Contemplative prayer

Question: Some people claim to have directly experienced the Blessed Trinity. And while all Three Persons are experienced, it usually is the Holy Spirit who is out front. What does the Church say about such experiences? Also, is this what the Protestants mean by being “born again?”

Bob Tisovich via email

Answer: Since you do not cite a source, it is difficult to decipher some of what is stated in your question. However, to “directly” experience the Trinity, if that word is understood to mean the beatific vision, is not possible here on earth.

If the experience of God being described is that of deeper or contemplative prayer, then such an experience is not only possible but should be expected to some degree as our spiritual life matures.

Spiritual theologians generally distinguish two types or levels of prayer: discursive prayer and contemplative prayer. Discursive prayer implies a conversation with God using words and images.

As prayer deepens, words become fewer, less necessary and one begins to experience God in a richer and deeper way, beyond words or images. Such prayer is called contemplative prayer and admits of deepening stages as the spiritual life matures.

In this context, it is possible to say the person experiences the Trinity. And while one Person of the Trinity may be more experienced than another, since the prayer is without images, it is more often a simple, deep and loving experience as God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Protestant “born again” notion usually speaks to a powerful emotional experience wherein one acknowledges his or her sin and need for a savior, and repents, calling on Jesus to be his or her savior. When Jesus spoke of being “born again,” he clearly says it means being born of water and spirit (see Jn 3:5). In this same scriptural sense, St. Peter teaches “baptism now saves you” (1 Pt 3:21).

But being “born again,” for many Protestants, seems to take place apart from baptism and results from this experience. Whatever “water baptism” takes place later is a mere ceremony for most of them.

Though contemplative prayer speaks to a deep experience of God, it is not an event. It is a deepening experience of God that is ongoing.

Funeral hymns

Question: Does the Catholic Church require music and hymns at funeral Masses?

Name withheld via email

Answer: No. A funeral Mass, like any Mass, can be entirely recited with no music at all. However, individual parishes may rightly desire that funeral Masses not be merely recited. This is because many visitors (Catholic and non-Catholic) attend funeral Masses. Therefore, the parish may legitimately wish to use options in the Mass (such as the use of music) that best exemplify Catholic liturgical norms and something close to the best of what a parish can offer. Funerals are public liturgies of the Church and, as such, cannot simply attend to the desires and preferences of the immediate family.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at