Is personal prayer in public always forbidden, no exceptions?

Salvete, omnes!

I was just searching the fora for discussion on sports/competition in the Christian life and I happened across one post, not about this, but about praying in public. So, it got me to thinking…

Does Christ outright forbid personal prayer in public, always, with no exceptions in any case, even if the motivation is good?

I mean, I can see some cases where someone might want to be noticed in prayer that are not at all prideful/vainglorious. Of course, the intention of prayer should ultimately be centered around your communion with God, but, if you do so in public, it may have the benefit of starting up conversations with others or of even attracting others to you who might themselves need prayer or some other kind of comfort at that time.

A less “spiritual” reason might just be one of convenience. You might, at the time, have nowhere else to pray or you might not have time to go to your room, shut the door and pray.

Note here that I am not asking about corporate prayer as Christ Himself participated in public worship and the command in Matthew 6:6 (our passage in question) uses singular constructions, so is apparently talking about individual prayer, as one commentary I read astutely pointed out. I am rather talking about personal prayer, between you and God and not directly for the benefit of the participation of others.

Many have said that personal prayer in public is fine, so long as it is not motivated by vainglory/prideful seeking of self-recognition. Normally, I would agree with this, however…

In Mt. 6:6, Christ very clearly gives a direct command of something specific to do when it comes to prayer. Also, it is, indeed, a command, not a suggestion; the tense of the verb, in the original Greek (also in the Vulgate Latin) is (present aspect, Gk) Imperative, for those who know what this means. Christ indeed makes no exceptions like the ones mentioned above and even any exceptions of any kind. “Go to your room”, He says, “close the door”, then pray. The command here seems very specific and clear.

Furthermore, Christ may have given us this specific instruction so as to prevent any potential for a tendency toward pride/vainglory if we were to pray in public. So, perhaps it is not so much the intention that is at play here but the potential for the stirring up of negative intention that might result from even an originally positively- or neutrally-motivated reason for praying in public.

Still, I have always understood that Catholic teaching very often (if not always?) emphasizes the intention behind acts and not the acts themselves, unless the acts themselves are inherently evil/contain evil and no other intent.

Furthermore, what of the person who is, indeed, or at least thinks himself to be strong enough to avoid negative intention when praying in public. Is he, too, held to this same direct-command standard, even if the benefits of praying publicly may be lost?

So, how can those who argue that Christ really didn’t mean for us to do this specific thing or at least that He would be fine with us praying publicly if the motivation is morally correct argue this point in the face of such clear language? (I am not here trying to be contentious. I, too, ahd always thought that the more lenient interpretation was correct and, indeed, still wonder whether it is. That’s why I’m asking the question.)

I suppose one might cite the example of Christ saying to cut off your eye or hand of it causes you to stumble as potential evidence against the literalness of even this statement. (also, the not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing) However, in these cases, there is a logical dilemma that results if we take these parables literally. In the frist case, it is not literally a hand or an eye that directly causes one to sin. In the second, you can’t let your hands literally “know” anything. However, in our present case under discussion, there is no logical issue if it is taken literally. Going into one’s room and shutting the door can logically be done in this reality in which we find ourselves.

Could Christ here have been using some kind of parabolic(?) language? If so, what would be the argument for this? The argument against?

Perhaps the same kinds of questions would apply to such actions as wearing Catholic/Christian jewelry. After all, the same positive benefits that might accrue from personal public prayer can in this case as well. Also, wearing such as you go about your day may be to your own spiritual benefit.

So, what are your thoughts/counters to the points that I have here made? Are there any good commentaries (besides the ones I have cited above), either ancient or modern, on this passage?

And, perhaps this is a bit OT, but, if a literal, no exceptions approach is to be taken, what other things should we avoid doing, no exceptions, because it might lead to the sin of pride, or, to some other sin, for that matter? Should we all avoid competitive sports because it might lead to excessive pride (which it, indeed, often does)?


Jesus prayed in public on a regular basis. He chanted from Sacred Scripture in the synagogue, He prayed the Psalms while crucified on the Cross, and He granted a benediction before His ascension to Heaven.

In Mt 6:6, Jesus didn’t say “don’t pray in public”, he exhorted us to pray in secret in addition to every other time we pray.

