Why pray the rosary?
Many times have we heard people from non-Catholic religions and denominations condemning the rosary. There are even some Catholic priests and ordinary Catholics who criticize or belittle it. Not a few times have we personally heard during mass Catholic priests belittling those who love to recite this prayer, telling the faithful to either reduce the frequency of praying it or substitute it with daily scriptural reading.
This article is an attempt to answer some of the most common objections to this beloved Catholic prayer. With Our Lady's help, may this article help us to love and understand her prayer more and more, and spur us to defend this most beautiful devotion against the attacks of those who condemn and belittle it.
On a purely psychological level, the constant repetition of the Hail Mary induces our minds to a state of relaxation, a state where our minds are freed from the worries of the world and we are thus able to meditate on the mysteries. In psychological terms, this is called the "alpha" state, a state of mind between deep sleep called "delta" and the state of full consciousness. This method of repetition is prevalent in other religions, and is likewise widely practiced in the field of psychology. It seems that God, who fully knows our human nature, designed the rosary in such a way that it will help our minds relax, enabling us to pray and meditate.
This meditative and "relaxing" nature of this prayer, as well as other prayers in general, is perhaps the reason why doctors and scientists around the world have proclaimed the "miracle of prayer" in healing. Research has shown that prayer has the power to heal, even on a purely scientific and psychological level. Sick people who have had a habit of prayer have demonstrated higher chances of healing versus those who did not pray regularly.
On a religious and spiritual level, the constant repetition of the Hail Mary is a manifestation of our love for Mary. When a person is in love, he or she cannot but constantly repeat and express his or her love to the beloved through the words, "I love you". The Hail Mary is a flower which we offer to Mary, our beloved - flowers which show our love and affection for her. A mystic once saw a vision of beautiful, red roses drifting up to the air towards Mary. The mystic saw that each Hail Mary recited by a devout disciple of Mary was converted to a beautiful, red rose which was gathered one by one by Mary. Our Lady, in turn, offered the roses to God.
No Emotional Appeal?
The rosary is a meditative prayer. It is not meant to drive us to the heights of exuberant ecstasy, as with the case of the animated praying- singing style of worship done by certain prayer groups. What it does, however, is bring us to the soothing realm of prayerful, meditative silence.
The essence of this prayer is in the meditation of the mysteries. When we pray the rosary, we ought to meditate on the mysteries. This meditation can be in different forms. We can try to imagine and recollect in our minds the mystery in focus. While meditating on the third Joyful Mystery, for example, we try to imagine how the birth of Jesus took place: we imagine how the manger looks like, how Mary looks like, and the devout support of St. Joseph.
Another way is to focus on a specific intention. In the first Glorious Mystery, for example, we can ask for the grace of hope. We hope that, in the same way that Jesus conquered death, we too with God's help can conquer a specific problem we are praying for.
Another way to meditate is to simply imagine ourselves in the presence of Jesus and Mary. We can close our eyes, and while the Hail Mary's flow from our lips, we imagine ourselves as little children sitting on the lap of Jesus. We imagine Him talking to us, comfortingly in our afflictions, listening to us.
The saints and great mystics often had such deep meditations that they went into blissful and joyful ecstasy. We may not have the spiritual giftedness to reach the ecstatic heights achieved by the saints in their meditations, but perhaps if only we learn to relax our minds, leave the worries of the world and be able to meditate each time we pray the rosary - how beautiful the bouquet of Hail Mary's Our Lady will be able to offer to God each time we recite this prayer!
Too Much Emphasis on Mary?
The rosary is very much a Christ-centered prayer. In fact, the Mysteries are nothing more than a re-cap of the entire life of Jesus, from His birth to His Presentation and Finding in the Temple, to His public ministry beginning with the Baptism at the River Jordan, all the way to His Passion and eventual glorious Resurrection. In fact, the reason the late Pope John Paul II added the luminous mysteries is to be able to include in the rosary an important part of Jesus' life not previously included.
The key thing to remember is that the rosary is a meditative prayer. While repeating the Hail Mary's, we are ultimately led to the more important part - the mysteries which we are supposed to reflect on. It is like Mary leading us to Jesus.
Personal Prayer Better?
