How to pray the rosary



                                          “Jesus belongs to us” (F.W. Faber)

The mysteries of Jesus’ life belong to us! He lived them for us and for our well-being. Jesus’ mysteries are “life-giving realities,” says Father Jacques Philippe, “for those who contemplate them in faith.” As Blessed Abbot Marmion has pointed out, “the mysteries of Jesus…are ours as much as they are His. It is an inexhaustible source of confidence for a soul that loves Jesus to know that [Jesus] unites her intimately to each of His mysteries.” 

Meditating on the mysteries of Jesus’ life will thus bear much fruit for us. On this point Father Jacques Philippe quotes the great spiritual writer, Cardinal Berulle, who states: 

“[t]hese mysteries …are past in certain circumstances, and they are lasting and are present and perpetual in a certain other way. They are past as regards their execution, but they are present as regards their virtue, and their  virtue never passes away. So…the spirit, the state, the virtue, the merit of the mystery is always present….That obliges us to treat the things and mysteries pertaining to Jesus not as things which are past and dead, but as things living and present, from which we too have to harvest fruits which are present and eternal.” (59-60).

In his Apostolic Letter, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, Saint John Paul II encourages us to live more profoundly by the rosary. Here is a prayer we may have first lisped at a very early age which now has the power to take us even deeper into the life of Christ. The Pope states:

“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, until Christ is ‘fully formed’ in us (cf. Gal 4:19).”  (#15)

Furthermore, as the Pope carefully points out, meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary has a profound anthropological significance:

“In the light of what has been said so far on the mysteries of Christ, it is not difficult to go deeper into this anthropological significance of the Rosary, which is far deeper than may appear at first sight. Anyone who contemplates Christ through the various stages of his life cannot fail to perceive in him the truth about man. This is the great affirmation of the Second Vatican Council which I have so often discussed in my own teaching since the Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis: “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man is seen in its true light”.The Rosary helps to open up the way to this light. Following in the path of Christ, in whom man’s path is “recapitulated,” revealed and redeemed, believers come face to face with the image of the true man. Contemplating Christ’s birth, they learn of the sanctity of life; seeing the household of Nazareth, they learn the original truth of the family according to God’s plan; listening to the Master in the mysteries of his public ministry, they find the light which leads them to enter the Kingdom of God; and following him on the way to Calvary, they learn the meaning of salvific suffering. Finally, contemplating Christ and his Blessed Mother in glory, they see the goal towards which each of us is called, if we allow ourselves to be healed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. It could be said that each mystery of the Rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man.” (#25)

Using meditation we learn to “live more profoundly by the rosary,” because we begin to enter more deeply into the redeeming mysteries of our Lord’s own life. We are not merely to chant, but we are to chant and meditate and ask Mary to help us see things about our Lord that deepen our understanding and love for Him.  In this light, the Pope refers to the Rosary as an “exquisitely contemplative prayer.” He says:

“The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary’s own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI clearly pointed out: ‘Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words’ (Mt 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed.” (#12)

The Pope makes two concrete suggestions to help us meditate more on the mysteries of the Rosary. The first suggestion by the Pope is to listen to the Biblical passage associated with each Rosary mystery. The Pope explains:

“In order to supply a Biblical foundation and greater depth to our meditation, it is helpful to follow the announcement of the mystery with the proclamation of a related Biblical passage, long or short, depending on the circumstances. No other words can ever match the efficacy of the inspired word. As we listen, we are certain that this is the word of God, spoken for today and spoken ‘for me’.

If received in this way, the word of God can become part of the Rosary’s methodology of repetition without giving rise to the ennui derived from the simple recollection of something already well known. It is not a matter of recalling information but of allowing God to speak. In certain solemn communal celebrations, this word can be appropriately illustrated by a brief commentary.” (#30)

The second suggestion of the Pope is to pause for a period of silence to focus attention on the mystery in question. The Pope says:

Listening and meditation are nourished by silence. After the announcement of the mystery and the proclamation of the word, it is fitting to pause and focus one’s attention for a suitable period of time on the mystery concerned, before moving into vocal prayer. A discovery of the importance of silence is one of the secrets of practicing contemplation and meditation. One drawback of a society dominated by technology and the mass media is the fact that silence becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. Just as moments of silence are recommended in the Liturgy, so too in the recitation of the Rosary it is fitting to pause briefly after listening to the word of God, while the mind focuses on the content of a particular mystery.” (#31)

In addition to the two suggestions of the Pope, I am going to suggest another way to use the Rosary to deepen meditation, a method that may be more advisable when you are praying the Rosary alone and have ample time. It is permissible and even encouraged in meditation to use our imagination to enter a Bible scene one may be mediating on to adore the Lord (as in His Nativity), or to console the Lord (as during His Agony in the Garden), and ultimately to converse with the Lord in an intimate manner. Saint Teresa of Avila is adamant that meditation should lead to conversation (see, for example, Peter Thomas Rohrbach’s book, Conversation With Christ)! Thus, in the period of silence proposed by the Pope one could use his or her imagination to “enter into” the Rosary mystery in order to praise, adore or console the Lord, and then to talk to the Lord. As previously mentioned, these mysteries are “living and present” and contain particular fruit for each of us. Jesus came for each one of us: therefore, enter into the mystery, talk to Jesus, stay with Him for a while, share with Him His joys and sorrows, console Him, and let Him console you, and tell the Lord your problems and needs. Allow yourself to be present to the Lord in the mystery you are praying. You can then linger with the Lord in the mystery as you pray the Our Father and the ten Hail Marys. With practice, this method of praying the Rosary could deepen your level of intimacy with the Lord.

EXAMPLEYou come to the First Sorrowful Mystery, The Agony in the Garden. Per the recommendation of Saint Pope John Paul II, you read and listen to a Gospel account of our Lord’s Agony in the Garden, and then observe a period of silence to focus on the mystery. I am then recommending that you use your imagination to walk into the garden of Gethsemane to kneel next to Jesus, to look at Him, to console Him, and then to converse with Him. You might even put your arm around Him and tell Him of your own sorrow for the sins you have committed. Become a very dear friend of Jesus. Then pray the prayers for that decade with the mystery and your encounter with Jesus lingering in the background. You need not do this for every mystery, but it should prove fruitful if you can do it for one or two of the mysteries, depending upon how much time you have.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: In my opening sentence I am following Father Faber whose opening sentence in All for Jesus is “Jesus belongs to us.” Those first few pages of All for Jesus are well worth reading. Some books which discuss the role of imagination and conversation in Catholic meditation include: Time for God by Jacques Philippe and Progress through Mental Prayer by Edward Leen. I borrow from Father Garrigou-LaGrange the phrase, “living more profoundly.”

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