Published on Those Catholic Men

Catholics are regularly challenged on the practice of saying the Rosary. The scriptural quote used as an argument against this practice is most often Matthew 6:7 which reads, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words”. It’s worth noting that in other versions of the Bible, the word “babble” is swapped with “use vain repetitions”. Either way, I think the point still comes across – empty, repetitive prayers are bad. To many, praying the Rosary is perceived as being a being a pointless repetition of 50 Hail Marys, 5 Our Fathers, 5 Doxologies, and some various other prayers. This is a fair point and a valid question, and I think that it is worth addressing.

So, Scripture clearly states that empty and repetitive prayers are to be avoided. I am not here to tell you that this passage is untrue; it most certainly is true and the Catholic opinion on the matter is a resounding “Amen!” The issue being presented is not with repetitive prayer, it is with empty repetitive prayer. If one reads a little bit further in Matthew’s gospel, we see that we are given the Lord’s Prayer and told, “Pray, then, in this way”. We are given the Lord’s Prayer to pray repeatedly!

Now, I can pray the Our Father in as little as 7.84 seconds, but it’s hard to imagine that I would have prayed it with any sort of depth whatsoever. On the other hand, one could spend hours meditating over the words of the very same prayer that takes me under 8 seconds to utter in its entirety. Does being able to say it in such a short time make it a bad prayer? No, of course not; it’s me who is at fault. I have turned a beautiful prayer given to us by Jesus Christ into a 7.84 second string of empty words. I could do this with any sort of prayer, even ones that are “freestyle”. I can say all sorts of nice things, but if I don’t say them truly from my soul with a profound sense of humility, contrition, thanksgiving, praise, etc., I am just babbling on with empty words.

This holds true for the Rosary. I’m not going to restate everything I’ve already said, but it stands to reason that the Rosary can and should always be prayed with a real desire to become closer to Christ. The mysteries of the Rosary are among the most joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and luminous events of the New Testament. They encompass the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and we are given a tool to be able to better understand these mysteries through the meditation that is the Holy Rosary.  Pope Saint John Paul II had this to say about the Rosary:

Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through – we might say – the heart of his Mother.

So yes, Scripture does tell us that vain, meaningless repetition is not the type of prayer in which we should engage. The message is not, however, against repeating a prayer – in Matthew 26:44, we see that Jesus repeats himself in prayer: “He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again.” Therefore, repeating a prayer is simply not against the Christian faith, it can’t be. The Rosary is indeed repetitive, but if prayed with the proper conviction, it is far from vain; in fact, it is one of the most intimate and inspiring prayers that we can pray – in praying the Rosary, we share in the meditation of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection alongside Mary, the mother of God and of our own faith who holds all these things in her blessed heart (Luke 2:19).

This is a good video/webpage for anyone who would like learn a bit more and to see the mechanics on praying the Rosary.

4 thoughts on “Matthew 6:7 and the Rosary

  1. There are videos of Mother Angelica leading nuns in the Rosary and these seem to be being thoughtlessly repeated at a fairly rhythmic if not rapid pace. “Thoughtless” might be the operative word here – I think I heard Fr Richard Rohr explain the rosary as a device for breaking the chain of endless persecuting thoughts running through our minds without paying any particular attention to the words. And that the Hare Krishna chanting was designed for the same purpose. (It might’ve been in his Contemplative Prayer video.)
    I’ve tried used Hail Marys this way myself while using a set of rosary beads I bought in a St Vinnie’s for the purpose.
    I believe the aim of contemplative prayer can be to sit in (thoughtless) silence and feel the presence of the Father, and perhaps occasionally to receive any ideas or answers the Father might wish to give us.
    What do you think Max?

    Sincerely, Anthony.

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    1. Hi Anthony. I think you’re right on about the aim of contemplative prayer, as you have put it. While praying the Hail Mary, we are asking the Mother of God to lead us closer to Christ. She loved her Son more than any other person has, and it is through her own example that we can be led into a relationship with Him. Mary had no anxiety or fear about her fiat, her “yes”, to the Lord, and it was her God-given state of grace that allowed her to set the perfect example of faith, spending her whole life feeling the presence of the Father, which is what we search for in contemplative prayer.

      Pax et Bonum,
      Max

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  2. “If one reads a little bit further in Matthew’s gospel, we see that we are given the Lord’s Prayer and told, “Pray, then, in this way”. We are given the Lord’s Prayer to pray repeatedly!”

    I think you’ve got this wrong. The “Lords Prayer” was Christ giving an EXAMPLE of how to speak directly, humbly and gratefully to God in ones own words. It was never intended to be repeated verbatim. That’s why such repetition is denounced in the previous passage.

    Christ says it so clearly, yet the church ignores it.

    Likewise the rosary.

    This stuff comes from a time when ordinary Christians were unable to read the bible for themselves.

    Put away your beads, pray honestly to God, and go and DO something good!

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    1. Hi, Matt; thanks for your comment. I’d like to discuss a few points you brought up.

      I respect where you’re coming from regarding the Lord’s Prayer – prayer in one’s own words can of course be fruitful and is, I think, necessary for a healthy relationship with God. However, don’t the words of God infinitely surpass those that we can come up with? In private prayer, I pray the Our Father after I have spoken to God in my own words – in this way, I lay out my own prayer in my own words; then, recognizing that I am imperfect, I pray the Lord’s Prayer trusting that God knows my soul. Where I come up short in my own prayer, the Our Father (though not a cop out) brings completion.

      I respectfully disagree with you saying that it was never intended to be repeated verbatim – why should the Word of God not be repeated? I think it should to the ends of the earth until the end of time. As I said in the article, repetition is not denounced – what is denounced is vain repetition. My argument in the article is that the actual prayer – the spiritual action, if you will, of rosary is certainly not vain, though the words are repetitive.

      As with most discussions like this, there is certainly more to it than pointing to a single line of scripture and running away with it. Everything has context.

      Though you may disagree, nothing Christ has said is ignored by the Church – that would be an affront to the Sprit which guides her. But that, perhaps, is a topic for another time.

      Regardless of whether someone can read the Bible or not, my point was that the rosary is an effective and structured way for someone to reflect on the life of Christ. Though it is structured and the words are the same every time, the experience varies. One time, a particular detail of a mystery may stick out and become something to focus on in personal prayer later on. The rosary is a meditative prayer which is distinctly different from rote prayer and from personal prayer – though part of a balanced breakfast, so to speak.

      Therefore, I will not put away my beads; I will continue to pray honestly to God in personal prayer and use the words of God in the Our Father as instructed by Christ, as well as meditating on His life in the rosary; and I will certainly go and do something good, as you say.

      Thank you for reading my article and again, for taking the time to leave a comment. Peace to you.

      -Max

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