“Continue to say the Rosary every day to obtain the peace of the world”
Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, July 13, 1917.
I had my 90-year-old mom in town last month and during one stint, my husband had a bad sinus infection so we put him in the guest room and mom slept with me. One night while we were going to bed, she pulled out her rosary (as she always does) and reminded me that Mary asked us to pray a daily rosary when she appeared in Fatima, Portugal and said the above words. “It’s not too much to ask” were my mom’s exact words to me that night.
As long as I can remember, my mom has been devoted to the rosary and keeps one under her pillow. I too have rosaries everywhere – in my purse, next to my bed, and in my car. Truth be told however, I’ve never been a devoted rosary sayer. Not sure why, as I’m a cradle Catholic, believe in it, and like I said, have seen my mom say one all the years of my life. Sometimes I feel guilty because I don’t know the Mysteries by heart or even what days to say them on. I always have to refer to my little rosary “cheat sheets” to get through one, although I do have an audio one I absolutely love and often listen to as I’m going to sleep at night; particularly those nights when my mind races and I just can’t get to sleep. Like magic, it works every time. What does that tell you? Or me?!
So what is the rosary and why do Catholics use them? Its history is quite fascinating and yes, biblical in many ways. In fact, it is, in essence, a compilation of the Gospel and leads us to contemplate Jesus Christ.
The name “rosary” is derived from the Latin word for “rose garden” and its beads are said to be like flowers on a stem. The rosary and devotion to it has evolved over many, many years. Today’s rosary is most likely the result of two traditions that developed separately and were combined in the 1400s. One tradition is based on Christ and the other is based on Mary. Early versions were divided into three sets of 50, mirrored after the Psalms in the Bible. Over the years, the Marian and Jesus versions were combined and the rosary gave way to what’s called a “chaplet” of 50 prayers. It’s interesting to note that the word chaplet comes from the French word for “crown.”
A typical rosary has 10 sets of beads called “decades” followed by a larger bead. On each smaller bead a “Hail Mary” is said and on each large bead an “Our Father” is prayed. When you recite the prayers, you move your fingers from one bead to the next one down or up on the rosary. Over time additional prayers have been added, including the “Glory Be,” the “Apostle’s Creed,” the “Fatima Prayer,” and “Hail Holy Queen” in addition to a new set of “mysteries.” The Mysteries are meditations surrounding the birth, life, and death of Jesus and his Mother. These are beautiful tributes that I won’t go into here, but if you’re curious look into them. Each can be attributed to the Bible and each is powerful in its own way.
The decade rosary beads are circular stranded and attached to a shorter strand that has a crucifix, one large bead, three small ones, and another large bead. A five-decade version typically has 59 beads. These beads might be made from silver, gold, glass, precious gems, pearls, or any number of materials. The one by my bed is similar to the above one as its made made from string-like ribbons and was handmade by my late niece. Mine is white though and even the cross is woven. It is beautiful in its simplicity and special in its origin.
As we pray the rosary we quietly meditate and its repetitive nature promotes a powerful and contemplative prayerful introspection. Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers can certainly all benefit greatly from this type of practice. The rosary teaches us how to just be and in some ways is the perfect prayer for busy people in today’s crazy, noisy, and confused world. It also settles our hearts and minds. We live hectic lives in a chaotic world, a world troubled by war, violence, hate, division, and brokenness. Amidst the chaos and confusion, our souls yearn for peace and clarity. The rosary puts things in perspective and allows us to see things as they really are while praying for things we hope for. It reaches deep down into our souls and puts us at ease, creating a peace that is rare and beautiful. Ultimately, it teaches us to slow down, calm down, let go, offer our struggles to God, and listen.
But it is more than that. It has the true power to heal and to make a difference in your life, the life of loved ones, our communities, our nation, and the world as a whole. I for one trust without a doubt that my mom’s many rosaries said on my behalf saved me and blessed me. I believe!
When we pray the rosary, we can bring our needs and struggles, and the needs of others, to Mary. She cares for us like a loving mother and wants to bring our troubles to her son Jesus. Being the good Son that He is, Jesus listens to his mamma! He listens when we pray in His name for the needs of our family and friends, for our schools and churches, our neighborhoods and neighbors, the sick and lonely, and our troops and leaders. Praying the rosary can bring peace to a troubled world, healing to broken hearts, and clarity to those in chaos.
The Feast of the Holy Rosary is October 7, a tradition that started in 1573. Devotion to it was made popular by Dominican preachers and Saints Philip and Louis de Montfort promoted the saying of it. A century’s old tradition, you could say the rosary “went viral” in May of 1917 when Catholics believe Mary appeared to three young village children in Fatima, Portugal. Among her many messages was the request of saying a daily rosary as well as getting spiritually healthy and letting Her be your guide.
Her message was simple and practical, but how do we get there? Maybe start by identifying things in your life that need to change. This could anything from bad habits to an unhealthy lifestyle, envy to gossip. Then, focus on ways to make improvements, ask God for advice, and invite Him into your decisions. You should also establish a daily habit of prayer and meditation. It doesn’t have to be long. Even just 10 minutes can make a difference.
And while I’m here and before I close, I want to squelch the common notion that Catholics “worship” Mary, statues, or even the rosary. Catholics agree that it is wrong to worship any image and that we worship only God as noted in Psalms 115 and 135.
Even ancient Israel was concerned about idolatry and the pagan culture. But when Jesus was born, God was seen in the flesh for the very first time. Although we don’t know exactly what He looked like, Christians began depicting Him in images. They did the same for Mary, the Apostles, and others. Keep in mind that for more than 1,500 years of Christian history, there were no printing presses and most people could not read or write. Art, in the form of paintings, stained glass, mosaics, and statues, served as important ways of teaching the Bible and religions as a whole. Today, they serve the same function in the Catholic Church as say family photos do. They are simply reminders of those who have gone before us and just as we ask others to pray for us, we ask them to pray to God for us too. We can never have too many people praying for us, right?
In today’s morally damaged society, the danger of idolatry is not too much idolization of religious statues and photos, but rather the worship of money, fame, sex, drugs, power, pleasure, and control. Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about “too much Mary” and focus more on “too little praying.” The rosary is a good place to start.