A Defense of Repetitive Prayer

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A Defense of Repetitive Prayer

Repetitive prayer is one of the most popular types of prayer in the Catholic Church.  We perform repetitive prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, the holy rosary, and the Divine Mercy chaplet, just to name a few.  Repetitive prayer is not nearly as popular in other Christian denominations, however.

Many Christians find repetitive prayer to be an abomination and explicitly forbidden in the Bible. Many Christians point to this verse in Scripture:

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7

But one must analyze the entirety of the Bible in order to understand if this verse explicitly forbids repetitive prayer or something else entirely. Let’s analyze the actions of Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane:

Gethsemane by Carl Bloch

“He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) “Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (Matthew 26: 42) “He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again.” (Matthew 26:44)

As you’ll notice, Jesus prayed three times in the Garden, and each time he prays the same prayer.  His words are heartfelt and intense.  They are not empty babble, the repeating of the same prayer emphasizes the intensity of the prayer of Christ to the Father. So, Christ himself clearly performed repetitive prayer!

Side Note: Some Protestants argue that, “Yes, Christ performed repetitive prayer, but it was not ‘form prayer’. Form prayer is to be rejected.”  Again, one need only to look to the Catholic Bible in order to see the clear error in this reasoning, as Christ himself gave us a form prayer as the method with which we are to pray:

“This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:9-13

Repetitive prayer done correctly is clearly far more than empty babble.  The challenge is to pray intensely in repetition.  If we are not focused on the words we are saying and what they mean, then our prayer could certainly become empty and devoid of any real meaning.  What are your thoughts on repetitive prayer?  Do you enjoy praying such repetitive prayers as the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet?

Copyright 2012 Kathleen Wellman 

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6 Comments

  1. Cynthia Ann Costello on

    Hi Kathleen,
    I loved your article- thank you! When I teach Pre Cana’s I offer a warm welcome to all non-Catholics in the group. When we begin the day with a decade of the rosary I describe it to them this way- the repetitive prayers of the Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s are like the soundtrack to the movie- the background songs that are so important to the scene….and the particular mystery that you are on is the movie scene itself- with eyes closed you can picture all in your mind and imagine yourself in the story somewhere….it makes meditation on the rosary mystery very deep and meaningful!

  2. I really like repetition, knitting or repetitive prayer. I find it really calming. Also, praying repetitively allows you to go beyond the words. You can just keep repeating the same words and your mind can wander wherever it needs to go, like meditating on parts of the Bible.

  3. We live about 10 miles from ‘town’ and 12 from church. Any trip to a major grocery store or church takes about 25 minutes. We have discovered that we can recite the entire rosary while we drive. My mother, who is not Catholic, was visiting and she mentioned to me that she felt it was not beneficial to me or my children to do this. She told me that the value of the prayer was lost in the repetition and that we were therefore not receiving grace from our efforts. My response to her was that the value is in the meditation. The definition of the Rosary is a meditation on the mysteries of faith. Meditation is defined by extreme focus aided usually by a repetitive behavior or sound. While I, as the driver, am not fully focused, I find that we are certainly more calm and using our time in the vehicle in a conscious effort to bond through our faith instead of arguing over the radio station or who is poking someone or some such typical car ride behavior. After riding all over our valley for a few weeks with me and my brood of 7, she did agree with that last bit.

    • Robina gregor on

      Thank you for your insight. It is good to be “armed” with knowledge so that we may stand up for our Religion since it is so often attacked. God bless you all.

  4. Jerome Avwioroko on

    Psalm 136:1-26 has 26verses and all 26 verses repeated one prayer “His Mercies endure forever” and also in Revelation 4:8, the four 6-winged creatures pray day and night without resting “Holy,holy, holy Lord God Almighty, who was, who is and who is to come” as prophesied by Isaiah 800years earlier in Isaiah 6:1-3 . like the Rosary is a meditative prayer where Catholics medicate on the life and ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ as enshrined in his salvific plan for humanity. Meanwhile, St Luke’s Gospel chapter 1 from verses 28 and vs 42 God speaks through the Angel and through Elizabeth respectively. They are Holy Spirit prompted word that formed the foundation of the Hail Mary prayed in the Rosary while meditating on Jesu’s birth, works, passion/death and resurrection.

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