Why the Rosary is not “Vain Repetition”

There is an aspect of Eastern meditation that is present in the use of the rosary however. The repetition of a mantra–a repetitious prayer does have an effect on our minds and hearts. What it does in Eastern meditation is that it occupies the “language channel” of the mind allowing the rest of the mind to enter a state of emptiness. This is the object of Eastern meditation. The repetitious prayer provides a kind of “background static” so that the mind can move beyond language to the realm of the Spirit.

This Eastern form of meditation is actually not only vain but spiritually dangerous. If a person is not baptized or protected by the Holy Spirit, once they have “emptied their mind” they can also open their mind and heart to foreign spirits. This is the criticism of Transcendental Meditation. The mantra the person is given to recite seems like a meaningless word. However, some critics say the word “Omm” is not a meaningless word, but the name of a Hindu deity and that an unprotected person, by chanting this name over and over is actually invoking a pagan god and inviting them into their heart and mind which has been conveniently vacated through the prayer technique.

The repetitious prayer of the rosary has a similar effect of occupying the linguistic channel of the mind, but instead of doing so with a meaningless word or phrase it depends on the deeply meaningful prayer of the Hail Mary which takes the person into the heart of the mystery of the incarnation.

The aim of the rosary therefore is not to empty the mind, but to fill the mind with the mysteries of the life of Christ. The aim of the rosary is n0t to enter a numb state of mental and emotional emptiness, but to enter into the fullness of the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries and thereby to enter more fully and mysteriously into the life of Christ.

The rosary is one of those particularly Catholic traditions which does link us strangely to some non-Christian religions. Practitioners of Eastern religions and pagan religions do use repetitious prayer, and repetitious prayer clearly has some practical benefits: it occupies the linguistic channel of the mind thereby opening the super linguistic areas of the mind to a higher level of prayer. However, the rosary differs from those pagan forms of prayer because it does not take the religious disciple into a bland and blank state in which anything can happen. Instead it takes the disciple of Christ into a positive, powerful and meaningful participation in the mystery of the incarnation.

The rosary is therefore a powerful symbol of  the whole of Catholic theology. Our religion is not an escape from reality or an avoidance of the physical. Instead it is an immersion in reality and a full participation in the physical. Our religion is not an escape from this world, but an embrace of this world. It is not a mental opt out, but a fully human opting in. Christian prayer is not an ethereal experience of another world, but a super charged experience of the other world penetrating this one through the mystery of the incarnation of the  second person of the Trinity into this world through the amazing action of taking flesh of the Blessed Virgin.

The rosary is powerful and transformative because it is a daily, simply, prayerful and powerful participation in this mystery of our redemption and the redemption of the whole world.