Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

So if the Hail Mary is a prayer and saying the prayer multiple times is encouraged in Catholicism, what established reason does the Catholic church give to justify it not being a vain repetition.

Matthew 6:7 KJV But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

I'm looking for an official Catholic response to this accusation. I'm sure they've said something about it.

share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

According to this answer to a question I asked on the Biblical Hermeneutics SE, the original New Testament Greek does not have a phrase like "vain repetition"; instead, the word used, βαττολογησητε ("battologesete") simply means "to babble" or "to sound like one who is stammering". The word is onomatopoietic, and the sense seems to be "using words [not necessarily repeating words] without understanding what they mean", or "using lots of words, in the hope that more words will make the prayer more effective". The New American Bible (Revised Edition), which is the standard used in English-language Masses in Catholic churches in the United States, renders the passage

In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

The official Catholic position is that repetition is not done in the hope of making the prayer more effective. Typically, there are two circumstances under which saying of the Hail Mary (specifically, as opposed to other prayers which might be repeated) is encouraged:

  • In saying the prayer, or sequence of prayers, known as "the Rosary"
  • As part of a common form of penance after Confession (for example, "For your penance, say ten Hail Marys and five Our Fathers.")

Certainly in the first case, and apparently in the second, the repetition involved is intended to allow meditation (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2705–2708) on particular events: the events of the life of Jesus, or particular events in our own life which are not always in accord with the love and will of God.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a web page entitled "How to Pray the Rosary", which comments, "The repetition in the Rosary is meant to lead one into restful and contemplative prayer related to each Mystery. The gentle repetition of the words helps us to enter into the silence of our hearts, where Christ's spirit dwells."

There is no similar teaching that I can find on the repetition of prayers as typically assigned for a penance. There is no particular specification about what penance must be offered for which sins; that's largely up to the confessor, and insofar as it is taught, it may vary from seminary to seminary, and thus from diocese to diocese. I can't find a discussion of how this practice arose; particular priests who assign this sort of penance may have different reasons for so doing.

In any case, however, the repetition is not "vain", that is, empty and without purpose. A Catholic does not say these prayers (or at any rate should not be saying these prayers) in an impatient attempt to get the ear of God. Instead, as mentioned in the bishops' web page, the intended purpose is to focus one's physical activity on the sacred, allowing one's mind, supported by the Divine, to focus on a particular subject, so as to allow us to "make our own in faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life." (Catechism, paragraph 2723)

share|improve this answer
    
Good Answer! Please see Roman Catholic prayer especially the section: Learning to Pray and what Pope St.John Paul II [the Great] says on mechanical prayer. Perhaps this article may be used to enhance your answer. –  FMS Jul 21 at 20:51
    
Thanks for the suggestion! I'd really like to offer an actual quote, which the article doesn't give. But I agree with the idea; let me go see if I can find a quote. –  Matt Gutting Jul 21 at 20:52
    
I will search too ... –  FMS Jul 21 at 20:53
1  
@MattGutting Hello friend, is there any Scripture that you know of that supports the practice of repetitive prayer, such as the Hail Mary? –  jlaverde Jul 22 at 13:02
1  
@fredsbend I've posted a question on BH to try and get at what, exactly, "vain repetition" is translating in the original. –  Matt Gutting Jul 23 at 21:15

The Catholic translations of Matthew 6:7 do not use the word "repetitions," which the Protestant translations use, probably in part to ridicule purely Catholic forms of prayer, like the Rosary.

For example, the Latin Vulgate says:

Orantes autem, nolite multum loqui, sicut ethnici. …

Literally:

And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathen. …

The Greek uses the word "βατταλογήσητε," which means "babble", "prattle", "stammer."

The new Catholic translation, the New American Bible: Revised Edition (NABRE) translates Matthew 6:7 well (source):

In praying, do not babble like the pagans…

The sense is that prayer should not be loquacious, meaningless verbage, which the prayers of the Rosary, being so pregnant with meaning, are not.

Matthew 6:7 in no way negates St. Paul's exhortations to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17).

share|improve this answer

It will be hard to find an official "Catholic Corporate response" for something that is not official. It is not official to say the prayer multiple times just like that.

It is official to say it many times as part of the rosary, but rosary, is a form of mediation; Rosary has "official", prescribed "mysteries" to meditate.

So it is not vain repetition, as it is for the purpose of meditation.

share|improve this answer

Answering from the words of a saintly Pope on the right progression of memorized prayer,

Pope St. John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendæ, 55.
A certain memorization of the words of Jesus, of important Bible passages, of the Ten Commandments, of the formulas of profession of the faith, of the liturgical texts, of the essential prayers, of key doctrinal ideas, etc., far from being opposed to the dignity of young Christians, or constituting an obstacle to personal dialogue with the Lord, is a real need, as the synod fathers forcefully recalled. We must be realists. The blossoms, if we may call them that, of faith and piety do not grow in the desert places of a memory - less catechesis. What is essential is that the texts that are memorized must at the same time be taken in and gradually understood in depth, in order to become a source of Christian life on the personal level and the community level.


Prayer is talking with God, therefore the Pope can be understood as saying that memorizing prayers is essential and is not an obstacle to praying - personal dialogue with God - and in fact, can become a source of Christian life when taken in and gradually understood in depth.


and from the LORD's own example.

The Jerusalem Bible Mk 14:26 has:

After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives.

cf. Mk 14:26 (RSVCE)

The Navarre Bible New Testament Compact Edition note on 14:26-31 has in part:

In the Jewish passover meal it is a custom to recite prayers called "Hallel", which include Psalms 113-118, the last part of these being recited at the end of the meal.

and

Mt 27:46 (RSVCE)
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”[a]
Footnotes:
a. 27.46 Jesus applies Psalm 22 (Vulgate 21) to himself.


The LORD himself taught us the Our Father, the LORD's prayer[cf. Lk 11:1-4 (RSVCE)].


Answer summarized:

If the question is asking whether Catholics should not memorize and say prayers like the Holy Rosary, the answer is no from the LORD's own example - who memorized and prayed the psalms, and taught us the Our Father - and from the words of a saintly Pope. Therefore praying the rosary is not vain repetition.

If the question is asking whether praying the Holy Rosary or any other vocal prayer can be vain repetition, the answer is yes, from the LORD's own word in Mt 6:7 (RSVCE) and from the Pope's, when the prayers are not taken in and gradually understood in depth in order to become a source of Christian life.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.