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.

  • 1
    If you are asking for the Catholic view, use the Catholic bible to quote the verses! Mostly you find the answer there.
    – Grasper
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 12:36

6 Answers 6


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)

  • 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.
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 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. Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 20:52
  • I will search too ...
    – user13992
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 20:53
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    @MattGutting Hello friend, is there any Scripture that you know of that supports the practice of repetitive prayer, such as the Hail Mary? Commented Jul 22, 2014 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. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 21:15

Probably the best example to refute the Protestant objection on this point is Revelation 4:8.

Revelation 4:8- “And the four living creatures had each of them six wings; and round about and within they are full of eyes. And they rested not day and night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

The angels in Heaven say over and over again, day and night,

“Holy, holy, holy.”

So much for the idea that all prayers which contain repetitions are “pagan.”

In Matthew 6:7, Jesus is not condemning prayers which contain words that are repeated; nor is He condemning multiple repetitions of the same prayer (e.g., saying the Our Father or the Hail Mary five times in a row). No, He is denouncing the practices of the pagans. The pagans thought that they could please their false gods by their eloquence and elaborate speeches. They thought that they had to say precisely the correct things and words and names on certain days, lest their false “gods” would not hear them or remember their needs. Jesus is denouncing their paganism. He is teaching that the true God knows all things.

In Psalm 136 (Psalm 135 in the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible), we are given a prayer of praise and thanksgiving which repeats the same phrase – “for his mercy endures forever” – a grand total of 26 times in a row!

Psalms 136:1-26- “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever… To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever… [etc.]”

Jesus repeats the same prayer three times in a row, when praying to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. That can be read in Matthew 26:39, Matthew 26:42, and Matthew 26:44. In Matthew 20:29-33, Jesus responds to the repeated prayer of the blind men to have mercy on them.

As we can see, the Bible contains many examples where prayers to the true God are repeated. They do not constitute “vain repetitions” of pagans. In fact, the Catholic Church’s prayers to Mary in the Hail Mary and the Rosary are predicted by Mary herself in Luke 1:

Luke 1:46-48- “And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

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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. …


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).



The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition renders Matthew 6:7 as:

“And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.["]

And The Navarre Bible - New Testament Compact Edition Note to vv. 6:1-18 has in part:

In his teaching on prayer our LORD stresses the simplicity and sincerity whith which we should turn to God: "What we think should conform with what we say" (St. Benedict , Rule, 19). Our LORD goes on to teach the Our Father as the distinctive prayer of the Christian.

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.


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]
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.

  • I'm not sure the question is asking either of those two things. It's not asking whether Catholics should memorize and say these prayers, nor whether they can sometimes be "vain repetition". It seems to be asking for the basis Catholicism uses to support that this is not always vain repetition. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 20:51

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.


One of the saints once said (I can't remember who):

"You Can Never Say ‘I Love You’ Too Much"

Plain repetition is when your life is full of sin, and you go to "pray", i.e. vocally recite a few words with your tongue, where your heart and conscience play no role. So in this case the "prayer" is an external thing which does not involve the real you (your spirit) at all.


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