Vain Repetitions

My Protestant friend frequently brings up her quips about Catholicism. One of her biggest complaints is about how Catholics allegedly pray from memorization rather than from the heart. It’s her reasoning for not trying to pray the Rosary. How can I explain to her why Catholics memorize their prayers, and that repetition is not always vain?

Most of us are not the most eloquent speakers. Saying that, I’m reminded of my Baptist father-in-law, who is very sincere in his faith, but whose verbal prayers seem to state “oh Lord” every five seconds. This is not to undermine his prayer life, but if we pray without direction we run the risk of vain repetitions, too. Structured prayer allows communal prayer. It helps us to pray and avoid vain repetitions or senseless, undirected prattling. That a memorized prayer can possibly be said without heart doesn’t mean it will be said without heart. And improvised prayer isn’t a guarantee of avoiding vain repetition or of keeping direction. We just need to focus on the words and speak deliberately. And also, what are the favorite hymns sung in worship except memorized, structured prayers put to song? It’s no different.

Jesus’ caution against vain repetition was certainly not against memorized prayer. Jesus prayed and sung the psalms. He prayed the normal, memorized Jewish prayers at the specified times and before meals. He observed the Jewish liturgies, including the non-Biblical feast of the dedication (Hanukkah). Given all this, what did Jesus actually mean? He was referring, most likely, to the pagan practices of prayer, where they’d continue saying every possible name of a pagan deity, not out of worship, but as if it was some type of spell, that saying the right name pronounced exactly right would be the only way to invoke the deity. Jesus is telling us to pray from the heart. Not against memorization, but against a type of legalistic type of prayer where it’s supposed to be some properly pronounced incantation that fails if you misspeak.

As for the Rosary specifically, you’re actually not supposed to focus only on the words. The devotion is intended to be a meditation on the four different mysteries (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious), which are, for the most part, meditations on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you can lose yourself into contemplation of those mysteries, all the better.

I have heard some evangelicals insert the word “just” into every prayer numerous times too.

“We just ask O Lord, that you bless Bob, and just lead him to your will…”

Suggest she listen to her Pastors “extemporaneous” prayer. She will find a lot of repetition…

That said, the idiom speaks of “vain” repetitions, not repetitions. One of the things I notice is how quickly many Catholics say a given prayer. It seems like they get a bonus for getting it done faster, rather than slowing down and allowing the words to touch the soul as they are being said.

Wesrock answered the “vain repetitions” part (which I believe there have been other past threads on the same topic including some quite recent).

As for prayer in the form of just speaking to God “from the heart” vs. praying a memorized prayer like the Rosary, I do some of each. And I try various other forms of prayer too. They are all good in different ways. Think of a workout routine, where you do some running, some lifting, some stair climbing, some calisthenics, etc. Some people prefer to do more running, some get more out of lifting. All good.

I think Protestants assume that when Catholics are reciting a rosary we’re somehow tuning out and just mumbling words. Actually that’s not the case, it’s a meditative prayer so the words are providing a background for us to think more about the meditation on the mysteries or about why we are coming to Mary with our petitions. It’s every bit as heartfelt for those of us who concentrate, as it would be for me to say “O Lord, I ask you with all my heart to give me the grace of X and to please help me with problem Y” etc. Rosary prayers to me are also cultural and have been part of my daily life since I was very small. It may be something that a Protestant who didn’t grow up with it just can’t “get” but hopefully they can appreciate the cultural tradition of praying like your mom and grandma did and like Catholics before them did for hundreds of years.

When I’m alone praying the Rosary I don’t tend to do it as a mutter anyway. I sometimes talk the prayers. Or yell them. Or inflect them. Or emphasize certain words as I think about them. I’m not just repeating like copying a teacher’s sentence on the blackboard.

Finally, while I know maybe you want to answer your friend, I don’t think we necessarily have to explain or justify the ways we choose to pray to anyone else. If someone from another culture had a tradition that they did at holiday time, it would be considered rude to look down on it. I’d like to see some of these Protestants have a little respect for our traditions. I don’t go up to a Protestant and tell them their minister dramatically praying “from the heart” sounds odd or insincere. They need to do us the same courtesy.

