Is the Rosary ‘Vain Repetition’?

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)?

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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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Emily Cavins

Emily received her BA in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology from the University of Minnesota and is a tour leader of annual pilgrimages to Israel and other Bible related destinations. Her most recent publication is Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, the first Native American Saint from North America. She is the developer of the “Great Adventure Kids” bible study materials. She co-wrote the “Walking Toward Eternity: Making Choices for Today” Bible Study Series One and Two with her husband, Jeff. She is also the author of “Catholic Family Night,” a series of lessons covering all three liturgical reading cycles with one lesson per week throughout the entire year. Emily lives in Minnesota with Jeff, her husband of over 30 years.

  • Rosanna

    I love the rosary but not for the car. When I meditate on the mysteries my mind is to occupied to pay attention to the road. I have a friend who caused a chain rear end collision on a major highway. So, in the car I recommend the Divine Mercy chaplet. It is a plea to God for mercy for all of us. This is just my humble opinion. We are all different and think, and meditate in different ways but the differences make a wonderful prayer quilt, each piece necessary in showing our love and worship of Our Lord.

  • Lisa

    There are parts of scriptures used in the Hail Mary, but no where in scripture does it tell us to pray to Mary, nor is she the mother of God. She is the mother of Jesus, but not God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, the Catholic church has elevated Mary to a place almost above the Lord, Jesus when in fact, she was a human as we are, that was shown grace in a special way. During the period of time when the Council of Ephesus met, there was a practice among the secular society of creating mothers of goddesses and I think that somehow during this time, this practice crept into the church. The orthodox church had always taught that Mary was the mother of Jesus – until the Council at Ephesus where she was proclaimed the Mother of God. This is when the Roman church started breaking away from the Greek Orthodox, who in my opinion, might have many foundational teachings more correct that we catholics do. The rosary is pretty much vain repetition from every angle I’ve ever experienced it at, as well as unbiblical in it’s roots. There is one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus. Not the saints or Mary – HE hears our prayers and certainly doesn’t need any help from anyone else. It’s time for Catholics to start studying the scriptures for themselves and not leave their belief system to priests to tell them what to believe. There are many practices Catholics (ie- indulgences) followed over time, that have been found to be wrong and were abandoned. Praying to Mary should be one of them.

    • Emily Cavins

      Thanks Lisa for your comments. Perhaps you would be interested in some other Bible Study for Catholics blogs that touch on the role of Mary in the Catholic Church. Please consider reading “Why Pray to Mary and the Saints?” “Mary: Mother of God” and “Why Do We Call Mary ‘Mother of God?’” Also, Dr. Ted Sri had a terrific series on Mary that I think you would find fascinating. http://ascensionpress.com/t/category/study-programs/mary/mary-a-biblical-walk-with-the-blessed-mother. Perhaps you might want to try praying the Rosary with the intent of meditating on the life of Christ. That is in no way a vain use of prayer. God Bless—Emily

    • Emily Cavins

      Thanks Lisa for your comments. Perhaps you would be interested in some other Bible Study for Catholics blogs that touch on the role of Mary in the Catholic Church. Please consider reading “Why Pray to Mary and the Saints?” “Mary: Mother of God” and “Why Do We Call Mary ‘Mother of God?’” Also, Dr. Ted Sri had a terrific series on Mary that I think you would find fascinating. http://ascensionpress.com/t/category/study-programs/mary/mary-a-biblical-walk-with-the-blessed-mother. Perhaps you might want to try praying the Rosary with the intent of meditating on the life of Christ. That is in no way a vain use of prayer. God Bless—Emily

      • Lisa

        Hey Emily – thanks for getting back to me!! Actually, I have been away from the Catholic church for a very long time and just returned a couple years ago for a variety of reasons. We are doing the bible study Unlocking the Mysteries of the Bible that your husband leads and it is fantastic – one of the best I’ve ever taken. I will read and watch this video, but to be honest, I truly feel that Jesus has gotten railroaded in the Catholic Church b/c of so many “opposing people to pray to”. I feel very close to Him when I consider all He has done for me, and for His people – when I talk to him from my heart and honestly, it’s a little disturbing to think I have to talk to His mother to get to Him. Part of my returning to the CChurch is b/c it seems that so many don’t understand that Jesus wants us to have a deep and real relationship with each of us personally. It’s my opinion that overfocusing on saints and Mary has produced this – it’s as tho Jesus just is not enough. Scripture teaches we are ALL saints (believers), and Mary was a woman blessed by God but not for purpose to be elevated and worshipped – I don’t even think SHE would want this!! LOL Thank you for writing back tho – and I’ll still read and consider, but those things were pretty much studied and removed from my belief system 30 plus years ago.

