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January 11, 2005



It's right in the Bible, that Mary would forever be referred to as Blessed among women, not someone who was picked at random. Elizabeth was humbled and said that the child she carried knew the mother of our Lord had arrived, a respectful example for us. Don't our Christian brethren claim to adhere strictly to what the Bible says? A man named Bob Fishman has appeared on EWTN periodically- born in the Jewish faith, he came to accept Christ as his Savior and became Protestant, and is now a Roman Catholic, who has pointed out that asking the saints to pray for us is rooted in the Jewish tradition of asking relatives who have died to pray FOR them TO the Lord God, and it did not go unnoticed by Mr. Fishman that this is what the Protestants practice when someone in their congregation is ill or in need of prayer, and get a "prayer chain" started. Interesting observation.


Louis Bouyer brought up a good point on this topic. He pointed out that most spontaneous prayers are just permutations of the same stock phrases ("Father God", "I'd like to lift up X", etc).

Standardizing prayers, moreover, helps to ensure that the Faith is transmitted intact to succeeding generations. Imagine, for example,(and this is, again, a point made by Fr. Bouyer) if the Church never standardized a Eucharistic prayer. With all of the uphevals of the past 2,000 years, it would have been very difficult for the Church to preserve the full doctrine of the Eucharist.


Also see this site for another, textual defense of traditional repetitive prayer.


Standardized prayers are a form of ritual. We pass on our heritage with rituals. Rituals tell us that we belong. Most of us have lots of them especially associated with holidays and other special occasions.

Some families get out the good china to celebrate birthdays, for instance. There is often a bedtime ritual, especially for young children. For the older folks, the bedtime ritual assures us that the door is locked. For some families the Easter egg hunt is an important ritual. There are graduation ceremonies to mark the event. There are Red Hat Societies that note the significance of turning fifty by always wearing a red hat to activities of the group. There are ritual greetings for relatives who have been away and now returned. There are picnic rituals associated with food like potato salad and hot dogs. The Masonic Lodge has an excellent understanding of ritual. We install a new president with ritual.

Religion is transmitted primarily by ritual because the bulk of material to be passed on is transcendent and difficult to express in any other way, just like family values are difficult to transmit. Without ritual, how do you teach your kids what's important? How do you worship?

The Mass is a ritual, too. It is formalized prayer. We put worship into it. What we get from it is the satisfaction of worship, because God doesn't need worship but we do. Worship of God is our primary security blanket. It tells us that this world is not spinning out of control. The same is true on a more personal level with formal prayer.

When we perform a ritual, we have the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, be it secular or sacred. Ritual conveys continuity, but only if the rules are followed scrupulously. Break the rules of the ritual and you destroy its meaning. A distorted ritual is worse than no ritual at all. Instead of carrying us forward with clear links to our past, a broken ritual makes us feel alone in the world, separated from everyone else. No longer having a place and fitting in.

Zhou De-Ming

What is the point of repeating this argument? If it is only to say, "How you pray is wrong," or "How I pray is right," then the argument is just a vain repetition.

Prayer is mysterious. To study it honestly, deeply and practically is a lot of work. There are many dimensions to consider, and it is better to reflect on one's own prayer life than to criticise another's.

The "vain repetitions," in Mt 6:7, or the "babbling" of the "pagans," is most likely an allusion to the story in 1 Kings 18 when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call upon their gods. Do those who chastize Catholics for "vain repetitions" mean to imply that they do not worship the true God, but are pagans?

On the other hand, my first confession as a child resulted in a penance of 10 Hail Mary's and 5 Our Father's, or something like that. Although prayed before the high altar of the Church, I'm not sure if this sort of thing did not apporach "vain repetitions" that bother the Protestants.

In regard to the Lord's Prayer, that also is not so simple. Lk 11:2 says, "When you pray, say..." But we don't use the words of Lk 11, do we? Mt 6 says, "pray in this way," or "pray thus," not necessarily repeating the words exactly, but in this fashion. And what are the words from Mt 6? Were they originally in Aramaic? We have them in Greek, but how many of us pray it in Greek? In the Greek manuscripts there are various textual variants in the text of the prayer. Which do we pray? It was translated into Latin. Translation always changes things a bit. Probably most of us pray an English translation, words never heard on earth by Jesus and the disciples. Do we use modern or older style English? It is hardly an exercise in literal repetition of some magical words.

I think a more interesting question about prayer is the use of Scripture in prayer. Much of the liturgy (as promulgated) is prayed Scripture. The Magnificat, a passage of Luke prayed in many communities on a daily basis, is Mary's prayer of the words of Hannah (Samuel's mom) in 1 Sam 2, also a Canticle itself. Much of the prayer recorded in Scripture is prayer based on earlier Scripture.

