“A prayer so easy and yet so rich..”
– Pope St John Paul II
Although it may be the most popular of all Catholic devotions and even the one most associated with being Catholic, the Rosary causes perplexity for some. It is ‘vain repetition’, say some outwith the Catholic faith; it is ‘old-fashioned and only for old women’, say some within the Catholic faith. I wrote about this last concern previously in a post called Men And The Rosary. And for some, particularly those who wish to persevere, it can be difficult to determine how best to actually pray the Rosary.
And yet, despite these concerns, the Church constantly and unwaveringly recommends that we pray the Rosary, and the greatest Saints and Popes of the Church were all devoted to it’s prayerful recitation. At Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin carried a Rosary and prayed it with St Bernadette; and at Fatima, She did similarly and reminded the three children to “pray the Rosary every day”. After a few decades where the Rosary was being prayed less often, today, there is a resurgence – thank God – in the praying of the Rosary. I wrote about this, too, in a post called The Rosary Revival.
And so that leaves us with a question – if the Church, the Popes, the great Saints and even the Blessed Virgin so often ask us to pray this prayer, how do we pray the Rosary well and with perseverance?
Saint Louis Marie de Montfort wrote what is perhaps the best book on the subject, written some 300 years ago, which he entitled ‘The Secret Of The Rosary’. In it, he gives various different methods for praying the Rosary well. He notes this is well within the grasp of all, even children. At the beginning of his book, St Louis writes –
“I beg of you to beware of thinking of the Rosary as something of little importance.. far from being insignificant, the Rosary is a priceless treasure which is inspired by God.. He has attached to it grace in this life and in the next. The Saints have said it faithfully and the Popes have endorsed it.”
I heartily recommend this wonderful little book for anyone who wishes to take up his or her beads and pray them well, and with perseverance. You can find this book, and all of St Louis’ writings at Montfort Publications, where you can learn much more about this most devoted son of the Blessed Virgin, a great Marian Saint who deeply influenced the spiritual life and subsequent holiness of St John Paul II.
I would also like to offer one or two suggestions of my own, if I may.
First of all, use a single set of beads; choose a set and stick with them. It matters not a bit what they are made of, what they look like or what they are worth. But try to avoid expensive Rosaries – apart from the danger of pride, expensive beads tend not to be used, for fear of losing or breaking them; and the Rosary beads are certainly meant to be used, and to be used constantly. So choose a durable set.
Now that you have a set of beads, have them blessed by a Catholic Priest if this has not been done already – it is the physical beads which carry the Indulgences, and they are a Sacramental of the Church, so it is salutary to have them with us always. Get into the habit of carrying them throughout life, before you tenaciously clasp them in death.
After this comes a very important point. When you pray the Rosary, ask the Holy Spirit to grant you the grace to pray well; and ask His Spouse, the Queen of the Rosary, to assist you and to obtain for you the light and the grace of Her Son to help you to ponder on and understand something of the Mysteries of His life, which She will lay out before you. She will obtain this grace for you, because She wants you to pray Her Rosary with perseverance and to do so well. Be patient and persistent in asking for this grace; She will obtain it for you, but in Her time, not ours. That which we work hardest for, we treasure most.
Next, always offer your Rosary for a particular intention – for someone in need (whether temporal or spiritual), for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, to ask for a particular grace, or to seek help in some matter. Remember, too, to pray for the intentions of the Holy Father and for the Church.
The devout praying of the Rosary obtains both merit and grace; my suggestion is to explicitly give all of this to the Blessed Virgin to use as She pleases. Have confidence in Her; She will put it to the best use. Don’t worry that in doing this, you can no longer pray for your own particular intentions; on the contrary – the more generous you are toward Her, so She will be with you.
And do not worry that in praying the Rosary, you are ignoring the Lord; remember, the entire life of the Blessed Virgin on earth, and Her function now in Heaven, is to bring Her Divine Son to us and to lead us ever closer to Him. She keeps nothing back for Herself. As He came to us, so we go to Him – that is, through and with Mary, His Mother. You can read more about this in a post I wrote called Learning Christ From Mary.
When you pray the Rosary to begin with, don’t expect it will be a life-shattering experience for you; it will be life-changing, certainly, but not necessarily life-shattering, unless the Lord deigns to grant you a very special grace – and He may well do so. That said, the Blessed Virgin, in Her fifteen promises regarding the Rosary, does promise a signal grace to those who persevere; my own experience would tend to confirm this is the case and so look out for such a grace and give thanks for it, with humility, if it is granted.
At the start, you may find it difficult to meditate deeply on the Mysteries – don’t concern yourself with that nor with how poorly you imagine you are doing; simply do the very best you can and continue to persevere with confidence. The praying of the Rosary is a journey we make over time and as we do so, it becomes more fruitful at the level of the senses. Then it begins to deepen gradually, touching and transforming the soul at the deepest levels, so that the sensory aspect matters much less to us.
