Should we Pray in Repetitions?

Q: Can you help me understand why in Mathew 6:5-15 it states do not pray in repetitions as the heathens do? But yet it appears that the rosary is said in repetitions? And each week seems to be repetitive prayers in the Catholic church (such as the Lord’s prayer)?

I’m unsure which biblical translation you are reading from that refers to praying in repetitions. A couple of good renderings of the Greek in Mt 6:7 are “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do” or “do not babble like the pagans.” Simple, direct language will do when it comes to prayer – one need not compose a treatise to address God.

Jesus’ teaching in this section is not a criticism of public prayer, which is sometimes called for and appropriate. Neither is it a criticism of using some of the same prayers repeatedly, as he himself surely did since he was a practicing Jew. In fact, in teaching the Lord’s Prayer in 6:9-13, the assumption is that if Jesus would have expected his listeners to repeat it frequently. Instead, Jesus’ criticism in this section is of those who make an ostentatious display of prayer that is meant to be private.

Ann Naffziger

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.