The Rosary


In this section on the Rosary, I want to do three things: (1) teach what the Rosary is, (2) explain why we should pray it, and (3) give instructions on how to pray it.

What is the Rosary?

The Rosary is a tool that helps us to pray. It's made up of a string of about 60 beads, each of which represents a particular prayer to be said. Most of the beads are reserved for the Hail Mary prayer. Others are for the Our Father, Glory be, etc. But the Rosary is much more than the sum of these prayers. In fact, it leads us into deep meditation and contemplation of the face of Christ. Moreover, it helps us enter the school of Mary, who taught Jesus to pray and wants to teach us to pray as well. Ever wonder how to pray? The Rosary offers a complete way of prayer that includes the three forms of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and even contemplation.

The Rosary's completeness, simplicity, and depth flow from its structure. It consists of 20 sets of 10 Hail Marys — often called "decades" — punctuated by Our Fathers, Glory Bes, and the "O My Jesus" Fatima prayer. Each of the 20 sets of 10 Hail Marys is dedicated to a particular event or "mystery" from Sacred Scripture, which is to be meditated and contemplated while the prayers are said. For example, while one is reciting the 10 Hail Marys, he can reflect on and ponder in his heart the Birth of Jesus.

The 20 events or mysteries of the Rosary are divided into four categories: The Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries that, together, provide a complete summary of the life of Jesus. Now, it might seem daunting to meditate on the entire life of Jesus all at once. This is why most people who pray the Rosary every day don't meditate on all 20 mysteries in one day. Instead, they break it up by daily praying a fourth of the full Rosary (one of the four categories of mysteries). This seems to be encouraged by a tradition in the Church that dedicates certain days of the week to praying one of the four sets of mysteries of the Rosary:

  • Monday and Saturday: Joyful
  • Tuesday and Friday: Sorrowful
  • Wednesday and Sunday: Glorious
  • Thursday: Luminous

You'll notice that the Luminous Mysteries only get one day of the week while the other mysteries get two. This may be because the Luminous Mysteries are the newcomers, added relatively recently (2002) by Pope John Paul II. In his beautiful apostolic letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the Pope explains why he added them. (This letter can easily be found online."132)

John Paul's addition of the Luminous Mysteries was the first major change to the Rosary since the Church approved its present form in 1569. Prior to 1569, the Rosary had gone through a period of development following the original inspiration that was given to St. Dominic in the 13th century, reportedly by the Blessed Mother herself.

Why Pray the Rosary?

A woman was once asked why she prayed the Rosary every day. She looked away for a moment, looked back at her questioner, and replied, "All I can tell you is if I say a Rosary, the day works; and if I don't, nothing works." This is true. It's nor true because of some kind of magic or superstition. It's trlle because of Mary's maternal intercession and the power of the mysteries of the life of Christ.

I could spend a lot of time here describing how Pope after Pope has encouraged everyone to pray the Rosary, how they've called it one of the most powerful prayers there is after the liturgy, and how they've granted a ton of indulgences to those who pray it. I could also tell story after story of how this saint or that one was totally dedicated to praying the Rosary and received miracle upon miracle through praying it. Instead of going into all of this, though, I'd like to dwell on just three points: Mary, the battle of prayer, and the significance of the Mysteries.

MARY. During the last two centuries, people have witnessed more Church-approved Marian apparitions than during all other centuries combined. Why such an increase? Because of the difficulties of modern times. Mary has been coming to earth and appearing to people in our day to give warnings about bad things that will happen if people don't repent and pray the Rosary.

Our Blessed Mother loves her children and doesn't want us to suffer calamities, so she encourages us to pray the Rosary. She wants us to experience peace in our families, societies, and nations, so she asks us to pray the Rosary. She desires that sinners be converted and people experience the abundant life in Christ, so she tells us to pray the Rosary. Mary has made it very clear, through the testimony of Church-approved apparitions, mat she wants us to pray the Rosary. In fact, sometimes, even with tears in her eyes, she pleads with us to pray it. This should be enough for us — yet there's more. The Rosary isn't just an instrument for world peace.

