SM writes: “I have a friend who insists that every word of a prayer novena has to be said correctly, or you have to start all over. Is this true?”
No. In fact, this is as superstitious as putting nine copies of a prayer in nine churches in order to have the prayer answered. God does not require such things of us. He’s not a task master. What matters to Him is the intention in our heart when we’re praying. Are we really seeking Him and His will in our life? Are we willing to let Him answer our prayer as He sees fit? To be honest with you, this can sometimes be a whole lot more difficult than just trying to say the words correctly.
Of course, we should always be mindful of the proper respect due to Catholic devotions, but an excessive preoccupation with the mechanics can indeed lead us into superstition.
As the Catechism explains: “To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.” [CCC 2111]
This is in violation of the First Commandment which teaches us to worship no other but the one true God. “The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion.” [CCC 2110]
It’s interesting to note that the wording associated with spell-casting often require the kind of exactness your friend is practicing, as do the various occult rituals. Everything has to be done just right or the spell/ritual is considered ineffective. This reveals a hidden reliance on the self as well as the occult powers these practices intend to harness.
Remember, our God is a loving Father who wants us to bring our cares and concerns to Him. If we keep this in mind, it will be much easier to relax when practicing our devotions and focus more on the purity of our intentions than in how well we are reciting the prayers.