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The Rosary and "Vain Repetitions"


Catholics often get broadsided with this question:  "Why do Catholics repeat the same prayer over and over again when they pray the Rosary? Is this not vain repetition condemned by Christ in Matthew 6:7?"


Matt 6:7 reads "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words." (NIV)


A study of first century literature shows that at the time of Christ, and before him, some pagans had the superstitious belief that their prayers would not be heard, if they omitted the name of a god or failed to specify their particular petition. Moreover they thought that they had a better chance of getting the attention of the gods if they kept repeating their petitions. Knowing that was the case with some of the pagans of his day, our Lord in teaching his disciples to pray cautioned them against those false pagan beliefs.


The Greek text of Matthew 6:7 is translated precisely correct by both the Protestant King James version (use not vain repetitions) and the Catholic Jerusalem version (do not babble). The vain repetitions and the babble that Christ had in mind was that of the pagans, which he mentions. It had nothing to do with the idea of repeating prayers, since we read in Matthew 26: 39-44 that he himself repeated prayers.


Verse 44 reads "So he left them and went away once more and prayed a third time, saying the self same thing."


The same is true in Luke I8:9-14, where the original Greek text uses the imperfect tense meaning that the tax collector "kept beating his breast and saying,'Have mercy on me O Lord, a sinner'".


If one wants just to look at the Bible only and take it literally, then one might say it is useless to pray at all, since our Lord says in following verse 8 of Mt. Chapter 6 that "Your Father knows what you're going to say before you even ask him."


However, two parables Jesus gives us to illustrate that persistance and repetitious prayer can be just the right approach.


Luke 11:5-13

"Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.'?  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs."


Luke 18:2-5

"In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God or regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Vindicate me against my adversary.  For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor regard men, yet because this widow bothers me , I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming."


In saying the rosary the repetitions mark the time we are to meditate on a particular mystery of our salvation. Such meditation avoids the idea that one will be heard through sheer mechanical repetitions. This is not "vain" repetition, certainly not the vain repetition condemned by Our Lord. In fact no prayer is vain, no matter how often repeated, if it is sincere, for Christ Himself engaged in repetitious prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane.


Furthermore, we are told in the Apocalypse (Revelations) 4:8 that the angels in Heaven never cease repeating, night and day, the canticle: "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come."


And of course, Protestants also engage in repetitious prayer: the same prayers at mealtime grace, the same prayers at Benediction, etc. The time laps between them is no factor; what is a few hours to God? It is still repetitious.




Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved