The Rosary – Mary’s School
(Part I of II)
October is traditionally the month of the Rosary. As we get ready to observe that month, I’d like to reflect on a great Catholic tradition that I believe is one of the best ways to practice meditation and to progress in contemplative prayer: the Rosary. Catholics, and others, pray the Rosary to contemplate more deeply the mysteries of Christ’s life.
Obviously, the Rosary is a set of beads. But, the beads are not an end in themselves. They are an aid to prayer, not the focus of the Rosary. Why not just sit quietly, meditating on the Lord? Well, we certainly can do that. However, Christianity, in essence, is a very tangible religion. After all, God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. You can’t get much more tangible than God taking on human flesh. Jesus used his own spittle combined with dirt to heal the blind man (John 9:6). He took ordinary bread and wine and changed it into his body and blood, a miracle that we relive every day at Mass. A wooden cross became the instrument that brought about our salvation.
If Christ used tangible realities to communicate his divine life to us, then we can use tangible things to deepen our union with him. The Rosary is just that: it’s tangible; the beads guide us as we pray; the beads free our minds and hearts to focus on the mystery we are contemplating.
Dr. Mark Miravalle, one of my college theology professors, used to say that “The beads are for the prayers, and the prayers are for the mysteries.” In other words, the beads help us to focus on the prayers, and the prayers help us to focus on Christ. The beads and the prayers, in a sense, become the dramatic musical score leading us to experience Jesus in a deeper way.
There’s something relaxing, contemplative, about letting the beads flow through our fingers, spinning them as we prayer the Hail Mary’s. Like life, like breathing, like the heartbeat, the Rosary is rhythmic.
If you’re not Catholic, stick with me. I know there are a lot of misconceptions about Catholic devotion to Mary and the Rosary and I’d like to have the opportunity to explain it to you. If you’re Catholic but don’t pray the Rosary, I encourage you to form the habit. Just start by praying one decade a day. It’s not about quickly firing off a bunch of Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, and Glory be’s; it’s about praying from the heart and entering more deeply into friendship with the Lord. As we let the beads pass through our fingers, we are freed to lift our minds and hearts to God, to meditate upon Jesus. Indeed, the Rosary is meant to help us transcend ourselves so that we can contemplate the divine mysteries.
I’ve been reminded of the transcendent in our lives, every time I’ve been in Rome. Walking into St. Peter’s basilica—or other major basilicas or churches in Rome or around the world—one’s heart and mind is drawn to contemplate divine mysteries and eternal truths. The very art and architecture of these sacred spaces propel one’s vision heavenward. Indeed, these places of worship were designed to so.
The Rosary, too, is meant to elevate the mind and heart to God. The Rosary, like a great basilica, is mean to draw us out of ourselves. It leads us deeper into the mysteries of Christ’s life and, therefore, deeper into friendship with Christ himself. The meditation of the Rosary fills the mind and heart with thoughts of the divine. It takes us up into something greater than ourselves.
What’s so healing about this form of meditation is that our own lives are illuminated by the very mysteries we contemplate in the Rosary: the Joyful Mysteries show us how we can bring Christ’s presence into the world; the Sorrowful Mysteries teach us to see the good that can come from our suffering; the Luminous Mysteries enable us to discover our mission in Christ; and the Glorious Mysteries enflame our hearts with the hope of eternal life. The Rosary itself is meant to lead to communion with God. The paradox is that the more we “lose” ourselves in meditating on Christ’s life, the more we “find” our true selves in Christ.
In my next post, we’ll reflect on the Hail Mary prayer itself and consider what Mary teaches us through the Rosary.