Questions about Catholic prayer


When I started school (27 years ago) we were taught set prayers like ‘Hail Mary’ etc. no context was given for this, it was just a script to repeat. I can still recite it without question or delay, but I still have no knowledge as to why Catholics in particular use this form of prayer. Every other Christian tradition that I am aware of generally go with prayers from the heart rather than learning to repeat.

I’m also curious to know what it feels like when you pray, I’ve been trying to pray over the past week and it just feels like I’m talking to the sky so I’d like to know what emotional response you have when you pray.

Apologies for the rambling nature of this post as well.


Pray sloooowerrr…


Would that make a difference?


Eastern Orthodox also have set prayers. I’ve heard jokes about how dedicated to recited prayers Anglicans are. Of course, everyone has the Our Father.

I’d also say that these prayers can be from the heart. For me, at least, they are. After all, these are prayers either very clearly given by God Himself (the Our Father) or were given by men and women who were themselves moved by the Holy Spirit during prayer. Hopefully, they are on our hearts as well. Maybe take time to consider the words and study the prayer’s meaning (the Our Father and Hail Mary in particular have a lot said on them) if you feel it is too rote.


The Hail Mary and/or the entire Rosary is supposed to be meditative. We are supposed to be meditating on the various mysteries while we pray the Rosary. If it’s just vain repetition, then it’s not of any value, but through meditation it is very valuable.

I would imagine that most catholics use both prayers that we have learned such as the Hail Mary, the Our Father, etc, as well as independent prayer. Both have meaning and importance in our relationship with God.


I was brought up in the Church of England and we were made to learn the usual prayers by heart, in particular the Our Father (called “the Lord’s Prayer”), the Apostles’ Creed (though no other creed), and the General Confession, a specifically Anglican prayer. Not the Hail Mary, though, of course.


Catholics also pray ‘from the heart’ as you call it. Recited prayers when prayed properly should be directed to God, not merely spoken, hence the term prayed not read or spoken. It is acceptable to merely say the words as long as your heart is directed towards God. To feel more, use your imagination initially and imagine you are speaking to God directly, or as you should do when praying, take a moment and put yourself in the presence of God. Remember who you are addressing and adjust your tone, posture etc. If you are speaking out loud then put a little love in your voice, even if it’s a repetitive prayer. Even if you are praying in your head add some feeling in and really imagine God listening. This might take a bit of effort if you dont have a good imagination and if you really can’t do it then try to have a statue or painting near to help or read some scriptures if you’re more of a words person. It may sounds strange and complex but often praying out loud repetitively has a interior praying going on at the same time which is more meditative, like the rosary. I dont know where I read it but it was a saint who said the Hail Marys were to rid us of our sins. This is how Catholics pray, with the feelings in the repetitive prayers. In fact I may speak for myself but this is when I hear what God has to say to me during the quiet repetitive Hail Marys. I don’t mean words really but I am taken off to whole thoughts like a meditation. It is affective, yes and that is different depending on the topic, sorrowful or remorseful, joyful. A lot of love and most often completely overwhelming. Oh and I must say, dont worry at all if you feel nothing when you pray, that is completely normal and very very good. It just means God is very close to you, so close you are blinded by Him so keep on praying cos He is happy with you so dont give up. Mother Theresa had that for ages, so did many many saints and of course us ordinary people do to but not usually so long, hang in there!.


I think you might view The Hail Mary as a teaching prayer of reverence and acknowledgment that Mary was chosen by God to become the vessel of Jesus-salvation through the pronouncement of an Angel Messenger. We conclude the prayer by asking Mary-the mother of God with the petition that she pray for us(sinners) now and at the hour of our death. Prety good prayer, huh! By repetition, we are leaning very first step of the Rosary. With the ‘Hail Mary’ do take the time to separate the phrases and devour them. Hail Mary-acknowledgement. Full of grace-Reverence. The Lord is with you-she is the Chosen Vessel. And so on. You can take it from there.


That’s how I feel when The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is prayed at our holy hour! Blink and you’ll miss it LOL!


I see it as a both/and, rather than an either/or. There are times for spontaneous prayer and for praying the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy (and so many others). I do find praying something like the Chaplet, a way for me to focus my thoughts on praise, worship, and thanksgiving to God, and calm my mind from the distractions outside of me.

As for what it feels like; it ranges from nothing to a deep spiritual communion and oneness. It is not a fake it til you make it situation, it just varies greatly form time to time.


I have prayed in an Evangelical prayer circle where everyone prayed in a certain way which I think you could describe as praying in conversational words. These were not prayers of repetition although after a while they become repeated in the same circumstances. For a very short example, if each time they pray for various people who are ill, they may say something like, “Dear Lord, please give strength and healing to these individuals.”

Now, if Catholics are asked to pray, for example, for sick individuals, they may respond in general by saying, yes, they will pray for these people and then do so by saying the Our Father, Rosary and other pre-written prayers. (Many do this on CAF.)

I think both sets of prayers are from the heart. They are just different methods.

Sometimes I feel very close to God when I pray and sometimes quite “dry” (not much in the way of feelings). I think this is normal for most Christians. It is important to keep praying as much as you can, just as you would talk with a friend or family member often. I try to make time every morning to pray, but if I find I have trouble praying, I read a spiritual or theological book for maybe 20-30 minutes. The spiritual ones by saints are quite inspiring, as are the Jesus of Nazareth theological book series written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.


First, I understand that perhaps you were taught rote prayers without any background, as usually schools and parents start out just getting kids to say the words and then maybe teach them what it means later - or in some cases, never get around to teaching them that. But the “Hail Mary” can definitely be “from the heart” just as much as any improvised personal prayer.

