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Is “resting in the spirit” or being “slain in the spirit” the same as contemplative ecstasy?

February 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Consolation/Desolation, Dan Burke, Mystical Experience

Q: Dear Dan, I have experienced what people call “resting in the spirit” or being “slain in the spirit.” It was amazing. The priest prayed for me and I fell to the floor as if I had passed out (no injuries as I was already praying on my knees facing the Altar). However, I was still aware of others around me but was lost in God’s love. I am curious if this experience is the same as “ecstasy”?

A: Before I answer your question, a little background is in order. The Lord has deeply blessed the Church by providing us with the mystical doctors. These great and holy saints have provided a clear understanding of what it means to encounter the living God. This provision comes in great detail and is an invaluable aid to help us process our experiences and to ensure our souls are properly oriented to Him depending upon where we are in our progress. So, with respect to your question, we are able to compare current experiences with those described by these doctors and determine their origin and place within this spiritual life.

Mysticism and Normal Spiritual Progress

Mystical ecstasy occurs as a normal phenomenon of the prayer of union experienced in the Unitive phase of spiritual growth. This phase is the last of the three and is preceded by two others. The first of which is the Purgative phase, and then the second is commonly known as the Illuminative phase. Each of these phases reflects the normal path of development in the spiritual life that many pilgrims experience if they are willing to abandon themselves to God. These phases are not commonly traversed quickly. The Purgative phase is a very ascetically rigorous period and usually is only passed through over an extensive length of time following serious battles with the forces of our lower nature. In each of these phases, mystical experiences can and do occur to greater and lesser degrees.

With respect to “resting in the spirit” or being “slain in the spirit” I have had the unusual opportunity to assist with a Healing Mass where this happened to many of the participants after the priest individually prayed for each person. Because, in one case, the laws of gravity were obviously suspended, I have no doubt about the supernatural nature of the situation. Also, because I knew many of the participants reasonably well, afterward I was able to ask a woman, whom I know to be very holy, to provide me with insights into her personal encounter with the Lord. From her description and my observation, this experience did not substantially mirror what the doctors of the Church refer to as ecstasy (particularly St. Teresa of Avila) which usually occurs in the latter of the three phases mentioned above.

Further reason for this conclusion is that I had some knowledge of the spiritual maturity of many of the participants that I described earlier. They represented a broad spectrum of spiritual maturity; however, they all exhibited the same phenomenon. Why? Probably because the Holy Spirit brought all of these participants together with the intent of blessing each of them with a grace that they needed for their spiritual growth. In St. Teresa’s language, this would be called a kind of “favor” or consolation. It is common for God to provide consolations, particularly in the early stages of spiritual growth. I am not saying that the particular phenomenon you have described is common, but that God’s common disposition towards us is such that he will encourage us with his presence when we need him to.

All that said, it is not likely these situations reflect a state of ecstasy, but would fit better in the category of divine consolation and spiritual favors. This is not a bad news, on the contrary, you probably have experienced a real grace from the Lord.

The Most Reliable Test of Mystical Experience

Several key points must be made about all of this. First, these encounters can, in many ways, be replicated by the flesh or the enemy and should be approached with openness but also from the standpoint of St. Paul’s admonition to “test all things and hold fast to that which is true.” (1 Thessalonians 5) The simplest and most reliable way to determine this is to examine the fruit of the encounter. If it produces obvious peace and holiness in life, it is likely from God. If it does not, then other forces may be at work.

Avoid Seeking After or Focusing on Mystical Experience

God grants such consolations to draw us to Himself but they should never be sought after. Assuming they are from the Lord, they are a means of grace meant to help us by deepening our faith and our love of Christ and others.

Our relationship with the Lord is not unlike human relationships. We meet someone we are attracted to, and in the early stages, as we get to know one another there is hand holding, walking side-by-side, and those expressions of mutual affection. God courts us in a similar fashion and the consolations He gives are His way of urging us forward. Just as a human relationship would wither and die if we were to become obsessed with the first kiss and didn’t allow for further growth, so too our relationship with God will be stunted if we focus on the initial affection rather than learning to love Him with our whole mind, heart, and soul. We must remember it is not the gift that we should desire, but the One who gives the gift. When we mix the two up, we end up in the sin of idolatry and spiritual gluttony.

