Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Is it possible to pray at the speed of light?

January 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Church Documents, Dan Burke, Prayer, Rosary

Dear Dan, I recently determined that I would begin praying the rosary regularly and as part of that commitment, I attend a weekly rosary pray at the speed of lightprayer group at my parish. I was initially excited to attend but have found that the speed of their prayer is a bit blinding. They prayed an entire mystery along with other prayers in about ten minutes! I don't quite know how to keep up. Can people really pray at high speed like this? Does it really mean anything if all I am trying to do is keep up and just do it? I know that prayer is supposed to be a conversation, but I have never talked with anyone at this pace!

Congratulations on this new chapter in your prayer life! I have no doubt that you will be rewarded for this commitment in more ways than you can imagine. The primary struggle you will face is the temptation to discouragement. Don't allow your frustration with yourself or others to get the best of you.

What is Prayer?

That said, you have asked a very important question. The first step to answering this question is to ask another: “What is prayer?” The answer provided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very simple and clear (2558):

…prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy…

Prayer is a turning, an expression of the heart to God. As we think about this turning, it is best understood in the idea of a communion between persons. God is a person. He became flesh in order to communicate this reality to us. Within the context of persons we understand that communication, true connectedness, requires attention, time, and effort. It means a turning away from the demands of the world, our jobs, and even our own interests in order to give what is necessary to truly nurture a relationship between persons.

We also intuitively understand certain norms for communication between persons. For instance, we know that when one person makes no attempt to communicate with another, that there is likely little love between persons, or a love that is very immature or self-seeking. In contrast, we know that when two people are hand in hand, face to face, and totally absorbed in one another that there is likely to be a great deal of love between them. So it is with our relationship with God.

Can We Pray in Haste?

This all leads to another question, “Can meaningful prayer happen in haste?” Actually, yes it can. However, if haste is the norm, then it is not likely that depth of relationship exists. Now, if the times of depth are common and the times of haste rare, there may be something healthy there. But, profound expressions of love rarely come in and through unmitigated haste. If we truly and profoundly love another, we give our time, our rapt attention, and our hearts to them.

The Rosary and Vain Repetition

The nature of vocal prayer is very challenging in this respect. The good folks who show up at your rosary group are turning their hearts to what can be a relationship. I say “can be” because with vocal prayer there is a temptation to yield to a one-sided approach to relationship and thus allowing it to essentially deteriorate into a non-relationship. We have seen this on a human level when we are speaking with someone and attempting to connect with them and they talk over us or fail to really listen to us. This can also happen when we attempt to communicate important matters “on the fly.” This excessive haste and resulting “vain repetition” as Christ called it in Matthew 6:7, has been a long standing challenge in the Church and is specifically addressed in the Catechism in the section on vocal prayer (2700-2704):

Through his Word, God speaks to man. 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.

It is “most important that the heart should be present to him.” This is critical. Can our hearts be present as we run by another and shout out what we want them to hear? Can our hearts be present as true lovers of another if we are speaking much and listening little? Can our hearts be present if we are rushing through the motions of communication but not really engaging in the heart of communication?

How To Deal With the Speed Praying Group

I suspect that all of this is affirming what your heart is already telling you. So, what to do about the group? If I were you I would continue attending the group but once you get the mysteries and other prayers memorized and demonstrate a regular commitment to the group after months of faithful participation, volunteer to lead for one or all of the mysteries for that day. Don't preach to them or express your frustration, instead, gently and patiently lead. In the mean time, spend a good deal of time praying for all hearts in this situation (including yours). Humility is critical in situations like this.

When your turn comes, let them know that you plan to use the method encouraged by Blessed John Paul the II in the letter ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE (you might also want to send this or some summary out to the group a few weeks before the scheduled time). Here he encourages an approach that mitigates “vain repetition” and offers and approach that is far more meditative and Christ-centered. The basic idea is that it offers up a number of elements for meditation and slows the pace down significantly. Whether or not you are able to implement this approach with your group, you will likely find it very enriching to your private vocal prayer.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • Ageb4budde

    Are they praying that fast because some have to get to work, or have other commitments that they need to get to?

    • Good question – No – If there is limited time the best approach is to simply pray one decade slowly rather than the entire rosary or to schedule it at a time that does not require a rush…

      • Becky Ward


  • judeen

    what a good question… take control…and give it to God… at a retreat I went to .. they started the rosary with a explaination… that the rosary was on the life of Jesus and Mary.. that it was to the trinity..asking mary to pray with us.;… also that prayer in a group. should be said in unity, not ahead or behind.. to gether , pondering upon the prayer… and was offered to God…
     this helped tremedously.. also.. I want you to notice. the devil. working… ask your self how do you feel when it is rushed and the crowd is fighting each other as they pray.. and the people feel anxios and upset…. this is the devil.. to take away the consentration from God and to upset… and to give up prayer… you will run into this often when trying to honor God.. 1 person can cause the whole crowd to lose their adoration and turn to hate.. 1 way is for the leader to stop… be silent… in prayer… then start slowly…

  • Becky Ward

    This drives me CRAZY!!

