Our spirituality

Praying the Rosary

I used to pray the rosary, but now I find the repetition boring and meaningless. Can you help me?

If you find something meaningless, it is inevitable that you will find it boring. This is common human experience. Most of us have an appetite for television, but few of us have the stomach for the mathematics and physics that make the transmission of our favourite programmes possible. Some people are turned off by even more down-to-earth things.

A lady friend I worked with for years found golf on TV only slightly less boring than football. She couldn't see the point of grown men - and now women chasing around a field after a spherical object. I gave up trying to justify my interest in sport to her. The lady was not for turning.

I have to admit, however, that I envied her love of flowers and plants. She was in her element in her garden, where nothing was too much trouble to her. All the digging, planting, transplanting, pruning and cutting was meaningful for her. The sea of beautiful colours and delightful smells that eventually crowned her efforts made it all worthwhile.

Bearing Fruit

Prayer also has an end result: happiness. The most important thing about it is not that we get the little things we ask for, but what happens to us in the process. It is producing its fruit when God is glorified, and I become a larger-hearted, happier and more helpful human being.

Our reader, if I am not mistaken, has no problem with the value of prayer in general, but with a particular form of prayer, the rosary. With regard to this, we should remember that what we are talking about is a prayer period of about ten to fifteen minutes. This needn't prevent us from finding time for other good forms of prayer that we find more congenial during the many other hours of the day.

It is more important that we pray - that is, that we get in touch with God - than how we pray. There is a lot of evidence, however, that the rosary has been a valued part of the prayer life of many holy people, both canonized and anonymous, over the last millennium. The late Pope John Paul II is reputed to have described it as his favourite prayer.

'The Poor Man's Psalter'
The rosary, as we know it, has been a part of Church practice since the time of St. Dominic (1170-1221), and it has been promoted zealously by the Order he founded. The idea was to bring the great tradition of prayer in the Bible to people who hadn't the time to recite the Psalms, and who, in many cases, were unable to read.

The very first of the 150 Psalms considered blessed 'the one who murmurs the teaching of the Lord day and night'. Some pious Jews took this so literally that they learned all the Psalms by heart, and kept 'murmuring' them over and over again. Appreciating the religious value of this practice, the Dominicans promoted the 150 Hail Marys of the rosary as a replacement for the 150 Psalms. It came to be known as 'the poor man's psalter'. Without some variety, this could, indeed, be a tedious exercise, so they interspersed it with the Our Father and the Glory Be to the Father. All three of these prayers come straight from the gospels. The Hail Mary echoes the words of the Angel Gabriel and Elizabeth. The Our Father comes from Jesus himself. The Glory Be or Doxology continually reminds us of the Trinity, the central mystery of our faith.

Christian prayer began with Mary's response at the Incarnation. On more than one occasion, we are told how she reacted when some new situation arose in her life: 'As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart' (Lk.2:19). In the rosary we try to relive these events in faith, allowing them to impinge on our own lives as they did on hers.

For instance, a young expectant mother can easily identify with Mary in the Joyful Mysteries. The Mysteries of Light - only introduced in recent' years – can help any of us going through a
period of darkness. The Sorrowful Mysteries offer strength and encouragement in suffering. And there are reasons for hope for all of us in the Glorious Mysteries.

The rosary works on three levels: the deep mystery underlying each decade, the words spoken and the person spoken to. All three are interconnected, but at any given moment the main concentration of attention is on one of the three. In Germany there is a tradition, when reciting the rosary, of ensuring variety by adding a different phrase after 'blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus', such as, 'who was born in Bethlehem', 'who died for us' or 'who rose from the dead'.

Sometimes, but not always, repetition can be boring. This is as true of prayer as other aspects of life. We are told of Jesus that in Gethsemane 'being in agony he prayed the longer' (Lk.22:44). His prayer on that occasion was simply to keep repeating, 'Father, not my will but your will be done' (Mt.26:42). He kept repeating this until he won the victory over himself that was to be the price of our salvation.

Just Ask
One advantage of the rosary is its simplicity and adaptability. It can be said in the car, a place where so many of us spend more and more of our time, whether on fast-moving motorways or crawling through traffic. It is suitable whether alone or with others. It needs little preparation other than goodwill. It is a prayer that we can say even when we are too tired or too upset to think or do anything else.

As we recite the rosary, we remind ourselves of the only two moments in this life that we are sure of; 'now' and 'the hour of our death'. Our Lady is waiting to help us at these moments. All we have to do is ask. Like all good mothers, she doesn't seem to mind being pestered by her children.