Jesus said in Mathew 6:7-8 “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do, For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them for your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” (NKJ)
As a former Protestant, this verse led me to believe that Catholic prayers such as the Rosary are clearly forbidden by Jesus.
But when analyzing the Bible, it’s important to remember that the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic & then translated into Greek. Therefore, even the many English translations available to us have many different versions that will lead us to different interpretations of his words.
Let’s look at the same verse from another popular English translation :
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (NIV)
This verse goes into more depth providing us with the information that Jesus specifically warns us about not praying like the pagans.
Back in the days, the main idea of prayer and sacrifice among the pagans was to appease the gods so that they could go on with their own life. They had to be careful to “take care of” all of the gods by mentioning them, and saying all the right words, lest they would bring a curse upon them. Their spirituality was based on fear.
Moreover, the pagan gods were seen as immoral. They were selfish, cruel, vengeful etc. The pagans would say their incantations, offer their sacrifice, but there was no real connection between their moral life and their prayer.
In Matthew 6:7-8 Jesus is saying that this will not cut it in the New Covenant Kingdom of God. We must pray from a heart of repentance and submission to God’s will. But does that meant to exclude the possibility of devotions like the Rosary? If it did, then why does the very next verses of Matthew 6, Jesus present us with a prayer to follow word per word ?
Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Jesus gave us a prayer to recite. Ironically, it is one of one the most common prayers recited over and over even in Protestant services. If the Rosary is a vain repetition for Catholics, is the Lord”s prayer then a vain repetition for the Protestants? This prayer was commanded by Jesus in the inspired word of God. We cannot argue that. Therefore, I ask again, is this considered a vain repetition? If it is not, why is the Rosary then considered a vain repetition?
One could argue that unlike the Lord’s prayer, the Rosary is nowhere to be found in the Bible. However, the Rosary can be found in the Bible if you look carefully for it. The Rosary is a recitation of the Lord’s prayer and of the angelic salute to Mary in Luke 1:28 :
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (NIV)
“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (NKJV)
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (RSVCE)
When reciting the Rosary, we first pray the Lord’s prayer before reciting the angelic salute. What most people don’t know is that the Rosary is meant to be a deep meditation upon the life of Jesus. That is why before praying the Lord’s prayer, we read a “mystery” or a passage that will help us focus on a part of Jesus’ life. It is not meant to be a mere recitation that we automatically pray over and over, rather a contemplative prayer said from the bottom of our heart.
Is the Rosary sometimes recited over and over without true contemplation? I believe so. Likewise, the Lord’s prayer can be sometimes recited over and over without truly meaning what we say. That is what Jesus warned us about.
When analyzing Bible passages, we must always carefully study the context. Who was Jesus talking to? Why was Jesus mentioning them? There is so much more to his words than just what we see on paper. And for us, English readers it is important to remember that some words from Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek simply do not translate in the same manner into English. Similarly, when the word “brothers” is used in Hebrew in the same manner as the word “cousins”, leaving Protestant to ponder whether Jesus had brothers or just cousins.
More passages about vain repetition & prayer
Praying repetitively is shown in the Bible when the angels in heaven pray in the book of Revelation 4:8:
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Praying repetitively is even shown by Jesus in Mark 14:32-39
And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” And the took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ”Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again, he came and found them sleeping… And he came a third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping…?”
So when we pray, do not worry so much about praying repetitively, rather worry about praying vainly. In other words, analyze the state of your heart. It is not sinful to pray repetitively. Perhaps the following questions can help you determine if you are praying vainly:
- Are you focused on each word you say ?
- Are you in a deep contemplation ?
- Are you distracted and doing other things ?
- Are you in a hurry to pray ?
- Is your prayer time sacred ?
- Are you able to be silent in between words?
- Are you simply repeating words over and over just to get it over with?
- Are you thinking of what you will do once praying is over instead of being absorbed in the moment?
I pray this article serves you well,
Meet the author
Johanna – Hebrew for “God is Gracious”
I’m a former New Ager, Yogi & spiritual nomad turned Christian after a moment of illumination in 2017. I created this website to help you differentiate between light & darkness and to answer questions about spiritual topics from a Catholic Christian worldview. ->Find me on IG @myjourneytojesus