Finally, it is normal to experience some amazement and awe when we encounter or witness things of this nature. Yet, even if the experience is a grace from God, we must be aware that the evil one will take advantage of undue curiosity to lead us off course.  This can include the need to absolutely define what an experience is. Our culture today likes to define  and put everything into a properly labeled little box. But God does not operate in ways that we can do this, so rejoice when God chooses to reveal himself in a special way to you, humbly accepting that its definition may remain a mystery! The key is to simply accept the grace and then, in response, proceed on your journey to love him and give all you are to him and his people.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the founder of Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction and author of the award winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs. If you have an interest in having Dan come speak at your parish or Catholic event or group, contact us at rcspiritualdirection@gmail.com or call 818-646-7729.

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  • Claire

    An excellent response.  Thank you.

    • Anonymous

       You are welcome Claire!

  • Mary

    I received two separate consolations many years ago, at different times.  They were unsought, and nothing like them has occurred again.  They came at two difficult times in my life, provided great comfort, and served to reinforce the certainty that we are loved by a real and ever-present Lord. 

    • Anonymous

      God is very good

  • Elizabeth D

    Can you comment on “the gift of tongues”? Fr Groeschel says there can be an incoherent prayer or “groaning” beyond words, which the Holy Spirit prays within us but is not in any language nor meant for public consumption. But on Pentecost the Apostles were given the gift of speaking actual languages so to proclaim the Gospel to all nations; public prayer in words that do not correspond to real languages and cannot be interpreted does not seem to be a sound Scriptural or traditional Catholic/Christian practice. There is Charismatic movement activity in my local area and I am very concerned. It seems so at odds with John of the Cross, who is my point of reference, and who seems to strongly warn against practices of similar kinds of movements of his own day, or seeking after consolations and phenomena (which seems to be the basic attraction of the Charismatic movement). There seems to be substantial potential for being spiritually hindered or deceived, and even opening to demonic activity.

    • Anonymous

      The Preacher of the Papal Household, Fr. Cantalamessa has commented on this in a way that I think is very helpful. You can find this by clicking on this link hereand reviewing pages 221-228.

      • Elizabeth D

        I appreciate that since I trust Fr Cantalamessa is able to speak well and accurately and from experience about it. I am not comforted though. Although it makes sense to me that someone might pray privately in wordless “speech”, his description of the group practice of “tongues”, if I am understanding it (parts of the text cannot be previewed), sounds like some combination of the power of suggestion, shared delusion or false private revelation to me. I would not feel right considering nonsense speech or someone’s interpretation of nonsense speech as being private revelation–no matter how it “felt”. To me this procedure sounds more like ouija board territory than something that deserves to be presumed “constat de supernaturalitate”. It may be part of the answer to why I instantly thought “seance” and felt unaccountably disturbed when I momentarily stumbled upon what I later learned was a Charismatic event at church–though I heard nothing. I don’t really know what they were doing except multiple people immediately leapt up with great anxiety and urgency to drive me away.

        This does not seem to be a part of the Catholic spirituality of the Fathers or Doctors of the Church or any Saints. It does seem to originate within Protestantism. What relationship it may have to something that occurred in apostolic times is probably an open question.

        Your explanation about what is described as being “slain in the spirit” seems reasonable, and full of kindness.

  • Anonymous

    Great post! Very much appreciate this clarification and encouragement!

