Even before our family officially entered the Church, we enrolled our oldest son in a Catholic religious education program. I went with him to the opening night. When we arrived, all the classes were together in the church praying the Rosary. We slid into a pew and knelt down like the others and listened to the prayer. Quietly my son leaned over and asked me, “Mom, why do they keep saying the same thing again and again?” I wisely answered him, “I have absolutely no idea.”
From the outside, the Rosary really does look strange. Some memorized set phrases mumbled over and over and over…and over and over and over again. Loops of beads in hands—what’s going on? Don’t these Catholics know that our Lord forbids praying vain, repetitious prayers? (Matthew 6:7)
Why don’t people get bored praying the Rosary? Why doesn’t it go out of fashion? How has it become the most used prayer devotion worldwide after the Lord’s Prayer? What am I missing?
This is what I learned. The Rosary is a meditation on the life of Christ through the eyes of his mother—the one person who knew him from the moment he was conceived until his death on the cross—and beyond. This was not at all clear to me until I learned about the Mysteries of the Rosary. A “mystery”, in Catholic thought, means a truth about God that we would not know unless He revealed it to us.
Each decade of the Rosary represents a mystery in the life of Christ. (A decade is one “Our Father” followed by ten “Hail Mary” prayers and concluding with the doxology “Glory Be”.) To pray a “Rosary” is to pray five decades together. While the Rosary itself has a long history of development, when we came into the Church in 1998, the Rosary had fifteen mysteries. By praying all fifteen mysteries, you actually repeat the “Hail Mary” prayer 150 times. This was originally designed to represent the 150 Psalms for lay people, who did not have time to devote themselves exclusively to prayer but, with the Rosary, could still enter into a deep life of prayer.
Read this next: An Election Education Proposal
But that is not all. As you are engaging your mouth in the prayers and engaging your mind in meditation on an event in the life of Christ, you can, at the same time (although it takes practice to keep focused), choose to lift up a prayer intention (i.e. a prayer request). So basically, when you are praying the Rosary, you have three balls going at the same time—the vocal cycle of the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be prayers, meditation on the life of Christ, and whatever prayer intention you are holding in your heart.
Success with this devotional prayer takes practice. Rather than becoming bored, the opposite happens—the more I pray it, the more I want to pray it, and the more I miss it if I haven’t prayed it! And just as with the Sign of the Cross, I can see the genius of the Catholic Church. She has developed a devotion that is so deep that people pray it until the day they die, yet so easy that a four year old can start learning it. On the day I am writing this, my daughter-in-law posted on Facebook that my four year old grandson led his first decade of the Rosary during family prayer time. She was “so proud and misty eyed.” My son sent me a recording of him reciting his Hail Mary prayer. That made me misty-eyed too! Oh, Lord, make him a man of prayer.
When I asked a priest whether Jesus would consider the Rosary a vain, repetitious prayer, he looked at me in surprise. “Do you think it is vain to pray Scripture?” he asked. You see, the Hail Mary prayer comes from the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary in Luke 1:28 and the blessing of Elizabeth to Mary in Luke 1:42 coupled with a request asking Mary to pray for us. I admit I felt a little foolish calling such a scriptural prayer vain or repetitious.
With the addition of five mysteries added by Saint John Paul II, the modern Rosary now has twenty mysteries. Five Joyful Mysteries on the birth and childhood of Christ, five Luminous Mysteries on His public ministry, five Sorrowful Mysteries on His passion and death, and five Glorious Mysteries celebrating the resurrection of Christ and what came afterwards.
The Rosary is called a “rosary” because it is like presenting a bouquet of roses to our Lord and His mother—it is a bouquet of prayer, and it is an absolute treasure.
For further reading about repetitive prayers, take a look at this website: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2012/01/does-bible-condemn-repetitive-prayer.html
Melanie Frei was an evangelical Protestant missionary to Hong Kong with her husband Tom, pastor and seminary professor. But when they studied Scripture and Church history, the two of them decided to leave their ministry and enter the Roman Catholic Church. Melanie is the mother of three incredible young adults and three awesome grandchildren and is also a substitute teacher in the Tomah Area School District. Her favorite ministries are leading Bible studies, music and pro-life work. For fun, Melanie is a total fan of BBC dramas and Regency romance.