5 Replies to Questions About Catholic (and Biblical) Prayer
‘Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ's love.’ (CCC 2565)
My responses here are based on actual questions that were asked by a non-Catholic.
Question #1. How many Rosaries do I have to pray to get God’s attention?
None. Neither God nor the Catholic Church require anything (but a sincere heart) in order to get God’s attention.
Question #2. How do Catholics measure the number of repeated prayers needed for God to finally hear us?
There is no need of any such instrument. God hears us as soon as we address him. As St. Paul said to the Athenians: “he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27, RSV), and, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Question #3. Isn’t it better to go directly to God, with a contrite heart, without having to repeat formal Catholic prayers?
Anyone can go directly to God in prayer at any time. They can also ask a person holier than themselves to make a prayer request of God, because “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16), and “the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12), and “when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears” (Psalm 34:17). God told Abimelech that Abraham would pray for him, so he could live, “for” Abraham was “a prophet” (Genesis 20:6-7).
“All Israel” (1 Samuel 12:1) “said to Samuel [the prophet], ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die … ’” (1 Samuel 12:19). God told Job’s “friends”: “my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly” (Job 42:8). Why did God listen to Job’s prayers? It’s because God himself stated that “there is none like” Job “on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). King Zedekiah asked the holy prophet Jeremiah to pray for him and the country (Jeremiah 37:3).
Question #4. How many consecutive and uninterrupted Rosary prayers have the power to replace a single minute before God with a sincere and spontaneous prayer from the heart?
This is a false dichotomy. Praying the Rosary is pious, and so is going to God with a spontaneous prayer. We need not pit them against each other. It’s like asking if pizza is better than a banana, or whether a carnival ride is better than going swimming. The hostile premise or presupposition in the question is that formal prayers are somehow intrinsically less “from the heart” than spontaneous ones. This is untrue, and obviously so, with a moment’s reflection. The Lord’s Prayer is a form prayer, and Jesus said about it: “Pray then like this” (Matthew 6:9).
Every time a Christian recites the Lord’s Prayer (as hundreds of millions do at church services every Sunday), it’s not a spontaneous prayer — it’s a formal, ritualistic one. Does that mean it can’t be from the heart? Of course not. That’s simply the false premise within the question. The issue isn’t “formal vs. spontaneous” but rather, “heartfelt addressing of God vs. such addresses that are not heartfelt or sincere or serious.” Either type can be either a formal or informal prayer, because disposition is interior before we get to any sort of prayer. Formal and ritualistic ceremonies and worship services are recorded as taking place even in heaven itself:
- Revelation 4:8 Day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
How’s that for “consecutive and uninterrupted” and “repeated” formal prayer? Day and night the same phrases of worship towards God are uttered over and over and over and over. In Psalm 136, the same exact phrase is repeated for 26 straight verses. That’s formal and ritualistic and repetitious. It seems quite clear, then, that the Bible is not opposed to either ritual or formality (in either worship or prayer) at all. What God does oppose is hypocritical worship, lacking the proper attitude of heart towards God. This is an ongoing human tendency that we all must be vigilant (by his grace) to avoid:
- Jeremiah 6:19-20 … they have not given heed to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it. … Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.
- Amos 5:12, 21-22 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins. … I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them …
- Matthew 15:7-9 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (cf. 5:23-24; 6:1-6, 16; 23:23-28; Proverbs 15:8; Jeremiah 6:19-20)
Question #5. If God is powerful and infinite in love for us, should I believe that praying to various Catholic patron saints will help solve my problems?
Yes. Because this same God, omnipotent and infinite in his love, expressly told us in his inspired and infallible revelation that going to more righteous people and asking them to pray to him on our behalf will have a greater chance of the prayer being honored by God. (See my answer to Question #3 above for many proofs of this). It’s always good to do things God’s way, and when he is expressly showing us how to do a particular thing, it’s self-evidently wise (from a Christian, biblical perspective) to wholeheartedly follow his guidance. The saints in heaven are more alive and powerful than fellow Christians on earth, and they are aware of events on the earth (Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 6:9-11, etc.).