    • Anonymous

       Thanks Jo

  • Sandy

    Dan, you have given an excellent response regarding spiritual ecstasy and consolations or spiritual favors.  The first time I was prayed over by a priest during a healing service, I had no idea what it meant to be slain in the spirit since I was a neophyte regarding spiritual favors.  When I was slain in the spirit, I felt like all of the Earth’s gravity was pulling me to the center of the Earth and I couldn’t even move a finger.  the greatest peace came over me and remains with me today, many years later.  The grace from this mystical encounter with the Lord was pure love poured into my soul.  Much spiritual healing has taken place in my life since that special encounter with the Holy Spirit.  Thank you for this response because it brings back such beautiful memories.  Have a blessed day!

    • Anonymous

      Fascinating how the Lord works isn’t it? I am grateful that he has given this great grace to you.

  • Anonymous

    It might be lightening to meditate on St. Luke’s history in Acts or St. Paul’s affirmation and governance in Corinthians on this. The origins are in the New Testament. The key thing to avoid, I think, is to judge the idea or the possibility of God’s working in special ways (as described by scripture) by the seemingly strange behavior of his people. I have seen very good things out of the Charismatic movement, and very problematic things (as with Fr. Cantalamessa). It is very healthy/good to first ground our perception in scripture and tradition, and then to observe. Encourage what is good and holy and true. Reject what is not. Be careful to see God in spite of his people. He only comes to us through others…

    • Julie

      Dan I am not sure i understand how you could say ” He only comes to us through others”! What about the many saints who spent years in solitude and even st Paul, who was converted on the road not by any person but by the Lord Jesus Himself? Yes he of course uses others to help us in our lives, but we cannot justify or rationalize the wrongs or the mistaken beliefs and actions of others  using this line of reasoning, except to our peril, wouldn’t you agree? I do believe that we must first look at Tradition and the teachings of the Church Fathers, and then make a judgement on this issue. I too have experienced being ” slain in the Spirit” and other “gifts ” as described by the charismatic renewal, and I have problems with them now that I have had a chance to do just that, compare what they teach with the Traditional teachings of the Church. I am afraid that our Leaders today seem to be so afraid of offending Protestants that they are all to quick to be open to their teachings and examples, despite the  very bad fruit of these same people who are filled with hatred and condemnation of all things Catholic, and I do speak as a convert to Catholicism from years of being involved in  Pentacostal and Evangelical groups. They are not about to compromise their belief that the Catholic Church is the Anti-Christ and so on, yet the Catholic Church is selling out to a foolish compromise with Protestant teachings!! How sad and how ironic, but it is too tragic as it leads to loss of souls and hearts from the True Church of our Lord!!
      Can you see what I am trying to express and what do you think? Sometimes aren’t we too ready to be kind at the cost of truth, which is actually not loving at all?

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Thank you, Dan, for this thought-provoking Post. Just like 
    Elizabeth D,  I have often been perplexed by the exuberant Spirituality of the Charismatics.  Their insistence on being “baptized in the Spirit” confuses me. My understanding of the Catholic Faith is that we have One Baptism when the Holy Spirit is infused in our souls.  This is strengthen when one receives the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Beyond that, I have never read anywhere in the Catholic Teachings that there is another specific Baptism by the Holy Spirit.  I have also witnessed their form of Praise and Worship which leaves me unnerved.  Jumping and shouting before the Blessed Sacrament is not congruous with what Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament should be in the Catholic Church. As a Cradle Catholic, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament pulls one’s heart, mind and soul to be fully aware of Whom you are before.  Deep reverence and communing with Him deep in your heart and soul, is what I would expect at those moments.  Then, their speaking “in tongues” , their public Healing and Deliverance activities does not follow the Catholic Church’s Ministry of Exorcism as taught by the Church. It instead resembles the Protestant form of Praise and Worship and Public Confessions.  They even push aside all Catholic Hymns and concentrate on Protestant Hymns. But, perhaps I am too old-fashioned and I am unable to comprehend the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit in these new ways of Worship

  • Mary@42

    Dan, may I also add that these “speaking in tongues”, Baptism by the Holy Spirit, Healings and Deliverances are performed, not by Ordained Catholic Priests who are trained Exorcists, but by lay Catholics.  And the majority of those in this Charismatic Movement are converts to Catholicism either from the Pentecostals or Evangelicals

    • Noyb

       On the contrary, there are many priests who pray over people, some of whom end up resting in the spirit. One notable example is the famous Spanish exorcist Fr. Fortea.

