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What is the most important part of prayer?

Palestinian youth lights candle in church in 2012

Ryan Rodrick Beiler | Shutterstock

Philip Kosloski - published on 03/13/24

When praying, is the number of prayers the most important? Do I need to pray a certain number of words to be heard by God? What if I pray a novena every day?

In the Catholic Church, it can sometimes appear that what is most important about prayer is the number of prayers a person prays.

There are countless novenas, litanies and prayer books that list hundreds of prayers to pray on a daily basis. Nearly all of these prayers promise various spiritual benefits if you pray them a certain number of times.

Is praying a novena every day of your life the most important part of prayer?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not dismiss formula prayers, but does stress the importance of the heart:

By words, mental or vocal, our prayer takes flesh. Yet it is most important that the heart should be present to him to whom we are speaking in prayer: “Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls.”

CCC 2700

Jesus said something similar when he proclaimed, “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

While God certainly hears all of our prayers, what he seeks is a “contrite spirit” and a “humbled heart.”

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.

Psalm 51:19

Often formulaic prayers can help us find the words to pray, but we do need to combat the tendency to be satisfied with the sheer number of prayers we pray.

Instead, we need to be more worried about the state of our heart when we pray. Do we pray with love in our heart? Or do we pray only out of robotic repitition?

God does not want us to pray like robots. He wants human beings who love him.

BibleCCC PrayerPrayer
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