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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Repeat After Me

Welcome to Monday!

We've had a lovely weekend of stray cats and relaxation. Halloween seems like hours weeks ago. We're ready for one those questions everyone asks all the time and no one seems to know the answer, although there is a very simple answer that everyone seems to forget. Perfect for a Monday!

Hello Sister,

Sorry, been on google too much this weekend and come accross all sorts of sites by mistake, one of which leads to my question. Jesus said not to use repetitive prayers as the heathens do which has lead to criticism of the rosary by non-Catholics. To be fair, it is quite repetitive, so how do we answer this to the critics?

You'll be delighted to know I can put your mind at ease. There is more than one answer to this question, so let's start with the simplest explanation and work our way up.

Isn't it nice that people take this quote out of context and just lop off words that explain what Jesus was actually talking about: "vain repetitive prayer" (according to the King James Bible)?  I would go along with the poor sad Protestants that the rosary fills the bill on that account if I thought what they seem to think about the rosary, that it's a bunch of mumbling the "Hail Mary" hundreds of times.  But we know differently, don't we?  We realize that the Rosary is a meditative prayer in which the mind if filled with thoughts of the life of Jesus as seen through His mother's eyes.

What did Jesus mean when He said "vain", anyhow?  Once again, it's not a good idea to go around interpretting the Bible on your own, especially when you have a copy that has key words and phrases changed to please British kings and queens. The King James Bible is translated from the Greek. There is no word for "vain" in Greek.  The word used means something more along the lines of babbling.

Are you babbling when you say the Rosary?  We understand that an observer might think you are. But we know you are not.

If that isn't enough to answer the critics, misguided though they are, consider this: Jesus was talking about how the pagans pray, which would translate more along the lines of "babbling repetitive (incantations) to gods who do not exist".  Now there is an explanation of "praying in vain" if I ever heard one.

Once the disciples asked Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray" and Jesus piped up with the Our Father. Should we only say that once? Or does 'repetitive' only means more than once in a day, or a few minutes, or what?

Unfortunately for us, in terms of answering the critics, the explanation lies in an understanding of what praying the Rosary actually entails and I'm not sure you're going to get very far before the critic's eyes glaze over. I have found that when it comes to the Rosary and Mary in general, the Separated Brethren would rather close their ears and hum than actually listen to the answer. They really can't seem to get past the word "Mary".  If you start your sentence with "Mary", they're done.  I might remind you, at this point, that after one brief other prayer, the Rosary pretty much starts right in with "Hail Mary.."

If you are saying the Rosary by sitting there with your beads saying dozens of Hail Mary's with no thoughts other than mumbling out the prayers (especially if you your mind is wandering about what time you have to pick up the kids and trying to remember if you told them to stand in the front or the back or under the tree or what to wait for you), then we all have a problem.


Dev Thakur said...

Sister, I love this blog! When facing the same criticism about repetitive prayer, I have referred to Psalm 136 (in the Hebrew numbering).

It repeats, verse after verse, "for his love endures forever" (or his mercy, depending upon the translation). This is Scripture! And the phrase is repeated 26 times --- every single verse is ended the same way!

Clearly then, it is not repetition that is wrong in itself, but a certain kind of empty or purposeless repetition.

abishag said...

Repetitive prayer knows no denomination. I was raised very protestant and when I visited home, the prayer said before the meal was exactly the same as the first one I remember hearing over 30 years ago! The prayer gets the job done though - it is thankful, praises God, etc. Just like the Rosary - it works, so there's no need to change it just for the sake of following the letter of the law rather than the spirit.

Just because it's repetitive doesn't make it vain!

Anonymous said...

Sister, my daughter wants to give her boyfriend a holy medal for his birthday and is trying to find the patron saint of runners. I've googled it with little luck. I found that St. Sebastian may be the patron of athletes, but my kids are into competitive archery and we've always thought of him as their patron. (They all have medals of him in their bow cases -- you gotta love the picture of him with all the arrows.) We also call on Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati as our patron of winter sports (the kids also skate and ski). But no luck finding a patron for runners. There's got to be one, right? Thank you Sister for your awesome blog!

Tracy said...

Dear Sister,

I must second what Abishag said. When we separated bretheren lead prayers in groups, we tend to fall into repetitive phrases. Perhaps it is part of the human condition...and I love the comment about pagan incantations!

Nelson said...

nice thought on rosary sister, but sadly, the practice of rosary is very less among we, youngsters (especially, those who live in metros). I feel we dont get enough time to complete a full rosary.

And...this is my third time asking the question,(perseverance pays, i believe). please answer my question sister...

Nelson said...

I better repeat my doubt sister. i received Eucharist from a protestant church by mistake, thinking it as a catholic church. Was it wrong? Was it a sin? if so, how can I repent? Please answer...

cathmom5 said...

To Nelson (I hope that is okay, Sister)-An accident is not a sin. A sin requires that you know it is wrong and do it anyway. If you feel guilty, just tell your priest at confession. I bet he'll say you didn't do anything wrong, if you did it by mistake.

To Sister,
Thank you for the clear and succint answer to that age old "repetive prayer" question. I've tried to explain it to my non-Catholic family, too. When I converted to the Catholic Faith 12 years ago, one of the objections I heard from people was the Catholics-use-repetitive-prayers-against-what-Jesus-said argument. But having grown up in the Baptist faith, we said the same Doxology (prayer), the same communion prayers (once a month), the same prayers at the prayer meetings every week. So, the repetative prayer argument did not work with me, anyway.

My problem upon conversion was getting past "Mary," just as you said, Sister. Once the name is brought up the Protestant mind shuts down. Once I got past that, I understood the beauty and meaning of the Rosary.

God Bless, Sister.

Nelson said...

@cathmom5 thanks a lot for your reply and kind words. my friends did say so. but i felt like something bad, that's why I kept on insisting on that question. Thanks again for your words. But, sometimes a doubt arises as whether is it necessary to confess to a priest as we can straight away pray to God for forgiveness.(Sorry, I'm a doubting machine, but cant really help, but ask this:))

Nan said...

Nelson, all Catholics know that we must confess to a Priest; in the Confessional he stands in Persona Christi, so you're not really talking to the priest, you're talking to God, confessing to God, receiving absolution from God. When you show contrition and do penance, your sins are wiped off the slate forever. Until next time.

Nelson said...

Dear Nan,

Thanks for your words. Doubts eventually lead to certainty. I'm into that process, thanks for helping me. And will I be privileged to read you blog, I found it open only to invited readers.