During the past week on three occasions, people asked me about the rosary. On Saturday I was privileged to be at the Cleveland orchestra’s performance of a modern piece called “Mysteries of Light.” It had five movements, each one based on a luminous mystery of the Rosary. I’m taking these events as signs that my post this week should focus on this devotion in honor of Mary. After all, it is May, the month dedicated to her. So, here are excerpts from my book The Catholic Companion to Mary:
In the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Pope John Paul II urged individuals, families and communities to pray the rosary “possibly every day, for peace, so that the world can be preserved from the wicked scourge of terrorism.” [Supernatural help is needed more than ever today!]
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 embarrassment. It read, “Louis Pasteur, Director of the Institute of Scientific Research, Paris.”
Joseph Haydn, eighteenth-century composer, always carried his rosary and prayed it. Chaucer, who lived in the fourteenth century, had his portrait painted holdng a rosary. Martin Luther prayed the rosary all his life. In her visits to earth, Mary exhorted us to pray the rosary, especially for peace.
A blessed rosary is a sacramental, that is, an object whose use brings special graces through the prayers and merits of the Church. It is called “the Gospel on beads.” Basic Catholic prayers of the rosary are rooted in Scripture: The Apostle’s Creed, the Our Father, and the Hail Mary. While praying these prayers, we also reflect on mysteries in the life of Christ. In this way, praying the rosary is like praying the memories of Mary. In fact we are imitating her, who “kept all these things in her heart.”
The rosary is a very physical prayer. As we touch the beads, the rosary involves not only our bodies but the stuff of creation—wood, metal, stone, plastic, even seeds, used to make some rosaries.
Origins of the Rosary
Although the Dominicans did much to promote praying the rosary, the story that it began when Mary gave a rosary to St. Dominic is only a legend. Christians were praying on beads a hundred years before him, and the original fifteen mysteries were only added two hundred years after him. The rosary has evolved through the centuries and continues to evolve. For example, five new mysteries were added recently, the first major change in the rosary in over 500 years.
How then did the rosary originate? Long ago when the Church prayed the 150 psalms, illiterate people substituted praying 150 Our Fathers (called Paternosters in Latin) on beads. (In Anglo-Saxon bede was the word for “prayer.”) In the early eleventh century Lady Godiva (known for her legendary daring ride through the streets of Coventry, England) bequeathed her prayer-chain of precious stones to the Church.
In the twelfth century, when the Hail Mary was formulated, people began praying this prayer instead of the Our Father. The rosary became known as Our Lady’s Psalter [psalm book]. Sometimes genuflections and even prostrations accompanied each prayer.
Eventually, the rosary beads were grouped into decades (sets of ten) with another bead between each decade, and as each decade was prayed, one mystery was meditated upon. In time, there were three sets of five mysteries each: the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious. In 2002, Pope John Paul II added the fourth set: the Mysteries of Light, or Luminous Mysteries, which are events from Jesus’ public life. These new mysteries filled the gap between the joyful mysteries of Jesus’ early life and the sorrowful mysteries of his death.
How to Pray the Rosary
Some say that they can’t pray the rosary because it requires doing two things at once: praying Hail Marys and thinking about a mystery, but this is no more impossible than it is to eat and watch television at the same time. The Hail Marys become a kind of background music while we reflect on the mystery. They are comparable to the Jesus Prayer or any mantra that is repeated as a springboard for union with God. Because of the soothing rhythm of the rosary’s repetitions, some people pray it when they have trouble sleeping at night.
There are ways to insure that we are really praying and not just saying the rosary. Having a specific intention for the rosary helps motivate us to pray it well. Another tip is to spend a minute at the beginning of each decade concentrating on the mystery. At that time we might ask for the grace to grow in a virtue related to that event too. We can also be creative and pray our own mysteries, contemplating, for example, on five of Jesus’ many parables, or on five of his miracles, or on the mysteries of our family or work lives.
Make the Sign of the Cross with the crucifix and pray the Apostles’ Creed.
On the single bead pray an Our Father.
On the three beads pray Hail Marys.
On the single bead pray a Glory Be to the Father.
For Each Decade
Pray an Our Father on the single bead. Pray ten Hail Marys. Conclude with a Glory Be to the Father.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our Life, our sweetness, and our hope! To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us; and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
You many also finish the rosary by adding any or all of the following prayers:
O God, whose only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has by his life, death, and resurrection purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant we be- seech you that through meditating on these mysteries of the most holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.
May the divine assistance remain always with us. Amen.
And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
The Mysteries of the Rosary
Looking over the mysteries, it’s easy to see why Pope Paul VI called the rosary the epitome of the Gospel. If you pray the entire rosary at one time over over several days, the mysteries are prayed as follows: Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious. If you pray the rosary every day or most days, the traditional days for each set of mysteries are as follows:
❖ Joyful Mysteries: Monday and Saturday
❖ Luminous Mysteries: Thursday
❖ Sorrowful Mysteries: Tuesday and Friday
❖ Glorious Mysteries: Sunday and Wednesday
The Scripture verses each mystery is related to are listed in my book. They can also be found on the Internet.
How has the rosary played a role in your life?
Best of All Gifts: A Novel
Sheila M. Cronin
People who read the author’s book The Gift Counselor will be glad to find out in this second book what happens to Jonquil Bloom, a young widow pursuing a degree at UCLA. No need, however, to have read the first book, because Best of All Gifts is fine standing alone.
Jonquil is a gift counselor at a department store, and therefore the book contains sound advice about giving the proper gift. As her life unfolds, she also learns about the best gift. Her relationship with the handsome Claude develops, although threatened by a crush she has on her advisor. She discovers that the father who “deserted” her on her eighth birthday is still alive. When her son, Billy, is hospitalized, she comes face to face with her main flaw. And she struggles with herself in coping with a devious coworker. Throughout, her story weaves the two themes of different kinds of love and forgiveness.
A generous attention to detail grounds the novel in reality. The characters, including the dog Blackie, are real and likable. No doubt, many readers will be able to identify with Jonquil as she copes with various challenges.
Anyone who likes warm, gentle, family tales with satisfying endings will value this book.
334 pp. $15.97 Available as an e-book.