The Rosary: I’ve been doing it wrong!

April 14, 2010 | 61 comments

Or, How I Was Reminded that Focusing on Christ Keeps You Sane

It’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve been praying the Rosary incorrectly for four years. At first it was really bad: when I was researching Catholicism I constantly heard about the astounding power of the Rosary, so I decided to give it a shot. I’d sit next to my son’s bed at night with the beads in my hand — the only problem was that I didn’t have any of the prayers memorized. Undeterred, I’d make my best guess when I forget the details, so it would often sound something like, “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of earth…and of all the other stuff too, like the planets…and Jesus his Son…and, umm…” at that point I’d start rattling off whatever the Church taught that I’d come to agree with, tossing some stuff about transubstantiation and purgatory into the Creed.

Yeah. It was a mess.

So when I actually got most of the prayers memorized, it was such a step up that I figured I was home free. I’d announce each mystery, say the prayers, and that was that. I didn’t exactly enjoy praying the Rosary (sometimes I would rush through the prayers so quickly that I’d recall Darwin once quipping that he had an Irish grandmother who just about got rope burn from her eight-second Hail Mary’s) but this type of prayer brought such tremendous grace into my life that I kept it up anyway.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was in Adoration and had one of those moments where something I should have known and did kind of subconsciously know finally got through to me and ended up being a major revelation. I suddenly realized:

I never really meditated on the mysteries.

Now, anyone who’s ever prayed a Rosary probably just said: “Seriously?” After all, that’s the entire point of the thing: to draw yourself into the mysteries of Christ’s life, death and Resurrection. How could a person miss that? All I can say is: I know! I would even tell people that when I explained the Rosary to them! I even wrote about how powerful it was when my favorite Rosary CD brought me into each mystery! So how it was that I went for four years almost never spending more than a couple seconds actually meditating on the mysteries when I prayed the Rosary on my own, I do not know. (Actually I do know, and it has to do with my tendency towards ADD making my attention span comparable to that of a toddler who’s been mainlining sugar, but that’s another story.)

The revelation occurred when I was in the Adoration chapel, looking at my Rosary prayer sheet from Rosary Army. I noticed the quote on the very center of the page that I’d seen a dozen times but had never actually read it. It said:

Without [the Rosary’s] contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning…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.”

– Pope John Paul II

Umm…guiltily. Actually, what I’d been doing was worse: I’d drift into thinking about my own problems and intentions while I said the Hail Mary’s; in other words, I was meditating on myself while I prayed the Rosary.

This was the ah-hah moment I referred to in my post from last week where I talked about the stress that comes with making yourself a god. When I turned my attention away from myself and started focusing on Christ instead, the relief was indescribable. It brought to mind a point Thomas Merton made when he said:

To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell.

Of course it’s important to tell God everything that’s on our minds, but, as I said in that other post, the problem was that those were the only types of prayers I was saying. I’d ended up making my needs and desires and plans so huge that I’d taken over God’s role in being responsible for the entire universe. So when the Rosary finally broke me out of that, it was like being freed from a prison. I felt like I had real inner peace for the first time in a long time.

I should note that I do think that God blessed my initial efforts at the Rosary. As Elizabeth Mahlou pointed out in her great comment to this post, God doesn’t play games of “Gotcha!”, punishing us for making mistakes in form despite good intentions. God managed to use even my misguided actions, some of which were probably the very definition of “vain repetition, ” to bring me closer to him.

I still see that same grace in my life through the Rosary now that I’m actually meditating on the mysteries; the main difference is what it’s done for my peace of mind, thanks to a renewed understand of Jesus, what he’s done for us, and who I am in relation to him. Praying along with the Church by meditating on the prescribed mysteries for that particular day — as opposed to what I might feel like thinking about — allows God to lead me in new directions. I have the freedom to roam wildly with Christ in all the different moments of his life, yet the structure to make me ponder elements that I might not have sought out on my own.

I finally get why so many people are such passionate advocates for the Rosary: not only is there that unmistakable grace that comes with it, but, if you pray it as it’s supposed to be prayed, it’s not only a portal into the life of Christ, but a safeguard against the hell of making yourself a god.

Anyone else have insights on the Rosary you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it!

Image from the book Praying the Rosary by Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel.

61 Comments

  1. Honeybee

    I think it's a mistake to imply that by not meditating on the mysteries that one is saying the rosary "wrong".

    I have problems meditating on the mysteries. No matter how hard I try, I can't do it — I'm just not wired that way. For years, I felt guilty about that and thus avoided the rosary like the plague. But my thinking on that has changed.

    When I want to say the rosary now, I say it slowly, and really think about the words of the prayers. That's meditation enough for me. I'm not alone. Here is a quote from St. Therese of Lisieux in Story of A Soul:

    "… when alone (I am ashamed to admit it) the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don't succeed in fixing my mind on them.

    For a long time I was desolate about this lack of devotion which astonished me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to recite in her honor prayers which are so pleasing to her. Now I am less desolate; I think that the Queen of heaven, since she is my MOTHER, must see my good will and she is satisfied with it. Sometimes when my mind is in such aridity that it is impossible to draw forth one single thought to unite me with God, I very slowly recite an "Our Father" and then the angelic salutation ["Hail Mary, full of grace, etc.]; then these prayers give me great delight; they nourish my soul much more than if I had recited them precipitately a hundred times.

