Rituals and vain repetition

My Baptist dad and I were in an argument the other night and he said “God hates rituals and repetition, and there’s nothing more ritualistic than the Catholic Churh.” he didn’t quote any bible verse. I said “it says ‘Vain Repetition’ referring to how the pagans prayed.” does the bible state anywhere that God hates rituals? Can someone help further gather evidence to show him that his idea is false. What are some of the rituals God has us do or does himself (the Passover meal in the upper room comes to mind).

The Parable of the Persistent Widow.

Luke 18:1 Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, 2 “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. 3 And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ 4 For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, 5 because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” 6 The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. 7 Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? 8 I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”


First you need to understand his reference. He is citing a common “proof text” amongst Protestants of a particular persuasion - Matthew 6:7 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.”

Notice it does not say repeating a prayer is a vain repetition, it says thinking many words itself is efficacious is a vain repetition.

Here is an example of what Jesus is referring to:

1 Kings 18:26-28 “And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.”

But no prayer of a Christian is a vain repetition:

Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”


Luke 22: 17 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you [that] from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.


Acts 13 When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
14 All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.


Acts 2: 42 They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.43 Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. 46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


God dislikes VAIN repetitious prayers, not prayers which are legitimate requests!

I find it utterly amazing that evangelical Protestants condemn Catholics for repeating the Our Father (the prayer Jesus taught the disciples in the SAME passage where He seemingly condemns repetition) and Hail Mary a couple dozen times. But many of them follow preachers (charlatans) who insist that if you pray every day for a month for a million dollars, God will hear you and provide. (The best part is these charlatans say God will provide, as long as you tithe 10 percent in advance :eek: )

Acts 3:1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock hour of prayer.

Every day at 3?


You’re right…Jesus himself observed Passover (and other Jewish rituals).
What appears to your Dad as “vain repetition” is just a factor of his not understanding (yet making judgements about) what he is witnessing.

I will confess that I thought the same as your Dad…UNTIL I came to understand the rituals and gestures all had deep meaning.

You might approach him this way: I bet if he goes to a baseball game, he stands when they play the national anthem, (and probably removes his cap, and puts his hand over his heart. I hope so). An alien visiting earth might view this American “ritual” as seemingly empty. But any American understands deeply why he does it.

In the Catholic Church, there is no gesture or ritual that doesn’t have meaning (to a Catholic)
“Lex orandi, lex credendi”…meaning roughly that the way we worship reflects the way we believe.
To an outsider, it can look like empty gestures. They are anything but.

What do you mean by “legitimate requests”?

Asking for mercy, strength to get through a tough time, and guidance of the Holy Spirit are legitimate requests for which to pray. Mercy for others, including souls going through purgatory, is also a legitimate request. A million dollars, a new car, or other material things are normally not legitimate prayer requests.

Joy and Peace.

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! 5 Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. 6 Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.7 Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


Well, I certainly agree.
But some prayer doesn’t involve a request of any kind.

The world’s most precious gift, the Risen Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, is a daily ritual par excellence!
It is the ONE sacrifice broken up in time and space for our participation!

It is so hard to have this treasure and not be able to give it away to those who do not understand it. All we can do is become holier through prayer, the sacraments, and enduring our trials for the love of the Lord.
Then others who will want the peace we radiate will ask questions and want to be a part of the entire treasure that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is.

And, our Blessed Mother, who is one with her Son, was given to us at the foot of the Cross!

Rituals appeal to the human sense of awe, as well aid in meditation and reflection. “Vain repetition” is a superstitious belief that the actions alone appeal to God and will accomplish something.

In Matthew 26, Jesus leads the disciples in a hymn following the Last Supper, preparing them to witness his agony in the Garden. The Last Supper itself was a ritual that the Apostles were asked to repeat.

In Exodus, Moses leads several worship rituals, including hymns and chanting.

Temple Worship in Jerusalem was an elaborate ritual of animal sacrifices. These follow in the pattern of Abraham offering the sacrifice of Issac on the site of the Temple millennia earlier.

When anyone makes a claim (your dad or anyone else) it is up to them to provide scripture or other documents to support that claim which can then be discussed.
It is not up to us to rebuff an unsubstantiated claim.

Rituals per se, no; empty ritualism, yes.

Mat 15:7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
Mat 15:8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
Mat 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Isa 1:10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Isa 1:11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
Isa 1:12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
Isa 1:13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Isa 1:14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
Isa 1:15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Isa 1:16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Isa 1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Isa 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Hos 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

For many Protestants, the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox, and even we Anglicans) seem to fall afoul of this, because the Protestants see only ritualism, and do not appreciate the worship which can occur through that. I would suggest trying to help him to understand that the rituals are worshipful, not merely formulaic.

Because all glory, honor, and worship are due our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

*Isaiah 6:*1 In the year that king Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple. 2 Upon it stood the seraphims: the one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two they covered his feet, and with two they flew. 3 And they cried one to another, and said: *Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory, *
*Epistle of Paul Thessilonians 5:*16 Always rejoice. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.

Epistle of Paul Hebrews 13:15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to his name.

Matthew 6:7-8: Vain Repetition

Many non-Catholics believe that praying the rosary violates Jesus’ teaching about “vain repetition” found in His Sermon on the Mount:

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8)

Immediately after saying this, He went on to teach the crowd the following prayer:

Matthew 6:9-13
This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”

Jesus didn’t say, “You might want to say something like the following”…he said, “When you pray, say” and He gave us precise words that we should pray daily for our daily bread, and these words have been repeated for 2,000 years. Is this “vain repetition”? Hardly.

Matthew 26:43-44
43When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

Jesus prayed a third time saying the same things he had said previously. Is this “vain repetition”? Hardly.

Revelation 4:8
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

The creatures keep saying the same thing over and over and over again - day and night. Is this “vain repetition”? Hardly.

All the prayers of pagans would be considered vain, because they were aimed at gods that did not exist. No matter how many times they repeated them, or how many rituals they did, all were in vain.

If one believes God to be the Almighty God, then no prayer is in vain.

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