Make a point of trying to concentrate on the subject matter of the Mysteries, and not on the vocal prayers. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, we know the vocal prayers intimately well and there is a danger that in simply praying the words, our minds will begin to wander and no meditation will take place – we will never get beyond the words, and that is not the point of the Rosary. It is all about the meditation.
Secondly, the Rosary is comprised primarily of the ‘Hail Mary’ and this exquisite prayer is a beautiful love song; it is the love song of the Almighty Father to the most beautiful and most perfect of all His creatures – the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of His Son. Like all songs, there are lyrics set against a beautiful melody. In the Rosary, the ‘lyrics’ are the words of the prayers – the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be and the short Fatima Prayer prayed at the conclusion of each decade. We memorise the lyrics of songs through repetition; but it is the melody that sinks into our souls, remains there, and rises up again into our consciousness from time to time. And so it is with the Rosary – here, the ‘melody’ is the meditation on each of the Mysteries, and it is this which is most fruitful to us at the spiritual level. In the Rosary, to put it simply, the prayers are the body – but the meditation is the soul.
If you find it helpful, use visual images of the Mysteries you are praying, at least to begin with; these give us something to focus on and can act as a very good starting point – having engaged our will in praying in the first place, we now need to engage our imagination. There are also many small Rosary books and booklets available, which provide short meditations for each Mystery, and these can be excellent.
Above all, I would heartily recommend reading – and becoming deeply familiar with – the Gospel passages relevant to each of the Mysteries. The Rosary is a Gospel prayer and so it is important that we become familiar with the source material. Perhaps at the start of each Mystery, read the passage, then let it sink into your soul; this will provide a deep well of meditation, even if you pray the Rosary daily over many years. You will never reach the bottom of this well – there is always something new to be found there. As you move forward, you may prefer to concentrate on a single line or phrase from the Scriptures, rather than the entire passage. Imagine yourself in that scene, carefully looking at each of the primary figures; which virtues or lessons does each Mystery suggest to you? How do you live out those virtues in your daily life? What is this Mystery saying in the depths of your soul? What is the Lord teaching you, or asking of you? How does it pertain to the life you are leading?
Almost all of the Mysteries focus on a particular event in the lives of the Lord and His Mother – the Annunciation, the Crowning with Thorns, the Resurrection, and so forth. An exception to this is the Third Luminous Mystery, ‘the Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Repentance’. This Mystery covers the Lord’s public ministry between the Wedding at Cana and the Agony in the Garden. For this Mystery, then, focus on something specific – perhaps the Lord teaching His followers the ‘Our Father’, or His giving of the Beatitudes. These two events concern themselves with praying well and with living well, and so they are both perfect in these Mysteries where the Lord reveals Himself, and they are easy to meditate upon in prayer.
To do all I have suggested here will require willpower and discipline; many begin well, but end quickly. It will be tempting to miss your Rosary ‘just today’ because you are very busy, or the day is nearing it’s end, or for some other reason. Such a day will soon be followed by another until the beads are put back in the drawer. Because of this temptation, it will be profitable if you can get into The Habit Of Prayer. This will help to sustain you in your prayer life by making it a special and crucial part of every day.
Finally, while you will often pray the Rosary alone, it gains even greater power when prayed as a community; pray it with parishioners before or after Mass, or pray it with your family and friends. And consider joining the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary – this gives great spiritual benefits to you as well as offering similar benefits to the other Confraternity members. Not least among these is the assurance that you will be remembered in Masses and Rosaries long after you are dead.
I hope some of this may be of benefit to you; but if you do nothing else, take up your beads and pray the Rosary, preferably every day.
May She who is the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, abundantly bless all those who take up their beads and pray to the Lord with Her.
FIFTEEN PROMISES OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
TO CHRISTIANS WHO FAITHFULLY PRAY THE ROSARY
- To all those who shall pray My Rosary devoutly, I promise My special protection and great graces.
- Those who shall persevere in the recitation of My Rosary will receive some special grace.
- The Rosary will be a very powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, deliver from sin and dispel heresy.
- The Rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies. It will draw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means!
- Those who entrust themselves to Me through the Rosary will not perish.
- Whoever recites My Rosary devoutly reflecting on the Mysteries, shall never be overwhelmed by misfortune. He will not experience the anger of God nor will he perish by an unprovided death. The sinner will be converted; the just will persevere in grace and merit eternal life.
- Those truly devoted to My Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church.
- Those who are faithful to reciting My Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenitude of His graces and will share in the merits of the blessed.
- I will deliver promptly from Purgatory souls devoted to My Rosary.
- True children of My Rosary will enjoy great glory in Heaven.
- What you shall ask through My Rosary you shall obtain.
- To those who propagate My Rosary I promise aid in all their necessities.
- I have obtained from My Son that all the members of the Rosary Confraternity shall have as their intercessors, in life and in death, the entire celestial court.
- Those who recite My Rosary faithfully are My beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
- Devotion to My Rosary is a special sign of predestination.