    The Blessed Virgin shows me she is not displeased with me, for she never fails to protect me as soon as I invoke her. If some disturbance overtakes me, some embarrassment, I turn very quickly to her and as the most tender of Mothers she always takes care of my interests. How many times, when speaking to the novices, has it happened that I invoked her and felt the benefits of her motherly protection!"

  2. Nadja Magdalena

    I'll agree with Honeybee. We do the rosary every evening as a family, and if it wasn't for noisy, distracted rosaries, there would be no rosary at all! I feel that it is with the rosary as with other prayers: God sees our intention, and perhaps there is more merit in the struggle to pray than there is in praying "successfully".

  3. Elizabeth

    In order to help our small CHILDREN to meditate ( or at least focus a little) during the rosary, my husband made 4 DVD's with an image of each mystery for each Hail Mary (eg: 10 Annunciation scenes, etc.) There are many beautiful artworks available on Google images and he just saved them and burned a disc. My 5 year old still doesn't really say the prayers, but he knows almost all of the mysteries & likes to announce them.

  4. WheelbarrowRider

    Guilty too! Thanks for the reminder and I loved the insights!

  5. Kristen

    I am also a new Catholic (2010 Easter Vigil!). I have been praying the Rosary consistently for about 9 months.

    I agree that it is very easy to fall into "meditating" on each mystery for a matter of seconds before going on to focus on my own intentions for the remainder of the decade.

    I am also easily distractible (for me it's the result of being in the habit of rushing through everything — as the parent of small children I feel like I am always on the verge of being interrupted) and it is relatively uncommon that I am able to maintain my focus on the mysteries long without help.

    I recently downloaded a free app to my iphone that has been a help — is is called Rosary Mysteries by Ryan MacCarthy (http://caritasetveritas.com/) and it includes nice artwork for each mystery. Focusing on the artwork as I pray on my beads helps me to focus better than I can on my own. In my opinion, the artwork in this app is better than what I've found in many rosary booklets — it is not at all chintzy and it has enough detail to help me really put myself in the scene.

    Initially I worried that making my iphone a part of my rosary praying would be distracting — for me part of the appeal of the rosary is its simplicity and "old fashionedness". I have not found this to be the case with this app, however. I put my phone on airplane mode when I pray so that I am not interrupted by phone calls or text messages.

  6. Susan

    I'm still not very good at contemplating the mysteries while praying the rosary, but I found that inserting the virtue and quality of Jesus within each Hail Mary really helps me to focus. You can find virtues and qualities for each decade of the Rosary at
    http://www.ixeh.net/faith/Treasure/rc-menu.html.

    Here's an example of what I do. For the first Joyful Mystery, the quality is Jesus Incarnate and the virtue is humility. So, I will recite the Hail Mary as…

    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus incarnate.
    For the virtue of humility, Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen

    Just thought I'd pass this along as it really helps me. When I don't interject these virtues and qualities of Jesus I find that my mind will wander a LOT more.

    And thanks for your blog. Your posts always give me something to think about.

  7. Alhana

    I have been doing the same (praying without meditating on the mysteries) for years because that is what I was taught by my illiterate grandmother – who did a great deal just memorizing and that was right for her. It wasn't until last year that I realized that mysteries were there for us to do something about them. 😉 I'm still having problems to focus at meditation but nevertheless I keep trying.

  8. Anonymous

    I use the booklet "Praying the Rosary Without Distractions" as a way to focus on each mystery. The booklet has a short sentence to focus on for each Hail Mary. You can find the content here: http://www.rosary-center.org/howto.htm

    The short meditations and artwork helps!

    Jen G

  9. Barefoot Momma ;-)

    I love the honesty of your post – and the quote by JPII, OUCH! What helped our family tremendously is a children's rosary published in Faith and Family one year. In essence, you talk about the mystery and then say one Hail Mary. The kids would go through all the 15 (now 20) mysteries and really learned them. It helped me to really see the beauty of the rosary. Now we like using a book called Speak Lord I am Listening – beautiful pics and a scripture verse for each invocation.

  10. Mama Bean

    as a protestant, i don't know much about the rosary, but my impression was one of boring rote repetition. once again, your posts have educated me otherwise, so thank-you. that being said, there are lessons here for anyone who prays – that the focus should be on God, that meditating on his work and his nature will bring peace, and these are good reminders for me, even when i don't use beads.

    re: others' comments, there is virtually no wrong way to pray. God is big enough to honour anything that even looks remotely like prayer, even when we do fall into distracted, rote repetition.

    but i do aspire to do better. i am thinking about using the rosary (i can do that, right? even tho i'm not catholic) to deepen my prayer life. thanks again for the posts.

  11. Janice

    I know exactly what you mean. When I first became Catholic, I had no idea how to say the rosary while meditating on the mysteries.

    I was led to a book that has been a huge help to me. "Father Peyton's Rosary Prayer Book" is great way to get into the mysteries. I am working through the book for the third or fourth time, but it still feels new to me.