  • RACHELARNOLD

     I would be very careful about this.  I am a convert to the catholic faith from a oneness pentecostal background.  I experienced being slain in the spirit, what I thought at the time to be speaking in tongues, ect several times.  When it happened I felt so much peace, but over time the fruit was depression , anxiety, confusion, ect. From what I understand these type of experiences started in the beginning of the pentecostal movement in the early 1900′s.  The fruit of this movement led many to deny the Trinity and become what they call oneness Pentecostals.  Also many are very anti-catholic.  Please be careful!!!

    • Anonymous

      Rachel – your cautions are important. As you know, the Oneness Pentecostal strain cannot claim to be Christian because they deny the Blessed Trinity. Protestants also acknowledge this. You also bring up a very good point regarding the need to test the fruits, not by the initial emotional impact, but by the long term effects. The enemy can replicate God’s work. The enemy can and does also distort God’s true work. Serious discernment is necessary and spiritual direction is a key tool that can be used to help us discern the source of our own experiences.

      • Anonymous

        The devil plays both ends against the middle.  Balance…..balance….balance……

  • Joanna

    Dear Dan

    I read your article with much interest and I congratulate you on the marvellous explanation.  I agree especially with your explanation of such things as resting in the spirit as being spiritual favours, usually in the beginning of the spiritual life.  Then as you said, the journey becomes harder.  I myself have experienced resting in the spirit and praying in tongues at a point in my life when I was still beginning my spiritual journey, and at a point when I had no idea what they are.  So, something did actually happen.  Furthermore, the fruits of this experience were fruitful, to the extent that one particular experience was a very obvious invitation to exactly what kind of spiritual experience I would journey in.  However, these experiences have now stopped, and I believe, as you said that they are encouragements or invitations from Jesus to help us along and to go to more difficult stages.   

    I have both good and bad impressions of the Charismatic Renewal and I admit it is not exactly my style of prayer.  However, it is the Charismatic Renewal that opened up an intimate relationship with the Lord in my case.  Now, however, I find their prayer and worship celebrations even more as not for me, but I am still grateful for what I have received from them.  I cannot deny that there are groups and groups so if anybody is in a group he is not comfortable with I suggest he finds another.  

  • Anonymous

    In my experience, “resting in the Spirit” is just a little gift that the Lord can give. It was through the laying on of hands five years ago in Medjugorje that my heart was opened and I was able to see that God existed. It was through resting in Spirit four months later that I was “baptized” in the Spirit. In a four month period the Lord transformed me from a left wing political radical who had no knowledge of God or the Catholic faith into a person who was head over heels in love with Jesus Christ and His Church. I went through RCIA and was confirmed. During the last five years, I have been to many healing Masses and have been given many consolations and gifts from the Spirit. I belong to a “charismatic” Catholic Church.  I do not like the music very much and there is not a lot of hand waving etc., but there is an incredible sense of the working of the Holy Spirit which draws everyone deeper and deeper into the Mass and the life of being a family within the parish.
    Everyone has the Holy Spirit within them through baptism and confirmation. Not everyone allows the Spirit to work within. Many of us are so wounded and are in such great need of inner healing and this can come through “resting in the Spirit,” or just being blessed at a healing Mass.  Pentecost was not just a one time thing that happened to the Apostles.  It is an ongoing outpouring of the Spirit by our God. I believe that every Catholic should attend a healing Mass and pray that the Holy Spirit will flow unceasingly within them, transforming them into the image of Christ.   I have gained so much healing from the laying on of hands of holy priests.  God gave them to us to help us on our journey. Somehow, that aspect of the faith has been lost.  God is supernatural and that is how he works. It should not be feared nor avoided.  I believe it should be embraced.  The fruits for me is that I live for Jesus, I have been given an ardent desire to receive Him in the Eucharist, I go to daily Mass and I am a first year novice in the third order of Discalced Carmelites.  I share this only to show what the Lord can do, because none of this comes from me.   Oh, and resting in Spirit is definitely not the same as ecstasy. :)

  • Charles

    I did experience a sweet fine smelling of  flower aroma,incense,and pouring of tears in one instant without an actual feeling to cry and couldn’t stop.at all,or control myself.I always wonder if it was the Lord or not.
    Is it right to pray to the Lord and ask him to receive a kind of experience from Him,especially pain as purgation ???

