Conversion, Consecration, Communion

Movements into Salvation

Christ’s birth, baptism, and agony in the garden. (Baptism of Christ by Carlo Maratta, 1625-1713)

The Sequence in Salvation History
This sequence—Conversion, Consecration, Communion—can describe three steps in several important processes, in the Catholic Faith. Historically, it can describe periods in the salvation history of humanity. The word “conversion” can describe the first movement of His work in mankind, recalling them with His words and works among men, calling them to repentance throughout long centuries of penance. This period began immediately after the fall, through the flood, through the call of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through the covenant of Law established through Moses, through the words and lives of prophets, up to the Incarnation of the Son—throughout all of this, God was calling men to conversion.

The reality of “consecration” came to humanity in fullness in the Incarnation, in Jesus Christ. In the consecration which He received from the Father at His baptism on behalf of fallen humanity, He initiated an era of a new covenant of consecration to God. Redeemed human members now of His Body, His Church, would follow their Master in lives, and in deaths, of consecration to God. Flowing from this consecration, this new covenant, the holy “communion” of men with God the Holy Trinity—a foretaste of the Beatific Vision—began.

The Sequence in the Stages of the Interior Life of Persons
This three-stage sequence also can be applied to the personal “salvation history” of individual men. In traditional Catholic spirituality, we recognize three stages or ages of the interior life:1 the purgative stage of the beginner, the illuminative stage of the proficient, the unitive stage of the perfect.2 These stages of spiritual life can be correlated, one by one, with the three descriptors of conversion, consecration, communion. The purgative stage of the beginner is the extended period of his initial conversion from the life and values of this world, to life unending with God in Christ. The illuminative stage of the proficient is a period begun with a “second conversion” into a wholly new relationship with God in Christ, illuminated in an immediate and experienced way by the very present Holy Spirit. This “new covenant” with God in Christ is a period—however long extended—of a daily walk of consecration to Him, to His will, to His Gospel, to His Church.

And finally, the personal, lived experience of near-continuous, whole-hearted communion with God the Holy Trinity, in the unitive stage of the perfect in traditional Catholic spirituality, completes the one-to-one correlation. Conversion, consecration, communion can express the work of God in humanity as a whole—salvation history—and it can express God’s work, as well, in the salvation experience of individual human persons. This three-fold process—whether called “of stages,” or “of ages,” or “of moments,” or “of movements,”—describes the completeness of God’s call, and work, in drawing humanity to and into Himself: first conversion, then consecration, then communion.

Development in the Natural Life
This developmental sequence, experienced in the life of grace, in the supernatural stages of supernatural life—first beginner, then proficient, then perfect—has a correlation also in the natural stages of human development of man’s natural life. That is, in the natural life of man, he experiences, first, his beginning in childhood, then he progresses into adolescence, then finally adulthood and “perfection”, or maturity. God ordered our natural development as He ordered our vocation to supernatural development, that we might attain “perfection”, or maturity in Christ.3

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, … (Eph 4:11-14)

The Sequence in the Mass
Since this sequence so permeates our human nature, ordered to progress, to attain, perhaps it is not surprising then that this sequence is also in our celebration of Holy Mass—the Mass which recapitulates salvation history collectively, and personally, individually, re-presenting as it does the saving work of Christ. Thus, we can see in the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass a call to conversion through the words of Holy Scripture, and of divine revelation. The prayers, the readings, the homily in the Liturgy of the Word are intrinsically ordered to a movement of conversion in the members assembled and participating. All are called away from this world and the things of the world, and we are called to God and the things of God. We are called to repentance, to conversion, to living His life here and now, and to preparing ourselves for what is to come in the Mass. Next in the Mass will come the Consecration on the Altar, and then the Holy Communion with our Lord Himself.4

Thus, the next two movements in salvation history, Consecration and Communion, share names already given in Tradition with the corresponding movements of the Holy Mass. In the sacred liturgy, Consecration re-presents the Passion of Christ, His consecration on behalf of humanity. This, Jesus prayed, “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.” (Jn. 17:19) And here, in the Mass, the final movement of Communion is precisely that: Holy Communion, communion of man with God in the Person of Jesus the Son, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

The Three Movements in the Mass
Once we begin to see the way God orders human progress toward His plan and intention for us, in stages, perhaps we can appreciate even more the value of each stage. In particular perhaps we can appreciate each of the three stages as necessary and important in our personal spiritual life, and perhaps we can appreciate even more each of the three distinct stages of movements of the Holy Mass—each is necessary, and important.