  12. Ouiz

    I am another one of those people who simply cannot meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary… and I feel like a completely defective Catholic.

    That said, during Confession on time I was talking to the priest about my fears, and he said that I should ask the Blessed Mother for help. That was completely out of my comfort zone, but when I got home I was desperate. That night as I nursed my baby to sleep, I was sobbing as I said the Rosary, and I changed the words to, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for THIS sinner, and obtain for me the grace that I need for ____, now and at the hour of my death, Amen." I went to bed crying, and when I woke up in the morning, my 6-month long panic attack was OVER. Gone. Completely.

    I wish I could say that all of my Rosary issues dissappeared that night, but they didn't. I still have no clue how to say the Rosary "correctly." I can't move my lips AND meditate at the same time. It's one or the other. I could be completely quiet and focus totally on the scene I'm supposed to be thinking of, but I'd never get around to actually praying, and… well… people might get annoyed… *grin*

    So I hope someone can tell people like me how to walk and chew gum at the same time, as it were! In the meantime, I will continue to take comfort in the fact that one of my favorite saints, St. Therese, couldn't do it either (as Honeybee quoted in the first comment).

    God bless!

  13. Roz

    Great contributions here. I'm delighted that you've discovered such depth in meditating deeply on the mysteries, but I suffer a slight "allergic reaction" when someone implies that there's a Right or Wrong way to pray.

    I was first wooed into the Rosary by the idea of dedicating each decade to a particular prayer intention. Sometimes, now, I am blessed by being able to meditate deeply on the mysteries, sometimes I say a fast, uncontemplative rosary while I'm driving.

    I think it's a case of "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Thank God it's available to feed me in so many different contexts.

  14. Anonymous

    The rosary was always difficult for me – I didn't feel much of a connection to what I was saying and doing. It felt like endless repetition and my thoughts wandered.

    About a year or so ago, I stopped at the chapel for Adoration and my uncle and a friend were praying the "Scriptural Rosary". I was not familiar with it and found it very fascinating. With each Hail Mary, there is a short verse from the Bible pertaining to that particular mystery.

    I got my own copy of the Scriptural Rosary and that has really helped me to focus on what I am doing and I find I have a much deeper experience of the Rosary. You might want to give it a try.

    Mary from Minnesota

  15. Christine

    My family (growing up) used to say the rosary everyday, but it became something to complete. We'd say it on car trips, even occasionally during the commericals of a family tv show. It even came down to a speed thing…how fast could we get it done. My brother and I burned out, and it's taken me a long time to come back to loving the rosary as a form of prayer.

    I won't say that I meditate on the mysteries every time I pray, but it takes me more than 12 minutes to pray it now. If I find myself dwelling on something else during the mysteries I thank the Lord for that coming to attention and keep going. I've also found that using a Scriptural rosary is very helpful – these have a scripture verse that you read for each Hail Mary.

    Most nights I have a rosary under my pillow so that if I'm having trouble falling asleep I can pray it. I find that it is an excellent sleep aid, and love drifiting off to Hail Mary's.

  16. George

    I agree with the comments about the "wrong" way to pray the Rosary. I would suggest that it would be better to say it's not the ideal way. While we should aspire to incorporating deep meditation when we pray the rosary, there is something to be said for keeping the discipline of a daily rosary AND for instilling the habit with our children. I recall an EWTN program with Fr. Groeschel mentioning he liked to pray the rosary on the subway and that sometimes, due to fatigue, distraction of other commuters, he would find it difficult to concentrate and he would at least try to focus on the grace being given to all those in his presence.

    God bless

  17. Stephanie

    Heh, I think we all pray it "wrong" often enough. It's HARD to keep the mind focused on the mysteries. For me, having something visual to look at helps, so a collection of images based on each mystery (you can find this kind of stuff online), or even just one image for each mystery. Some external focus helps me not to get lost in my own mind swirling with thoughts. (It still happens, mind you, but images help to slow it down.)

  18. eaucoin

    It's lovely to hear about all the efforts people make to pray and the ways that God has honored these efforts. I only have one thing to contribute. One of my daughters suffers from depression and on a day when she had a breakdown, I happened to be taking an hour staying with the Eucharist in adoration (not a coincidence). I had begun the hour thinking that I didn't know what to say, that, after all, the Eucharist is Jesus crucified and that, just like with the sorrowful mysteries, sometimes I don't know what to say in the face of such awful suffering. The Holy Spirit told me that it is enough to be there, and reminded me that Our Lady is always there at the foot of the cross too, so I said the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. At the end of the hour, my husband called me to take my daughter to the hospital emergency ward because she was talking about suicide at school. Just the prospect of driving there felt like a superhuman effort to stay in control and I said to the Holy Spirit, "Help me, I don't know what to do, her suffering is so awful!" Immediately he reminded me that it was enough to be there and that Mary would be there too. That is how I got through the day and many since.

  19. eaucoin

    Also, once my sisters were planning a trip to Rome and they asked me if I would come with them. I knew we couldn't afford it, but I knew I could ask God and He could make it happen. But I like to say prayers that He would like to hear, so I asked the Holy Spirit if God would like it if I prayed to be able to go to Rome with my sisters. I assured Him that I would be going there looking for Jesus. The Holy Spirit didn't say if the prayer would be pleasing to God or not. What He said was, "Lots of people go to Rome and don't meet Jesus, but everybody who goes to Calvary meets Him." I still don't know if I will ever go to Rome. But I do know that if life brings us suffering, it's an invitation into Jesus' presence.