    Charles 

    • Anonymous

      Charles, this might help until someone can answer your question.

      http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2011/04/04/penance-and-mortification-what-is-the-difference

    • Rowenalitorja

      If you maintain a boundless confidence in God’s loving goodness and mercy while you are praying in silence and solitude like meditation I believed it was the Lord or it can be a consolation.  We can pray anything to our Lord and He can answer us yes, no, or later for He now what is the best for us.

    • Joanna

      Hello Charles
      I do not think it is advisable to ask for spiritual experiences, as these might be given to you from Satan, simply to fool you.  Also, I do not think we should ask for something like pain but we should leave it in God’s hands what to give us and what not to give us, and then it is up to us to accept it willingly.  What we can  ask God is to let us be His servants, and to know Him more intimately, but then leave the rest to Him.  He knows what to give us and how much we can take.  

    • judeen

      the uncontrolable crying.. even weeping.. for no reason at all.. it the Holy Spirit healing something in your heart and soul and past… it is the start of a deep walk with God… yet over many years of love ,, I still get it.. at times.. and sometimes I think it is for others that can not cry…. so they can heal enough to cry.. and heal

  • Neil

    As a cradle Catholic myself I totally agree with Mary. Nothing but total quiet, adoration and prayer takes me where I need to go. It’s worked for most of 72 years.

  • Ptrw333nnc

    Thank you so much.  I’ve been needing for someone to explain these things but have not exactly known how to ask- as so many years are covered -too many things to ask about .  Thank you so very much.  This has answered some questions that I had and confirmed other things that I had (because of God) figured out.  Glory to God.  Praise God!

  • Ptrw333nnc

    Also, I have never gone down,either of the times that I have been prayed over (once by Fr Jozo Zavko’s assistants) and once at the Cathedral in Winona.   The second time -the priest looked at me after a few seconds of prayer and motioned for me to walk on through- while they were prayeing for long periods over others until they fell.  I think I might know why but here again this has never been a question that I have asked anyone.  Do you have an idea of why that might hav e passed me through like that?

    • Anonymous

      Tough to assess without detailed knowledge of the situation.

    • Anonymous

      It has been explained to me that some people can take the blessing upright, others need some extra help.  I think I would be suspicious if everyone who was prayed over at a particular service was slain in the spirit.

    • judeen

      sometimes, God wants to heal you at home.. in secret… in the middle of the night. or when your ready for it… one does not have to fall to get healed.. a very old nun use to go around and do these healing services.. .she had this gift since 5 years old.. but she never fell in the Spirit… the gift was not hers , yet God used her to help others to be healed..

  • Cynthia

    Could you describe the experience of infused ecstacy as in Saints John of the Cross and Teresa and point out how it differs from being slain in the spirit?

  • New Name

    Hmmm.  I once had a priest pray over me a Charismatic Healing Mass (if I recall correctly).  I saw many people “slain.”  This was a good group of people.  When the priest prayed over me, though, I could feel him trying to push me over.  He tried many times.  If I had given in, of course, I would have fallen.  But, I resisted because I wanted to fall through God’s power not because a priest was pushing me on the forehead.  What do you think, Dan?  Should I have given in? 