    Yet I overheard a comment by a priest one day who was talking about nuns who taught school in ‘the old days’, who were obligated to say a certain number of prayers each day in addition to teaching and running their household. (I would probably pray fast too if I was exhausted and didn’t want to fall asleep before I finished my prayers.) It gives me some peace when I reflect on the fact that many souls have been taught by these good sisters and they truly do not understand what they are doing.

    We need to be gentle as we re-educate, as Jesus did, with love.

    • Deborah Williams

      Tired of people bashing the nuns from the past.

      • Well – as for me – I am enjoying the good nuns of the present and have no bad ones in the past… 🙂

  • Reva Perkins

    Dan – Another reason I find it difficult to participate in these group Rosaries is that the meditation on a mystery is lacking. Typically the mystery is announced and then the prayers begin. I prefer to have a ‘conversation’ with Mary and Jesus about what this mystery means to me, and what they can help me with – teach me etc. This cannot happen in a group.

    • Hey Reva – I agree – the document from Blessed John Paul II exhorts us to use the meditation. With respect to this happening in a group – it can happen – it just has to be properly led by folks like you.

    • Margarett Cahill Zavodny

      I like to do this also, which is why I pray my Rosary by myself most of the time.  Some days I only get through 1 or 2  decades as I want to spend more time in “conversation” about the mystery. I sometimes fall asleep at night before I finish, but at least that way, my last thoughts before sleep are of God!

      • Margarett – that sounds like a very good approach. Have you ever read St. Therese’s thoughts on falling asleep during prayer – priceless…

  • Guest

    Becky, I was taught by those old, old devoted Nuns of the 40’s and 50’s and what they advised us is that if you are too tired to pray the entire 5-Decade Rosary, just pray one Decade, slowly, contemplatively by placing yourself in the Scene of the Decade. For example, the First Joyful Mystery : picture and ponder in your mind how the Holy Mary’s first reaction was when Angel Gabriel appeared to her and greeted her. Visualize how you, yourself would have reacted and then relate that to events your day.  After hearing what your heart tells you, proceed to pray the Our Father with words and heart and then pray the 10 Hail Marys.  Close with the Glory to the Father, the Hail Holy Queen and  the Memorare.  And that came back with the beautiful booklet printed for the Kenya Catholic Church, after Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical above which is called “Praying the Rosary with the Gospels”. 

    • Perfect!

    • Becky Ward

      You are very blessed Mary, and so are we for your sharing!

      This is beautiful!

  • This is a wonderful explanation. I always wondered about that too.
    I remember attending the rosary at a previous parish and it was always done at lightening speed. Over the years, with my children, I discovered a different way of praying by engaging in a meditation at the beginning of each decade. Yes, they still tend to pray at lightening speed to get it over with. But I’ve noticed that their minds are on the mystery we just read about while praying at lightening speed! I know that because they tend to stop mid- Hail Mary and ask questions. Sometimes the conversation about the mystery goes on so long that we don’t finish before they need to go to bed. But I think that perhaps answering their questions is more important in feeding their relationship with Jesus.
    Also, when I am praying alone, I use Mother Angelica’s rosary on cd to guide me. She prays very slow, there are meditations, and it really gives you time to spend conversing with Jesus and Mary.

  • Ana Kattan

    Prayer is a personnal relation with God, for me to pray is like drinking water when I am thirst, I need to  pray to keep going in my work day, because I realize that God is with me all the time. I love the Rosary, I was educated in a Salesian Collegue, Maria Auxiliadora in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and is the best part of my life. Thanks God for it! God bless you all!

    • Great to have you interacting with us Ana. Are you still in Honduras?

  • DouglasCantus

    We hear you and “suffer with” you (com-passion).
    Dan’s comments are right on target!  As a convert to The Church and revert to Christ I found the prayers and creeds very dense and complex – like a baby trying to chew a steak.  So, it was critically necessary for me to spend time every day by myself “pondering these things in my heart”.
    Regarding the Rosary two things have been indispensable: the rosary according to the method of St. Louis de Montfort and the scriptural Rosary.  The first can be found as an appendix to True Devotion to Mary (Tan Books) or online through google.  And there are several serviceable online versions of a scriptural Rosary and a good print version (just ask for the little blue book, published by Christianica).
    I had been praying the Rosary in solitude daily for a couple of years, often envisioning a group praying it together.  On the parish bus ride to last year’s West Coast Walk for Life I volunteered to lead the group Rosary and did so using the combined method mentioned above.  One of the daily Rosary-before-morning-mass leaders asked me about it after.  Now they use the Scriptural Rosary every day before the 2nd morning mass.
    But these are just tools to teach us to love Jesus and one another a little more perfectly each day under the loving care of our Blessed Mother – Hail, Full-of-Grace!

