by rote

Dec 6, 2023


Rote: mechanical or habitual repetition of something to be learned.

Rote learning was a norm in my primary school days, repetition of the times tables, two times two equals four, three times two equals six, over and over again, every day, as if we were robots being programmed. And the proof of success of the method is in the product, generations of people who know without thinking that six eights are…. well you will know, and I will need to look it up. The rote-learning method with maths didn’t work that well for me.

Rote learning of poetry was and is a different story for me, and portions of prose and lengths of literature were my field. Today it’s all right there, ready for an opportunity to be recalled, recited and savoured.

I’m happy my English teachers were devotees of rote learning.

I learnt many prayers this way too and I am often moved at the deathbed of a Catholic who has not been near a church for near a century when I begin an Our Father or Hail Mary and they join in. My surprise is even greater when I might begin “Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary” and immediately a dying person continues “that never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection…” in the Memorare.

I regularly celebrate Mass at Nazareth House, a Catholic retirement village here in Christchurch, and I often begin an old hymn confident that without the written lyrics many will join in. I’m never disappointed as even those who would be unable to read the text enthusiastically join in with Soul of My Saviour, Humbly We Adore Thee, I’ll sing a Hymn to Mary or Now Thank We All Our God.

While we often pray spontaneously, there are times when formal and memorised prayers carry us, when we are not sure how to voice our gratitude and our needs.

This is why the People of God in the Old Testament appreciated the 150 psalms, and this is the reason that these prayers, learnt by rote by Jesus, are the bread and butter of the Prayer of the Church in the Liturgy of the Hours seven times daily.

Today at Nazareth House I will begin to sing The Lord’s My Shepherd which is the responsorial Psalm after the first reading. I have no doubt that the well known Crimond version will be well received and sung as a prayer.


An Invitation:

Whenever you get a chance through the day, while working, walking, driving or just sitting, begin to pray from memory, reciting or singing “The Lord is my Shepherd…” then keep going, your memory might skip a word or two, a sentence or stanza, but no problem, a word or a phrase will stay with you and through it Jesus will speak to you.

If you would like to listen here are a few well-known musical settings of this best-known of all the Psalms:



Take an initiative and send me a date time and place for a FFF cafe-catchups. I’ll advertise these on each morning’s post throughout Advent.  


Reflection day with Fr. John O’Connor
Saturday 9 December 10.00am – 3.00pm
St Patrick’s Church  31 Gerald Street, Lincoln (Canterbury) 7608
All Welcome – BYO lunch.  (FFF – the book available, $40.00)


Sunday 10 December 12noon
St Anthony’s Seatoun.
66 Falkirk Ave.


Monday 11 December 10.00am (& every Monday)
Moko Cafe, (at this link)
Bush Inn Centre, Christchurch

Click the image below to order FFF – the book. If you already have the book please send a comment below. How are you finding it useful? Who do you think might appreciate it as a Christmas gift?  Your comments will be helpful for others.


  1. thanks Father. Yes beginning with a learned prayer often helps the spontaneous step in! Today we also are singing Psalm 22. at an anointing
    mass with the
    version being Peter Low from Singapore and is another
    version to make the heart yearn and burn with fervent love for the One who is to come! Come oh Come Emmanuel !

  2. I was taught by the ‘brown Joes” (1954-61) at St Paul’s in Dallington. and now demolished after the Canterbury earthquakes. Rote learning was the norm so 48 was an instant response to your first question. We did not stop at the 12 times and 20 times table in the maths book but did 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 18 19 tables as well. We also learned alternative methods eg 6 x 19 = 114, 0r an easier s x 20 = 120 -6 = 114
    I just wish my prayer life was as good as my maths

  3. I have just started reading your lovely book, Father John-Food for Faith. You suggested we might dip into various sections of the book, but I`m finding I can`t wait to start the next chapter! So inspirational, just as your words to us throughout the year have been. Thank you.


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