When it comes to the Rosary, some people are like marathon champs.
They have no problem saying the words to familiar prayers and reflecting on the mysteries as they drive two hours on a busy highway with 18-wheelers buzzing by, as they take their morning power walk through the neighborhood, even as they wait in line at the grocery store or bank.
These long-distance prayers are able to enter into the beauty and mystery of the Rosary in ways that can confound many of us.
I have to admit that I’m Rosary-challenged. This traditional prayer that was so much a part of my childhood has always been a struggle for me. I’d try to pray at night and fall asleep. I’d kneel in our parish chapel, but before I knew it my mind was wandering and I’d lost count even with the beads there to prevent that.
Not that long ago, I bought a Rosary CD and tried to pray as I walked to church, but even then my thoughts could not find a place to rest. The Rosary seems to test the limits of my otherwise impressive multitasking skills.
So, when four different books on the Rosary arrived on my desk in recent months, I took it as a sign that it was time to give the Rosary another shot. Each of the books approaches this prayer from a different perspective, giving readers the opportunity to find a method that suits their spiritual style.
Relating it to our lives
“Living the Rosary: Finding Your Life in the Mysteries” (Ave Maria Press, $12.95), by Father John Phalen, C.S.C., was the first book I tried. Father Phalen, who is president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, founded by the “Rosary priest,” Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton, talks about his own “youthful distaste” for the Rosary and how he not only came to embrace the prayer but to promote it all over the world.
“Our challenge as Christians is to conform our lives to Christ’s. The Rosary, looked at from this perspective, becomes a great way to contemplate the life of Christ, accompanied on the journey by the one who knew him best — his mother. Mary will always bring people to her Son,” Father Phalen writes in the introduction.
And while that sounds nice, I wondered if the book would really help me get beyond my struggles. I’m happy to report that it did. Not that I’ve become one of those marathon champs yet, but this book, with its focus on applying the meaning of the mysteries to our own lives, really struck a chord with me. I found myself better able to enter into the mysteries and find new meaning in this prayer, which really is the Gospel in miniature.
In the segment on the Visitation, for example, Father Phalen, after reflecting on the central meaning of the mystery itself, offers this perspective:
“This is what the visitation is about: bearing Christ, even being Christ for the other. At the same time, it is recognizing Christ in the other. We have many visitations each day of our lives … Perhaps God has made each of us with just the right combination of gifts and temperament to reach people others cannot. This certainly appears to be the case in my own life. I am a firm believer that there are some people on this earth who are waiting precisely for me to spend time with them. I believe the same to be true for all of us.”
With each mystery, Father Phalen weaves together stories from Scripture, stories of the saints, and stories from his own life to help readers more fully understand the mysteries and how they might be applied to our daily lives in concrete ways.
“Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers” (OSV, $9.95), by journalist and storyteller Patricia Ann Kasten, takes us back to the very beginnings of the Rosary and even before. She helps readers understand the significance of prayer beads not only in the Catholic faith but in other world religions as well.
From there she walks readers through the “power of contemplation” and the very real fact that silent prayer also has an “active dimension,” giving hope to those of us who feel as though we can’t fit contemplation or meditation into our busy lives.
I loved how this book connected the Rosary to the Jesus Prayer and the Pater Noster (Our Father) chords of the early Eastern and Western Church, respectively. These repetitive prayers, said with the aid of a beaded or knotted rope, remind us that the tradition of the Rosary, this effort to unite heart and mind in prayer, has deep roots in the ancient Church.
Kasten focuses a chapter on sacramentals in general before getting into the specifics of how to pray the Rosary. Even the Sign of the Cross gets its own chapter. Speaking of the mysteries, Kasten writes:
“A good mystery intrigues us, because we can see ourselves in action. In each mystery of the Rosary, divine love and the plan of salvation are revealed in the events of human life — in events that draw us in because they are similar to our own experiences, but highlighted by the presence of God. We can all relate to a birth, a wedding, a meal, even the sorrows of suffering and death. And we long to see the answers that God is ready to reveal within these events.”
Whether you pray the Rosary every day or have never prayed it at all, this book is sure to provide you with fascinating background information and spiritual inspiration to rejuvenate your prayer life.
In “The Eucharist and the Rosary: Mystery, Meditation, Power, Prayer” (Liguori Publications, $12.99), by Matt Swaim, we get a totally different take. Putting the Rosary into a Eucharistic perspective gives readers a new way to enter into this ancient prayer.
“I happen by providence to be a convert to Catholicism who came from a richly scriptural upbringing, and as such one of the first things I noticed as I began to discover the Mass and the Rosary was just how biblically rooted both of them were. I started to see overlap everywhere. As I made my way into the Church, the idea that Catholicism was one massive coherent thing was only reinforced by the way that these two prayers (one a sacrament, the other a sacramental) communicated the essence of the faith in ways that were brilliantly complementary,” Swaim told Our Sunday Visitor.
In the chapter on the Visitation, for example, Swaim contrasts Elizabeth’s joyful response upon greeting the “Christ-carrying” Mary to the way Catholics often mechanically greet Christ-carrying priests at Mass. It’s at once a revelation and a challenge to view the mystery through this liturgical lens.
The book works through each of the mysteries in the same way, giving readers insights into the connection between the stories of our faith and the actions of the Mass.
Each chapter ends with reflection questions.
Finally, we come to “The Rosary: Keeping Company with Jesus and Mary” (Servant, $8.99), by Karen Edmisten, a book that seemed to read my mind. So many of the very same things I’ve thought — or written about in my own books and articles about prayer — were found here in the pages of Edmisten’s book.
In addition to the basics on how to pray the Rosary, there are pages of encouragement for those of us who are Rosary-challenged or able to come up with endless excuses as to why we simply can’t pray the Rosary. Edmisten even mentions being distracted from prayer by the smell of brewing coffee or the lure of delicious pizza. Exactly.
“Distraction, boredom and apprehension about ‘how I was doing’ (and about why I got so sleepy during my prayers) threatened to derail my new devotion. As I finished a Rosary with ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ and uttered the words ‘To thee do we cry,’ I wanted to cry in frustration at my failure to do the Rosary justice,” Edmisten writes. “I’ve learned that I’m not alone. It seems the Rosary, more than any other Catholic prayer, elicits an astounding number of anxieties. And yet many of us return to it despite our struggles. Why?”
That question is answered again and again throughout Edmisten’s book, providing ample evidence that this seemingly simply but incredibly profound prayer is worth the time and perseverance it sometimes takes to “master” it.
Mary DeTurris Poust writes from New York. Her latest book is “The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass” (Alpha, $16.95).