Many non-Catholics found pleasure in attacking the holy Catholic Church for her form and repetitive prayers. According to them, those prayers are the ones not acceptable to God for Jesus Himself said, “But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). But did Jesus really intend to ban form and repetitive prayers?
Those non-Catholics failed to fully understand the very message of the Gospel. Jesus did not condemn repetitions. What He actually forbid is VAIN repetitions. Remember, not all repetitions are vain. Vain repetition in the manner of the heathen is the ones forbidden, but not the useful ones. Biblical examples of such useless words would be the repetitions used in Baal worship (I Kings 18:22-40) or in pagan cults (Acts 19:34). The ancient rabbis even counseled short repetitive prayers. Charms in paganism were also often repetitive and long, which the Roman Seneca referred to are those who “tire out the gods” (cf. Interpreter’s Bible, V 7, p 308). Even Protestant scholars agree that “vain repetition” is not a good translation; for the Greek word used in the Gospel is “battalogeo” which means “to babble,” “to repeat idly,” or “meaningless and mechanically repeated phrases,” as in pagan (not Jewish) modes of prayer. Our Lord is, thus, rejecting prayers uttered without the proper reverence for God.
If God wants to reject repetitive prayers, then why did Jesus pray repeatedly for three times? In the Gospel of Matthew, it reads: “He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:39) … “Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, ‘My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!'” (Matthew 26: 42) … “He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again” (Matthew 26:44).
Notice that Jesus prayed three times in the Garden, and each time, He prays the same prayer. His words are heartfelt and intense. They are not empty babble, the repeating of the same prayer emphasizes the intensity of the prayer of Christ to the Father. So, Christ Himself clearly performed repetitive prayer.
Yet, those non-Catholics may still argue that the prayers uttered by Jesus in Matthew 26 is a form prayer like the ones prayed by the Catholics in their novenas or using the rosary. However, they must bear in mind that Our Lord Himself gave the Church a form prayer as the method with which His disciples are to pray:
“This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; and do not bring us to the test, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13)
Repetitive prayer done correctly is clearly far more than empty babble. Below are other examples of biblical repetitive prayers:
⚫ In the Book of Daniel chapter 3, from v. 57 onwards: “Bless the Lord, praise and exalt Him above all for ever” is repeated, and repeated, and repeated.
⚫ In the Old Testament, the Psalms formed the prayer book and hymnal of the ancient Jewish people. Psalm 136 has 26 lines, each one ending with the refrain: “God’s love endures forever!” This and similar psalms, which were chanted responsively, are the forerunners of several popular forms of repetitive Catholic prayer. Remember that Jesus was a faithful Jew who took part in weekly Sabbath worship at the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16). So He himself would have prayed psalms with repetitious elements.
⚫ In the Gospel of Mattew 20:31, Jesus grants the request of the blind men, who offer repetitive prayers for mercy.
⚫ In the Gospel of Mark 11:9, the canonical author writes that “Those preceding Him as well as those following kept crying out (that is, repeating): ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”
⚫ In the Gospel of Luke 1:1-8, Jesus told His disciples a parable that “… there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him (judge) with the plea (done repeatedly), ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’” Yet because of the woman’s persistence, the judge finally grants the widow’s prayer, saying: “… because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
⚫ In the Book of Revelation 4:8, the Scripture tells that in heaven all prayers and worship will be offered, repetitively, before the Eternal Throne of God: The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.”
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING (1 Tessalonians 5:17) AND DO NOT GIVE UP (Luke 18:1).
Quoting from the book “Teachings of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles” or commonly known as “Didache,” which was written during the apostolic age circa 40-60 AD, it reads in the 8th chapter:
“But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Neither pray as the hypocrites; but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Yours is the power and the glory for ever. Thrice in the day thus pray.”
If repetitive prayer is forbidden, then why did the early Christians practice it in the first place?! Because it is not in being repetitious that God looks at to but on what really the heart beats when praying. The Church says, “It is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain” (CCC 2562).
THE WORD OF THE HEART IS THE LIFE OF PRAYER.
Then, consider the very words of Christ in the Gospel of Luke 18:7:
“Will not God vindicate His elect, who cry to him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will vindicate them speedily.”