I think a more productive question for both Catholics and Protestants is, "how is our prayer based in/on Scripture?" This question can also be extended to sacred music. Not only the Psalms, but much of Scripture, are the prayer and song book of the Church, and this is reflected in our liturgy. As all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (2 Tim 3:16-17), I doubt that anyone could seriously call repeating it in prayer or song "vain" or pagan.


Re: penance of "three Hail Marys"

This is one of those traditions that makes more sense when you're older, I think. When I was a kid, I always wondered why people in old movies got assigned a penance you could do (like three Hail Marys) as opposed to one you couldn't ever get done (some of those priests were awfully vague on penances, which made it rather worrying as to whether you were done or not. Had I really done "something helpful"? Had I really tried to get along better with my brothers, or did it not count? Admittedly, I'm very nitpicky with myself....)

If you say three Hail Marys, you've said 'em. No doubt at all. The geezer priest at my current parish is the first priest I've ever met who gives this kind of penance, and it really does ease my mind amazingly. (Which doesn't mean I don't get the talk about trying to do better in the future; it's just not part of my _penance_.)

More to the point, though...it takes a certain amount of time and thought to say three Hail Marys. It's also like standing in front of your mother, admitting what you've done, and asking for help. (With the helpful addition that Mary doesn't generally scream at you or give you a twenty-minute lecture. Though in defense of my own mother, in this case Mary has definitely chosen the easier part....)

And then you're _done_, and you can stop kicking yourself and brooding and kicking yourself some more. I cannot say how grateful I am about this kind of concrete penance.

I suspect, in fact, that the assigning of specific numbers of prayers is in fact designed as a meeting of prayer and time. Remember, in the old days recipes would even say things like "for as long as it takes to say a paternoster".

But if you don't like that measure, I suppose the priest could always assign you to walk a mile barefoot through the snow, or on your knees across the church porch, or lift some rocks or something. All I ask is that the priest give something where you know when you're done.

Zhou De-Ming

Dear Maureen,

I've noticed that when my nearby parishes do large-scale communal reconciliation services (Advent and Lent), usually the penance for everybody is just, "Do something good for someone." You can hear this coming in the line, because the older priests are usually a little hard of hearing and say it loudly. I suppose that could range from giving 25 cents to a panhandler on the street to being nice to the person on the customer service phone line after listening to 10 minutes of "Jingle Bell Rock" while on hold (do not throw the phone at the wall). Of course, I suppose it puts the responsibility on me to know what is "good for someone."

Sandra Miesel

St. Jerome knew and loved the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic, presumably in words close to what Syriac Christians have preserved.
But the most peculiar version of it was the early missionaries' rendering for Aztec converts, not a translation at all but a string of Aztec words whose sound approximated those of the Pater Noster. The poor Indians had not a clue what they were saying.


I used to argue the "vain repetition" point with my evangelical friends. Now I just laugh at them and say "Two words: praise choruses."

stuart chessman

LOkk at J-K Huysmans's "En Route" - there must be English translation. Tehe main character deals at length with this very issue of repitition in the Rosary as a part of his return to the church.

Deborah Kuzenski

And now for something completely different: Has it ever occurred to any of you that the Apostle Paul was given a different gospel from the 12? The 12 preached Israel's gospel of the Kingdom (which is the gospel the Roman Catholic Church & others mistakenly preach today). Paul got a new Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts 20:24)in which, unlike Israel's Gospel, works and personal merit play NO part in salvation; only belief (faith) in the saving gospel of 1 Cor. 15:1-4. The whole Catholic system of theology is based on a monumental error promulgated from the Church Fathers, who were descendants of the Judaizers that Paul warned about in 'Galatians,' and Acts 20:29-30! For more information, please visit www.paulsgospel.blog.com. May God bless your understanding!

Deborah Kuzenski

Hi, again! Hey, I didn't mean to stop your comment column dead in its tracks! Go ahead and delete my comments if you feel it necessary. My feelings won't be hurt.

I just wanted to snap you out of your uniform mindset and wake you up to the idea that Roman Catholicism is not an expression of what God is doing in this world today. In fact, it operates in direct opposition to what God is doing! Millions are going to a Christ-less eternity because they trust the gospel the Catholic Church declares - that gospel (of Israel's Kingdom) has been set aside so that a new Gospel of Grace (as set forth in Paul's epistles) can be declared. And that gospel is: simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, that He died for your sins in your place, and you shall receive the gift of eternal life. If you don't receive eternal life completely as a GIFT, and if you try to earn even part of it yourself in any way, you're not saved. The Catholic Church teaches that YOU must STAY in a state of grace in order to be saved...is that trusting in Jesus Christ? They also teach that YOU will be paying for unrepented sin in 'purgatory.' Is that believing that Jesus Christ already paid for them? Read Romans through Philemon to find out more; and realize that the Old Testament, the Gospels, early Acts, Hebrews thru Revelation were written to and about Israel, not the Body of Christ! I say this because I love you and want you to have what I have!

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