Second, please understand that Catholics are free to use MANY prayer forms.
We can use the set prayers like “Hail Mary”.
We can make up prayers ourself - which I often do (“Dear God, in Jesus’ name I humbly ask that you please help with (describe intention here)” or “Dear God, I am feeling very sad/ worried/ depressed/ tired today, can you please send your Holy Spirit to strengthen me” or “Thank you so much, God, for your blessings and especially for (describe what you’re thankful for here”).
We can read Scripture.
We can engage in various forms of prayerful meditation or contemplation.
We can simply sit in front of the Eucharist at Adoration and focus on Jesus without thinking actual words or prayers.
We can light a prayer candle to Jesus or Mary or saints.
So we are not just forced to use the rote prayers, and in fact many people do not. I’ve noticed a strong preference for reading Scripture in the last few decades among many Catholics, often as part of Liturgy of the Hours or Lectio Divina.

Third, please understand that when we get really into praying, whatever our chosen form, it becomes a “Prayer from the Heart”.
If it feels like “talking to the sky” to you, ask yourself why.
Is it because you don’t really have faith that God is listening to you?
Is it just that you haven’t done it in a long time so it feels odd?
Have you considered going to Adoration and just sitting in God’s presence without talking, except maybe just asking for Him to enter your heart?

Praying for me is like I’m having a conversation with God and, since I do certain prayers every day, it feels a bit like an “exercise workout” for my soul as well.
Other times my prayer is spontaneous. I talk to God through the day. Right after I type this I am going to ask God to motivate me to get through some chores I need to do and am procrastinating. That sort of thing.
Or I see a pretty sky or rainbow and I say, “Thank you God for that.”

It’s about having a relationship with God, not just saying words, whether the words are your own or you’re reading them off a page.

I think many pre-written prayers are very beautiful or they are scripture-based.

When I say the “Our Father” I remember, as emphasized in a recent homily, that these words came right from Jesus 2000 years ago, and here we are saying them all these years later! Imagine! I am using the same words that Jesus Himself used. That makes me feel very connected to Jesus and happy.

I love the words in the Litanies to Mary and to Joseph and to the Holy Ghost…the rhythm and repetition are very nice.


Formulaic prayer. Structured. Our Lord taught us but a single prayer: the Lord’s Prayer. Are we supposed to offer it a single time and be done? Prayer, unless our hearts are in it, is empty recitation - vain. We cannot expect any result from that. Yet, the Lord prayed repetitively to the Father and did not sin. Do we suppose that the Father did not hear Him at first? Of course not! Powers attributed to any certain type pf prayer demand a deep faith and devotion, otherwise they can fall into the sin of superstition. Yet, any and all prayers are to be offered while we focus on the content of the prayer, the import of each word, as well as our heart’s disposition as we pray.

Prayer is elevating our hearts and minds to God. It is conversation with Him, whether Father, Son, or yes, Holy Spirit. Can we think of any human conversation we enter into in which we mumble empty, useless words or phrases? Even at the drive-thru, we state clearly what we seek and we listen for the response to be certain we were understood. How much like this should our prayers to God be!

We may indeed “feel” something when we pray - but that is not the reason for, or purpose of prayer. When we intercede for others we pray well, as we have greater opportunity to leave ourselves out of the equation. IMO, the more we offer prayer for others and the less for ourselves, the more they benefit - the more we benefit.

James the Less teaches that the prayer of a righteous man avails much. Conversely, he admonishes that many of us pray and do not receive, as we ask amiss. The loudest prayer of all is that which comes from the most humble of hearts, and humility, like love, is something we choose, something to be desired, indeed one of the very few things worth being grasped at.

An example or two. Some prayer, in many cases the most effective and memorable, involve no words at all. I do not offer myself as anything other than the worst sinner here. Yet, over ten years ago, I was before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The book of prayer intentions was there.

I found an intention written for a fellow parishioner who was fighting a potentially fatal infection. Many were praying for her. she was not improving. I was lead to simply trace my finger back and forth across the writing while weeping for her. I have no idea of the time involved, but I received a strong and unmistakable spiritual consolation. Sudden comfort. Peace.

As it turns out, our prayers were heard and that little consolation coincided with the infection responding to treatment. We greeted and hugged each other this past Sunday. She it was who lead me into the chapel and laid hands on me when I was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008.

That cancer relapsed twice, mutated into two cancers and treatment caused a third bone marrow cancer, simultaneously. Her prayer for me never stopped. Recently given a 99.5% chance of succumbing to those cancers, I type this being cancer free.

I cannot relate this without tears. God is everything and I am nothing, but look at just how merciful He can be to “nothing.”

The power of prayer. As they say, “Priceless.”


I’d really suggest picking up the book (also available on Kindle or used on Amazon) of Fr Dubay’s “The Prayer Primer”.



Short quick prayers.

Get interrupted a lot.

Hail Mary.

Glory Be.

“Dear Lord, Please help …”

“Dear Lord, I love You very much … please hold me in Your Arms, forgive me my sins, and make me the way You want me to be.”

At Adoration, I have just stared for an hour … no words. Used to bring all sorts of books … eventually no books, no words …and just ran out of time.


For me, prayer is all about finding ways to identify God’s will in my life and then aligning our will to God’s will.

Outside of Mass, Rote/repetitive prayer has never been good way for me to do that… mediative prayer combined with actions have been most fruitful for me…


“Rote” prayers are fine, when we say them from the heart.

Another good way to pray is silent listening. God needs to have his say with us.


Me, I pray to God in my journal. I call Him "Heavenly Father, or just “Father”, and write about my day, or tell Him what’s bothering me. Written prayers leave me dry, sorry to say.


2676-2679 addresses the Hail Mary

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