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?