Why Pray the Rosary?
Q: Some of my Baptist friends
have asked me questions about prayer. I replied as best
I could but would be grateful for your help in this matter.
Matthew 6:7-8 says: "In praying, do not babble like the
pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not
be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
Why do Catholics pray the rosary? Why not keep the prayers
short and direct?
When I said that repetition can assist in meditation,
they responded that meditation is not a Christian practice.
They see it as a custom of non-Christian religions from
the Middle East and the Far East.
is only for non-Christian religions founded in the East? Not so! St. Luke was
clearly describing meditation when he wrote in his Gospel that Mary "kept all
these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (2:19) and that Mary "kept all
these things in her heart" (2:51).
Certainly your friends realize that Christianity itself began in
the Near East. Meditation is not geographically based but is humanly based.
Faith in Jesus requires moments of prayerful reflection, moments to ponder what
God is doing when God's ways might seem very strange.
The length of prayers is not as important as the purity of intention.
Even though the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) is longer than the prayer of
the Pharisee in the Temple (Luke 18:11-12), Mary's prayer is genuine because
it is totally honest while the Pharisee's prayer is short but not totally honest.
The phrase "as the pagans do" may be the key to interpreting Matthew
6:7-8. The pagan prayer that Jesus condemns is an attempt to control God, a
way of placing God in debt to the person praying.
The prayer that Jesus recommends does the reverse; it acknowledges
an enormous debt toward God on the part of the person praying. Although this
debt cannot be repaid, acknowledging it in prayer helps a person live honestly
before God and in relation to all God's people.
The longer Canticle of Mary reflected that honesty; the shorter
prayer of the Pharisee in the Temple did not.
Immediately after the passage your friends cited, Jesus teaches
the apostles to pray the Our Father. Is that prayer to be criticized for being
Neither the rosary nor the Our Father seeks to give instructions
to God. Both prayers arise from the same desire: to accept God's grace into
one's life and cooperate generously with it.
Over the centuries, many Catholics have found the rosary an ideal
prayer, partly because it reminds them of Mary's response to the Archangel Gabriel,
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your
word" (Luke 1:38). That response became Mary's characteristic response to God
throughout her life.
At www.vatican.va, if you click
"English" and then search for "rosary," you will link to
Pope John Paul II's October 16, 2002, apostolic letter on
you can find a condensed version of that letter. Simply
type "rosary" in the "Search for Articles" box to find that
Catholic Update and other information about the rosary.
Meditation is for everyone. The fact that non-Christian
religions encourage their own type of meditation does not
make meditation a non-Christian form of prayer.
Which Mass Does God Want?
22-year-old grandson was away from the Church for a while but has now returned
because he believes in the sacraments.
He has learned about the Latin Mass and believes that it
is the original, true Mass and that the "New Mass" does not entirely reflect
How can I explain to him the difference between the traditional
and the "New Mass"? Is one Mass as holy as the other?
the Mass is common, public worship, the Catholic Church has the right to make
regulations pertaining to it.
The Mass was celebrated first in Aramaic, later in Greek or Latin.
In 1964 at the Second Vatican Council, the world's bishops, under
the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, decided that the Mass could be celebrated
in local languages, as well as in Latin.
If your grandson sets the "Latin Mass" and the "New Mass" in opposition,
then he is recognizing as legitimate only the Mass revised after the Council
of Trent. It is often called the Tridentine Mass. The same authority used by
Pope Pius V in 1570 when he authorized that Mass was used by Pope Paul VI in
1969 in authorizing the "New Order of the Mass."
The issue here is not really language. After 1969, Pope Paul VI
frequently celebrated the "New Mass" in Latin. Pope John Paul II has done the
The Tridentine Mass can still be celebrated under certain conditions—one
of which is that those present acknowledge the legitimacy of the "New Order
of the Mass," as well as their communion with the local bishop, who is appointed
by the pope.
St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians contains a section about
honoring the Eucharist by not turning it into a source of divisions (11:17-34).
Exalting the Tridentine Mass while denying the legitimacy of the "New Mass"
ignores St. Paul's warning and does not honor God.
is the role of theology in Catholic faith formation? Is it the same as faith?
As catechesis? As doctrine?
Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), a doctor of the Church, has provided the classic
definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding." Faith comes first.
Theology builds on it, enabling a person to reflect on his or her life experiences
in light of God's self-revelation.
Theology helps faith to grow. An eight-year-old, for example, might
think of God as always preventing anything bad from happening to a good person.
Once that child experiences that bad things sometimes indeed do happen to good
people, the choices are now to quit believing in God, to restrict faith to that
stage of development or, with the assistance of theology, take one's faith to
the next level.
That child's initial faith needs to mature. A faith seeking understanding
enables a person to grow in faith rather than assume that a childhood faith
must be protected at all costs.
Why No Altar Calls?
was the founder of the Catholic religion? I heard that it was St. Augustine,
but I am not sure. Why don't Catholics use altar calls to bring more people
Christ founded the Church, which was simply called "Catholic" or "Christian"
for the first 1,000 years of its existence. St. Ignatius of Antioch, who died
in 107, already described the Church as catholic, meaning universal.
Augustine died much later.
After the 11th century, the Church tragically split into two groups:
Roman Catholic and Orthodox. In the 16th century, Protestant denominations began
appearing in the West.
An altar call, such as we see at the end of a Billy Graham crusade,
reflects a person's overall intention for the future, but it is made at a specific
time. Both Protestants and Catholics need to reaffirm their Baptism by daily
choices to accept God's grace and respond generously.
All Christians need to remember Jesus' admonition that saying, "Lord,
Lord," is not enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. They must do the will of
God the Father (see Matthew 7:21). Yesterday's generous response prepares for
today's generous response; it cannot substitute for it.
Q: At Mass today, incense was used several times. Exactly what
significance does this have? Is this a custom that the Catholic Church began?
I have not seen incense used at Protestant worship services that I have attended.
A: Incense was used by Jewish people before the time of Jesus
as a way of symbolizing their prayers. “Let my prayer come like incense before
you; the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice,” says verse two
of Psalm 141. In Exodus 30:1-10, God describes how the altar of incense is to
be constructed in the sanctuary and calls for an incense offering in the morning,
plus another in the evening.
Incense was used by pagan religions before Judaism began. Christianity
simply adopted the custom, which is observed by Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
In the 16th century, most Protestant groups rejected incense, along with statues
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