  • Camille

    I have ADHD and keeping a thought in my brain for more than a short period is hard. I have found others with ADHD who say their rosaries “fast” compared to others because we’re trying keep the mystery in our minds and need to say the Hail Mary more like a chant (several of us also rock vigourously back and forth too). I have personally found other approaches that have allowed me to slow down, but I can sympathize with those who are still struggling with it. I’m surprised you found a whole group with that pace, more often I find I have to slow my words down to match the group.

  • Barbara

    Group prayer, such as saying the Rosary before Mass, can be quite wonderful.  Yes, it may seem rushed or even rote but I love the sound of all the voices raising their prayer to God and the Blessed Mother.  I think of it as a hymn of praise, thanksgiving, and contrition.  In our parish the Rosary before Mass takes about 15-20 minutes.  It is lovely.

    • I agree – I really enjoy walking into a parish and hearing that holy hum of prayer

  • jack g. Hallo, everyone. Thank you for this article and I also agree with many that in our churches in a group rosary in most cases it is not acceptable, too fast and pointless. This here is a link where one can buy a Scriptural Rosary on a 2-cd. I use it everyday in my car and it helps a lot in meditation. After every Hail Mary there is a reference from the Bible corresponding with the theme of a decade, and it is said slowly, allowing for extra meditations. I strongly recommend it. After more than a year of using it I now when praying the rosary without the CD, use my own meditation between each Hail Mary. It became part of my daily routine and it feels bad if I don’t pray. Also we do not have to say the whole rosary in one sitting, many of us cannot do it and so it is perfectly o.k. to pray one decade at a time to complete the Rosary in one day. It is also much better to pray one Hail Mary with heart and meditation than 10 rosaries like a parrot. One word JESUS pronounced with love has more meaning then hours of babbling. Vocal prayer is good and necessary, but said without heart means little. With Love of Jesus, jack g.

    • Great input as always Jack. I like the approach you used to learn and then make your own.

    • Marco de Puna

      Aloha, the link does not work – can you recheck and repost as I am veyr interested in these CDs. Many thanks!

      • jack g.

        SORRY, THE ORIGINAL WEBSITE IS http://WWW.SUFFERINGSERVANT.COM and you can see our Lady of Guadelupe on the cover, God Bless Marco.
        P.S. The full title is “The Sanctity of Life Scriptural Rosary”, also has a few beautiful songs.

  • LizEst

    I think that praying quickly is acceptable if the circumstances warrant it. We are, after all, supposed to pray always. That means we are to pray when there isn’t even enough time…or especially then!

    What came to me about that is that the Church has already “built in” some approved, shorter ways of praying a number of things such as the Liturgy of the Hours, various sacramental rituals, even the Mass itself (the readings, for example, often have shorter and longer versions that can be read, depending on the situation).

    So, yes, we may pray more quickly. But, rushed prayer is not norm. We want full, active and conscious participation in our prayers so that our lives become fully, actively and consciously steeped in the Lord.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    Prayer is always more powerful when two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus and I like being with others for prayer.  The rosary is said before Mass in my parish and I am there, but I am usually praying my Liturgy of the Hours while the rest of the people are praying the rosary. It is said too fast, I cannot form words that fast. There is always one person who is yelling it out like a drill sargent. It is not a prayerful experience, so I pray something else with everyone else. My rosary of the day is prayed at home, in silence, where I can take my time to meditate on the mysteries.

  • Christine Hickey

    I am a convert from the Baptist Church.  One of their criticisms of the Catholic Church was we were guilty of “vain repetitions” when we pray.  Of course, as a rule, this is false…but I could understand how lightening speed of the Rosary could be vain repetition, as well as other prayers said in the Mass, if they are just prayed by rote, rather than sincerely, from the heart.  I go to Mass early so I have time for prayer, preparing my heart.  Others in our Parish do this too and most people are silent during this time, even those who don’t choose to pray.  It is wonderful preparation for the Mass.

  • Jwatson142

    Has anyone ever heard that if 10 people pray the Rosary together, we get “credit” for 100 rosaries?  Someone told me that a saint said it, either St. Louis de Montfort of Blessed Alan. I don’t know if God keeps score like that.

    • I think it is if you have ten people pray ten rosaries together ten times faster than normal conversation then all of them get ten more days in purgatory for the sin of vain repetition. 🙂

      • jack g.

