Catholicism 101: Why Do Catholics Pray the Rosary?
You’ve seen them before, the mysterious strand of beads that Catholics have hanging from their rearview mirror. You wonder what kind of prayer could possibly require a necklace to pray?
First of all, the rosary was never and is still not meant to serve as jewelry. If you’ve ever worn it as a necklace, you should probably immediately fall to your knees and pray ten Hail Marys. Kidding (sort of)!
For a technical explanation of what the prayer of the rosary is and where it came from, please see this article from Catholic Answers. I can’t do a better job explaining it than they do, but the Sparknotes version of the article is that the rosary consists of five decades. Each decade is begun by praying one Our Father, followed by ten Hail Marys (for doubting Protestants, the text of the Hail Mary is found in scripture, see both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew), and a Glory Be. You use the beads to keep track of which prayer you’re on. In between decades, you meditate on a mystery, or an event in the lives of either Mary or Jesus. One can pray the Joyful Mysteries, the Glorious Mysteries, or the Sorrowful Mysteries,
For instance, the five Sorrowful Mysteries are: The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion. When praying a rosary with the Sorrowful Mysteries, you’re obviously meditating on the last days and hours of Jesus’ life and his suffering for us and our sins. When I pray the rosary, along with the mysteries, I use each bead to pray for a certain intention. Five decades of prayers amounts to more than fifty intentions; it’s pretty efficient! The major events of Jesus and Mary’s lives help us to reflect on how Jesus would want us to live our lives. They bring us back to what really matters and how they used their lives to love God and love others.
For me, the rosary is a way to direct my thoughts and prayers. My head can be swimming in intentions, praise, and contrition, but the rosary is a way of patiently, rhythmically talking to God and calming the soul. I’m always reminded of being really upset about something as a child and my mom telling me to calm down before she’d listen to me talk about it.
It takes me about thirty minutes to pray a whole rosary and that time is all meaningful time spent with Jesus, praising Him. If you don’t have thirty minutes, you can pray a decade at a time (one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and a Glory Be). I’ve found that the decades are perfect to pray when one is waiting on line at the store or trying to fall asleep. The whole rosary is particularly good for praying about something serious, something that really needs focused, steady prayer. As my friend Chris used to say, “Ahh, sounds like someone needs a lap around the rosary!”
The main criticism I’ve heard about the rosary is that it’s rote prayer that doesn’t mean anything. Critics say that Jesus wouldn’t want us praying formula prayers and that prayer should be more of a spontaneous, personal conversation. First of all, praying the rosary doesn’t preclude one from also engaging in conversational prayer. Also, I don’t know about anyone else, but when I pray prayers like the Our Father or Hail Mary, it’s really one part of my brain reciting the prayers and another part echoing intentions and pleas to God. Lots of Protestants also think we worship Mary, which is not true and maybe I’ll address that in another blog post. For now, this article will suffice.
Praying the rosary is essentially giving oneself the gift of time where we can gently allow our souls to be educated, through scripture and prayer, simultaneously. As Fulton J. Sheen once said:
The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.
I like to think of the rosary as God’s gift to those of us who are just total scatterbrains by nature. When I sit down to pray, my mind races in a million directions, maybe half of which are spiritual direction
Finally, about those beads. They are helpful to keep track of how many prayers one has prayed, but they’re by no means a necessity for prayer. Why do you think God gave you ten fingers and ten toes?