Implications for our Personal Interior Life
Each stage of the supernatural life of grace, the interior life of the soul, is very important. There are no “short cuts” to maturity in the spiritual life: it begins in the beginning, and if it progresses, it progresses next to the illuminative stage of the proficients, and if it continues to progress, next is the mature life of the perfect—the unitive stage of the interior life. The whole progression of the interior life is well understood,5 even if the understanding is not wide-spread, nor widely appreciated. Many, it seems, would be happy to stay where they are, in the beginning, in the infancy of their spiritual life!6 Many, it seems, are never encouraged and urged to earnestly pursue growth in the life of grace. It is a tragic possibility, but in fact, one cannot stay where he is in the spiritual life. Fr. Louis Lallemant wrote, and taught, “All the masters of the spiritual life agree in this maxim, that not to advance is to fall back.”7 Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes of these who fall back:

Some souls, because of their negligence or spiritual sloth, do not pass from the age of beginners to that of proficients. These are retarded souls; in the spiritual life, they are like abnormal children, who do not happily pass through the crisis of adolescence and who, though they do not remain children, never reach the full development of maturity. Thus, these retarded souls belong neither among beginners, nor among proficients. Unfortunately they are numerous. Of these retarded souls, some who formerly served God with fidelity, are now in a state bordering on indifference.8

True, progressing in the supernatural life of grace is a path of suffering, as was the path that Jesus lived and walked on this earth. He knew the Cross awaited Him, and He longed for it to come: He knew what lay on the other side of the Cross, awaiting Him, and awaiting all who would follow Him, those who gladly embrace whatever Cross the Father would have for them, if they would accept it. Jesus was ever about His Father’s business—in His childhood, and in His adolescence, and in the maturity of His adulthood. And the fruitfulness of His faithfulness blossomed—exploded—upon the earth after His Passion, on Pentecost. His work has been passed on to His Church, with the sure guidance of His abiding Holy Spirit. But have we taken it up? Even now, as the Day draws near, have we taken it up yet?

Implications for our Personal Participation in the Mass
How important it is to help Catholics enter more fully into the Holy Mass! To recognize and understand the three movements, or stages, apparent in the Mass is to possess a simple structure and process that can be engaged, and entered, and in which one can participate and develop the “proper disposition”9 crucial to a sacrament. Each stage or movement of the celebration of Holy Mass is important, but again, in this example also, are we attentive to the importance of each sequential stage, each progressing movement, of our worship? For members with a poorly developed interior life of grace, or those who are, as described above, “retarded souls,” whose lives are largely exterior, sit through the first and second movements of the Mass with little personal participation, and thus poorly prepare themselves to receive in the way that is due the Holy Eucharist in Communion with our Lord. When the Mass is over, they leave with no lingering, no pause to pray in thanksgiving, quick to join in conversations about anything except the Mass, or the homily, or a prayer that ought to have deeply touched them, or a personal matter of great need for the prayers of brothers and sisters in the Church. The holy is left behind very quickly, and the secular world quickly engaged again, and secular matters again resumed. Have we worshipped, this way, this day? Has God been worshipped, today?

The movement of Conversion is important! How can we meet the Lord at His Altar, the Altar of Consecration, if we have not ever left the world? If we have not turned from the world in conversion, to face Him on our knees, how can we open our hearts to Him, and how can we empty our hearts of falsity, of pride, of worldly preoccupations and lusts, so as to offer to Him a heart to be filled with Him, with His life, with His loves?

When the movement of Consecration begins—when the priest moves to the Altar, to begin what is at the heart of the Eucharistic celebration—when the priest prays the Prayer of Epiclesis, that the Holy Spirit might come down and cause this supernatural miracle to be here and now and in our presence, let all the world be still! Let all the world, let each heart and mind in the Church be still, in awe before the living God who will come and empower the words of the priest, the words of Christ, so that God the Son, Incarnate, will be made present in our midst.

If we have embraced the call to conversion, and if we have sincerely offered ourselves in consecration with Him in His, then we are ready to receive Him, and to receive true communion with Him, in Him, and with all the brothers and sisters in Him—the fellowship of one-another love that He, in truth, has commanded to us: to love one another as He has loved us. (Jn 13:34)

The communion with God the Holy Trinity, in the new one-another human fellowship of love, is indeed our proper destiny—God’s intention for us from the beginning. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught of love, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) St. Thomas Aquinas states simply, “Primarily and essentially, the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity, principally as to the love of God; secondarily, as to the love of our neighbor….”10 Salvation history is ordered or directed to the maturity of such love. The proper development of the life of grace, the interior life of prayer, is directed to communion in Christ, the unitive stage of the perfect, in such love. The Holy Mass is directed to this end, Holy Communion in love with our Lord Jesus Christ—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The three movements, or stages—conversion, consecration, communion—map the path of discipleship used by God to form us into His intention. It is good to know this, to see it, to embrace it, so that He can, with our free and whole-hearted cooperation, form, conform, and transform us to His plan.

