I never thought I’d be the sort of person—the sort of Christian—that prays the Rosary.
That said, I never thought I’d be the sort of Christian that was a Catholic either.
But, in the end, it turns out that praying the Rosary, in more ways than not, made me a Catholic. And changed my life.
What I’d thought, as a younger evangelical Protestant, was merely a kind of cultural superstition turns out to be one of the most gratifying, uplifting, and powerful Christian devotions. And, well, I’ll be the first to admit that there is, surely, a lot of cultural attachment to the Rosary it needn’t be a mere curiosity and is, in reality, a terribly powerful weapon in the hands of the believer.
The Rosary is a Christian Devotion
When I started out my experiment living as a Catholic I didn’t know a lot about the rosary so I read everything I could get my hands on. I learned, to my genuine surprise, that the Rosary isn’t a Catholic devotion but a wholly Christian one with its origins somewhere in the ninth century.
The ninth century.
As an evangelical Protestant this was news to me.
I’d always assumed, with its strong ties to the Virgin Mary, that the Rosary was a more recent development, certainly something that arose following the Reformation. I’d assumed, wrongly, that earlier Christians, especially those as far back as the ninth century, wouldn’t have been burdened by all the “stuff” that the Catholic Church put in the way of Jesus.
This was how I thought. That Mary was a burden. That the rosary impeded my way to Jesus.
But I was wrong.
And, as it turns out, the rosary is a rather ancient devotion. And, as it turns out, Christians well before the Protestant-Catholic split saw incredible value in praying the rosary and clearly understood the important role of Mary in their lives. Christians who are part of our shared history, no matter what side of the schism you fall on.
The Rosary is a Meditation and a Prayer
So I started praying the rosary, and it changed my life.
Because the rosary isn’t what most non-Catholics think it is. It certainly wasn’t what I thought it was. First, I thought it was a very Catholic devotion. It wasn’t. It’s not, as I’ve shown. Second, I thought it was something to do with the worship of Mary which, I’ve learned, couldn’t be further from the truth.
The rosary is a meditation and a prayer. It’s perhaps one of the greatest prayers and meditations in the history of Christianity—excepting, of course, the prayer that Jesus Himself gave us.
As a meditation, the rosary can’t be beat.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the rosary is a meditation on the life of Jesus. The Catholic Church has set four different series of what are called mysteries which, depending on the day of the week, are meditated on in groups of five as you pray. If it sounds complicated it’s really not—I could figure it out pretty quickly. Google helps.
The rosary is also a meditation on the role of the Virgin Mary who the Catholic Church believes, based on the Bible and tradition, Jesus gave as mother to us all.
The first part of the famous Hail Mary, which you pray as part of the rosary, is taken right from the Scriptures and goes like this,
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
In the rosary, in the Hail Mary prayer, we meditate on the very words of the angel Gabriel. Then, we meditate on the reason why she is so blessed: the fruit of her womb. Jesus. We bless Jesus.
And, we fulfil Mary’s own prophetic remarks when she says, in Luke 1:48, that “all generations will call [her] blessed.”
In its prayer form, the rosary petitions the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, to pray for us as well,
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
This is really the crux of it.
Acknowledging Mary’s special role as Mother of God, as the mother that Jesus in turn gave to all of us, we ask her to pray for us. We ask her in our understanding of the Communion of Saints—in our understanding that those in Heaven can pray for us here on earth. And with a special understanding of the role that Mary plays as first amongst all the saints—pictured in the ancient Christian understanding of the Book of Revelation.
The Rosary is a Humbling Prayer Experience
But understanding the history of the rosary and what it is is, of course, a far cry from being drawn into it, and from beginning to pray it but begin I did.
The rosary is an incredibly humbling prayer experience.
Depending on the day of the week, you’re meditating on a narrative from the life of Jesus. Regardless, however, of which narrative you’re meditating on the experience places you squarely in your place—as a mortal human; as a child of God.
On certain days, your meditation is on the joyful experience of Mary and Joseph as Jesus begins His life and ministry. Or, on other days, you’re meditating on the anguish that our Lord experienced leading up to His crucifixion, and death. Or you’re meditating on the glorious reign of Christ following the resurrection or the incredible miracles He performed during His ministry.
In any case, remembering these events puts you, the person praying, in proper perspective. It’s humbling.
It’s humbling, likewise, because the bulk of the prayer is a petition.
The bulk of the rosary is asking Mary, Mother of God, to remember us in her prayers before her son. And, in the “O My Jesus” prayer which ends every decade of the rosary, we ask Jesus to forgive us, and to lead us into Heaven.
We petition. We ask. We seek. Sometimes, we beg.
The rosary is beautiful that way, and humbling.
The Rosary is a Powerful Weapon of Prayer
The rosary is also a powerful weapon of prayer.
For over a thousand years, since it began to be popularly practiced, prayer of the rosary has been associated with countless miracles, and promises. It’s a tested and tried devotion.
Since I began trying to live like a Catholic, to try it out, before I ever joined the Church I was drawn inexplicably to the rosary. Truly, I don’t know why. It’s not the kind of thing that I ever thought would appeal to me. If anything, the Mary part of the Catholic Church is what gave me pause, and engendered doubts about my journey. It is, in fact, what gives most non-Catholics pause when thinking about approaching the Church.
And it likely should.
But with a proper understanding of the rosary, and Marian devotion, it became clear to me that what I thought I knew, and what gave me pause as a Protestant, was simply untrue.
The opposite, the truth, was incredible.
This past week I had the opportunity to join a bunch of men, on a Friday night, for Mass and small group. Except for the Mass bit, which was kind of central, it was a lot like something a group of evangelical Protestants would do. Small group. And I liked that because, as I’ve found out, Catholics aren’t always terribly good at doing the stuff that evangelicals do well—like building community, and fellowship. But, I digress.
After the Mass, and before the pizza and fellowship, we got back down on our knees, in the pews near the front of the church (the nave, as Catholics call it), and prayed the rosary together.
A bunch of grown men, praying the rosary.
It was incredible. And surreal.
Because I said the rosary is a humbling prayer, and that’s true, and it was made that much more humbling to be praying it in a group of men. To be, together, humbling ourselves before Jesus Christ and Mary, His servant, who we believe He gave to us, as our mother too.
To be asking for prayer and forgiveness and to be reflecting on Him who gives us both.
I don’t think I’ll forget that experience for a long time. And I don’t think I’ll pray the rosary quite the same way ever again. Because it is, after all, a powerful weapon of prayer. Imagine all those praying with rosary beads in their hands. Imagine all those petitions floating up before God. Imagine Christians on earth as a kind of army of prayer—the Church Militant, as Catholic theology calls us.
It’s awesome, in the full sense of the word.
That’s how the rosary has changed my life.