  • judeen

    I have a page of scriptures on slain in the spirit.. I refuse to call my self charismatic for years…  I also have been to healing services.. 1 scripiture talks about baptizim in water and He will baptize with the Spirit… one can not explain the baptizism of the Spirit.. it feels like God comes down upon you… and the very heart is changed.. and a longing for God  lives in the heart and soul.. which you do not get in baptizm..
          control comes into play… in slain in the spirit.. some want you to feel Gods grace so bad/ other times, your own control will not let Gods gifts to take over… Gods will not ours.. and sometimes it takes a touch to let go… our control and what we think is right is not always Gods will.. or way…
       also in healings, one should go to confession.. to keep that healing ,, it also helps the one who prays over you.. for the demons sometimes attack..  the one who prays over the other. that is why they fast and pray for days before doing one of these healing services.  also they are full the the Holy Spirit. and when people will not except the Holy Spirit.. the person becomes drunk on the Spirit.. just like He has drank alcohol ,,, scriptual also talks about this…. the apostels seemed drunk… dancing in front of the Eurchrist.. well david did this infront of the arc of the coveneint… filled with the Spirit…   ( I guess I would nerver do this .. ) but if it is the Joy of loving and adoring God that fills the soul… many times I see myself dancing with Jesus in joy… in visions… I do understand

  • judeen

    scripture  says ask and you shall receive , you do not receive for you do not ask…. Yes you need to ask for spiritual gifts… share the Glory of God with others.. and use it all for Gods Glory ,, you have nothing to do with it .. it is all God…

  • Anonymous

    Dear Friend, I my words had a bit more limitation to them. When I say he always works through people – here is what I mean. There isn’t a person alive, who knows and loves God, who did not rely on other people to introduce them to God and to help them in the life of God. The sacraments, the truths of God, etc. all come to us through the actions and participation of others. What I am not saying is that God cannot come to us directly. He can and does. However, even the scriptures that He used this morning to bring me to contemplation were written by human beings who, yes, were inspired by God, but no less present in His work to me. I hope that helps to clarify the extent and limitations of my statement.

  • carol Ronder

    By the good grace of our Lord, I have received spiritual consolations etc… during prayer and not, but I had never attended a healing mass until today. I went with my family- husband, son, and daughter.

    My husband and my son did not experience much, I, on the other hand, felt my limbs weak even before the Priest placed his hands on me, and soon enough I went down. I felt a light force shooting through me, coming from the middle of my forehead. I got up fairly quick, because I was always aware of my surroundings, but the feeling on my forehead remained long after the mass had ended.

    My daughter 14, is a good Catholic who respects and loves Jesus, but because of her age, and maybe some peer pressure, she is not very inclined to present herself as a arduous, devoted and religious girl. That is why in mass I was somewhat surprised that she was “slain in the spirit” as some like to call it, but she did not want to talk to me about it until we came home.

    When we arrived, I asked her what had happened? She explained “I was waiting for the priest to come to where I was standing. I knew I did not want to go down, and I was relieved when I saw that a teenager who was before me did not go down. I thought to myself, good, now I don’t need to go down since she didn’t. However, when the priest finally came, I felt as if someone was forcing me to bend my knees, and I went down. I felt paralyzed, but did not understand it, when I got up I felt sadness, I wanted to go to where my Dad was sitting but instead I went somewhere else so that he could not see my watery eyes. I sat down and all of the sudden, I felt intense guilt, sorrow and sadness for the loss of my grandfather (who had killed himself about 6 years ago) and all the wrong things I had done. It was as if I had gone back in time, but this time I needed to burst into tears” She immediately started crying and asking for forgiveness for all the lies and everything else she has ever done wrong. She started releasing all the sadness that had been building up inside of her since her grandfathers death. She said ” Mom, I never needed to cry, why do I need to cry like this now?” She could not stop crying.. She finally did, and said – “I feel tired and very sleeping” She fell asleep, but was very peaceful and loving prior to doing so. What happened? I don’t know, but something happened. only time will tell what happened. I think God gave her the grace of healing from very old and heavy wounds, that not even me, her Mom, knew they were still open and probably hurting her. Thank you Lord, for it is you who takes care of all your little children.