  20. Tami

    For a great centering in your rosary, may I suggest "Speak Lord I am Listening". It is a scriptural rosary book, with beautiful watercolors, and wonderful questions and points to ponder in the back. I too struggled with learning to pray the rosary, and this book brought the rosary to life for our family. My children love to pray the rosary together.
    I even used this with my RE class of 3rd graders one year, and surprisingly enough they thought it a special treat to end our class time with the rosary.

  21. Johanna Lamb =)

    Kristen- my husband and I were also receieed into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter Vigil. What a beautiful service- I felt like I was getting married again!

    The iPhone app DEFINITELY helped me to pray the rosary. It helped me learn the prayers I didn't know and keep the mysteries straight. Also, since I always have my iPhone with me, it was a good reminder- what have I used my phone for today? Have I used it to pray the Rosary?
    I can't say that I'm perfect at meditating on the mysteries either, but I have received a lot of grace and comfort from praying the Rosary this year.
    I also have an awesome app called RC Calendar and it has the daily office. Both of these apps have really helped my prayer life a lot this year.

  22. Robyn

    If you have trouble focusing, try combining it with movement—for example, praying while taking a walk. In group settings, switch around the "leader" for each decade.

  23. Ruth Ann

    Jennifer, there are some wonderful comments here, so I don't believe I can add new insights. But let me reinforce the idea presented by one commenter that "there is no wrong way to pray." We simply pray as we can under the particular circumstances of the moment. The quality of our pray varies. All we can do is our best.

    What you describe is simple spiritual growth. Maybe you started praying the rosary as a child would. Now God has led you to new insight. It won't be the last time that happens.

    Also, many comments gave good references for books or visual aids to help with meditation. One that I have used for many decades is called Scriptural Rosary and there's a short meditation for each Hail Mary. It was published before Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries. But over at Amazon one reviewer says that a supplement was included.

    A more up-to-date book is Mysteries of Light: Meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary with John Paul II. It includes all the mysteries, not just the luminous. It was published when the new mysteries were catching on.

  24. TRS

    It definitely is a learned process.

    When I committed to praying the Rosary, I found a booklet online called, Praying the Rosary without Distractions. (yeah, that spoke to me!)www.rosary-center.org

    I ended up ordering them in bulk and I give them away to family and friends. In fact, I sent one to my cousin – who then asked for the source because the women's group at her church was making care packages for new mothers, which included a new rosary…. and they wanted to add the booklet too once they discovered it! Isn't that a great idea?!

    anyway, back to the booklet…
    The illustrations for reflection are beautiful, and it also provides reflections for each Hail Mary of each Mystery. Helps to keep you on point.

    In fact, prior to this – it never occurred to me that The Wedding of Cana was a) Jesus' first miracle and b) that by His presence , Christian Marriage was raise to the dignity of a sacrament.
    Beautiful – and anyone wonders why I want to get married?!

    I also use a CD of the rosary, featuring Dana and Fr. Scallon.

    My mom discovered it years ago – and I've tried to download other Rosaries… but I find them mind-numbing. Dana sings between each mystery, and it is truly uplifting!!!

    That's how I pray the rosary… when I pray the rosary. Ought to get back to that.

    Going to go look for the Rosary App for my android!!!

  25. Susan L

    Praying the rosary is very humbling for me. I had some realizations about the scriptures that I don't think I would have gotten otherwise. I've had thoughts about how Mary would have reacted to certain things…or what the Apostles must have thought or felt.

    When I listened to a priest talk about the crucifixion on Catholic radio…well…he talked about the physical aspect that I usually am too wimpy to face. When I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries later, I was crying.

  26. J. O'Toole

    I suppose the most important thing to do in regard to the rosary, is to keep praying the beads, and, like anything, the more you do it, the more proficient you become. My husband wrote a story entitled "Running the Rosary," — link here. And I started up a Web site with recordings for anyone who wishes to recite online — link here. And here is a great book on the rosary by St. Louis De Montfort — link here.

  27. Thrifty Mystic

    As a convert, I struggled with the rosary. I found it tedious and confusing. I wondered, "Since I'm saying the 'Hail Mary' over and over, should I meditate on Mary? Or am I supposed to meditate on the mysteries? Is that rude to talk to Mary but think about someone else? Or should I pray for a certain thing/person with each mystery?"
    I read this line in St. Francis de Sales "Golden Counsels" – "Belong totally to God. Think of him and he will think of you." Now I lift up all the people/things I'm concerned about briefly before I start the rosary – basically asking God to take care of all those things so I can focus. Then I contemplate the mysteries and try not to worry about how many I get through. This post ties in nicely with your "Stressful to be God" post. There seems to be a trend here

  28. Anonymous

    I'm not sure what rosary CD you have, but I really like Fr. Groeschel and Simonetta's version. It is really meditative and I get a lot out of it. I listen to the CD on my iPod and I feel like I can pray out loud or silently without disturbing anyone, since the words are being said regardless by the CD. Also listening to the words helps me to focus on the meaning, instead of just getting them out, if you know what I mean. I still sometimes struggle with the distraction problem you talk about, but it has gotten a lot better since I started using my iPod as a helper.