        • Jose

          When I read things like this it only assures me that the world is full of followers who believe what they are told without doing their due diligence. They also believe that when they die they go straigjt to heaven, when in fact that all of us must be cleansed by fire and must atone for all our sins even those they make when no one is looking. Most forget that God sees and know all. For those who dont see the relavence and how Mary played an important role in the coming of Christ and that she is the true Mother of Jesus who is one the one true God who died for our sins. It is those who know the true meaning of humility know why. The simple answer is that he loved his mother and on the cross he gave her to the world. To say that we pray to Mary as a God is plain fullishness, for those who pray the rosary know that when we pray the Rosary we pray to God. For those who say Jesus isn’t God forget what our true beliefs as Catholics and the is the true mysteries of God. We are ask to believe in the Blessed Trinity which id God the Father, God the son and God the Holy Spirt. Three divine persons and one God. For one to say that Mary isn’t the Mother of God are saying she isn’t the Mother of Jesus who is God and are therefore denying the true essence in believing in the mysteries of our true God

          • Lisa

            Thank you for taking the time to respond to this, Jose.

            I hope you didn’t think I meant to say that Jesus isn’t God – I do believe that Jesus is one part of the Triune God. The mystery is that there are 3 persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mary is the mother of the Son. God is eternal – there is no way she is the mother of Father God, any more than I am the mother of my children’s father because he is the father of my children. The church taught that Mary was the mother of Jesus until the Council of Ephesus and then they proclaimed that she was the mother of God.

            The early church teachings were strongly rooted in scripture. As time went on, church traditions became more the norm and unfortunately, some of those traditions are not scripture based.
            Catholics don’t tend to read scripture much on their own – that has been my experience, altho thankfully that is changing. Scripture teaches that there is One mediator between God and man – the man, Jesus Christ. We have no need to pray to anyone else – nor is there scripture to support that teaching. If someone can show me in scripture anything to suggest otherwise, I would be happy to reconsider, but the Catholic church over time, has added so many teachings that are sketchy at best, and subvert the focus on the One who has saved us from being cleansed by fire if we believe that He alone atoned for our sins. We need not go through that fire if we believe and profess Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

            We should never just believe what we are told in any faith, but we should “search the scriptures” and see for ourselves whether these teachings be true or not. Disagreeing with aspects of the Catholic Church is not wrong if indeed. we have searched and prayed and God has shown us something else – He alone knows our hearts and He alone is our judge. Be blessed, Jose!

            http://www.biblebelievers.com/bennett/bennett_mary-worship.html

          • Jose

            To be honest I never expected a reply from this post because of how old it was. Let me say a few things up front and the first is I am no scholar or much of a learned person person or for that matter a bible studying scholar or priest. To be even more honest neither am I a chruch going Catholic. I too have many disagreements when it comes to Catholic teaching or dogma; however what I will say with certainly is that what you ask for as far as someone for you to ask or something for you to read will never transpire or manifest unless God himself or the Holy Spirit gave it to you or showed you so that you may satisfy your unwavering belief. Therefore I can only tell you how I came to believe for I was once an unbeliever like you and so many. In this world of give me, show me and I want it now (forgive me for not putting apostrophes around my quotes); I too was so vain in believing that too much attention or “worship” or as some say credit is given to our Holy Mother. This one sentence lead me to believe that if you ask for the help of the Mother of God who is the “literal” Mother of Jesus who is God” do you think that Jesus would be likely to help you more or less? If you said less you’d be wrong! Let me put in another way that was more acceptable to many vain people who believe that when in need because that’s when most find God; they turn to him to ask foolishly believing that going straight to God or “Father God” as many Christian say will suffice. Do you believe as many do that going straight to Father God and asking for help with all sinful heart that Father God will hear better because you went straight to him and not Jesus who is our literally our Savior? Do you not think that as you say your Father God will not be offended by you just asking in current state of sin, pride or vainity? Do you not believe that Jesus died for our sins and that he who is God humbled himself to come to earth to become flesh..not man to die for our sins to die for our salvation? If you can’t see the humility in which Jesus who is God came into this world through Mary his Mother, then all the truths I say here you will never accept. Because what you read in the New testament is there for what you ask. It is by only humility and learning how to humbe yourself to know that whatever you so ask of God, you ask of the Blessed Trinity who is our ine God. Only those who know the gravity of their sin have come to the realize that Mary is the Mother of our Lord and Savior. To ask of her or for her intercession could only help in asking God for what we need. For what Son ever refused his Mother when she asked him to do something for her. The wedding at Cana is a perfect example is proof of what I speak of. Therefore Lisa my dear and blessed friend in Christ it is only by humility and knowing that we are all sinful creatures in the eyes of God and therefore for many of us Marians believe that we could never expect Father God as you say for us there is no distinction that when we ask for help we ask in all humility of a child of Christ we ask our Holy Mother because it is with certainty that we know our requests will be heard. Also it is by the Holy Spirit that you will come to believe that anything you ask for we say “To Jesus through Mary”! May your heart, mind, body and soul be open to what you have read and may God truly bless you in all your endeavours.

