I have previously written about rotary prayer. What is rotary prayer? Well, some call it “Catholic prayer”. This isn’t exactly correct, since the Orthodox also pray in this way. In fact, many Protestants (perhaps inadvertently) pray in the same way. So what is rotary prayer?
Rotary prayer is simply saying a prayer that is written by someone else. Sometimes we may repeat the same prayer over and over again, as in the Rosary. One reason why some non-Catholics don’t like rotary prayer is that they feel it isn’t biblical. We aren’t supposed to recite prayers written by someone else. We are supposed to pray in our own words.
It must be remembered that Jesus was a Jew. Scripture is clear that Jesus lived as a Jew. He practiced Judaism. In the Judaism of that time we see the Jews very frequently recited prayers written by others. They recited prayers from Exodus, Psalms, and other books of what Christians call the Old Testament. Some were only recited during certain times of the year. Some prayers were recited only when gathered together with other Jews. Still others were recited privately.
If rotary prayer is bad, why would Jesus have engaged in it (as we know He certainly would have)? Jesus rejected many things that a large number of the Jews of His time did. Wouldn’t Jesus have rejected rotary prayer, too?
Jesus, however, did engage in rotary prayer. In fact, Scripture demonstrates this fact quite clearly in the description of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was arrested. Scripture says Jesus prayed for three hours, “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not what I will, but your will be done.”
Jesus recited these words for three hours. He may have said other things, but we don’t know. We do know He recited the above-quoted words. You might argue that this is not an example of rotary prayer in the way Catholics do it, because Jesus recited His own words. To say this, however, is to misunderstand rotary prayer.
Catholics do not just recite prayers written by others. We also often speak to God in our own words. Sometimes we repeat these over and over again in imitation of Our Lord in Gethsemane.
We also see Jesus encouraging us to practice rotary prayer when He taught His Apostles to say the “Our Father”. You can argue that the “Our Father” was an example of how we ought to pray, with its praise to God, and then its list of petitions. This is true, but Jesus also gave us the “Our Father” as a prayer itself that we may recite.
Another objection often brought against rotary prayer is one I have previously touched on. It is the argument of monotony. We who practice rotary prayer are accused of simply reading words, or mindlessly reciting the same words over and over again without any concentration. I find this a ridiculous argument.
I have seen a very large number of Protestants pray in their own way, using their own words. Most of these often use the same words over and over again. Some have appeared sincere, others appeared rather indifferent. You can mindlessly rush through prayer even if you are speaking to God in your own words. I have seen this many, many times. So the argument that one is more sincere in prayer when he speaks in his own words is absurd.
I wish to also point out that rotary prayer has one advantage. When we are reciting prayers we have memorized (e.g. the Rosary, Anima Christi, Litany of the Saints, etc.) we do not need to concentrate so hard on the words we are saying. While reciting our prayers we are free to engage in mental prayer simultaneously with our vocal prayer.
The best example to use is the Rosary. The Rosary is nothing less than “a Bible on a string”. We have mysteries which all come from the Bible to focus on while we pray. So while reciting the prayers which make up the Rosary, I can also focus on the events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. I can also focus on the petition(s) for which I am praying. This is much more difficult if I am forming my own words.
The main reason Catholics engage in rotary prayer is not primarily because it allows us to more easily focus on our petitions. It is primarily because Our Lord engaged in rotary prayer, and because He taught us to pray in this way. We must also keep in mind that Judaism is the parent religion of Christianity, and Jews engaged in rotary prayer. Our Lord gave no indication that this was to change. In fact, all evidence proves the opposite.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity