This week is the final week of the series on the nine grades of prayer. We’ll take a closer look at the last two grades. These final grades can seem very out of reach for the vast majority of us, and perhaps that is true, but it is important for us to know what is possible when it comes to our relationship with God. If nothing else, these final grades can provide us with a deeper understanding of what some of our great saints experienced and what awaits us in Heaven.
8th Grade of Prayer – Prayer of Conforming Union
The Prayer of Conforming Union would be the equivalent of a spiritual betrothal between a soul and God. God enters into the person and consumes him or her, creating an intimate union with the soul. The hallmark of this grade of prayer is what is known as the experience of “ecstasy.” An ecstasy is a Catholic term used to describe what the person is going through both in their invisible self – mind, heart, soul – and their visible and bodily self. An ecstasy is where all of the individual’s internal and external senses are completely occupied by God. The mind, the will, the heart, the imagination, and the senses are completely absorbed and occupied by God. The individual will not be aware of anything, both mentally and physically, other than God.
There are two types of ecstasies to be distinguished from each other. The first is what is considered a delightful ecstasy. The individual is delightfully occupied with God, experiencing immense mystical consolation and love. The second type is what is called a violent ecstasy. This type includes suffering so great that most souls could not stand it. It allows for the soul to be so united to Christ that it is able to participate intensely in the suffering of Christ’s Passion for the sake of purification and reparation for the sins of many souls. While this might sound scary to some, this is actually considered a great privilege and not a penalty. To be so united to Christ, that one takes on some of His pain for the sake of humanity and the forgiveness of all sins, should be the goal of every soul. If this sort of suffering sounds daunting to you – which would be perfectly normal – rest assured, God would never ask such things of a soul that has not been prepared or deemed ready. For us “regular” people, a small suffering we can offer back to God for the sanctification of souls is gift enough. You can read the stories of many holy men and women like St. Teresa of Avila, St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Francis, St. Catherine of Siena, and Padre Pio, who not only accepted a share in this great type of suffering, but also asked for it. “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering, love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” (Diary of St. Faustina #57)
9th Grade of Prayer – Prayer of Transforming Union
If the 8th Grade of Prayer is a spiritual betrothal, then the 9th grade would be considered the equivalent of a spiritual marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage is that it is a total giving of oneself to his or her spouse. The two become one flesh and cannot be separated anymore. With the consummation of a marriage, the bride and groom physically give themselves over to one another completely. So, in this final grade of prayer, there is an exchange that takes place between the soul and God which is a complete and total giving of one to the other and the two become united as one. The soul is so intimately united to God, it is sharing in the divine life. This is what we can all look forward to, in some degree or another, in Heaven but some souls are invited to enjoy it here on earth.
There are three indicators that a soul has entered Transforming Union with God. The first is a complete forgetfulness of self as it is so consumed with God. There is almost a sense that the soul no longer exists as it is completely consumed by the divine life within it. The second indicator is a great desire to suffer. At this point, the thought of suffering is not disturbing and the only concern of the soul is to share in the suffering of Christ in His mission to save souls. This yearning for suffering comes from being all consumed in divine love. The third indicator of Transforming Union is the absence of ecstasies. The ecstasies experienced in the previous grade of prayer occurred because God would invade the soul at will and all the faculties of the body and soul would react to the occupation. By the time the soul reaches the 9th grade of prayer, the body has grown so used to the intense presence of God within it, that it is more prepared to receive Him when He comes.
This concludes the series on the 9 grades of prayer. Hopefully you have learned more about what is possible in your prayer life. Perhaps you’ve been inspired to strive for more intimacy with your Lord and Savior. You can always work on the first four grades by your own efforts. Just doing that with intentionality will automatically produce fruit and growth in your spiritual life. As Catholics, we have a great gift in the saints, as they provide examples of true holiness for us to imitate on our own journey. God has many great desires for all of us and all He asks is that we respond to Him and draw closer to Him in order for us to obtain the desires of His heart. Let us all strive to love and adore God more for who He is and unite ourselves and our will more deeply to His through a deepening of our prayer life.
To receive articles and reflections like these directly to your inbox, please subscribe.