insofar as their apostolic character permits it, Jesuit communities should be united daily for some brief common prayer. The particular form should be approved by the provincial according to norms to be established by Father General. The prayer should take into account the greater needs of the whole world, the Church, the Society, and the community itself. Moreover, for the faithful fulfillment of their apostolic vocation both communities and individuals should cherish daily converse with Christ the Lord in visiting the Blessed Sacrament.
16. The Spiritual Exercises should be made yearly by all, according to the method of St. Ignatius, for eight successive days. Adaptations may be allowed because of particular circumstances; the provincial is to be the judge of the merits of each case. More general adaptations which affect an entire province or assistancy are to be submitted to Father General for approval. The circumstances of the annual retreat (such as silence, recollection, a location removed from ordinary work) should be managed in such a way that the Jesuit is able truly to renew his spiritual life through frequent and uninterrupted familiar conversation with God.
17. Decrees 52, 55, 81 of the Collection of Decrees are to be modified according to Nos. 10 to 16 of the above.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 31, Decree 14, “Prayer,” pg. 99–105 [210–237].