The whole purpose of praying the Rosary is that it helps us to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. The Lord Himself asked His disciples to pray unceasingly, so from the earliest times, His followers wanted to be faithful to His request. Thus, the custom of repetitive, meditative prayer has a long history in the life of the Church.
The Rosary, as we know it today, evolved over the centuries. One tradition traces the Rosary to St. Dominic Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order. According to this tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and instructed him in a very unique combination of preaching and prayer that she told him would become one of the most powerful weapons against future errors and difficulties.
With time, eventually many Christians took up the practice of saying one hundred and fifty Hail Marys in imitation of the monks who would recite one hundred and fifty psalms contained in the Psalter or Divine Office. They believed in their hearts that Mary would always lead them to her Son, so they prayed with her and reflected on the mysteries of Jesus’ life.
Until a couple of years ago, the full rosary consisted of fifteen decades (or sets) of ten Hail Marys each, and divided by an Our Father. Each of the decades is devoted to a mayor event or “mystery” in the story of our salvation. Praying the rosary is a spiritual exercise that is meant to draw us closer to God. The idea is not merely to have a rule or a count of how many prayers we recite. Holding the beads in your hands is good, but the most important part is the prayer and reflection.
In October of 2002, Pope John Paul II proposed in his new apostolic letter on the Most Holy Rosary that five new mysteries be added. These are called the Luminous Mysteries (or Mysteries of Light) and it is recommended that they be prayed on Thursdays. The reason for the addition of five new mysteries is so that the Rosary may have a greater Christological depth. In other words, now we may reflect and meditate on more aspects of Jesus’ life in this case, His public ministry, that part of His life that came between His Baptism and His Passion (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 19). Thus, we now have a fuller story a fuller “compendium of the gospel.”
Praying the rosary is a spiritual exercise that is meant to draw us closer to God. The idea is not merely to have a rule or a count of how many prayers we recite. Holding the beads in your hands is good, but the most important part is the prayer and reflection. Our Holy Father calls the Rosary “a training in holiness” (RVM, no. 5) in that it commits the faithful to contemplate the Christian mystery. This is the key and secret to the power of the Rosary it is a beautiful method of contemplation that leads us closer to Christ, and this in turn will lead us to desire to become more like Him.
Because the rosary is a repetitive, meditative prayer, if the time of day or the place allows for this type of reflection, then any time or place would be fine. Many Catholics wonder if it is appropriate to recite the rosary during Mass. The Mass is one time when the rosary should not be prayed because it is very important to be focused on everything that is happening during the Holy Sacrifice. Praying the rosary would only divide our attention. At the Mass, Jesus comes to us in His body, blood, soul and divinity. It is the highest form of prayer there is. Therefore, no other prayer is necessary or appropriate at this time.
If the reason a person missed Mass was intentional, then that would constitute a mortal sin and could not be made up by reciting the rosary. If, however, you missed Mass and had good reason (illness, caring for others, unable to get to a Church, etc.), then reciting the rosary, or meditating on Scripture on that day, or going to Mass on another day of that week would be acceptable and good.
© Copyright 2004 Grace D. MacKinnon
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Grace MacKinnon holds an MA in theology and is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.