What Is an Aspiration?

Cultivating the Habit of Short and Frequent Prayer

Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window
A stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit overlooking the high altar of Saint Peter's Basilica. Franco Origlia/Getty Images News/Getty Images

An aspiration is a short prayer meant to be memorized and repeated throughout the day. Sometimes called an ejaculation, these prayers are meant to help us continually turn our thoughts toward God.

Example: "Some common aspirations include the Jesus Prayer, Come Holy Spirit, and Eternal Rest."

The Origin of the Term

Aspiration is a late Middle English word, which comes from the Latin aspiratio. This, in turn, is derived from the Latin verb aspirare, "to breath upon," from the prefix ad-, meaning "to," and the verb spirare , "breathe."

Today, we think of aspirations as hopes or ambitions, or the things toward which our hopes or ambitions are aimed. But that meaning of the word is actually later and based on the earlier, more literal one—our aspirations or prayers rise up to the heights, where God hears them and draws us to Him.

Pray Without Ceasing

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, we may be inclined to think that the Christians of centuries past had more time to pray and to focus their lives upon Christ. But the reality is that the work and stress of everyday life has always made it hard for us to turn our thoughts toward God and the world to come. Christian worship, such as the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours (the official daily prayer of the Church), reminds us of our duty to God, and His love for us. But in between these official and communal periods of prayer, we need to keep our "eyes on the prize."

Indeed, Saint Paul, after telling us to "Rejoice always," goes on to urge us to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).

This is how we can "In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Common Aspirations or Ejaculations

The Church, both East and West, long ago took Saint Paul's words to heart and created hundreds of short aspirations or ejaculations that Christians can learn by heart.

Ideally, such prayers should become second nature, as much a part of our daily lives as breathing—and now you see how the word came to be applied to this type of prayer!

In the Eastern Church, both Orthodox and Catholic, the most common aspiration or ejaculation is the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" (or similar words; there are many variations). In the Roman Catholic Church, many similar short prayers have indulgences attached to them, to encourage their frequent recitation; and while the habit of praying aspirations has declined in recent decades, younger Catholics may remember their parents or grandparents adding short prayers to Grace Before Meals, such as "Jesus, Mary, Joseph, save souls" or "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!"

Cultivating the Habit of Short and Frequent Prayer

For more tips on how to pray without ceasing, I highly recommend "Frequent Ejaculation" by Steven Hepburn, from his excellent blog Catholic Scot.