  29. ekbell

    I read and think about a mediation and then look at a relevant image while praying. It helps to lead my thoughts back to the prayers or the mystery whenever they wander.

    [I went and collected the Rosary books that I could easily find (nine not including the Virtual Rosary on my PDA or my children's rosary books or the meditations I've printed off the computer…). I should make use of them more often as it widens my prayers.]

  30. elizabethe

    My thoughts on the rosary and meditation and contemplation come from my 5 years as a more or less committed Buddhist. Buddhists have a very robust understanding of meditation and also a lot of very practical discussions about how to meditate and what the purpose of meditation are. I found Buddhism very compelling for many reasons and one of them was I liked the meditative tradition and a lot of the views of the self and the mind and how they work and the goal of achieving mental stillness seemed very right to me.

    When I recognized that I needed God and then, after searching, decided to become Catholic, one of the things that I was pleasantly surprised to discover was that there was a whole mystical, contemplative, meditative, and downright practical prayer dimension in Catholicism. I had never come upon this dimension in the Protestant traditions I was familiar with from my childhood or later as I reconnected with God and Christianity as an adult.

    I was instantly drawn to the rosary and other prayer practices. Coming from a Buddhist practice of meditation I found that having they physical beads as well as the spoken or thought repetition of the "Hail Marys" were wonderful aids to meditation. They focused the busy mind and body in something more interesting that the breath and let you hold the contemplative part of your mind on the mysteries of the rosary. In Buddhist teaching, as I understand it (through study and practice) you're not really trying to still your mind so much disengage from your self and from your attachment to those thoughts. Ultimately, you are trying to understand the essential emptiness of the world, including yourself. There's all this surface activity going on, but it is really meaningless.

    The rosary, for me, was a real answer to this spiritual nihilism, that kept what I thought were the good parts of Buddhism — the emphasis on disengaging from the bustling and grasping mind and releasing attachment to self. You are still trying to disengaged from yourself but instead of emptiness at the center there is Christ and the cross.

    • Chris D

      elizabethe:

      The nihilism thing is a common misunderstanding–it comes from the use of the word “emptiness” to translate the Sanskrit “shunyata.” “Emptiness” doesn’t describe meaninglessness, but rather that every phenomenon is “empty” of what’s called an independent self, or essence–or an unchanging eternal soul. In ways I can’t even see, I’m committed to the fallacious ego-idea that I’m this independent being who’s really important in the world. But there’s nothing unchanging about me that makes me me, or that makes my bed a bed. And if we stop there, it’s a grim picture. But wait! There’s more!

      Obviously I’m here and my bed is here, so what are we? It goes like this:

      1. Everything changes, without exception. Everything inside us, everything outside us.

      2. Each of these impermanent phenomena arises and falls away as part of an infinite chain of cause-and-effect–everything is dependent on causes and conditions.

      3. Because the chain of cause-and-effect is infinite, everything in the world exists in relationship to everything else. If one thing changes, everything else changes.

      4. With practice, we see and feel, deeply, how everything (including us!) changes, as causes and conditions change. We realize, in the “making it real” sense, that we’re not separate from the world; that in fact, everything and everyone in the phenomenal world is the same substance. All things are one thing. But they’re also all things. We stop seeing other people as being “over there,” something separate from us; we see them and recognize ourselves, which lets us be patient and compassionate.

      In that process of practice, we set ourselves aside, where “ourselves” is our egoistic ideas and cravings and urges. We can’t suppress them, but we can let them go, in the practice of something else. As some teachings put it, the more we can set aside our Little Mind that’s obsessed with permanence and satisfying our desires and allaying our fears, the more we realize and become Big Mind, calmly grounded in the interdependent nature of reality itself.

      Does that make any sense? As you know, Buddhist teaching has a lot of facets, and it takes practice to feel how they’re tied together. =)

  31. momof2boyz

    To Mama Bean- Yes, Protestants can pray the rosary. The Anglicans (Episcopalians) have an Anglican version of the rosary. I am an Episcopalian, although I was raised Catholic and I still pray the rosary- the Roman Catholic version- almost nightly. It is a great source of spiritual strength for me, and has been for my entire life. I don't meditate on the mysteries, but I think of all of the beautiful images of the Virgin Mary.

  32. Shannon

    When I teach men at the prison how to pray the rosary, especially if they've never had any exposure to it, I break it into two parts:

    The "How to Say the Rosary When You're With a Group of People" Way, which is about knowing the words to all the prayers and where they happen on the beads so you don't feel like the alien who beamed into the middle of the prayer meeting.

    The other way is "I'm Learning How to Do This and Trust God to Teach Me." Those single beads between the decades act as bookends. Start with the Lord's Prayer (whew! most everyone knows that one) and end with a doxology, "Glory be to the Father, etc." On the beads of the decade, say the name of Jesus.

    And all while you are thinking about an event in Jesus' life.

