Most canonized Saints since the fifteen century prayed the Rosary in one form or another. The many papal approvals and many private revelations by the Blessed Virgin at least suggest there is something very deep about this form of prayer. We Catholics do not simply say it; we meditate, contemplate and pray through it.
Unfortunately, many only rush through it or think it is only monotonous prayers to the Blessed Mother. Many young people of the 1950s and on prayed the family Rosary then but today do not do so because often they did not understand this “pondering” side of the Rosary. It was simply said and done quickly with too much dryness.
The Rosary has a body and a soul. Its body is a composition of fingering beads and repeating the well known prayers to Mary, the Blessed Trinity, and to our Father. The purpose of its “body” is to calm the soul and place oneself in a state of attention to its soul that is any or all of the twenty “mysteries” of faith.
The joyful mysteries are antidotes to the boredom of the daily grind of life, that is, the hidden life. The sorrowful mysteries are meant to answer the questions surrounding the purpose of evil. The glorious ones draw us to contemplate the ultimate purpose of this life – the pursuit of Heaven. The mysteries of light focus on Christ’s active life as man and God to remind us of his constant presence to us. No one can comprehend the depths of each mystery because they are inexhaustible treasures of light and life impenetrable by the light of reason alone but luminous when pondered by faith and reason.
Often laypersons, religious, and priests do not have the time to pray the Rosary’s five decades all at once, but everyone can pray at least one or two decades interspersed throughout the day. This helps us to stop thinking about ourselves alone and to put ourselves into presence of the Blessed Trinity through prayerful consideration of the Incarnate Son. We can definitely bring our trials and worries to any of the mysteries because all of us are called to see things from God’s perspective and not simply our own.
I remember when I was a novice, we had to pray the Rosary three times a day. It was not a very pleasant experience, in fact, quite boring with a plenitude of distraction. After two months of this, I got fed up with the whole thing. Not showing up during the times set by the novicemaster as a protest was not an option or I would have been asked, politely of course, to leave.
Then one day I received an inspiration. Since my distractions (memories of old friends, thoughts of baseball games and so on) prevailed during this prayer, I decided that if I would just read some passages from the New Testament I might get through my novitiate knowing the Gospels and St. Paul. After all, I mused, the Sacred Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit and my praying of the Rosary is certainly not.
Something wonderful occurred by my reading of Scripture. I began to see the random choices I made of the scripture texts had profound links with practically all the mysteries of the Rosary. Now I was in a state of wonder, surprise, and amazement while I prayed the Rosary, which is what meditation and contemplation is all about. I was not receiving infused contemplation from one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but I was receiving ordinary assisting graces that kept me aware of God’s love throughout the dreadfully difficult days of the novitiate.
Since my novitiate days over 53 years ago, I discovered many helpful ways to pray the Rosary. One can pray for a particular virtue at the beginning of each decade, like wise decision making at the annunciation, or courage at the fifth sorrowful mystery, or humility at the fifth joyful mystery. There may be times when we know of someone who is living an objectively sinful life. We can place that person and their troubled lives before God as a small act of reparation for their sins. Likewise, we do the same with our elected officials who may be encouraging sinful acts against the natural law. We want their salvation and repentance as well.
At other times in our spiritual life, we may wish to simply praise God’s providence or His plan in the great mysteries and contemplate his love that set about saving humanity in the manner he chose. Since God’s attributes or properties of his very being shine forth in some way in the mysteries and we may wish to ponder them.
Moreover, the very persons of the Blessed Trinity may preoccupy us in themselves, and we may be led to affirm the wondrous processions of knowledge and love going on in the depths of our souls—which is what our Lord meant when he said that the Kingdom of heaven is within us (provided we are in the state of sanctifying grace). And finally, we may wish to take each mystery as a jumping off point to thank the Triune God, or Mary, or even St. Joseph for personal favor received or simply for their interventions in the life of the Church.
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No matter which direction the Holy Spirit leads us when praying the Rosary – petition, thanksgiving, reparation, praise, or adoration – the Rosary will in the long term untangle and dispose us to become slowly healed from the wounds of original and past sins through a more profound reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist.
Like many things in the spiritual life, the Rosary’s effects are normally not immediate but long term, if we persevere in this form of prayer. We will slowly learn to accept our limitations in humility, strengthen our resolve to overcome our temptations, and become more merciful with the foibles and weaknesses of those with whom we live and work. All this can improve our ability to endure life’s setbacks from people and circumstances so that our apostolic zeal for others at home or work will not diminish. Then we, like the Saints, will yearn for others to discover the joy of belonging to the Holy Family as adopted sons and daughters.