Friday, October 21, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am
QUESTION: How does one make the rosary a real experience of prayer? So far, it is just not easy for me, but maybe I don’t understand the history behind it.
ANSWER: The rosary seems to have developed gradually from pious devotion to the mysteries of Christ’s life together with love for the Virgin Mary.
Within the official prayer of the church, the 150 psalms have always had a special place. During the centuries, especially in the early Middle Ages, that important prayer form was no longer part of the life of many Christians due largely to the fact that they could not read. Therefore, attempts were made to foster the people’s prayer, replacing the psalms with the prayer “that Jesus taught.” Thus, people began to recite the Lord’s Prayer 150 times in imitation of the 150 psalms.
There also existed a parallel devotion to the Virgin Mary in which the biblical salutation of the angel Gabriel (the “ave,” “Hail, full of grace ...”) was recited 150 times. Both of these popular devotions seem to have been combined beginning sometime in the 13th century.
The use of the “mysteries” in relation to this prayer form also had a rather complex development. Originally, the “aves” were used while one meditated on the event originating in the angelic greeting — namely, the Annunciation. Soon, however, other biblical verses were used that referred to events in the life of Jesus and Mary. Eventually, these points of meditation multiplied into a prayer form employing a combination of Our Fathers and Hail Marys with a biblical verse, statement or image.
Eventually, this prayer form was called the “rosarium” (a rose garden) because it was seen as a variety of prayers brought together as a unified gift of praise. Its attraction was its simplicity utilizing prayers and the mysteries that were easily remembered.
Effective use of the rosary as prayer requires some effort. Too often, people attempt to pray the rosary but give up because it does not meet their expectations of prayer. The rosary is actually an approach to prayer that is more in keeping with Eastern traditions, allowing one not simply to recite prayers but to become absorbed in prayer. The repetition of the Hail Mary becomes a “background” for our meditation (thoughts) about the mysteries announced at each decade. Omission of the mysteries and too much focus on the actual prayers tends to reduce the “meditative” aspect of the rosary.
Unfortunately today some people add additional prayers in the public recitation of the rosary. This, in my opinion, detracts from the rosary’s simplicity and beauty. What had been for centuries a simple meditative prayer form has now become expanded with wordy additions of every sort. By doing so, the very people who are attempting to foster the rosary may be contributing to its decline.
The private recitation of the rosary continues to be a very valuable and beautiful Catholic form of prayer. Composed chiefly of mysteries and the Our Fathers and Hail Marys, it provides a fitting vehicle for our thoughts on the mysteries of our faith and how they continue to challenge us in our daily lives.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.