    It works. I don't know how, but it does.

    For me, the rosary isn't my prayer. I'm a raging extravert and my brain goes tripping off into all sorts of places. I stopped making prayer time a battle zone a long time ago.

  33. Lara

    elizabethE: I am so happy for what you posted. It is really making me think, although I am not sure I understand it all. thanks, though.

  34. Melanie

    This is a great post and so many insightful comments. I have struggled with the rosary and Marian devotion most of my life and God ultimately used my struggle to answer some of my most persistent prayers by inspiring my business. It has been a humbling journey. As I read your post and the comments, I have so much more to learn but am grateful that I have the opportunity to hear so many stories like this through my work.

  35. Jacquie

    I second any of the comments (I know I saw one but I didn't have time to read them all) about utilizing a Scriptural Rosary book. My MIL gave me this one (not from this site, but it's one of several that sell it):

    http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/resource_info/58.html

    Verses from the Bible for each Hail Mary that guide you through the mystery by the time your done with the decade.

    With Imprimatur and small enough to fit inside any purse. 🙂

  36. Stephanie

    We had tried many many times to pray an evening rosary with our 4 kids ages 6-1 yr. It was a challenge! Most of the time they were more concerned with which bead we were supposed to be on than any praying. We have had several broken rosaries from them being twirled or beat on the couch. Ahh! It would drive me crazy. All I could think about was how disrespectful it all looked. We wanted it to be a time for each of us to really reflect on the mysteries and what it was becoming was a "don't do that" battle.

    A few months ago some friends gave us a DVD set of a rosary musical. It is by Quiet Waters Productions. We do two mysteries each night with the children and they absolutely LOVE it. They ask for the rosary now every night. They scramble to be the one to get out all the rosaries and deliver them. They sing the songs throughout the day and even act out the scenes while they are playing. Even our 3yr. old knows all the mysteries! They recognize scripture in Mass from what they have heard and seen on the DVDs. It is so exciting for them to understand. It has been such a blessing to our family. I can not recommend this enough for families.

    http://www.quietwatersproductions.com/index.cfm?load=page&page=36&category=5&group=16

  37. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    Especially since my daughter was born and I struggle with insomnia (read: unable to finish a coherent thought, let alone pray!), I have had a shift in perspective. When I find myself drifting during the rosary, I do my best to refocus but I think of it as sanctifying my thoughts and worries, rather than lousy prayer…

  38. Loretta

    Momof2boyz – Thanks for answering the question about Protestants and the rosary as I was wondering the same thing. I think there is great beauty and much to be learned in many of the rituals of the church.

    Thanks for a post that helps this Protestant understand the rosary a little better.

  39. Anonymous

    I have a couple of thoughts, first the Rosary was a way of letting lay people participate in the Liturgy of the Hours, you can find some interesting history on the web.

    So, why not pray the Liturgy of the Hours since we aren't poor illiterate peasants and enjoy the fullness of what the Church wanted to give us.

    Also, when we add the third part of the Hail Mary we are turning the attention of the prayer back to ourselves, why not pray only the first two parts and keep the attention on Mary. I can't substantiate this, but I've heard that there is a history of it being prayed this way.

    Some cultures have the tradition as someone suggested of saying "fruit of the womb, Jesus… born in a stable for the Mystery of the Incarnation, etc.

  40. Emily J.

    Can I jump in the conversation, too? My parents converted when I was in elementary school, and even though I went to a Catholic college, I didn't know there WERE mysteries until I was married and we went to a couples rosary group. Love praying the rosary with a group. We say a nightly rosary with kids, so meditating on mysteries is difficult, but each kid offers prayer intentions before his decade, so I try to hold those people and issues in mind, and try not to think about all the other distractions of the day, including the distractions happening as we pray. I have been guilty of punishing a child while praying . I'm embarrassed to admit that and fear that it will make my kids hate prayer time, but they all get upset if I try to skip out (a diversionary tactic?)so I pray it hasn't scarred them too much.

    Love hearing others' stories of how they pray.

  41. lotusblossomjin

    I've been there, done that so much throughout the 20 something odd years I've been saying the Rosary. It is such a temptation to just droll through it, esp. when your parents are the ones "forcing" you to pray. But as I've gotten older and really made my Catholic faith my own, it's been much easier to remember, not necessarily easier to put into practice. I know God loves our prayers even if the practice is not to the "T" but it is nice to be reminded to keep the focus on Christ and off ourselves :).

  42. Trisha Niermeyer Potter

    I wouldn't beat yourself up over saying the Rosary "the wrong way." I believe many of us, if not all, have at some point or another fallen into the habit of saying prayers rather than really praying them, considering the words and their deeper meaning. It just shows us, yet again, that we need God's grace even to pray. The desire to pray itself is given to us by Him, as is the humility to realize we aren't even able to pray perfectly. God loves us so much and trembles with joy when we turn to Him for any reason, even when our spirit can only groan and the Holy Spirit must communicate because words escape us.
    Thank you for continuing to be so open and honest about your spiritual journey.
    God bless!

  43. matthew archbold

    Jen,
    You're probably going to Hell for saying the Rosary wrong for so long.

    As a Catholic you should know that unless you do everything according to the letter of the law, you get no graces at all. Zero.