Praying the Rosary is a place to meet Mary. It's one of the best ways to develop the loving attitude of dependence on her that we learned about during our reading for Consecration Day. There's something about praying the Rosary that helps us develop a filial attitude of being with Mary. I think this has to do with the peaceful rhythm of the Hail Marys. When we pray the Rosary, the goal is not so much to reflect on the words of the Hail Mary prayer itself. Rather, the Hail Marys are meant to be a kind of "background music" that helps us enter into contemplation of the mysteries. This background music is like the gentle hand of a mother on our shoulders, standing behind us, getting us to look at Jesus, contemplate his face, and love him through his mother's eyes, mind, and heart. Praying the Rosary does something to the soul. It allows Mary to shape and form us according to the image of her Son. Pope John Paul II puts it like this:

The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care.133

To be formed and molded into Christ with the same loving care that Christ himself received from Mary! This is what Marian consecration is all about, and it's why we should pray the Rosary. But how does Mary form and mold us? By the mysteries of the life of her Son and by the lesson of her own humble, loving, and docile attitude before the majesty of God. Pondering and living the mysteries of the Rosary are keys to holiness.

THE BATTLE OF PRAYER. Unfortunately, we may not always fully enter into the mysteries of Christ, because we don't persevere in praying the Rosary. We forget that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, prayer can be a real battle.134 Sometimes the attacks in this battle are dryness in praying the Rosary. Well, we should keep praying it. Sometimes, as we get ready to pray the Rosary, we suddenly feel an aversion, fatigue comes over us, and our minds think of a million other things that have to be done. We should keep praying it. Sometimes, it's true, we do have pressing duties that are more important to attend to than praying the Rosary. But sometimes the things we "have" to do can be a temptation and poor excuse not to pray the Rosary. For instance, how much time do we waste on needless e-mail, social networking websites, television, and phone calls? Can't we cut out just 20 minutes from such time-wasting activity to pray the Rosary? Why is it so hard sometimes to break away and pray? Again, it's because prayer is a battle. Satan doesn't want us to enter into the power of the mysteries of the life of Christ. He wants us to stay complacent, lukewarm, and lazy. He wants us to be satisfied with mediocrity.

The mysteries of the life of Christ are powerful, and we can receive their power through praying the Rosary — but for this to happen, we need to pray it well. Here's what I'm getting at: The battle of prayer does not always end when we make the Sign of the Cross and begin to pray the Rosary. The battle can continue, and too often when we pray the Rosary, we don't keep up the fight. We give in to distractions. We don't ponder the mysteries. We let our minds wander. Of course, distractions in prayer are common. But are we vigilant in at least trying to stay focused? Or are we just thinking about getting the Rosary over with so we can get back to "the more important things?" No, the Rosary is incredibly important, and we should strive to pray it even better. One way to help us pray it better is by reading John Paul's letter on the Rosary, which I mentioned earlier. Reading it will help renew our fervor for this grace-filled form of prayer. But before you go find his letter online, I'd like to end this section by saying a bit more about the mysteries of the life of Jesus, which are the heart of the Rosary.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MYSTERIES. The mysteries of the life of Jesus are packed with meaning. And they're so packed because Jesus is so unique. Of course, he's not unique in that he is like us in all things (except sin) — in other words, he's true man. But he is unique in that he's true God. He's the God-man. This is something that should always be at the back of our minds when we meditate on the mysteries of Jesus. This infant in Bethlehem, this child in Jerusalem, this man in Galilee — he's God. Why is he being born? Why is he in the Temple? What is he trying to teach us? We should ask ourselves these questions when we pray the Rosary. Now, because Jesus is God, everything he says and does is packed with meaning. In fact, the events of his life are so packed with meaning that we can't exhaust them. This is why we call the events "mysteries." A mystery doesn't mean we can't understand it. It means we can never come to the limit of understanding it. There are always more wonders to discover. There are always more riches to mine! There are infinite, inexhaustible treasures contained in each one of the mysteries of the life of Christ.

