Patheos answers the question:

Isn’t The Rosary a Form of Vain Repetition?


Protestants often resist the Roman Catholic tradition of praying the Rosary because of the repetitive nature of its prayers. The Rosary is a devotional practice of using prayer beads to count off a series of memorized prayers, most notably among them the Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Glory Be. The recitation of these prayers is meant to accompany meditation on the mysteries of Christ’s life and death as taught in scripture. The idea of “vain repetition” comes from Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). During that teaching, he taught his disciples how to pray and warned them against “vain repetitions” or “babbling like pagans” who hope to be heard because of their many words.

In ancient pagan cultures, repetition was a common part of prayer. The more times worshipers said a god’s or goddess’s name, the more likely they were to be heard, and the more likely the deity was to be pleased with the person or less angry. Furthermore, the more names of a deity the person used, the more likely the deity was to answer or to be appeased. This was especially true when it came to using the “true name” of a deity. This was a source of power for them, and for whichever mortal was attempting to seek their favor. This was part of the reason that the ancient Jews did not speak or write down God’s name. It was a way to show respect and to demonstrate that they would not try to gain power over God.

Given that this sort of repetition was common, Jesus’s method of prayer was different than what any Gentiles would have been used to doing during worship. Jesus stated that such repetition was unnecessary because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6.8). In other words, repetition was not necessary to gain God’s attention. God is always attuned to our needs.

Some people see the practice of praying the Rosary as a sort of vain repetition since it is built on repeating the same three prayers over and over. However, the Bible is filled with examples of prayers that repeat themselves or people repeating previously learned prayers. The issue, according to Catholics, is not repetition, but vain repetition. Prayer repetitions become vain when they’re said out of obligation with any real intent; when they’re said mindlessly in order to satisfy some sense of religious duty or in an attempt to placate God; when they’re said to “score points” with God.

To properly pray the Rosary, a person is to focus on Jesus’s life and all its riches—from the Incarnation to the Ascension—and to give over heart and mind to the presence of God. The simplicity of the Rosary prayers facilitates contemplative prayer and inner quiet that can lead one to rest in God’s goodness and presence.

There are five “decades” of a Rosary, each decade being given to consideration of a different part of Jesus’s life. These decades are united by saying the Hail Mary (a prayer composed in part by Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary when she was pregnant, Luke 1.42-45), the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6.9-13), and the Glory Be (an ancient doxology). Many Catholics pray the Rosary as a regular part of their daily devotional life; others will take up the Rosary for a special intention.

Read more here about Roman Catholic practices of devotion in daily life.

5/16/2024 4:31:15 PM
About Kathleen Mulhern, PH.D.
Kathleen Mulhern is a writer, editor, historian, speaker, and professor. She teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Colorado School of Mines and Regis University, and is currently an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary in the areas of Church History and Spiritual Formation. Kathleen graduated with a B.A. from Wheaton College, earned an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Denver, an M.A. degree in Church History from Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Colorado.