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Praying By Rote

Why have all generations before us prayed mostly by rote? 

Because they were illiterate? It can’t be: even the most educated men of the past have always prayed by rote without any problem. 

Because they did not care? Clearly not: through all centuries of best Christian spirituality, prayer by rote was the Gold Standard. 

Because they were “Pharisees”? This is absurd, as it implies that Christianity has been dominated by Phariseism basically since inception; an argument I would expect, if at all, from a Hindu. 

The simple truth is that Christians have always prayed by rote for at least two reasons: Jesus Himself taught us to pray by rote; and praying by rote is the best guarantee of orthodox prayer, which in turn is a pretty good ingredient of orthodox thinking, which in turn leads to orthodox living. 

When I pray by rote, I am led along a Catholic railway from which no excursions on the left or right are allowed. Valuable information sinks in my consciousness and can be recalled at a moment’s time. I can be sure that my prayer is not involuntary straying from the straight and narrow and venturing into strange territory. 

Conversely, it is impossible not to notice that cafeteria Cathoicism goes hand in hand with “spontaneous” prayer, and that this becomes more and more pronounced as we wander in the dark regions of dissent. Which makes sense, as dissent is the open refusal to follow the Catholic railtrack, and cafeteria Catholicism is, if not as bad, certainly a dislike for it even in its mildest form. 

Prayer by rote also allows the gathering of many of them in prayer books; which, on closer observation, reveal themselves as a sort of “everyday Catholicism for the masses”, imparting a quantity of sound doctrinal and theological knowledge when the prayers are traditional, 

Many of the most frequent answers posed by your non-believer or non Catholic friends at the pub, and many nagging doubts of lukewarm, non-practising Catholics, can be answered simply by recalling the one or other prayer. 

“Spontaneous” prayer can very easily become an heterodox prayer, because we will naturally tend to lay our own railtrack, and it is not difficult to guess whether this own private railtrack wil follow the official one. 

I also noticed another phenomenon: that even the proponent of “spontaneous” prayers need structured prayers, even as they negate their role. 

Go to every big bookstore in an Anglo-Saxon country and you will find there huge more or less new-agey sections, with books allegedly teaching you to “pray with the angels”, or “pray for peace”, or whatever these people feel good with. The oh so powerful connection between the new-ageist and whatever he calls God still needs structure, order, discipline. Similarly, whatever crap the book peddles will be reflected in the prayers. Everyone needs this kind of structure; even tree-huggers need a “prayer of the tree-hugger”, or “morning prayers to the garden Pine”. 

In the end, therefore, everyone ends up going back to what… is the proper and sound thing to do, and to appreciate the guidance and security that only approved, orthodox prayers learnt by rote can give. 

Someone should explain it to someone very high up the Hierarchy. 

Mundabor 

 

 

 

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