We see Jesus telling the Samaritan woman at Jn 4: 23-24 (NRSVCE) :

"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

See that Jesus repeats the phrase 'worship in spirit and truth', implying that he attaches much importance to it. Here, spirit and truth are components of a single integrated concept and are not separated from each other. While he explains ìn spirit 'by attributing it to the nature of God who is spirit, he does not elaborate the phrase `in truth'. Of course, he says elsewhere: "I am the way, the truth and the life " (Jn 14:6).

We also see Jesus telling Pilate :

“You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Though we see Pilate putting a question to Jesus on what truth is (Jn 18:38), he does not get an answer from Jesus; rather, he does not wait for one. My question therefore is: How does the Catholic Church explain the term 'to worship in spirit and truth' as used by Jesus at Jn 4: 23-24?

2 Answers 2


According to Catholic Church, what does it mean to worship God ”in Spiritu et Veritate”?

These words are taken to the deep profound meanings of the vary essence and meaning of what prayer, adoration and union with God details in a faithful’s worship of God and all that pertains to the Divine realities while still in this life on earth.

I’ll try my best to explain what it mean to pray in spirit and truth!

To start with I will be basing my response on the works of two Catholic authors. Others exist, but these two will get my point out.

The first one is Fr. Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange OP, known by the nickname as Sacred Monster of Thomism. While at the Angelicum, in Rome from 1909 to 1960, he wrote his magnum opus, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (Les Trois Ages de la Vie Interieure) in 1938. This work shows us how to pray and advance towards union with God through prayer, meditation and those practices which are helpful in our spiritual life to attain perfection in a life of prayer. He masters he work with theological perspective due to his station in life. Perhaps the most famous of his students was the future Pope John Paul II, who was supervised by Garrigou-Lagrange for his doctoral research in the mid-1940s at the Angelicum, and whose encyclical Fides et Ratio is attributed to his training under the learned Dominican.

The second person I will employ to help us in understanding this concept is the Abbess Cécile Bruyère, OSB. Mother Cécile's spiritual thought and teaching, entirely inherited from Dom Guéranger but presented with the benefit of many years' experience in Benedictine life and meditation, is well summarised in her book La vie spirituelle et l'oraison, d'après la Sainte Ecriture et la tradition monastique (The Spiritual Life and Prayer: According to Holy Scripture and Monastic Tradition). In this work, she explains the primary importance of the liturgy in the religious life in developing the specific grace arising from the sacrament of baptism.

Both authors are explain how to attain union with God though genuine prayer or true worship. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange writes from a theological perspective, while Mother Cécile writes from a more practical and tradition point of view. The end result is the same: Attaining union with God through prayer.

The phrase to ”worship God in spirit and truth”, if in essence the manner of praying with our whole being to become in complete union with is spirit and in truth. Simply put it is a lifestyle of prayer based on genuine, deep and profound way of living in such a manner.

Some Catholic writer(s) have compared St Paul's vision of the ”third heaven” to the third or final stage or way of perfection.

This concept is not easy for many to understand. Many authors have written about the Ways of Perfection, For example, both Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange and Mother Cécile used St. Paul's vision of 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 as a comparison to the unitive state of prayer.

Paul’s Vision and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.* 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

In Catholic thought the three stages (ways,state) of interior life or prayer are the purgative stage, the illuminative stage and the unitive stage.

In one’s spiritual journey, Catholic spirituality generally notes three basic “ways” or “stages” of the interior life (or spiritual life) through which the soul must pass that draws one into deeper union with God: the Purgative, the Illuminative, and the Unitive. Those who seek union with God must realize that such union, while always the gift of God, still requires a process, often painful, that must “pave the way” for that union. Look at it this way: If a box is filled with sand, it cannot be filled with gold. The lives must be cleaned, and then there is room enough for the gold of God’s presence.

The Purgative Way: The Purgative Way is the first stage in mental prayer, according to the teachings of the great Carmelite mystics St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The soul’s chief concern in this stage of perfection is an awareness of its sins, sorrow for the past, and a desire to expiate the offenses against God.

The Purgative Stage: In this stage, our desires and affections must be “purged” of attractions to sin. The disorder caused by sin must be set aright by the Lord, for a disordered soul cannot perceive or appreciate well enough the glory and beauty of God. The distractions of the world must be diminished and wrongful passions, attachments, and evil inclinations must be subjugated so that we can more easily overcome temptations and preserve and exercise the virtue of charity. There is a focus, too, in this stage of uprooting the remnants and bad habits of former sins, perhaps through mortifications, the practice of austerity and simplicity, and the submitting of our will to be in conformity with the will of God. We seek to diminish and “purge” the attraction of wrongful or excessive pleasures. We also seek to diminish our natural shrinking from pain and to develop a repugnance to whatever is contrary to the will of God. The main virtue to be cultivated within this purgative stage is humility, which helps us be aware of our own weakness and our dependence on the grace of God.

The Illuminative Way: The Illuminative Way is the second stage between “purification” and “union” on the path to Christian perfection. Also called the “Way of the Proficients,” the main feature of the Illuminative Way is enlightenment of the mind in the ways of God and a clear understanding of His will in one’s own state of life. Most souls with not get passed this stage in their spirituality.

The Illuminative Stage: Those attaining this stage have made progress and have their passions better under control of the will, so that they more easily keep themselves from mortal sin, but they still do not easily avoid venial sins since they still take pleasure in earthly things and are distracted by various imaginations and desires, not all of which are necessarily unlawful, but which may get in the way of a deeper union with God. In this stage, the mind becomes more and more enlightened to spiritual things and the practice of virtue. Love is stronger and the soul seeks progress in the spiritual life and in all the virtues. But purgation is still somewhat incomplete, and the purification of the senses is not yet completed. There are also aridities, difficulties, and trials, sometimes more severe than in the past, and the need to endure suffering from temptations.

The Unitive Way: The Unitive Way is the third and final stage of Christian perfection, beyond the Purgative and Illuminative. Its principal feature is a more or less constant awareness of God’s presence, and a habitual disposition of conformity to the will of God. Although commonly regarded as the last stage in the spiritual life, it is recognized that the three traditional levels of progress in holiness are not necessarily chronological. They may be present, in greater or lesser degree, at any point during a person’s growth in holiness and sanctity. This is an important point to remember.

The Unitive Stage: This is the way of those who have their minds detached from temporal things, such that they enjoy great peace, and are not agitated by various desires, nor are they moved to any great extent by sinful passion. Having been largely purged of these things, they have their minds fixed chiefly on God. It is called “unitive” since, at this stage, there is a “union” with God by love and the actual experience and exercise of that love.

It is at this final stage that those accustomed to be united to God receive those great mystic graces of interior allocations directly from Jesus and so on.

The graces expressed in such vivid light in Mother Cécile‘s works are so easily understood that I personally can not imagine that she, herself had not attained this level of union with God. She had to have experienced the graces received in order to be able to explain a life of prayer In Spiritu et Veritate.

  • +1 for providing the genealogy (via the 2 modern era authors) of the Catholic practice of the 3 stages. I didn't realize that it is linked with Catholic understanding of John 4:23-24. My questions are: 1) how long has this 3 stages understanding been practiced, i.e. when & who of the earliest origin; 2) how long has this practice been associated with John 4:23-24; 3) is this practice common in other orders as well (besides Dominican & Benedictine); 4) are there magisterial doctrinal elements behind this 3 stage understanding? I can ask a church history question if it is more appropriate. Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 17:42
  • @GratefulDisciple I think another question would be in order as it would require lengthy research. Not sure I know the answer off hand!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 17:46
  • Some of my questions have been answered here Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 20:19
  • If a box is filled with sand, we do not replace it with gold, but the sand is subjected to pressure and heat to bring out the diamond in it. That's the purgative or purification process. And the three stages remain passive unless they followed Mary's way of uttering the "Fiat", without fiat, the union of Wills is not complete. Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 0:14
  • 2
    @jongricafort Comments should be reserved for requesting clarification or suggesting improvements to posts. They are never for debating issues. Comments should never demand (or even ask for) upvotes, or downvotes, nor should they complain about downvotes. The voting system is deliberately anonymous and demanding otherwise in comments is inappropriate. You may ask about this policy on Christianity Meta, but may not keep commenting about this issue. Comments should always stick to the content of the post, never the personalities involved. Feedback is on the content, not on the users.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 21:04

According to Catholic Church, what does it mean to worship God in spirit and truth?

The answer can be simply found in Mary's Canticle.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and My Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour For He has looked with favour on His lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: The Almighty has done great things for me, And holy is His Name. He has mercy on those who fear Him In every generation. He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, And has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has come to the help of His servant Israel For He has remembered His promise of mercy, The promise He made to our fathers, To Abraham and his children for ever.

In Mary's Canticle, She distinguished the soul from Spirit.

Mary not only knows the Truth, She bear in Her pure womb the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.

We all need to follow the Will of the Father in our proper worship to God, and Mary had shown us how to do it. Following the Will of the Father is what Jesus teaches & embraced, and it is our path to enter and be accepted in the Kingdom of God. (Matthew7:21

First, we must unite our will in union with the Will of the Father. Mary's Fiat. Second,Jesus must resides in our heart, as St.Augustine said, "Mary conceived first the Logos in her heart before She conceived Jesus in her womb." So, the Truth was already in Marys heart. Third, we must be overshadowed or filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

If the Will of the Father, Jesus Christ the Truth, and the Holy Spirit filled our whole being, then we are now ready to say our own Canticle like what the Blessed Virgin Mary did.

The Canticle of Mary is worshipping and praising God in "Spirit and Truth", meaning the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are the one who are empowering the Blessed Virgin Mary to worship God the Father in fulfilling His Divine Will on earth at it is in Heaven.

  • Comments should be reserved for requesting clarification or suggesting improvements to posts. They are never for debating issues. Comments should never demand (or even ask for) upvotes, nor should they complain about downvotes. The voting system is deliberately anonymous and demanding otherwise in comments is inappropriate. You may ask about this policy on Christianity Meta, but may not keep commenting about this issue. Comments should always stick to the content of the post, never the personalities involved. Feedback is on the content, not on the users.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 12, 2021 at 21:02

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