Praying the Rosary

Next Saturday Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Minneapolis will host a gathering of folks to make rosaries. In anticipation of that gathering, I was asked to write a piece for this week’s bulletin on praying the Rosary. Here is what I wrote:

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.

Writing on importance of praying the rosary, Daniel Berrigan observed that there is not one mystery of the rosary “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 is said to 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” and is an expression of “the Gospel message in its entirety.”

The four sets of mysteries of the Rosary contain the core events that are central our faith as Christians. For those unfamiliar with them: The Joyful Mysteries take us from Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear Jesus through to the end of Jesus’ childhood – the incident of finding Jesus in the temple. The newest set of mysteries, the Luminous mysteries, capture defining moments of Jesus’ public ministry: His Baptism it the Jordan, which began his public life, the wedding feast at Cana, the proclamation of the kingdom, the transfiguration and the institution of the Eucharist. The Sorrowful mysteries take us through Christ’s passion. Finally, the Glorious Mysteries take us through the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the fulfillment of his promise to send us the spirit, and the events by which Mary is first assumed and then takes her place as queen of heaven.

There are many ways people pray the Rosary, individually or in groups (as parishioners do here at Lourdes each Saturday before Mass). For those who pray the rosary daily, the traditional schedule is to pray the Joyful Mysteries on Mondays and Saturdays, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursdays, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesdays and Sundays. This isn’t a rule, but is a suggestion that many people find helpful.

The suggestion is a good one, but, you never want to find yourself saying, “Well I don’t have time to get through a whole set of mysteries, so I won’t pray the Rosary at all. Pick a mystery and pray a decade. There are even beads that are simply one decade you can conveniently carry in your pocket.

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 our 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.

Thus, it is important, whether we are praying a decade, a full set of the one of the mysteries, or all 40 decades, that our recitation of the rosary includes our 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.