The Depth & Beauty of “Rote” Prayer


I love the ending prayer of the Angelus:

Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

In one sentence you have the following ideas:

God gives grace;
We can pray to Him;
He will give us this grace if we ask;
He became man;
He did this at a specific moment in history;
Angels exist;
He died;
The cross is meaningful;
He rose again;
He is now in a glorified body.
And we hope to join Him

Of course, each of these points could be expanded upon in volumes. But, luckily for us, the simple remembrance of this prayer doesn’t require to us haul volumes of books around. The prayer itself is sufficient for a lifetime of meditation.
So too the Lord’s prayer, the Creed, the Hail Mary, etc. While criticisms get leveled at Catholics that we rely too heavily on rote prayer, I don’t believe the criticisms carry much weight. For people who object to rote prayers and only believe spontaneous prayer to be valid, I assume that the only greeting cards they buy are blank inside.
Why do we pray? What is prayer? Essentially, prayer is our personal or corporate conversation with and worship of God (and the saints too, minus the worship). It is “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God (CCC 2558).” Is my conversation with another, even a highly beloved other, lessened if I use rote formulas repetitively instead of spontaneous prose? ….

To read the rest of the essay click here–> Truth & Charity

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One Response

  1. “…I assume that the only greeting cards they buy are blank inside…” Not to sidetrack your commentary but I hope you weren’t suggesting people put “as much” heart into prayer as they do the selection of a greeting card. The fact is, we are a lazy society and purchasing any pre-written/typed/mongrammed anything is a cheap way to say; “thinking of you” without having to invest too much time and effort.

    Our eternal God, in fact expects a great more of us and being as the Catholic church places a premium on works, the idea of repeating a memorized “poem”, written by someone else, seems to fall far short of that standard.

    BTW; I grew up Catholic and “prayed the rosary” and repeated an many Hail Marys, Our Fathers and Salve Reginas as a youth. I can tell you it never made me feel closer to God or even approached the concept of a closer relationship with him. If this does this for you or the many who do this, I will not question it. And by the way; I hold the same opinion of responsorial “prayer”. I will not make the same attempt you did to equate this with something else because prayer to the one God, should not be like anything else. It should be personal and when we are exhorted to bring him our supplications, prayers and needs, it most sincerely reflects something deeper, richer and more personally meaningful than repetitious cantoring – be it by laity or clergy, in song or poetic refrain.

    I have come to accept a few things in life and they have forced me to consider what I am willing to accept – unquestioningly by men.
    First; I am not unique. I try, I fail, I either seek God’s face or I reject him. I pray, usually quietly but always in a quiet place of solitude. This makes me neither perfect or humble, just obedient. I am, as I said, not perfect but I am “perfected” by my acceptance of the supreme sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and through him alone (John 14:6).
    Second; because I am not unique and because I am firmly acquainted with the struggles of life and with sin, and because of the innumerable references to the continual struggle of all men – and women, with sin, I am confident that no one can be absolutely trusted with the absolute eternal future of my own soul. This does not mean I do not submit to authority but, like you, I have not sat by idly and without due dilligence. I study…as you do.
    Third; regardless of whether the Catholic church and its many historical leaders and apologists are right or wrong, I will stand before the King and answer, uniquely and personally. He will not ask if I said several Hail Marys or if I continued to genuflect upon entering a church or before a Bishop. I will not get any “brownie points” for having accepted what was told me by a “leader”, if in fact they were wrong. In the end, I am not called to loyalty to human beings but am called in subjection to God…And feeding me something in the Catechism, written by men, declaring I should submit to men, is not an answer.

    The point is, I have been studying the lives of the many lauded figures in church history from Justin Martyr to John Calvin (on the other side) and what is revealed (if one searches hard enough), are men who recognized their own failings and who struggled with the very same things we spar over now. And if men, 1700 years ago, could spar over these very things we are talking about today – and be of the same church, it is evident that not all things have been settled (in terms of “full understanding”). Even the great doctrines/articles of the Catholic church weren’t all established until until these latter centuries and still under much scrutiny and much debate.

    What remains unfortunate and to which I hold much against, is the proposition that “if you don’t agree with me or my leadership, you are probably lost”. It is not only intellectually void but unbiblical. After John 14:6, John 10:9, Romans 10:9 and many others (which I am sure you have “debated”), there is no mandate or suggestion that this or that particular fellowship of men are “the way”. It is however “universally” true that men will seek to convince others that their particular “fellowship” is the one true fellowship and it’s traditions (to include repetitious sayings), are the very things – and only things which can close the gap between them and God. And this, is what keeps the ‘C’hurch, apart.

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