Like all methods of prayer, the Rosary is a way to be with the God whom Scripture tells us “is love” (1 John 4:16).
The Rosary is a simple, uncomplicated, non-liturgical way to pray when conscious thoughts and words may fail you, no matter what your feelings or emotions may be at the moment. If you are depressed, the Rosary works. If you are happy or sad, the Rosary works. If you are bored, the Rosary works. If you are anxious or worried, the Rosary works. If you are sick or just plain sick and tired, the Rosary works. No matter how you’re feeling, the Rosary is a way to be physically and intentionally in the presence of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the risen Christ and, through the Sacrament of Baptism in Christ, our mother too.
Another reason that the Rosary has something to offer just about everyone is that it is at once simple and deep. It is so simple that the humblest believers love the Rosary. It is so deep that many of the greatest thinkers and mystics down through the centuries have loved the Rosary. Indeed, the simplicity and depth of the Rosary are the simplicity and depth of the gospel itself, the good news of God’s love and forgiveness for all in Christ. The combination of traditional prayers and meditation on sacred events makes the Rosary a particularly personal prayer that can be as uncomplicated or as complicated as you want to make it. Thus, it suits just about anyone’s spirituality. In other words, chances are that the Rosary is a perfect match for you, no matter the characteristics of your personal spirituality.
At the same time, we must admit that the Rosary doesn’t suit everyone. Even the occasional saint declared that he or she just couldn’t pray the Rosary. Such saints and ordinary believers tend to be the exception, however, so give the Rosary a fair try before you decide one way or the other.
Not only is the Rosary an excellent way to give faith a healthy affective component, it is also a theologically comprehensive prayer. Apart from the Mass, the Rosary is the most fully Christian devotional prayer available to us. In a very real sense, it has everything that is most basic to a Christian outlook on life and the world: a prayerful gesture invoking and placing ourselves in the presence of the triune God (Sign of the Cross); the most ancient creed, or statement of Christian faith, that we have (Apostles’ Creed); the prayer that Jesus himself gives us in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (Our Father); reminders of the key events in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and of his and our Blessed Mother (mysteries); petitionary prayers to Mary (Hail Mary); prayers of praise to the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Glory Be); and a concluding prayer invoking, praising, and petitioning the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Hail Holy Queen, also called the Salve Regina, and the Memorare, “Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary . . . ,” may be the most popular.
The Rosary is especially Catholic because it draws upon what Catholics consider the two inseparable sources of divine revelation, Scripture and sacred Tradition—another sign of the Rosary’s theological balance. All but two of the twenty mysteries, or sacred events, on which the prayers of the Rosary focus come directly from the Gospels, and the other two (the fourth and fifth Glorious Mysteries) come from sacred Tradition.
The Rosary Is a Christ-Centered Prayer in the Context of the Communion of Saints
Part of the Church’s ongoing reflection on its faith experience relates to the place of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the life of the Church. Non-Catholic Christians sometimes use the Rosary as evidence that Catholics give to a mere human being the adoration appropriate to God alone. Of course, Catholics know better. Authentic Catholicism venerates Mary; we do not worship or adore her. God alone is worthy of worship and adoration.
Moreover, the Rosary—although it has a Marian character—is a Christ-centered prayer. The Rosary focuses on what theologians call “the Christ event,” that is, the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is a devotional prayer designed to bring these events to our attention, time and again, because they are key moments in the history of salvation and, for Christians, the foundational events in the history of the Christian community. What better form of prayer for anyone who calls himself or herself a disciple of the risen Lord?
The Rosary Is a Human, Earthy Prayer
Another important reason to pray the Rosary is its incarnational nature. Because by custom the Rosary almost always includes the use of rosary beads, or some substitute for rosary beads, the Rosary is a wonderfully tactile way to pray.
To pray with a rosary is to have something to grab on to. Thus, prayer becomes more than a matter of thought, words, and bodily posture. It becomes a physical activity. You hold the circlet of beads, you feel the beads with your fingers, and you move the beads through your hands, from one to the next. Your hands pray as much as your mind, your words, and the rest of your body. So the Rosary is an embodied form of prayer because it involves your sense of touch.
At times of particular sadness or anxiety or moments of special happiness or rejoicing, it can be comforting to have the prayer beads of a rosary to cling to, to hang on to, to help you focus. That’s one reason, no doubt, that the Rosary remains so popular after so many centuries, with so many people of faith.
It’s also true that the Rosary falls into the rhythmic, repetitive kind of prayer that Eastern religions refer to as “mantric.” That is, it utilizes the repetition of a single prayer in order to help the person praying to both focus his or her attention and go deeper. The “over and overness” of the Hail Mary, especially, gives the mind—and when prayed aloud, the tongue— something to do.
The human mind tends to be like a popcorn popper: pop-pop-pop-pop, thoughts, ideas, and nonsense going off randomly in all directions, often uncontrollably, when the intention is to pray. While the conscious mind is occupying itself with the repetition of the Hail Mary, the heart, one’s deeper center, can slip into the presence of our source and ultimate goal: the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and healing peace.
But, you might ask, in using repetitive prayer, are we guilty of violating the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “In praying, do not do not babble like the pagans; who think that they will be heard because of their many words” (6:7)? Fortunately, because of the teachings of the Church as well as the insights of Scripture scholarship, we know that the answer to that question is “no.” The point of Jesus’ words in the Gospel is to remind us that we don’t need to repeat our requests to God over and over again out of a concern that God might not hear us.
That is not the purpose of the repetitive prayers of the Rosary. The repetition is for our sake, not God’s. We repeat the Hail Mary simply as a way to maintain some focus during our prayer and to nourish what we might call a “state of prayerfulness.” It has nothing to do with thinking that if we repeat the prayers of the Rosary, God will hear us because of our “many words.”
Simply put, praying the Rosary is a good idea because it is such a balanced, comprehensive, Christ-centered, spiritually nourishing, thoroughly human way to pray.
This is an excerpt from The Rosary Handbook, A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between by Mitch Finley (The Word Among Us Press, 2017).