Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. The Rosary is one of the oldest and most popular forms of prayer in the Catholic tradition. It has nourished countless people over the centuries. Dorothy Day said rosaries in picket lines and in prisons and once observed, “I felt like I was praying with the people of God who held on to the physical act of the rosary as to a lifeline.” Daniel Berrigan’s response to whether the rosary can help us was, “There is no mystery of the twenty that is not also a clue to who we are, to where we come from, to where we might go.” Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, the founding President of Pax Christi (who, I read, says a rosary each day before going to bed), explained, “The rosary empowers me to slow down, re-focus and rededicate my activities and thoughts to Gospel principles.”
Pope John Paul II said that the Rosary “goes to the very heart of Christian life; it offers familiar yet fruitful spiritual and educational opportunity for personal reflection.” In his writings Pope John Paul II emphasized that the Rosary is not simply a matter of reciting a lot of words, but of providing a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace to allow us to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord. The repeated mantra of familiar prayers frees our mind to reflect on the lives of Jesus and Mary, to consider how these events are lived out in the world and to discern how we are called to respond. Similarly, the physical act of holding beads while praying helps us to concentrate. It helps anchor and center us.
The important thing is that whether one is praying a decade, a full set of the mysteries of all 40 decades, that one’s recitation of the rosary includes contemplation of the mysteries. If all we are doing is reciting words while our minds are planning our shopping list or going over a conversation we had with a friend or spouse, we are missing a lot of what praying the rosary has to offer us. We want to make sure our hearts and minds are engaged in the prayer, not just our lips.
There are a lot of ways you might enter into or enhance your contemplation of whatever mysteries you are praying with. You might engage in an Ignatian Contemplation or the mystery. Or, you might want to use a reflection from the Catechism that relate to the mysteries. (The Basilica of the Nation Shrine of the Immaculate Conception puts out a booklet called “A Scriptural Rosary” that includes a short selection from the Catechism for each mystery.) You might pray with the prayers from the Roman missal for the Mass or feast day that accompanies the Rosary. Or you might simply read the passage of the Bible that corresponds to the mystery and reflect on a simple question that the passage raises for you.
Try some of these methods. See what works for you.