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When I was a child, our family would occasionally pray the Rosary. I thought it was the most boring and monotonous thing. To me, it was just a bunch of meaningless mumbo jumbo. Honestly, I loathed it.
Not surprisingly, as a young adult, I never gave this particular prayer form any thought. Although I loved God, had a good prayer life, and practiced my Catholic Faith, the Rosary was one prayer tool that I never used.
Then one day, as a 20-year-old soldier, I found myself at table with several of my “brothers in arms.” We were all good friends; we were all committed Christians; and, we were all talking about the power of prayer. Within that conversation, at an appropriate time and in a direct yet respectful way, one of my Protestant buddies asked why we Catholics “worship Mary” referring specifically to the Rosary. While I knew and clearly answered that we worship God alone and do not worship Mary or any other saint for that matter, I did not know enough to offer a richer explanation.
Ironically one of the sergeants at the table by the name of Don, a profoundly prayerful and joyful non-denominational Spirit filled Christian, began to explain the Rosary very clearly and lovingly. He also claimed that he prayed the Rosary from time to time. Everyone at that table, myself included, was shocked.
As he spoke, Don explained that the Rosary is not primarily about Mary regardless of the fact that some people, including some Catholics, think it is. The year was 1986, some 16 years prior to Pope John Paul II issuing a careful reflection on the same insight that the Rosary is primarily about Jesus.
Don continued by explaining that the mysteries of the Rosary amount to “scripture on the beads” (for a free & concise list of these “mysteries” with scriptural references, see http://www.catholiccompany.com/content/Mysteries-of-the-Rosary.cfm). When praying the beads, we reflect upon the mystery of that particular section of the rosary (e.g. the first glorious mystery is the resurrection of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ). At the same time, we are praying with Mary, Jesus’ mother, even though we may be “alone” in an earthly sense. Don then reminded us that that when two or more Christians gather in prayer in Jesus name, Jesus is truly present. Thus we are praying with Mary in Jesus presence.
In addition to Don’s explanation, the Lord’s Prayer (see Mt. 6:9-13), and the Hail Mary are Biblical (see http://thesplendorofthechurch.blogspot.com/2010/08/biblical-basis-for-hail-mary-and.html). In other words we are praying, not simply reading, scripture–most specifically the mysteries of the life of Jesus with and, in a sense, through the eyes of His mother.
For the first time in my life, at that table with fellow paratroopers and Special Forces soldiers, I began to understand and appreciate the Rosary. Several more years would pass before I would actually begin to pray the Rosary. Once I did, the scriptures began to be grafted into my heart, not just my head.
And so, I close with two insights:
“To look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of His human life, and then to grasp the divine splendor definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of every follower of Christ . . . ‘Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into His likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’ (2 Cor. 3:18).” (John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 9.)
“Against the background of the words Ave Maria [Hail Mary], the principle events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, [luminous], sorrowful, and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through–we might say–the heart of His mother.” (John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 2.)
If you are interested in thinking more carefully about this particular prayer form, feel free to catch me here at AQ and/or read Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary) issued by John Paul II, Pope on 16 October 2002 for free at