It’s necessary to look at Matthew 6:5 so as not to take Matthew 6:6 out of context.
5 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6 But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
The scripture isn’t saying we shouldn’t pray in public. It is saying not to pray with the intention of “looking good” to other people.

Prayer for show is not prayer. It’s self-promotion.

In each of the cases you cite of Jesus praying publicly, it could be argued that a) He was doing so in a corporate way which, arguably, as I said above, is not being spoken of in the Matthew passage and/or b) He is praying in public for the benefit of others and not just for His own.

As far as your understanding of the passage as meaning “pray in secret as well as in other ways”, it seems that perhaps you are reading this into the text where it does not exist. Can you offer any further elaboration/evidence for this interpretation? Again, as I pointed out in my OP, the command seems pretty direct/clear/specific and has no qualifications.

As always, I continue to be interested in other comments on the subject as well!

I would like to agree with you about intention here, as I said in my first post, but, once again, it is troubling that here Jesus gives what seems to be a very specific/clear/precise command/solution(?) to the problem of self0promotion He sets up in telling His hearers to “go into your room, close the door and then pray”. Very specific, no qualifications.

I prayed in public with others in front of an abortion clinic. I never did it to be "glorified’ by men. I had to.

That clinic closed some years later. And we were done with it.


He was specific because he addressing specific people.

Yet the Church has never understood it this way, and this is prooftexting. Have you considered reading what the Catechism says about prayer?


Your premise would seem to rule out saying grace in a public restaurant, which is not only not forbidden, but is a positive witness to faith in and gratitude toward God. Then there’s public prayer at something like a Memorial Day cemetery service. I cannot conceive of a Scriptural interpretation which would forbid such activity.


I think the OP, who is considering Catholicism, is experiencing one of the key problems in the Protestant communities when it comes to biblical scholarship and interpretation. If you have no Church to guide you, then biblical interpretation drives you round and round in circles, since there are so many seemingly contradictory texts. Each text taken at face value might lead to one conclusion, while another text leads to another conclusion. I don’t know how “Bible Christians” can ever have any real confidence in what they believe, other than their own sense of being personally lead by the Spirit. And thus 10s of 1000s of different denominations pop up, each with their own take on things.

Could you please elaborate on this point? How did the “specific people” to whom you assert He was speaking have influenced Him to give a very specific, no qualifications command to go into your room, shut the door and then pray? What makes our situation different from the one when Christ was speaking? What makes the people to whom He was speaking different from us today, so that the situation is different for us and we are permitted to pray publicly?

Why, precisely, has the Church never read this in such a way? Why has such a specific, no qualifications command (I’ll say this again) never been read, as it seems on its surface to be, in a literal way. Is it considered another of Christ’s parables? If so, what is the evidence of this? Also, how do commentators exegete a less literal meaning out of this seemingly very literal text?

That is the problem, indeed, isn’t it? That is why this question has arisen for me.

And, again, I ask why you say that there is no Scripture (apparently even this one?) that says that we all must go to our rooms, close the door and pray? Again, the reading would seem to be quite a literal command.

I think people who would argue for a metaphorical meaning here need to support it with exegetical evidence, specifically from this text. For, this would be the strongest evidence in favor. Folks who argue this need to give me specific exegetical evidence about this passage that it is another parable, if the will argue this.

As I said, any time you use the term “always” or “never” in ANY of your posts-- you are off base and prooftexting.

Also from Matthew:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Whenever I’m out to dinne with certain friends, the always pray, holding hands . It makes m very uncomfortable.

He was speaking specifically about a person who prays in public for show… to say “look at me I am a praying and I’m a very pious man.” apparently this was a problem of the day. People would do this to show off. Jesus did not forbid pray outside. He was talking about your “hidden place” your “heart” pray with the heart not outwardly to be boastful and show off. Your “hidden place” is a metaphor.

We always pray before meals no matter where we are and in any circumstance. God provides and he deserves our thanks.

Why do you feel uncomfortable? Because you think they are showing off? You can not tell what is in their heart. Let them worry about themselves you worry about you. When you pray do it eth the heart and not to be boastful this is what God wants.

I prefer to pray with my hands folded and not make a show about it.

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