ChurchSoldier, the first wake I ever went to they were saying the rosary so fast my sister and I almost burst out laughing. We had never heard it recited so fast. (Git er done, anyone?)

TisBearself, I do the same as you. (Well not the yelling.;))
Years ago, a priest on EWTN said that if prayer becomes meaningless or too repetitious, to say a word or think about what it means in a way that has you question why that particular word was used. For example:

Our ( not just mine, but everyone’s in the world. People we love or not…People that love God, or not…)

Father (not just a person, but a father. Father of me. Father of all…)

who art (is. Not was. Still is…)

And so on, going thru the entire prayer. Try it sometime, you may find something you hadn’t heard before, or hadn’t considered before.

When I am yelling or raising my voice, I’m usually someplace like in the car on the turnpike with a lot of traffic noise so I am speaking above it.

Or sometimes out on the hiking trail. Remember the Fatima movie where the kids yelled “Hail Mary” and got the echo back. Now unlike them, I do say the rest of the prayer :slight_smile: but speaking loudly to Mary and God while in nature can be a powerful thing.

LOL! I noticed that years ago when I was involved with a Protestant group. I’m surprised they still say it. The one we’ve noticed here is “Father God” - Protestants say it so often I’m tempted to start counting. :smiley:

I think that you can look at at examples of vain repetitions in the Bible

1 Kings 18: 24-29
24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

The prophets of Baal were praying in vain repetitions. They were praying over and over and over again for Baal to answer their prayers, “O Baal, answer us.” They then, took it up a notch and started slashing their bodies with swords and lances, because surely by these efforts Baal would answers them. In spite of these repetitions, Baal did not answer, they were praying in vain, there is no Baal God. They were praying in vain

This is not what we do, when we pray the rosary, chaplets, novenas, or even litanies (with the many repetitive responses in those prayers, for example). The repetitive prayers of the rosary, is not because we don’t have faith that God, Mary, and the entire communion of the Saints to hear our prayers, that is not the purpose of the repetition in our prayers. The repetition, is to help with the meditation of the mysteries of the rosary, to help us bring our focus and our attention to Jesus’ life. Jesus’ life was certainly not in vain, nor is meditating on his life through prayerful repetition, vainful. Our prayers and our intentions are ALWAYS heard, in heaven, whether we pray an entire rosary, one decade, whether we pray it loud and boisterously, or quietly in our heads. Our prayers are heard in heaven, they are not in vain.

Here is one other way I think about the Rosary or any repeated prayer (like other chaplets, the Litary of Loreto, Litany of the Saints, etc.)

I have done a lot of needlework in the past. If you do needlework like knitting, counted cross stitch, weaving, piecing a quilt, etc. you are basically doing a whole bunch of repeated motions. Making hundreds of little stitches, often a group of the same kind in a row.

Put all together this makes up a beautiful “whole” - a knitted afghan, a counted cross stitch picture, a woven piece of cloth or a big quilt from many little pieces. I think of the Rosary as me making up a piece of prayer needlework. All the repeated prayers are like the groups of stitches, and then taken all together it is making something pretty to give to the Lord.

Tell her the apostles memorized the Our Father.

I started by poking fun at my father-in-law, but truth be told I’m terrible at improvised prayer, too, at least if it’s out loud. I try to mix things up. If I can’t “pray from the heart”, I start with an Our Father, and that usually opens me up to more personal prayer. It helps me remember how to pray.

Like others said, I try different intonations on the words in memorized prayer when by myself, or by contemplating the meaning of each word or clause as I pray it.

Rosary: If you have ever tried to clear your mind of everyday thoughts to concentrate on anything–prayer, what to have for dinner, a math problem, whatever–unless you are an expert in meditation you will find it next to impossible. So what is the relationship between saying the Hail Mary, etc. in the rosary and contemplating the various mysteries of the rosary? If you simply tried to contemplate the mysteries, it’s virtually certain other thoughts would pop into your head. But…if you are keeping your mind busy reciting Hail Marys, etc. that keeps the “other thoughts” at bay while you use the other part of your brain to contemplate the various mysteries. In other words, the important part of the rosary is the contemplation of the mysteries, not the repetition of common prayers. They are only there to distract the part of your mind that likes to wander. Other religions use the same trick.