    May your house be infested with scorpions!!!!

  44. Biggie

    When I was a kid, my mom would sometimes insist I sit across from her at the kitchen table and tell her everything. I would try to cut it short with a tidbit and start to rise to leave, but she would say, "No. I want to hear everything." The rosary is for me like sitting across the kitchen table from my Holy Mother, and she wants to hear everything.

    The beauty of the rosary is its very rote nature. It is possible to both say its prayers and at the same time entertain a separate thought stream. When my mind wanders, I consider the matters that come to mind are the concerns in my life of interest to my Holy Mother, my problems, worries, family problems, the well being of the children, etc.. So I do not chase those thoughts away, but share them with her.

    Then, at times, in the midst of these thoughts, the Holy Mother talks back. I find instances where she faced these same issues. And suddenly sometimes, in this manner, great revelations come in. I have considered, for example, the humility of the Holy Mother, or the loneliness of the Holy Mother, or her courage. I have understood her as a source of the gospels, revealing the nature of Christ's childhood and family home. I have asked her about particularly difficult mysteries for me, like the Transfiguration, and she has lead me to a deeper understanding.

    I don't really know or care if this is the designated purpose for the rosary, but it has become for me a daily refuge where I have the chance to go over things with someone very important to me. So I ask, why chase those all important thoughts away? It might be exactly what Mary wants to hear.

  45. David

    This is too funny!
    I hope I'm not doing more harm than good! 🙂
    Currently, I'm an Episcopalian trying to become a Catholic (man, you guys make it hard! 🙂 ) and I don't even have any Rosary beads yet. Anyway, I've been trying to pray it along with Fr. Groeschel and Simonetta on EWTN radio. (EWTN radio is how I found you, by the way.) I've got the same problem. I keep finding my mind drifting to other things. Guess I need to work on "staying focused".
    It's wierd though. After only a week or two, I almost feel guilty if I miss a day.
    Still gotta work on memorizing those last two long prayers. The other ones I still remembered from my Episcopalian days. Well, except for the Hail Mary, Holy Mary parts. But those were easy.

  46. pc

    "I have the freedom to roam wildly with Christ in all the different moments of his life, yet the structure to make me ponder elements that I might not have sought out on my own."

    That's awesome girl.

  47. Jamie

    I have non-mystery-related thoughts come in and out of my head regularly while praying therosary. However, I think all we can do is pull our attention back to the mysteries.

    I do not know this guy at all, but he has a nice blog and family and sells and inexpensive book on meditations for "real life" (not that Jesus's live wasn't real). But I thought I would share:

    http://www.realliferosary.com/

  48. SherryTex

    I love the rosary and readily admit, sometimes it is a checklist of prayers in the day. I forget the contemplative part as I martha through the prayers.

    I know God understands all our weakness and distraction and still wants us to be forever more and more present than we are before we've begun so good words; good advice.

    Have to still say the rosary today, will try to slow it down and be more aware of the prayers I say. Thanks!

  49. Anonymous

    Ya know, until you're comfy with the mechanics, it's unreasonable to demand "meditation" as well. That's what your post described — getting the mechanics down. You would be amazed how many adult Catholics don't have that.

    You've made progress and kudos for you!

    Now, when you can rattle off the Hail Holy Queen and the post-rosary indulgence prayer in the same breath, then you will be a rosary warrior. Exaggerating … 🙂

  50. Em the luddite

    Thanks for this, Jen. As an almost-baby-Catholic, the Rosary is coming slowly for me, but my spirit longs to enter into prayer that is not focused around myself, that involves listening rather than talking, receiving rather than pouring out, and contemplating rather than articulating.

  51. Suzanne

    As a evangelical fundamentalist convert, I had trouble getting into the Rosary and Mary, BUT i finally just decided that if the Church thought it was good, I should at least try it. (An interesting sidelight…whenever I've 'disagreed' w/ a Catholic teaching, I pray on it, let it simmer and stew on it, and realize that I trust the church, so i'll just have to accept it. But in every single case, I have come to the peaceful realization that the Church IS right..! but i digress….)
    One cool thing I heard, I think on Catholic radio that REALLY spoke to me: Think of it as sitting down with Mary and she is showing you her scrapbook of events in the life of her son. That totally blew my mind, because i am an avid scrapbooker and have scrapbooked every single event of my two now-20-something boys. So i GOT that! When I pray, I meditate on the 'photo album' that she is showing me and 'listen' to her tell me the story behind each 'photo'. Totally MADE the rosary for me!

  52. L. David

    The Scriptural Rosary is an excellent tool for keeping focused on each Hail Mary of each mystery. It has been around for a long time and now has the Luminous Mysteries as well. It's a tiny (good for carrying around with you) beautiful, blue and white hardback book that will become a favorite! Good luck!

  53. Anonymous

    Personally, I never pray the rosary the same twice. Sometimes I'm focused on the prayers themselves and their profound meaning. Most of the time it is on different aspects of the mysteries or petitions associated with them, and too often I am distracted. But I still think that the most beautiful thought I've ever heard on the rosary is that the words are the beautiful melody to my actual prayer.