There is nothing wrong with personal prayer. In fact, personal prayer is very important in terms of instilling in us the habit of talking to Jesus frequently, daily, as if talking to a friend. However, personal prayer and formula-based prayer should go hand-in-hand, for there are special merits that are given to those who pray formula-based prayers, especially the Rosary. In the Bible, we all remember that when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, the Lord taught them the Our Father, a set prayer which we repeat six times in the rosary.
The beautiful thing with this prayer is that here, we pray with Mary. The rosary is Mary's prayer, brought down from heaven and taught to us. In Fatima, during Our Lady's apparition to Lucia, Mary stayed with Lucia the whole time she prayed the rosary - she unites her prayer with ours.
Mass is Better?
"I already go to Mass three to four times a week. I no longer need to pray the rosary."
This objection was beautifully answered by the Pope himself in his apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae. To quote:
...spiritual life is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. Christians, while they are called to prayer in common, must also go to their own rooms to pray to their Father in secret (cf.Mt 6:6), indeed, according to the teaching of the Apostle, they must pray without ceasing (cf. 1 Thes 5:7). The Rosary, in its own particular way, is part of this varied panorama of "ceaseless" prayer.
The Mass is the highest form of worship and prayer, and indeed nothing surpasses the value of going to Mass regularly. However, the fact is that even if we go to daily Mass, this is only the equivalent of one hour of prayer and worship, roughly 6% of our total waking hours. What about the 94%? Some say that the most probable reason as to why there are so many priests falling is that they have forgotten to pray. The prayer life of "fallen priests" may have been limited to a quick celebration of the daily Mass, after which God is "forgotten" the whole day.
If priests, who not only attend but celebrate and preside over daily Mass fall, what more us, ordinary laymen, who with our busy schedules can attend Mass only once or twice a week?
The beauty of the rosary is that we can complete it in fifteen minutes. We can pray it in the car, in the train on the way to work, or on our way home. Rosary tapes are available in most major bookstores, so that we can pray it even while driving. We can pray it during our lunch break. In school, we can even break it down per decade: one decade can be prayed before the first class, another one before the second class, a third decade before lunch time, the fourth and fifth in the afternoon. The Rosary is perfect for helping us "pray without ceasing" for helping us to be in God's company the whole day.
"It's hard to gather the entire family to pray the rosary, especially in these busy and hectic times."
The rosary takes just fifteen minutes to pray. This is roughly the equivalent time we probably spend reading the sports section of the newspaper, or roughly the total time spent watching commercials in the TV shows we watch. If we are able to find time to read the papers, watch TV, sip a cup of coffee in the morning, or just lie down doing nothing, can't we find 15 minutes everyday to pray the rosary? Really, it is only a matter of priorities!
What it takes to instill in a family the daily devotion to the rosary is the strong, unwavering will power on the part of either the father or the mother in terms of bringing everyone, or at least a majority, together at an appointed time every day.
Reading the Bible a Better Use of Time?
"I prefer to read the Scriptures everyday instead of praying the rosary."
The Bible is not meant for arbitrary, personal reading subject to our own personal interpretations. There is such a thing as "exegesis" that is, the Scriptures must be taken within the context of the Church's official interpretation. We cannot just take up the Bible, read a passage, interpret it the way we want. Imagine if every day, the passages are about the illicit relationship of David with Bathsheba, Cain and Abel, or Jesus' words to Peter, "Get away from Me, you Satan!'' These statements, if taken literally, or out of context, will lead a person to confusion. As it is, the Bible has to be interpreted according to the teachings of the Church.
This is not to say that we should not study the Bible. But personal, private reading of the Bible can be difficult, especially if you are a beginner. There are many other ways for us to read the Bible and understand it according to its true interpretation; for example, through Church-approved Bible classes or through the scriptural interpretation of the priest during Mass.
However, reading the Bible everyday does not necessarily mean having to stop or neglect praying the rosary. The Bible and rosary are not contradictory; they are complementary. Scripture enriches our minds and the rosary enriches our souls. Both the Bible and the rosary, at their very essence, focus on one thing: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Reading the Bible by ourselves may help us spiritually, but without the guidance of prayer, we will not be able to penetrate its true meaning. We need prayer, particularly a Christ-centered and scripturally-focused prayer like the rosary, to receive the graces we need to truly understand our faith through the Scriptures.