With Anna and Rae‘s recent posts, and the Month of the Rosary coming to a close, I thought that I should write a little bit about why I love the Rosary. I don’t pray it as often as I should, but among all the prayers of the Church, the Rosary is my favorite.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Rosary, the basic structure is a series of five “decades.” Each decade consists of:
- An Our Father (Lord’s Prayer)
- 10 Hail Mary’s
- A Glory Be
- Perhaps another devotional prayer (like the Fatima decade prayer)
As we say the prayers for each decade, we meditate on a specific mystery in the life of Christ and His Holy Mother. For instance: the Wedding at Cana, or the Ascension. These mysteries are grouped into four sets:
- The Joyful Mysteries (from the Annunciation to the Finding in the Temple)
- The Luminous Mysteries (from the Baptism of Our Lord to the Last Supper)
- The Sorrowful Mysteries (from the Agony in the Garden to the Crucifixion)
- The Glorious Mysteries (from the Resurrection to the Coronation of Mary)
When Catholics say that say that we’ve prayed a Rosary, what we typically mean is that we prayed a complete five decades (one set of mysteries).
If you’d like a detailed guide on how to pray the Rosary, here is a complete guide (PDF).
It draws us into the liturgical life of the Church
Though, strictly speaking, the Rosary isn’t part of the Church’s liturgy, it is intimately united to the liturgy. In fact, the Rosary appears to have first evolved as a simplified form of the Liturgy of the Hours that the laity could practice without recourse to expensive (and for many, unreadable) books. As such, there are several ways that the Rosary points beyond itself to the Church’s liturgy.
The sets of mysteries
Like the liturgical year, the mysteries of the Rosary walk us through the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection, and beyond, to the beginning of the Church at Pentecost and the Coronation of Mary, anticipating the eschatological destiny of the Church as a whole.
But each set of mysteries is also associated with a different day of the week. For instance, the Sorrowful Mysteries are traditionally prayed on Friday, while the Glorious Mysteries are prayed on Sunday. In this way, a week of praying the Rosary recapitulates the entire liturgical year, from Advent to Lent to Easter.
The individual prayers
The Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be are all drawn from the Liturgy. But they also point to the liturgy. For example:
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The Hail Mary performs a sort of synecdoche, letting part of a thing stand for the whole. It begins with Christ’s Advent in the Annunciation. It ends with our end, our personal Good Friday, with the Blessed Mother standing at the foot of our Cross. And it gives us hope that we may also participate in His Easter Morning.
Even in this simple prayer, we are being drawn into the Life of Christ through the liturgical life of the Church.
It functions at every level of prayer
Classically, the Church has distinguished between three different levels of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. Vocal prayer is just what it sounds like, and “is an essential element of the Christian life.” In meditative prayer “The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking.” Contemplative prayer “is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son.” (CCC Article 1)
Because of the Rosary’s scriptural and liturgical structure, it is endlessly adaptable to our needs and abilities. When we can focus, it is suited to meditation. When we can rest our unquiet mind, it is suited to contemplation. But when we are agitated and unfocused, we can still let the words of Scripture and Tradition wash over us. And simply praying the vocal prayers can gradually draw us into the meditation and contemplation of Christ that we so need.
That is why I love the Rosary.