It is hard to convey to those who approach the subject with a fixed prejudice that we are worshipping Mary, just what praying the Rosary adds to one’s spiritual life. I adopted the practice as an Anglican, continued it as an Orthodox and attribute my own crossing of the Tiber to it. Contemplative prayer is not something which comes easy to me. My mind tends to want to move on, having grasped whatever it is it needed to grasp; there is always another book to read, another set of thoughts with which to grapple, more to learn and to do; the depths of our faith are almost fathomless, and there is always something more to get from Holy Scripture. All of that is so, but none of it aids the process of prayer.
Most men indeed, I fear, neither pray at fixed times, nor do they cultivate an habitual communion with Almighty God. Indeed, it is too plain how most men pray. They pray now and then, when they feel particular need of God’s assistance; when they are in trouble or in apprehension of danger; or when their feelings are unusually excited. They do not know what it is either to be habitually religious, or to devote a certain number of minutes at fixed times to the thought of God.
Before I encountered the Rosary, that was very true of me. The Rosary gives me three things I needed: a regular habit of prayer; a fixed manner of prayer; and time to be with God. Like Our Lady herself, the prayer in profoundly Christocentric; it also anchors on firmly in Holy Scripture and sound doctrine.
So, we begin with a statement of the Apostles’ Creed – which reminds us of the essentials of our faith, and begins with a confession of what we believe about God – that the Godhead is a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It grounds us, too, in a firm statement of belief in the redemption brought by Christ, who really died on the Cross, was really buried, and who rose again from the dead – and who will return at the end of time. It confesses our optimism in the belief that we shall rise again with him. That done, we move on to the prayer Jesus himself taught us – the first of six times that prayer is said during the twenty minutes or so it takes to pray a decade of the Rosary.
After three Hail Marys for faith, hope and charity to increase in us – and which of us would not want that? – we move on to meditating on episodes from Scripture. Across the twenty five mysteries, twenty four have Scriptural texts on which to meditate as you pray – so there is a journey through the Gospels and through episodes in the life and death of Christ: we move from the first Joyful Myster – the Annunciation, through to the fifth Glorious Mystery, the Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven. The only Mystery without Scriptural attestation is the Assumption of Our Lady, but that has been a belief of Christians for longer than texts exist, and is attested to through our belief that she was without sin.
The whole process, if one prays a decade, takes about twenty minutes or so, and provides an oasis of calm in the day. I tend to pray just before retiring for the night. It makes an end of the day, and provides a gap between it and sleep – allowing time with God, to meditate on his word and his goodness.
It is easy enough, even then, to be distracted, but the quiet of the night offers fewer distractions than the day, and, if you light candles, as I do, provides an atmosphere conducive to meditation. Through the Rosary, I have been able to do that thing Newman found hard – to pray as though one is in God’s presence, and to spend time and effort on it. Those who imagine it is some kind of ‘Mary-worship’ reveal only their ignorance, both of Catholic belief, and of the effects of the prayer itself. If you do not pray the Rosary, give it a try. it will take a while, but it is well worth it.