The rosary is a meditation on the life of Christ.
It’s complete. Nothing missing Nothing skipped.
Most major faiths have an element of meditation in them. Does she go after them as well?
She likely has never been told the truth about Catholicism. She heard from people who think we’re wrong about everything. It’s not her fault. They only know what they grow up with. Ask her, if, when she was a child she immediately and instinctively could read and wrote? No, of course not. There were alphabet drills, writing skills to develop, and grammar and phonics to master.
Same with prayer. We have rote prayers to teach us how to pray spontaneously. Also, we make our lives a prayer, and offering to God.
There is no more beautiful prayer than the Creed or the Anima Christi.
Show those to her.

She might be very impressed. I have been around some people of other faiths who can’t really get out a proper grace before meals. But we don’t do around telling them they pray badly.

Charity works both ways.
Good luck .

I was raised Baptist & I hated it in Sunday School when we would have round robin prayers. I never could figure out what I was supposed to say. Yet my husband - raised Catholic - is really good at extemporaneous prayer. At gatherings he’s often asked to say grace or other prayers.

I love “canned” prayers - and I can pray them from the heart. If a prayer says what I would say if I could think of it, I don’t see anything wrong with reading the prayer. One of my regular morning prayers is a Jewish one, the Modeh Ani: “I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.”

On the other hand, we can find repetition that isn’t in vain in the Bible:

Psalm 136: “for his mercy endures forever”. Again, and again, and again. Repetition. Not in vain. :wink:

Yes Father God is used numerous times as is the word just.

  1. Ask her if she knows the heart, like God does.
  2. Jesus taught 1.0 prayers. Are we to offer it a single time and be done? Of course not!
  3. At Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father three times in rapid succession, using the same words. What, His Father didn’t hear Him the first two times? “Oh, pardon me, Son, I was busy…”
  4. The Psalms are prayer. Psalm 136 repeats the same prayer 26 times. Are we to rip the Psalms out of our bibles? Uh…no.
  5. What was Jesus talking about in the parable of the widow petitioning the judge repeatedly? Giving legal advice? Nonsense! He was teaching us to petition incessantly in prayer, as He did, as the Psalmist did.
  6. Saint Paul teaches that we are to pray without ceasing. Must we find a new and different subject for each prayer, lest we anger God? More nonsense!
  7. As to the Catholic Church, advise her to learn before she burns. OK, maybe not

Case in point (and you converts know what I’m talking about). I attended the funeral of a co-worker. A Church of Christ minster officiated. In the opening prayer, “Lord” was called out 17 times, i.e. “Lord, we gather…Lord, we just ask…Lord, we just want to thank…” At the end, in the closing prayer, His Name was called out 19 times! He sure heard His Name a lot! Isn’t that a lot closer to vain repetition?

No, I do not believe that this would be an example of praying in vain. It just sounds like they are calling on God’s name repetitively in prayer, but not in vain.
However, I will say this…sometimes here on Catholic Answers I see strange postings for Novena’s, that turns a beautiful novena into an act of superstition.
These novena’s start with a person praying as a normal novena for nine days, and then at the end a poster says that they now have to publish that prayer publically, to guarantee to have their prayers answered within a certain number of days. I wonder if that is an example of vainful repetition. They do not trust that heaven has heard their intentions of their novena and God will answer according to his will. But, in order to guarantee their request, they now have to publish it…it makes a beautiful novena prayer, into an act of superstition. I wonder if that is an example of vainful repetition.

These are called “chain prayers” and as I understand it they are forbidden on CAF and if the mod sees one s/he will post that it’s a chain prayer and call you out.

I’ve seen these around forever including paper copies left in pews at church before we had the Internet, people also used to publish them in the newspaper classified ads sections. If you want to just say it for the 9 days and leave the copy or publish in the paper then that’s OK and could be seen as a way of spreading the devotion (much like someone on another thread is leaving off holy cards with Divine Mercy prayer on them). It’s when the prayer note goes even further and says you HAVE to do this in order for the prayer to be GUARANTEED to work that it becomes a superstitious and a problem.

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