          • Mary

            Jose, Jesus told us to go to Him, not to Mary. Why would you think that Jesus would refuse to hear our prayers and requests? He died and resurrected for us. So why would you think that His love for us would never allow us to approach the Heavenly Father? Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us that we have a compassionate High Priest who is Jesus the Son of God and through Him we can boldly go to the throne of grace and obtain mercy. It doesn’t say go to Mary.

          • Jose

            I dont mean to offend or tell you what and how to do things however, your reply is almost the same as your first reply. The other thing I noticed is that you have selective reading which makes me believe that you may hear the same.
            For the record I never said you had to go to Mary to ask “Father God” and never did I say there is a “Father God” ! For there is only one God and it seems most Christians believe there is a Father God which goes against everything a Christian can do because there is only one God. As scripture teaches us that there are three divine persons which are: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit which makeup one God. It was his word that became man (who is Jesus, his son) by the means of the Holy Spirit through Mary.
            Also, I did say that those who ask a favor of God are more than likely to have their request granted by her (Mary’s) intercession. For she is the Mother of Jesus the Son who is God. I also stated that those who know through their own humility understand that their heart is full of sin would never be so prideful to ask God for anything much less a favor. We are full of sin and it is by reconciliation that we might ask God for that favor, however even those us know that no matter what we will have sin just by the simple acts we do which includes having hate, pride, and other less mortal sins. It is hard to understand unless you know how to humble yourself before God. Instead of asking me to read scripture you might open your mind and read a book titled: Purgatory by Father F.C Schoupe who can explain it better than I and another book titled: True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by St. Louis de Monfort. After reading these books which I read the True Devotion first made me understand that it is pride first that makes us think that we should ask God first; which is what everyone is taught. It is only those that truly understand their humility will understand that everything we do can be sinful because of the things that God gives us daily we dont thank him for and take for granted. Examples of this is the very act of not thanking God for the air, water, sun or food we eat, breathe, etc. It is by those acts that I don’t ask Our True God for anything because I know that I am full of sin. It is by simple act of asking Mary for her intercession before God for anything. Again it is through her and not going to her for the things I ask of God. For I know how full of sin I am that I will never be so boastful and full of pride that I will go directly to God. It is also the reason why I believe that anyone and all of us will be cleansed by the fire before I am to face my judgement before God.
            You can only know what I speak of by reading the books I mentioned herein. Therefore it is through Mary I ask of Jesus who is the son and God that the Holy Spirit annoit you with his grace that your heart and mind will be opened so that you may understand. Therefore through Mary I will ask Jesus who is God that your mind will open and come to understand when I say: “that it is through Mary to Jesus” that you will come understand that is is through humility we will come before God to ask for anything and that you will know that the humblest of his servants is Mary. It was only by her trust in God that we were saved and it was only by her response to the angel “do unto me according to his will” we were given our greatest gift which is Jesus who is God! What I say herein, I say is only by the grace of God and is by that grace I will ask through the intercession of Mary that you are called to understand the humility of knowing the true devotion of Mary to God. For now that is all I will say; may you and yours be blessed.