  1. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. The Three Ages of the Interior Life, trans. M. Timothea Doyle, O.P. — This is a full and comprehensive presentation of this spiritual theology. For a briefer and simpler presentation, one can see: Thomas Richard, The Ordinary Path to Holiness, paperback print or digital for Kindle and for print or digital for Nook.
  2. These three stages are briefly described in an HPR essay I wrote in 2013, “What Happens to a Church When the Members Won’t Grow Up?”
  3. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. – Ch. 1, “The three periods in the spiritual life”, in The Three Ways of the Spiritual
  4. R. Thomas Richard, The Mass in movements – Conversion Consecration Communion (2nd Edition) – in digital for Kindle and in digital for the Nook.
  5. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, IIa IIae, Q. 24, a.9
  6. Authentic spiritual childhood possesses qualities that ought never to be lost, as one grows in the life of grace! St. Therese of Lisieux understood this well, as did Fr. John Hardon, S.J. He wrote (

    Thus, spiritual childhood

    • Knows nothing of spiritual pride. It never glories in whatever graces it receives from God, but acknowledges them as sheer gift of His love.
    • Realizes that natural means cannot achieve sanctity. Without prayer, the sacraments, and cooperation with graces received, holiness is a mirage.
    • Has no illusions of self-reliance in danger and temptation. Immediate petition for divine help is the only guarantee of being able to overcome the surges of passion or the instigations of the evil one.
    • Presupposes a lively faith in God’s existence. In fact, as a person grows in spiritual childhood, there is a keen awareness of God’s presence in everything that touches one’s life.
    • Has a practical confidence in God’s power and mercy. Thus, the virtue of hope becomes so strong that no matter how humanly impossible the future may seem, there is peaceful trust that God will provide loving care.
    • Has confident recourse to Divine providence. It sees the hand of God behind every so-called happening, and believes there is no such thing as chance.

  7. Fr. Louis Lallemant, S.J. The Spiritual Doctrine; Second Principle, The Idea of Perfection; The Perfection Peculiar to the Company of Jesus. Ch. 3, art. 1.
  8. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages… Part 2 – The Purification of the Soul in Beginners (cont), Ch 37: Retarded Souls
  9. See Catechism 1098: “The assembly should prepare itself to encounter its Lord and to become ‘a people well disposed.’ The preparation of hearts is the joint work of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father’s will. These dispositions are the precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward.”
  10. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II II Q.184, a.1
R. Thomas Richard, PhD About R. Thomas Richard, PhD

R. Thomas Richard, PhD, together with his wife, currently offers parish presentations and adult formation opportunities. He has served as religious formation director for parishes, director of lay ministry and deacon formation at the diocesan level, and retreat director. A former teacher, engineer, Protestant minister, and missionary, he has earned graduate degrees in Catholic theology and ministry, Protestant ministry, and physics. He is the author of several books in Catholic spirituality, which are described on his website,


  1. Debra Sweeney says:

    I am convinced my journey is still in its infancy. Thank you Dr. Richard, your friend Debbie

  2. Thank you, Debra, for your comment. And it is true that for every one of us on earth, our journey is in its infancy. Compared to the glory of God’s intention and destiny for His children, we are truly in infancy, just learning how to walk and talk. Yet we all are called to holiness! Let’s persevere, then – and seek His will for us, that: “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ….

  3. Thank you, Dr. Richard. Your words, ” One cannot stay where he is in the spiritual life. Not to advance is to fall back”… I am inspired by this message and appreciate the cohesiveness of this entry.

    • Thank you. Virginia, for your comment. The quote that you cite is a challenging, and concerning one! ”One cannot stay where he is in the spiritual life. Not to advance is to fall back.” These are my words by adoption only – this wisdom has been long held and repeated in the Church. Many saints and spiritual teachers have seen and taught this; it is something we all need to keep in mind. Thank you for repeating it for us all!


  1. […] men. In traditional Catholic spirituality, we recognize three stages or ages of the interior life:1 the purgative stage of the beginner, the illuminative stage of the proficient, the unitive […]

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