Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Vain repetition?

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On Candy's God versus the Vatican page, she criticizes a number of issues with the Catholic church. The issue of "vain repetition" is very familiar to Catholics.

Vatican says
- After a short pause for reflection, recite the "Our Father", ten "Hail Marys" and the "Glory be to the Father".

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

If you read the entire chapter of Matthew 6, you can see in context that it is opposing men who seek to make themselves look superior in piety through their prayer practices. Focusing on the "repetitious" in verse 7 overlooks the word "vain" which is the true point.

I don't think that repetitious prayer in and of itself is forbidden or bad. We know from Revelation 4:8 that the angels in heaven "rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." I think praying the same words eternally is definitely repetitious!

Matthew 26:44 tells us that Jesus prayed three times in the garden, using the same words each time.

In Luke 18:13 the tax collector kept beating his breast and praying "God be merciful to me, a sinner." This prayer was pleasing to God, though he said the same words over and over.

Have you only prayed the Lord's Prayer once in your life, because the words would become meaningless if you said them again?

Another good example is Psalm 136, where "or his mercy endureth for ever" acts as a refrain. This is the Word of God, and it is very similar to the rosary in its repetition.

Often, the rosary is held up as the example of vain repetition. Praying the rosary, which is a devotion which is not required for Catholics, is a particular kind of prayer technique. The repetition of the "Hail Mary" prayer is supposed to keep one side of your brain busy, so that you can meditation on a Biblical "mystery" such as the crucifixion of Our Lord, without distraction. The repetition of the words is supposed to keep your mind from wandering, so that you can more fully meditate on the event from scripture.

Not only Catholics, and our familiar friends the Lutherans and Anglicans pray the rosary. The practice can be found among Methodists. John Wesley himself prayed the rosary, and one of his rosaries can be viewed at The Leys School, Cambridge. There are also several websites which feature protestant versions of the rosary.

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