If you believe that Mary appeared at Lourdes and Fatima, then you will take her advice to heart: Pray the rosary. At Lourdes Mary held a rosary and prayed it with Bernadette. At Fatima she told three children to pray the rosary for peace. October is the month of the rosary, and October 7 is the feast of the Most Holy Rosary—time to renew (or begin) our commitment to praying this Catholic prayer. It’s not only a repetition of Hail Marys, but prayed correctly, the rosary centers us on the great mysteries of our faith. The rosary is the Gospel on beads. And as the optional concluding prayer asks, “May we imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.”
The rosary combines vocal and mental prayer. Yes, we repeat the Hail Mary fifty-three times, praising her in the words Gabriel and Elizabeth used and asking for her help. But for each decade we fasten on a key mystery of our faith. I tell children that it’s like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. Almost all of the twenty mysteries (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious) are an event in the life of Jesus.
A large rosary was part of our former habit. We wore it suspended from our waist on the right side. The oldest sisters had coveted rosaries made from polished cherry stones. When one of them died, we could ask for her rosary. Beads really aren’t necessary. Our ten fingers can be used to keep track of the prayers.
I like to tell this story: A university student sitting on a train next to an old man praying the rosary remarked, “I don’t believe in such silly things. Take my advice. Throw the rosary out of this window and learn what science has to say.” “Science? I don’t understand,” replied the man. “Maybe you can explain it to me.” The student offered, “Give me your address and I’ll send you some literature.” Fumbling in his pocket, the old man drew out his business card. The boy looked at the card and burned with shame. It read, “Louis Pasteur, Director of the Institute of Scientific Research, Paris.”
Other important people prayed the rosary. Hadyn prayed it when he had trouble composing. Martin Luther prayed it all his life. Father Patrick Peyton is known for promoting the rosary and coining the motto “The family that prays together stays together.” He wasn’t even a Dominican priest! The Dominicans did so much to spread the rosary that a legend arose that Mary gave it personally to St. Dominic. Actually the rosary evolved over centuries. It began when illiterate people prayed 150 Pater Nosters (Our Fathers) on beads called a paternoster because they couldn’t pray the 150 psalms. Lady Godiva bequeathed her paternoster made of precious gems to a monastery!
Pope Benedict said, “May Mary help us to welcome the grace that emanates from these mysteries so that through us this grace can “irrigate” society, starting with our everyday relationships, purifying it from many negative forces and opening it to the novelty of God.” Pope John Paul claimed that the rosary was his favorite prayer. After September 11, he asked families to pray it for peace.
Some people pray the rosary when they can’t sleep. It has value far beyond a sleep aid. The rosary is like offering Mary a garland of roses. It honors her and pleases Jesus, who likes to see his mother honored. But the rosary is also is a powerful means to make us better persons and to make the world a better place.
What does the rosary mean to you?