Prayers or Incantations


My prayer life is improving (thanks be to God). I am reading/offering more and more prayers for various intentions. During this growth process, I discovered a book of spiritual warfare prayers. The website indicated these are very powerful prayers to ward off evil in one’s life. I began to fervently look for this prayer book in every Catholic bookstore I could find. Once I noticed how intensely focused I was on finding this book, I asked myself if actually needed this book at all for spiritual protection. Why couldn’t I craft my own prayer with the same intention? Would my self-crafted prayer be as effective as the ones in this elusive book?

That thought brought about a flood of similar questions about the rosary: If I prayed just the angelic salutation as was done in the 11th century, is it less effective as ones with the later part (Holy Mary, Mother of God…) added three centuries later? What if I substituted the Hail Mary’s for the Jesus Prayer, as our eastern brothers and sisters do? What if I only prayed one Hail Mary and spent the next two minutes intently meditating, silently, on a particular mystery? Could I summarize the Glory Be to “Glory be to the trinity, whose truth endures forever” and still communicate the same praise to God? What about re-wording the Fatima Prayer, or the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel?

So, are the positive effects of prayer only available to those who recite prayers exactly as they are written? The answer should be obvious, but to some, reading specific prayers every day using exactly the same words is very important. To an outsider, this could look like Catholic prayers are incantations to be said in just the right way for a particular spell to work. Given the sheer number of prayer books on the market, and the rigidity with which old ladies recite the rosary, how do we mount a reasonable defense more effective than, “well, I know it may look like that but…it really isn’t?”


If you are saying the prayer as a personal devotion, I don’t think it matters what you actually say. Remember that God is always in charge. Just because we ask for a prayer doesn’t mean it is guaranteed. The prayers for spiritual warfare are petitions like any other prayer. There is no guarantee God will answer them the way you want.

Plenary indulgences are one case where a certain form of prayer is required. Many of them have specific instructions by the Church what form the prayers have to take. If you don’t follow that form, the indulgence is reduced to a partial indulgence. Here are some requirements for a plenary indulgence with the rosary: (there are few others I omitted)

The rosary is a prayer formula consisting of fifteen decades of Hail Marys preceded by the Our Father, during the recitation of which we piously meditate on the corresponding mysteries of our redemption.

  1. The recitation of a third part of the rosary is sufficient, but the five decades must be recited without interruption.
  2. Devout meditation on the mysteries is to be added to the vocal prayer.
  3. In its public recitation the mysteries must be announced in accord with approved local custom, but in its private recitation it is sufficient for the faithful simply to join meditation on the mysteries to the vocal prayer.

Yet even in the case of indulgences, the Church tells us God may not grant an indulgence despite us following the directions exactly as prescribed.

About the old ladies rigidly saying the rosary, remember that the rosary is more than just reciting the prayers. The bigger part of this prayer is the meditation. The part of your mind that thinks in words is saying the prayers while the rest of your mind is on feelings and images of the mysteries. The meditation part is very rarely the same each time I pray the rosary. I am usually thinking about different aspects of the mystery each time. It’s much like reading the same Bible verses again. You pick out new things each time.


Think about it:
If our Lady of Fatima asked us to pray the Rosary, why would we pray something akin to the Rosary but not the Rosary? Sounds a bit prideful to me imo, perhaps somewhat rebellious even.
Each part of the prayer provides a purpose. The Church has gradually gotten what She has gotten for a REASON!
Imagine being told to pray the Rosary by the blessed Virgin but instead saying, “what? We have gotten good so far with the Jesus prayer.”

In mental prayer it is not important to say already made prayers. But if you KNOW a prayer, and intend to say it…why not say it, but something like it?


Jesus taught us to retire to an inner room and pray the Our Father. Any prayer offered with that same intention is equally powerful; it is God who answers them all, after all.


So, growing up in the Churches of Christ, I was taught pray from my heart; we didn’t have prayer books. As I got older, I was introduced to praying the Psalms. This involved reading a particular Psalm, place yourself in David’s frame of mind, then imagine what you would have prayed, in your own words, under the same circumstance. There was nothing irreverent about this. It’s making David’s prayers your own.

So, when I read prayers in a book, they are very eloquent and the wording is spot on according to the feelings and petitions expressed; I couldn’t have said it better, myself. However, after the tenth time reading the same prayer, this prayer is no longer from my heart; it’s vain repetition. To avoid this, the prayers are renewed with my own language expressing the same longings, feelings, and petitions. This isn’t prideful or rebellious. It’s an attempt to personally reconnect with the original petition from my heart, again.

The idea of praying a certain prayer a certain way to affect a plenary indulgence; however, sounds very much like a magic spell. How can it not? The only difference is the intended outcome. Witches say a spell according to text to affect some sort of evil, Catholic Christians say a prayer according to text to affect some sort of grace.

I see something noble in rewording repetitive prayers. I see something questionable with repeating the same prayer in the same words repetitively. So, my original question remains: how do we mount a reasonable defense more effective than, “well, I know it may look like that but…it really isn’t?”


I told my mother yesterday that I loved her - probably 40 years after I first said the exact same words to her - and no less sincerely for the 40 years of repetition. Nothing wrong in finding new ways to express yourself, of course, but no need for novelty for its own sake either.


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