Sunday, January 6, 2008

Repetitive Prayers

I have many NonCatholic Christian friends, so I am used to answering questions about my faith. As long as they are polite, I welcome questions. It gives me an opportunity to discuss a subject dear to me, The Church, and helps me dispel some of the myths that are so prevalent about Catholicism.

One question that pops up occasionally is why Catholics have some prayers such as the rosary when Matthew 6:7 states"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words." (Some bibles use the phrase, vain repetitions)

Remember Jesus did not say, don't pray using meaningless repetitions like the Jewish people do. He specified "As the Gentiles do." Let's look at Jewish prayer. Jewish people pray three times a day with a set series of prayers. On the Sabbath the Jewish wife blesses the candles with a words that her ancestors have used. Her husband blesses the bread, wine and children all with non-spontaneous, prewritten words.

Yet Jesus did not condemn these types of prayers. Jesus certainly wasn't shy about challenging the traditions of his fellow Jewish people when he found them So, he apparently was not alarmed about using prayer that had past down through previous generations.

We also know that the angels use repetitive prayer. In Rev. 4:8 the angels repeat, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty." God is also pleased at the tax collector's repeated prayer in Luke 18:13 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' Finally we are told that Jesus himself used a repetitive prayer in The Garden of Gethsemane. Three times he repeats in agony, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. "

Many Protestants, unknowingly, use repetitive prayers. What is a hymn but a method of singing your prayers to God? Most songs have a chorus that repeats. Does this mean that Protestants should give up beautiful songs of praise? I certainly hope not.

So, if it wasn't set prayers or words that repeat that Jesus was prohibiting what exactly did he mean? The Greek word that is translated as 'vain, repetitions' can also mean babbling. Because our savior was in a Roman dominated world, he would have been aware of the practice of using an oracle to predict the future. The Greek priest would translate the oracle's babbling for her audience.

The word vain also has to be taken into consideration. Imagine this:

A toddler has fallen from his seat and been rushed to the hospital. Tortured by agony and guilt all his young mother can pray over and over is the words, "Please God help my son." Her whole soul is poured into this plea.

While in the hospital, the family is visited by a church member who is very aware that others are listening to his prayers. He prays, not to glorify God, but to bring honor to himself. In fact, he isn't thinking of the young couple and their toddler at all, but how beautiful his own words must sound to those listening to him.(Come on, we've all known hypocritical people).

Which person, the mother or the visitor, do you think that God is pleased with and which one has prayed a vain prayer?


pam j said...

Regarding the rosary:
While you do repeat prayers, each decade begins with a mystery - which is a reflection on a specific part of sacred scripture. For instance, the first decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries is the Agony (of Our Lord) in the Garden. So while saying each Hail Mary , you are meditating on the Bible passages that are related, such as Jesus asking the disciples to stay awake with Him, and Our Lord asking, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done."

deb said...

Good observation Pam!

paramedicgirl said...

Very interesting post! Recently I was thinking of those three examples in the Bible for explaining repetitive prayer to one of my co-workers, who is a Born-Again Christian. We often have talks about our theological differences.

caligirl said...

Your blog is great! I have often had this discussion with my evangelical Christian friends. The examples shown here will help a lot with our next discussion.

Thank you and keep up the good work!

deb said...

Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

I am sure that the only thing that The Lord cares about is that our prayers are emanating from our heart and are directed toward Him. God is Spirit, and those that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.

Kristina said...

I agree with you on this point. I think it is the heart, and not the words, that God cares about. The problem is that, while a devout Christian (whether Catholic or Protestant) may mean with every fiber of their being the prayer they are repeating the repetitive prayer works as a "scapegoat" for the individual who has been mislead into believing that "showing up" on Sunday is enough. There is no challenge (or even knowledge that it is possible) to truly communicate and fellowship with God when all of the prayers are repetitive and the individual is not encouraged to simply call out to their Father. It sends a false message that you simply have to show up, read or say some things from memory and go about your business. There is no authenticity.

My other issue with repetitive prayers is that God is our Father. Our Abba. Would you like it if your children spoke to you continually saying the same thing over and over? Would that encourage an intimate relationship with them if they constantly read, or said from memory, the same words every day and night? Or do you simply want them to talk to you? To hear about their day? Listen to their hurts and worries? Hear what they are excited about? Hear how much they love you? Hear their PERSONAL mistakes and how sorry they are? Which one is a symptom of a relationship?