It’s Not Rote Just Because Someone Else Wrote It

Woman Praying in ChurchIt drives me crazy when I hear someone complain about how relentlessly devoted Catholics are to “rote” prayer, especially the Rosary or the Mass. I’ve never quite understood how meditating on the mysteries of the life of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of His Mother, is devoid of meaning (and don’t get me started on the Mass); but let’s, just this once, for the sake of argument, allow for their view that it is, in fact, rote.  It’s true that sometimes we can get lost in the recitation of familiar prayers, so perhaps they’re not completely off-base when they spout such opinions.

What is completely off-base is that these detractors (at least in my experience) seem to dismiss every prewritten prayer as mechanical and therefore meaningless.

I am not going to criticize impromptu prayer, because it is from the heart, but I have found that when I attempt to pray without the help of others’ words, I often get caught up in my own thoughts – making my prayer-time more about me and less about God.

In an attempt to steer myself away from this pitfall, I began searching for prayers, written by saints-past, which spoke what my heart wanted to say. As a result, I now have a good collection of prayer cards, printouts, and prayer books in a little portfolio that I keep in my purse – that is, those prayers are always with me when I need them.

I’d like to share a few, and some of them aren’t exactly off-the-beaten-path, either.

When praying for my personal intentions, I turn to the Memorare:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.  Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.  Amen.

One of the most meaningful prayers I’ve ever prayed is the St. Michael Prayer. Have you ever sat back and really thought about these words?  There is evil in this world, and demons are seeking the ruin of our souls, and we can’t fight them on our own.  This prayer is a powerful weapon.  I also learned recently that it is an old tradition to pray this prayer after a Low Mass.  A good practice, if you ask me.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

Next is “Corpus tuum, Domine,” which I now pray after receiving Communion. I am so glad that I happened upon this one, as it gives me a proper focus in asking the Eucharist to transform me:

May your Body, O Lord, which I have received, and your Blood which I have drunk, cleave to mine inmost parts: and grant that no stain of sin may remain in me, whom pure and holy mysteries have refreshed: Who lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen.

All of the above prayers are short enough to memorize, but this last one – St. Faustina’s Prayer Before the Eucharist – is quite lengthy.  I have it printed so that I can pull it out to read in adoration. All I can say is: be still my heart.

I adore You, Lord and Creator, hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I adore You for all the works of Your hands, that reveal to me so much wisdom, goodness and mercy, O Lord. You have spread so much beauty over the earth and it tells me about Your beauty, even though these beautiful things are but a faint reflection of You, incomprehensible Beauty. And although You have hidden Yourself and concealed Your beauty, my eye, enlightened by faith, reaches You and my soul recognizes its Creator, its Highest Good, and my heart is completely immersed in prayer of adoration.

My Lord and Creator, Your goodness encourages me to converse with You. Your mercy abolishes the chasm which separates the Creator from the creature. To converse with You, O Lord, is the delight of my heart. In You I find everything that my heart could desire. Here Your light illumines my mind, enabling it to know You more and more deeply. Here streams of graces flow down upon my heart. Here my soul draws eternal life. O my Lord and Creator, You alone, beyond all these gifts, give Your own self to me and unite Yourself intimately with Your miserable creature.

O Christ, let my greatest delight be to see You loved and Your praise and glory proclaimed, especially the honor of Your mercy. O Christ, let me glorify Your goodness and mercy to the last moment of my life, with every drop of my blood and every beat of my heart. Would that I be transformed into a hymn of adoration of You. When I find myself on my deathbed, may the last beat of my heart be a loving hymn glorifying Your unfathomable mercy. Amen.

Praying these prayers (and others) has greatly enhanced my prayer life: I’m not distracted by my own selfish desires, but am focused instead on God. There’s always room for my personal intentions, but they don’t take precedent over the Lord and His will. I’m never grasping for the right words because these prayers say exactly what I mean – not to mention that they say it so much better than I ever could.  I make the words my own, and I’m still praying from the heart.

If the naysayers continue to call this rote, so be it.  I’ll take rote prayer any day.

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About the Author

Anna Mitchell is the news director and anchor for the “Son Rise Morning Show” on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network. As a reporter, she has covered the controversial commencement at Notre Dame that honored President Barack Obama, the 2010 Pallium Mass in Rome and the first-ever National Theology of the Body Congress. She is a contributor to the “Today’s Catholics – Young Adults” section for the Integrated Catholic Life. Anna’s favorite hobby is collecting old books to add to her bookshelves in her trendy downtown apartment in Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated from Ohio University in 2006 with degrees in Journalism and History. She loves reading, writing, playing guitar, and watching Reds baseball, Ohio State football and Project Runway. Anna is learning Italian so she can live in Rome someday, and is also very active in the St. Gertrude 20s Group in Cincinnati.

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6 Comments

  1. Anna,

    Here’s one of my favourite short, sweet, to-the-point rote prayers:

    “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner”

    Terry McDermott
    Toronto

  2. Terry – thanks for adding it! That is yet another VERY powerful prayer… especially in a time of temptation.

    If anyone else wants to add their favorite “rote” prayers, please do so!

  3. Catholics pray rote prayers because we are concerned about doctrine. Unless you are very well catechized it is hard not to insert some good ‘ol heresy into your prayer. We are talking to almighty God, yes we can pray in our own words, but when speaking to the King of Kings wouldn’t you rather have something prepared ahead of time? Also, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi – what we pray is what we believe. When we pray it needs to be othodox. There is a wrong way to pray! It makes perfect sense that some protestants would prefer the free wheeling method of prayer instead of that restrictive, antiquated dogmatic method of using prayer approved by the, gasp, magisterium!

  4. Dear “helgothjb”

    Catholics do not restrict themselves to “rote” prayer. Indeed while you are praying the “rote” prayers of the rosary, you are supposed to be allowing your mind (your intellect and reason are gifts from God) to imagine, that is to form visual pictures of the major events of the life of Christ… to be allowing your mind to think upon this event and to proceed in that way from one thought to another. This is called Christian meditation and should be a primary expression of prayer for Catholics. Regarding Protestants, I would rather say that it is their love for God that motivates their prayer and their extemporaneous approach is certainly not “un-Catholic”.

    The Catechism, Part IV, is a good place to begin to learn of the rich nature of prayer in the Catholic Tradition.

    Deacon Mike

  5. Anna,

    Here are two of my favorites…

    A Prayer of Surrender by St. Ignatius of Loyola

    Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me. I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

    A Prayer for Generosity by St. Ignatius of Loyola

    Teach us, Good Lord, To Serve Thee as Thou deservest; To give and not to count the cost; To fight and not to heed the wounds; To toil and not to seek for rest; To labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do Thy will. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.

    Deacon Mike

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