        I liked that Dan,so I e-mailed you a joke about forest gump, check it out, maybe you could post it, God Bless

    • Jim McCrea

      The “credit” of x people saying the Rosary is x^2

  • ThirstforTruth

    Our Lady of Fatima never said we had to enjoy saying the Rosary but just that if we want peace in the world, we must say it daily. At times
    I do not want to say the Rosary. Perhaps it is because I am tired or perhaps not feeling well or perhaps I am feeling lazy. But if I say the rosary anyway, despite my feelings, I know I will be blessed and
    the better spiritually for doing what I don’t always feel like doing.
    Sometimes I find it is only possibleis to do, as some suggest here, one
    decade at a time, slowly and with reverence. One website that
    has helped me immensely at times like this is the Seven Day Bible Rosary with wonderful suggestions and meditations for all of the mysteries including the luminous mysteries. These mysteries are stories in the life of Jesus and His Blessed Mother. We do not have to limit ourselves to just these particular myteries. At Seven Day Bible Rosary there is a wonderful one said using the psalms. If you go to this website you wll find inspiration and encouragement in saying your daily rosary. This was a wonderful and fruitful question…many good suggestions and comments. Thanks Dan for your help in enriching our prayer life.

  • judeen

    my dad would gather us around his wooden chair and we would kneel and pray the rosary for protection from tornadoes thatwere coming.. not one touched our land… it hit the neighbors… though… and He did this for rain.. -Elisha- the next day it rain after such a long drought.. found the rosary is a powerful prayer for protection. the chaplet for prayers answered.. .pray from your heart and trust my dad would say.. nothing stronger than a man on his knees praying.!!

    • Judeen, the whole message of Jesus is contained in just one Word : TRUST.  And Trust is what underpins our Faith.  As He told Saint Faustina, His Secretary and Apostle of the Divine Mercy : “Whatever you pray for with total Trust, if it is in accordance with My Will, it shall be granted.  And how do we know we are praying for what is in accordance with His Will?? Through the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit who prays with us. Ouch!!! that sounds so old-fashioned by, yet so True.  Be blessed

  • Ferdie

    a prayer is a prayer no matter the “how” it is done. i know people who prays rosary lightning fast but they are holy and good people and i am sure God hears them and answers their prayers. prayer is also not a matter of emotion, otherwise we pray only when we feel like praying. when it becomes a habit, it becomes a covenant, like going to work everyday even if we feel not to. God honors that commitment and He will honor that prayer you utter even if it is lightning fast.

    • Dear Friend – does this sound like a good summary of some of what you are saying?:
      – If a heart is turned to God in any way, this is a good thing.
      – Speed praying might reflect some turning of the heart to God and therefore it is good.

  • Lpdrummer1

    I also am having the same issues when praying rosary with groups of people.After 8:00a.m. mass some of us stay after and pray rosary.Thanks God  I am grateful that there are people who stay after mass to pray our BEAUTIFUL ROSARY! However, some of the people pray SO fast,I cannot keep up I cannot breathe. It is amazing to me how fast they go.Then there is another that prays at another pace,so ther are 3 or so people praying at different speeds.One is  finishing “pray for our sinners” and another one is starting “Hail Mary”It is like this 4 times a week.’I love when my friend Antonio is ther because he prays at medium pace.Sometimes I would get SO FRUSTRATED! when people pray so fast.When its like that I sit ther and pray mentally without speaking.I aked a priest about it and he said “when it gets to be MORE OF A DISTRACTION than a prayer than leave” But I told him its better to pray in a group because …when 2 or more are gathered in faith…   Jesus is there” An older very wise woman told me “she understands my frustration and we ought to be praying together…but…it is not how loud or soft we pray…….its not how fast or slow we pray…the main thing is that we are all together praying rosary.So,for now when they pray rosary at lightening speed,I will stay and pray mentally and not be vocal.We have the gift of praying rosary,and we have to keep praying and not let the devil sabotage our prayer life.We must have patience and not judge others.Love,Lori

    • Jim McCrea

      Group Rosary should be a beautiful harmony, not an ugly cacophony. I think the problem is that self-will is involved (“I will pray according to my will at the pace I desire”), as that is a very deep vice, which is very hard to eradicate even with those proficient in piety.

      With submitting the will to the “greater” one listens to the Holy Spirit as to properly pace one’s prayers, and one listens to those around to synchronize one’s prayers with the others praying.The sense of God can thus be palpably felt when it is done that way.

  • Pingback: | Catholic Spiritual Direction | True Prayer: 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Day 22 Catholic Spiritual Direction()

  • Pingback: True prayer – 30 Days with Teresa of Avila – Reflections on Day 22()

Skip to toolbar