  54. Susan

    Jennifer, I also think may be important to remember that you just may not have a strong devotion to the rosary. I'm not saying that you shouldn't say the rosary. Every Catholic should. I'm just saying that perhaps you're expecting to have a particularly strong devotion to it and you just don't. You have lots of other strong devotions!

  55. Anonymous

    The first 6 years I was Catholic (I converted at 14) I didn't even know there were mysteries!!!! Try praying the rosary without mysteries, and you will know that you were not doing it wrong, so much as incomplete.

  56. dbonneville

    I just got an iPhone Rosary app in the App Store called "Rosary Gems". It's designed to help you remember the mysteries and prayers so that you are focused more on praying than fiddling with papers or graphics or controls on the iPhone. Once you have the prayer and the mysteries memorized, it gets easier and easier.

    http://bonfx.com/iphone-rosary-app

    Yes, working to memorize while praying is a bit awkward, but once you get it memorized, you get freed up to pray much, much better. This helps you to combine your intention with some aspect of the mystery you are praying through, with Mary at your side, which is one of the best ways to pray the rosary.

    Also, learning to pray the rosary the same way every day facilitates better, richer, and deeper prayer. Anytime you have to fiddle with externals and take your mind out of the Spirit, it's a wasted opportunity. Learning to pray deeply is a great challenge, but the rewards are simply tremendous. Put in the work and keep at it and never give up.

  57. Dante Explorer

    Sometimes I get caught in the trap of overthinking. I know intellectually that the Liturgy of the Hours is a ricy and wonderful devotion, but I just love the Rosary and keep getting drawn back to it. As previous comments have suggested, God grants us graces to have an affinity to certain devotions, and we should accept them and be thankful.

  58. Sean McVeigh

    First of all, I'd like to say you did a nice job on your article. You obviously spent some time putting it together. I agree with some of the comments in that, there is no wrong way to pray the rosary. We are all like children who are growing in our faith. Your article shows that beautifully. Your desire to pray and be a good person shines through nicely. As time went on, you began to mature into a new dimension of prayer. We must not forget that the rosary evolved over hundreds of years. It started out as a set of 150 beads that the illiterate monks simply recited the crude original version of the prayer we now call the Hail Mary. It was not until many years later that the mysteries were added for meditation. In a sense, you progressed in the same way that the rosary itself progressed into its current form. I for one delight in seeing your walk with the Lord.

    Thanks for sharing.

    God bless you

    Sean at http://www.CatholicGuestSpeaker.com

  59. zuma

    Do you know why Catholics’ practice is not acceptable in protestant churches?
    The Bible forbids us to create anything in the likeness of man or of woman. Why should Catholics allow Mary’s statute or Jesus’ photograph to be in their churches and some of them even stand around it to pray? The following is the extracted verse:
    Exodus 4:16, “see that you do not corrupt yourselves by making an image in the shape of anything whatever: be it statue of man or of woman”
    Exodus 4:23, “Be careful not to forget the covenant which Yahweh your Goh has made with you, by sculpting an image or making a statue of anything, since Yahwah your God has forbidden this;”

    As God forbid us to make an image of anything, do you think that God would allow us to make rosaries and to use them to pray to Jesus?

    As mentioned in 2 Kings 18:3-4 that the bronze serpent that Moses made was destroyed in order for the people of Israel not to worship it, do you think God would allow Jesus’ or Mary’s statute to be displayed among churches for their worshipping or even to use rosaries to pray to Jesus through Mary? The following are the extracts:

    2 Kings 18:3-4, “He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Ashe’rah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehush’tan.”

    As God even destroyed the bronze serpent that Moses had made as mentioned in 2 Kings 18:3-4, do you think God would allow rosaries to be used to pray to Him?

    2 Chronicle 33:2-3 demand us not to worship all the host of heaven. Certainly it does not allow us to worship even Mary. The following is the extract:

    2 Chronicle 33:2-3, “HE DID WHAT WAS EVIL IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. FOR HE rebuilt the high places which his father Hezeki’ah had broken down, and erected altars to the Ba’als, and made Ashe’rahs, and WORSHIPED all the host of heaven, and served them.”

    As the phrase, He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, is mentioned in 2 Chronicle 33:2-3 with the phrase, For he…worshiped all the host of heaven, it gives the implication that God forbid us to worship angels and Mary even if she has been treated to be the Mother of God by Catholics.

    As God forbid us to worship all the host of heaven, do you think God would permit us to mention the name of Mary by means of rosaries in our prayer to God?

    Isaiah 17:7-8, “In that day men will regard their Maker, and their eyes will look to the Holy One of Israel; 8 they will not have regard for the altars, the work of their hands, and they WILL NOT LOOK TO WHAT THEIR OWN FINGERS HAVE MADE, either the Ashe’rim or the altars of incense.” (Catholic Bible)

    Isaiah 17:7-8 demand us not to look to what their own fingers have made. Do you think God would call us to give respect to Mary by building up her statute or even to pray to rosary through her name. The following are the extracted verses:
    The following are the extracted verses from King James Version:
    Isaiah 17:7-8, “At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, NEITHER SHALL RESPECT THAT HIS FINGERS HAVE MADE, either the groves, or the images.”

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