          • Mary

            You are still trying to get me to go to Mary first. Just because she gave birth to Him doesn’t mean that I must go to Her first in order for Jesus to hear me. Jesus said “come unto me”. I don’t need Mary’s intercession in order for Jesus to hear me. And Jesus will not ignore me when I approach Him in faith and humility, which is all the time.
            Purgatory does not exist, because Jesus suffered all that is necessary for our salvation from hell. At His last supper He said “my blood will be poured out for the forgiveness of sin”. He never said that purgatory will cleanse us from sin. Jesus did it all for us, there is no way that we can save ourselves and Mary certainly cannot save us. Only Jesus can do that and yes He hears and answers all prayers of those who go to Him in faith and trust.

          • Jose

            Please rest assured that I am not trying to make you do anything. As far as your reply I can only deduce that your eyes and mind are not open to believe anything I say. Therefore Lisa I wish you all the best in all your endeavours. I know that one day your heart, mind and eyes will be opened if you are so chosen by the Holy Spirit to believe.
            After reading your reply I can only do what I have done. I gave you all the things I’ve read that opened my heart, body and soul because I can say fully that there are three divine persons(not man) who are one God and when we proclaim that it is only by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In all our scripture it is by only we say God. Not Father God or God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus who is the Son of God and is by his death that we are saved. Therefore if we are saved by Jesus it is by his blood and body that we celebrate at mass as a reminder of his death that it saves all who believe! So its not hard to deduce that if we proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior who is God and Mary is the Mother who gave birth to him and through the Holy Spirit he was conceived, how hard is it not to see that Mary is the Mother of God? Dont get stuck with the literal sense , believe how we believe and that is by our faith! For blessed are those who believe that have not seen and blessed are those who believe.
            Thank you for all your replies but like you those who believe by what you read can’t believe what is true; for it is only by faith and faith alone will Holy Spirit show you the one and only true God! Im sure somewhere in your bible Jesus said , “when you see me, you see the Father, and when you see the Father you see me for I am all things!” May you be blessed.

          • Mary

            Yes I believe in the Father,Son and Holy Spirit. And it is Jesus only who suffered all, in order to save us from hell.

          • Jose

            Im totally lost here and I dont know who this Mary is but my comments were directed to Lisa because her replies were directed to me and sent to my email and now I see a Mary. Of what I read of your replies Mary I can deduce that you haven’t been to a Catholic service in a long time. We don’t practice idolatry and its offensive to hear anyone say that. We have never prayed to Mary in any service and only ask for her help and intercession. As for you not being a Catholic or anyone who has stopped practicing your faith is all that amonts to. The chruch recognizes anyone who has been baptized by the Catholic Church is recognized as one who stops practiceing their faith for we all believe in one God even those who say they’re Muslims. There is one God and those who practice their faith to God are all children of God. For we will all be judged individually for all we do, that’s good and bad.

            As far as your remark of no such thing as Purgatory, The bible states that our Lord Jesus arose after three days of being dead. It is said that he went there to proclaim himself as King and as our God. For the good news of our lord has come is heard through out the universe which is what Catholic means, universal. I would only ask that should you post any remarks about any Catholics or you dont agree with what I say please say that and nothing more, and about how services are said unless you have recently went to a Catholic Church and that was done because that should never be done during services. If you participated in a mass as you’ve declared Mary, then you are just as guilty as those by not saying something to stop the mass and/or reported it to the diocese. That’s all I need to clarify for those who read this to make sure you understand that we don’t pray to Mary or adore her. We ask for her intercession with all we ask of God! Its like I said if you never heard or read the book by Saint Louis Marie de Monfort, you can never understand how important she is with the coming of Lord. That’s all I need to say. I will ask God to enlighten all whom the Holy Spirit choses about how the most humblest of his servant is blessed among all women and gave birth to one who saves. Blessed be God forever.

          • Mary

            Lisa, fire does not cleanse us of our sins, the blood sacrifice of Jesus cleanses us from our sins.

          • Lisa

            Totally agree. We are spared the fire of judgement because our sins have been atoned for by the blood of Jesus. The only ones who need fear judgement are those who die without faith in Jesus Christ.

          • Mary

            Correct. Only Jesus atoned for our sins. There is a prayer that catholics pray to Mary called “The Memorare”. One part of this pray says “we come to you mother we stand before you sinful and sorrowful”. This is absolutely idolatry and Mary does not have the authority to judge our sins and neither did she die for them.
            When I was catholic – but no more – before services even started the whole congregation along with the priest would pray this to Mary first. Hoping she would cleanse them from their sins before they would offer the bread and wine along with the priest to the Father for the sins of the world. This is wrong. They do not believe that His blood sacrifice was sufficient.