Meditations on the Rosary
During Lent people often want to deepen their prayer life and some decide to pray the rosary, be it more regularly or perhaps for the first time. Some people might want to even pray it daily during Lent. Here I shall answer some questions about what the rosary is, why we should pray it, and how we can pray it.
What is the rosary?
The rosary is a devotion upon which we meditate on fifteen episodes from the life of Jesus and Mary whilst praying 150 Hail Marys. The 150 Hail Marys are analogous to the 150 Psalms of the Davidic Psalter, which is why the rosary is sometimes referred to as Our Lady’s Psalter. These 150 Hail Marys are divided into three sets of ten decades. A decade consists of ten Hail Marys: each decade is devoted to a different episode (called a Mystery) of the life of Jesus and Mary and each decade is preceded by an Our Father. We generally keep count of where we are in the decades by using a string of beads, which has also come to be known as a rosary.
The first five decades are known as the Joyful Mysteries and are the Annunciation, the Visitation of Our Lady to Elizabeth, the Nativity of Jesus, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the finding of Jesus in the Temple. The next five decades are known as the Sorrowful Mysteries and these are Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane, His scourging at the pillar, His crowning with thorns, His carrying of the cross, and His crucifixion and death on the cross. The final five decades are known as the Glorious Mysteries and are Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, His ascension into Heaven, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost, the assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, and Our Lady’s coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
These Mysteries and prayers are as old as Christianity, but according to pious tradition the devotion of the rosary was “given to the Church by Saint Dominic who had received it from the Blessed Virgin” (St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary). This was the first of many Marian apparitions approved by the Church which have Our Lady encouraging the faithful to pray the rosary.
Why pray the rosary?
Saint Louis de Montfort, in his book The Secret of the Rosary, gives us eight reasons for praying the Rosary regularly:
It gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ.
It purifies our souls, washing away sin.
It gives us victory over all our enemies.
It makes it easy for us to practice virtue.
It sets us on fire with love of our Blessed Lord.
It enriches us with graces and merits.
It supplies us with what is needed to pay all our debts to God and to our fellow men, and finally, it obtains all kinds of graces for us from Almighty God.
Similarly, Saint Josemaria Escriva calls on us to “say the Holy Rosary every day, with a spirit of faith and love” because in so doing “Our Lady will make sure she leads you very far along her Son’s path” (Furrow, no. 691). Now many, myself included, might find it difficult to pray the rosary daily, but I recommend making a weekly commitment and if you can do it with friends or family that is even better.
One of the beauties of the rosary is that it is a compendium of our faith on a string of beads. It is portable – we can take the beads everywhere we go and have close at hand a tangible reminder of our faith and a prayer tool. As somebody who (before lockdown) was frequently on the move and often living out of a suitcase, this made it an especially practical means of praying for me. You can pray it on the bus or on the tube, in the garden, in bed, in a chapel, just about anywhere. It is a simple method of prayer that accompanies the life of many Catholics be they rich, poor, young, old, healthy, or sick. Furthermore, it has also been a daily companion for many a saint and endorsed by many a Pope.
How do we pray the rosary?
Firstly, it must be remembered that the rosary is not just vocal prayer but also mental prayer. Saint Josemaria said that the rosary should not be said “with the lips alone, muttering Hail Marys one after the other,” but rather that they “must spring from the heart, so that while the Rosary is said, the mind can enter into contemplation of each one of the mysteries” (Furrow, no. 477). It can be difficult, however, to pray the decades without being distracted from the mysteries. One solution to this is to add an insertion into the Hail Mary that relates to the mystery being meditated upon. For example, if you are meditating on the first Glorious Mystery you could insert a clause such as “risen from the dead” after the name of Jesus. As Pope St John Paul II said, it is the “emphasis given to the name of Jesus and to his mystery that is the sign of a meaningful and fruitful recitation of the Rosary” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 33).
Secondly, if you do not already have rosary beads then I recommend you get hold of some because it makes praying the rosary much easier. A standard set of five-decade rosary beads can be had in all sorts of styles and for a whole variety of prices, though my preference is for the plain brown beads on string (simple and practical). You can get hold of them in most parish and shrine shops, but they can also be purchased online.
Thirdly, make a regular commitment to pray it and then stick to it. Some people might want to pray it daily, whilst others might want to pray it only weekly. But, without being scrupulous about it, I recommend that you make a commitment to pray the rosary regularly.
~ Edward Kendall