The idea for the Spiritual Exercises began at Manresa in 1522, eventually developed in a more complete method that was published with papal approval in Rome in 1548. At its core, the Spiritual Exercises is an application of Gospel precepts to the individual soul, written in such a way as to arouse conviction of sin, of justice and judgment. The value of systematic retirement from active society and religious meditation which the book sets forth had always been known but the order and method of meditation prescribed by Ignatius were new. Though many of the maxims he repeats had been laid down before by the Fathers, they were singularly well organized, explained and applied.

To do the Exercises as initially set out, requires a month in a retreat typically with one (or more) weeks of preparation. The Exercises consist of 4 separate stages, each corresponding to one week. The first week considers the nature of sin and its consequences: the second, to our Lord's earthly life; the third to His Passion and the fourth, to His Resurrection. The objective is to induce the retreatant to such a state of inner calm that they can make a clearer choice regarding a particular crisis or for the general course of their life, "unbiased" by any excessive like or dislike. This discernment is guided solely by consideration of what will best forward the purpose for which one was created: the glory of God and perfection of one's own soul. In fact, the motto of the Society of Jesus, "Ad Majorem Dei Gloram" (To the greater glory of God) was the end for which Ignatius and the Society was created.

In modern times the Spiritual Exercises have been adapted to be done without the need for a 4 or 5 week retreat. The Ignatian Centre of Montreal is one of the only centres that specializes in the "Exercises in Daily Life" method (annotation 19). This spreads out the exercises over a period of 8 or 9 months, combined with weekly meetings with a spiritual director. We believe that this is the preferred way, as the linking of everyday events to each of the 4 "weeks" provides an added dimension that is not available in the traditional Exercises. All of our directors have been trained to deal with the unique opportunities that the Exercises in Daily Life can bring to its participants.