Ah the rosary. So often misunderstood, just like Our Blessed Mother herself, but a truly magnificent gift and a gift so thoughtful of course only a mother would think to give it.
The rosary can also be intimidating – “Where do I start?” “What does it mean?” “How do I even use it?”
Before really getting into the rosary myself, I’d heard a few people, including one of my favorite apologists Scott Hahn, gush over the positive impact it has had on their lives. But what I knew about the rosary was an incorrect mixture of Catholicism as portrayed in pop culture. Like a priest giving penance in the form of Hail Marys. Or maybe in a movie where someone is murdered and dramatically, you see their rosary clutched in their lifeless hands. Basically, it boiled down to a superstition or a punishment.
Then I learned the meaning behind the rosary, what it really is, and look, I don’t often delight in being wrong but man I’m so glad I was!
My prayer life has been pretty robust. Most mornings I’m up before 5am. With a fresh cup of coffee (I take mine with heavy cream – so decadent), I head to the couch and start running through my stack of materials: The Bible, the rosary (on its own, substituted with the Divine Mercy chaplet or a combination of the two), and then whatever religious book I’m reading at the moment.
I’ve been consistent with this nearly every day for many months.
My life has been transformed. My faith has meaning to it that I didn’t even expect it would. I understand things about my faith that I wouldn’t or couldn’t have otherwise. In the Catholic tradition, you hear things like “meditating on the mysteries.” But it might be hard to understand what that’s really like. Now I know.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details but rather give you a practical starter’s guide on how to pray the rosary and then set you loose in the spiritual wild so you can harvest rewards of your own.
But before we begin, I do want to emphasize an extremely important point about faith and prayer. Faith is NOT a feeling. If you pray but don’t feel the Holy Spirit transforming your life or suddenly miracles don’t take up the majority of your day, that by no means is an indication that prayer is failing. In my Catholic journey, I’ve heard many times that people gave up on their faith because they didn’t get all the feels from it. Welp, suck it up buttercup. Many many saints and the blessed have gone through a “dark night of the soul,” but they continued on knowing that a great reward would greet them later on. And so we must all do, even if the benefits of prayer aren’t humming sweet nothings in your ears afterwards. Keep at it. Our faith practices, if done in earnest, have wonderful consequences whether they are tangible to us immediately or not.
Okay, disclaimer aside. Let’s begin.
How to Pray the Rosary
Step 1) Get a rosary. Or don’t. If you have ten fingers (or even ten toes), you can pray the rosary.
Step 2) Make the sign of the cross and recite the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
Step 3) Say one Our Father:
Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Step 4) Say one Hail Mary on each of the next three beads:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Step 5) Say one Glory Be:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Step 6 -10) Recite one Our Father and 10 Hail Marys, meditating on the mystery for that “decade” (one decade equals an Our Father and 10 Hail Marys). Finish the decade with one Glory Be.
Repeat this sequence five times total.
Step 11) Finish by reciting Hail Holy Queen and Let Us Pray and the sign of the cross:
Hail Holy Queen:
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee to we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us; and after this, our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O Holy mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let Us Pray:
O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
What Do You Mean “Meditating on the Mysteries”?
Each day of the week, a set of mysteries, or events in the life of Jesus as seen and experienced through His mother Mary, is assigned. They are broken down as such:
with a group.
The Five Joyful Mysteries are traditionally prayed on Mondays, Saturdays, and, during the season of Advent, on Sundays:
- The Annunciation
- The Visitation
- The Nativity
- The Presentation in the Temple
- The Finding in the Temple
The Five Sorrowful Mysteries are traditionally prayed on Tuesdays, Fridays, and, during the season of Lent, on Sundays:
- The Agony in the Garden
- The Scourging at the Pillar
- The Crowning with Thorns
- The Carrying of the Cross
- The Crucifixion and Death
The Five Glorious Mysteries are traditionally prayed on Wednesdays and, outside the seasons of Advent and Lent, on Sundays:
- The Resurrection
- The Ascension
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit
- The Assumption
- The Coronation of Mary
The Five Luminous Mysteries are traditionally prayed on Thursdays:
- The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan
- The Wedding Feast at Cana
- Jesus’ Proclamation of the Coming of the Kingdom of God
- The Transfiguration
- The Institution of the Eucharist
For anyone who is into meditation, you may be familiar with the term “guided meditation,” wherein the practitioner is given guidance on how to meditate, like breathing or letting go of thoughts or sensing various parts of the body.
The rosary is similar, in that it is a guided meditation. With the quiet recitations of these powerful demonstrations of faith, we can focus our minds at the task at hand: Thinking of and really internalizing the events of Jesus’s life. We do it through Mary as she is the only fully human person (unlike Jesus who is simultaneously human and divine) to become glorified, meaning she has already become what God intends for us all to be after the end times when Jesus returns and we are resurrected in Christ. So in this way of praying, we can align ourselves as humans with the one human whom God has already entirely saved. Her perspective is invaluable to us and something we can align ourselves to as well.
Praying the rosary also allows us to spend time with various and important moments in Christ’s life, death, and ministry so we can better understand their importance and impact on our own lives. Our faith is built around Him. It is only fitting and right that we meditate on them.
A Brief Defense of the Rosary and Mary
To go into why we venerate Mary will need to be in another dedicated blog post. But it’s important to note that I, like all Catholics, say venerate Mary, not worship. We hold her in great esteem. And if you read and study each of the prayers above, you’ll see that we are simply asking Mary to pray alongside us, just as we would ask our other mother or sister or friend to pray for us in times of trouble.
And you’ll see in the sequence of the rosary, that God is the anchor for all our petitions. He is what we begin with, what we root our prayers in throughout the rosary, and who we end with. The Alpha and the Omega. Mary is simply our gracious guide, our mother and friend who happily brings our prayers to her Son Jesus just as she did at the Wedding at Cana.
Many protestants misunderstand our devotions to Mary. She is not viewed as a god, or another divine person occupying the eternal throne that belongs to our God. She is the bearer of God, she gave life in this world to God. She, as the New Eve, was conceived, just like Eve, without the stain of Original Sin, so that she would be a pure vessel for the pouring out of God’s Word and Love.
And without that stain, it was possible for her to experience a virgin birth and no birthing pains (as was the punishment of all women when Eve was banished from the Garden of Eden, see: Genesis 3:16). She was the first Christian, the first human to achieve the glory that God intends for all of us. She is, as the Hail Holy Queen prayer goes, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. She is who we will might all be someday, God willing and with His Grace.
Okay, I’m Ready to Start Praying the Rosary. Now What?
Here are some tips on getting started:
- Pray along with me! On The Catholic Mama podcast, you can download a rosary prayer that corresponds to each of the Mysteries (and don’t forget to subscribe to The Catholic Mama podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or Google Play!)
- Start small: Pray a decade to start, increasing by one each week.
- Pray the rosary in moments of peace or when you’re in need of a moment of peace. Stuck in traffic? Pray the rosary. Trouble falling asleep, pray the rosary. Making dinner? Pray the rosary. Better this than letting your brain run amok.
- I love this booklet to help guide my meditations on the rosary and mysteries of Christ, or this pamphlet (pretty to look at, helpful, but less detail than the other one). I use both of these simultaneously.
- I use the rosary to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and really recommend this book for moms (and dads!), as well as this book for combining the rosary with Divine Mercy.
- Finally, for further insight into the rosary, I recommend watching this video.
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