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Oct 13, 2015

Is the Rosary 'Vain Repetition'?

Emily Cavins

There seems to be an upsurge within the Church to use the Scriptures as a foundation for prayer. The wonderful practice of Lectio Divina has helped many to become more acquainted with Scripture in a meditative and personal way. Also the laity has easier access to the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office, through the Internet on various sites that have all the readings and prayers of the Church conveniently accessible. But when was the last time that you thought of the Rosary as a scriptural prayer (Tweet this)?


Oftentimes, Matthew 6:7 is cited as the basis for criticizing the Rosary, since some translations of this verse use the phrase “vain repetitions,” and the recitation of ten Hail Mary prayers within a decade of the Rosary could be seen as such. In the Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, however, it reads, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

If the Rosary WAS vain repetition, then this criticism may be valid. In reality though, it is anything but vain! Here’s a well-known Scripture verse that certainly applies to the Rosary: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16).

Prayer as Charity

In the Rosary we pray for others, especially for the increase of faith, hope and charity. We often add the “Oh my Jesus” prayer that asks for forgiveness and so with a clean heart, we can expect big things to happen. This has been the expectation of the Rosary prayer since 1571 when the Ottoman Turks and the Crusaders were in a fierce battle and the Crusaders were greatly outnumbered. Those Christians not in the fight knelt and prayed the Rosary and miraculously the Crusaders prevailed. The Church recognizes October 7 as the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary in remembrance of that big answer to prayer. Many other miracles are also attributed to the Rosary, but even in the day-to-day life of Catholics, the Rosary is a mighty weapon against evil that “has great power in its effects” or “avails much.”

What is really interesting is that the verse that talks about “vain repetitions” is a lead up to Jesus’ teaching to the disciples on how to pray, namely, the Lord’s Prayer. A prominent prayer of the Rosary IS the Lord’s Prayer—right there out of Matthew 6. The Rosary contains the prayer that Jesus said is the way to pray! That’s cool!

The main prayers of the Rosary are taken straight from the Scriptures. The “Hail Mary” itself comes from the words of the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:28) and of St. Elizabeth (Luke 1:42). The “Our Father” is from Matthew 6 and all twenty of mysteries of the Rosary are scriptural as well. Even in regards to the last two mysteries, the Assumption and Coronation of Mary, although they aren’t recorded explicitly in the Bible, we can find reference to them by recognizing other holy people who by passed death like Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) as well as a reference to her Coronation (Revelation 12:1-2).

Peace from the Rosary

On one occasion I had to drive alone from Minnesota to Ohio, and I took the opportunity to pray all twenty of the Mysteries of the Rosary, meditating on each of them for as long as my mind could focus. Hours flew by and I had such a sense of closeness to Jesus and Mary as I recalled their lives in words and actions. I know that it was in no way a vain thing to do and it is one of my fondest spiritual experiences to recall.

For those who have never prayed the Rosary it does take some practice. As a convert, I was completely untrained on how to do it, so the first time I ended up in a prayer group among a seasoned group of Rosary prayers, I was terrified when it was my turn to pray a decade of the Rosary. I did forget to pray the “Our Father”, but I think the prayer probably still worked!! For anyone who has actually prayed the Rosary, that person knows it wasn’t a vain repetition. It was a way to focus in on the very heart of the gospel. It was a beautiful way to trace the life of Christ and his mother in the Scriptures and to pray for others. The Rosary is scriptural in its content and its method of practice, so Catholics, be proud of it!!!

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