Something else about the mysteries: They're unique events. Again, they're unique because Jesus is so unique. He's God. And this is a big deal. In what is perhaps my favorite passage in the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church explains what's so unique about the events of the life of Jesus, and why they're such a big deal. It does so in explain­ing the Paschal mystery of Jesus (his suffering, death, and Resurrection), but what follows applies to all the events of his life:

His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is — all that he did and suffered for all men — participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life.135

This mind-blowing passage captures an amazing point about the mystery of time and eternity. When God, who lives in eternity, steps into time as the Incarnate Word, this event, one might say, "bends time," because it creates a unique historical reality that mysteriously exists both inside and outside of time. As the Catechism teaches, the mysteries of the Life of Jesus are not swallowed up in the past; rather, they are still here, now, living — for us. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow" (Heb 13:8). These events in our Savior's life share in the "divine eternity," the "eternal now" of God. They are truly present in all times, abiding forever. This reality deserves deep meditation, and each mystery of the Rosary is an opportunity for such meditation and for becoming fully present to Christ. By way of example, let's take one mystery of the Rosary to see what's going on here. Let's reflect on the fifth Sorrowful Mystery, The Crucifixion.

About 2,000 years ago, Jesus was on the Cross, dying in agony for our sins. As this was happening, Mary, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene were all historically present to Jesus on the Cross. This means that they were literally, physically there, and they could see, smell, hear, and feel what was going on around them. Roman soldiers were also historically present there along with Jewish priests and elders. Now because the events of the life of Jesus abide and are present in all times, we also can be there. Of course, we can't be historically present there — we can't go back in a time machine and be there physically — but we can still be truly present to Jesus dying on the Cross. In fact, we can be even more present to him than the Roman soldiers and Jewish priests and elders. How? By the virtues of faith and love. In other words, when our hearts are moved to faith and love as we ponder Jesus' suffering and death on the Cross, we are truly, "mystically transported" to him. We have a real contact with him there. We can truly receive, here and now, the fountain of love and mercy that gushes forth from Jesus' pierced side and that flows through the ages like a mighty river. Indeed, by the theological virtues of faith and love, we can enter into the "divine eternity" and become truly present to Jesus in all the mysteries of his life, death, and Resurrection — more so than if we had gone back in a time machine.

We enter into a real contact with Jesus through faith-filled and loving prayer even if, through meditation, we don't get all the historical details right. Who knows exactly how many people were historically present at the foot of the Cross or exactly what it all looked like? Historical details are not what are most important. The important thing is that we ponder the Scripture-based mystery in our hearts and that we do so with faith and love. Whenever the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) are active when we pray, then we have a real contact with Jesus. We touch him by these virtues, and just as a divine, healing, and strengthening power went forth from Christ to all those who encountered him in faith during his earthly life (see Lk 6:19), so also today, when we meditate on the mysteries of the life of Christ in faith, hope, and love, that same divine power reaches us.

The power that goes forth from Christ to us in his mysteries is new, fresh, and unique in each mystery. For instance, the birth of Jesus contains it's own riches and power that can lift us up and enlighten our minds, giving us strength to be com­passionate to the poor and to embrace at least spiritual poverty as we reflect on how Jesus is born in poverty. The graces are endless in each mystery, and their treasures are released when we ponder the mysteries, with Mary, in faith, hope, and love.

How to Pray the Rosary

  1. Make the Sign of the Cross and pray the "Apostles' Creed". (All Rosary Prayers, such as the Apostles' Creed, can be found in the next section.)
  2. Pray the "Our Father."
  3. Pray three "Hail Marys."
  4. Pray the "Glory be to the Father."
  5. Announce the First Mystery; then Pray the "Our Father."
  6. Pray 10 "Hail Marys" while meditating on the Mystery.
  7. Pray the "Glory be to the Father" followed by the prayer requested by Our Lady of Fatima: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy."
  8. Announce the Second Mystery. Then pray the "Our Father." Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.
  9. Pray the "Hail, Holy Queen" on the medal after the five decades are completed.
  10. Pray the optional closing prayer, if you wish, and then make the Sign of the Cross.

Rosary Prayers

The Sign of the Cross

The Apostles' Creed

Our Father

Hail Mary

Glory Be

Fatima Prayer

Hail, Holy Queen

33 DAYS TO MORNING GLORY: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration. Copyright © 2019 Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. All rights reserved. In particular, no reproduction for profit is allowed.
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