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Why Say Rote Prayers?

  /   Monday September 01, 2003  

You may remember yesterday’s Gospel that dealt with the empty devotion of the Pharisees. Jesus said they honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. I heard an excellent homily by a priest whom I greatly respect. Unlike many who would preach on the topic, he took great pains to avoid coming across as saying that we should say the Our Father or something like that. He simply said that we shouldn’t say it as “OurFatherwhoartinHeavenhallobthynathykingcomewilldun.” I agree completely with what he said. I mention this because this post is neither a rebuttal of what he said nor a criticism of his, but rather, it is my tangent.

Even though he didn’t discourage the saying of rote prayers, he got me thinking of why we said them. After all, many Protestants accuse us, sometimes rightly so, of clinging to rituals. I’ve encountered a few who think that the most genuine prayers (if not the only genuine prayers) are those said spontaneously in our own words. So why do we say rote prayers?

For one thing, they are a good discipline. It would actually be easier to say a blessing before meals in my own words and mean it. However, I need the mortification attached to trying to concentrate on words I am familiar with and mean them. In fact, such may be more meritorious for me than the easy prayer that I made up on the spot. This is not to say that spirituality consists of finding the most difficult thing around and doing it. However, one who does only what is easy can hardly be said to be showing great love for God.

Secondly, they are good spiritual preparation for our routine chores in life. In our lives, much of what we have to do is not new or exciting. It’s the same old grind that we encounter much of the day. Being faithful to routine prayers can be an exercise in preparing our hearts to perform our routine and mundane tasks with devotion.

Thirdly, our we to say that we always know what to say to God? The words of saints or of Jesus himself are often far better than what we could come up with. We also run out of things to say. Even when said with only a little devotion, we can begin to make the desires of holy men and women our own.

Finally, let’s consider the liturgy. The guarantors of the teaching should also be the guarantors of the worship of the entire Church. If bad theology is introduced into worship, before you know it we will all be believing it. If individuals are asked to make up their own prayers, then Heaven only knows what people are going to pray for (which is why I oppose the opening up of the prayers of the faithful at Mass to the floor). It’s also very hard to have a well-ordered public worship if everyone is asked to pray spontaneously. Order is necessary for discipline, and discipline is necessary for spiritual combat. The order also ensures unity among the Church in worship, as no Mass is the property of a local congregation. Rather, the entire Church is at each Mass.

Let me conclude by saying that I do not claim to have come up with a complete list of reasons to pray rote prayers. I also am not discouraging spontaneous prayer. In fact, we should not confine our prayer life to rote prayers. Our lives and our spiritual gifts are unique, and so much of our prayer must also be. My point is that we should not be afraid to use the prayers of others.

Category: Posts imported from Danger! Falling Brainwaves, Uncategorized



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