Dear Dan, I used to pray the Rosary daily, but lately I have become frustrated with it and am confused about where my attention should be focused while praying it. One Hail Mary, I find myself meditating on how painful it must have been for Jesus to be scourged at the pillar, and what great love it took for him to tolerate that for our sake. However, during that prayer, I was not paying attention to the actual words of the Hail Mary or asking her to “pray for us sinners.” Another Hail Mary, I find myself paying attention to the words of the prayer, but not at all meditating on the mystery. Where is the “right” place for our attention to be focused when we pray the rosary? It doesn’t seem right to neglect the mystery. It also doesn’t seem right to cheaply say the words to the Hail Mary while thinking about something totally different, like the Scourging at the Pillar. Thank you.
Dear Friend, this is a great question. The simple answer is that your attention should be on God. Here’s what the Catechism says about our attention during vocal prayer (#2700):
“Through his Word, God speaks to man. By words, mental or vocal, our prayer takes flesh. Yet it is most important that the heart should be present to him to whom we are speaking in prayer: ‘Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls.”
If your heart is in any way focused on or drawn to God, you are headed in the right direction.
To be more specific regarding the Rosary, Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (Rosary of the Virgin Mary) – well worth reading it its entirety – said:
Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.
So, when we pray the Rosary, we pray it with Mary, and through the eyes of Mary with our focus joining her focus – Jesus Himself.
Our first task with the Rosary is to join her in each scene (mystery) presented. As we join her, we ask for her help and prayers as we gaze upon Christ. To bring this reality closer to our hearts, we can imagine ourselves standing with Mary. We are both looking at Christ in agony in the garden. We whisper to her to pray for us as we realize what is happening to Christ, and for us. We repeat our requests to her as both of us continue to engage with the mystery.
Regardless of where we find ourselves after our initial efforts to focus our prayer on Christ, there are several principals that can help us maintain our peace when our minds seem to wander off:
- Distractions are Normal: Our job is to gently, by an exercise of our will, reject the distraction and turn our attention back to God. If we spend our entire prayer time turning back to Him, we have done well.
- Christ is the Key: Whenever our hearts are drawn to Christ in any way, we should follow that inclination. Sometimes, we should follow it even to quiet contemplation where we discontinue our vocalization of the prayer and simply gaze at Him. If we are not bound by religious duty to complete prayers in any specific way, we are free to set these formal prayers aside when they bring us to the very reason and highest purpose of our efforts in prayer – to adore Him.
In the end, it is important that you rest in Him and His work on your behalf. Yes, you should strive for increased devotion and attention to Him in prayer. However, when our fervent hearts find frustration, it is a good sign that our general focus regarding prayer is off track.
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Art for this post on struggling with the rosary: Seraphym Designs: Photography used with permission of Arasely Rios.