Rosary Beads

When I was in the third grade, I had my only habited nun for a teacher, Sister Ernestine.  She assumed that everyone had received a rosary upon receiving their First Holy Eucharist the previous year and insisted that we all bring our rosaries to school.  Every day after lunch and recess we would pull out our rosaries and go through it.  Looking back I can see the genius behind this.  Not only did this reinforce that all of us learned the “Our Father”, “Hail Mary”, and “Glory Be” by heart, but it also bored 30 young children exuberant after time running around on the playground into dull submission once again.  (This may also be the reason that some Catholic families traditionally said it together before bedtime.)

I remember Sister Ernestine citing each mystery at the start of each decade, but they didn’t really hold much meaning.  I guess I figured that was just something you were supposed to do as part of the process, like taking the cap off your toothpaste before you brushed your teeth.  At the time I didn’t learn until much later that the mysteries were kind of the whole point of saying the Holy Rosary.

That school year was the first and last time I even remember being required to say the Rosary, and I wonder if the the other third grade homeroom that did not have a nun said the Rosary, too.  I don’t even remember the Rosary being discussed much at all after third grade, which is very strange given that my high school was named Holy Rosary Academy.  We were given cheap plastic and nylon rosaries at the end of our Senior Retreat, as a parting gift, and that was about it.

When I was in a college, I went on another religious retreat with a few friends.  During one of our sessions, we were told to repeat a phrase over and over again.  It was explained to us that repeating a phrase over and over could keep one part of your brain busy making it easier to focus the other part on spiritual things.  For a moment it seemed like another part of the puzzle about the Holy Rosary fell into place.  The prayers that we repeated, five decades of the “Hail Mary”, were there to kind of be a positive distraction.  I don’t think this fully sunk in until much much later.

Now to an outsider, the Holy Rosary seems like a prayer to Mary; that’s why it is often reviled or misunderstood by many Protestants.  It really wasn’t until recently that I, a cradle Catholic, put it all together.  I don’t remember if it was an article or blog post that put the pieces together for me.  But basically while we’re saying the prayers of the Holy Rosary we are supposed to be meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary, which follow 20 milestones in Jesus’ life.  The Joyful Mysteries start with His conception, the newer Luminous Mysteries focus on His miracles, the Sorrowful Mysteries climax with His crucifixion, and the Glorious Mysteries follow from His resurrection to His heavenly crowning of His mother, Mary, who was there with him through it all.

Because Mary was there through it all, she offers us an eye-witness account and a new way to focus our perspective on what happened, through her.  It’s like seeing the story for the first time in the shoes of someone who was really there.  What would it be like to be the mother of the Son of God?  What would it be like to see him suffer and die?  How would it feel to see and talk to and hug him again after his resurrection?  It gives Christ’s story a more personal touch.

Now I see a beauty to the Holy Rosary that I could never fathom before.  Unfortunately, I still find it extremely tedious and complicated to say.  It just feels like a weight in my hands and heart.  That’s why I was so elated when I discovered the Divine Mercy Chaplet a month ago.  It seems so much simpler (although I still need to memorize some of the prayers) and quicker.  The purpose is very straight forward…..”have mercy on us and on the whole world”.

It wasn’t until I was researching the Divine Mercy Chaplet that I learned that there are actually several different chaplets that use the traditional rosary beads, and some that even have their own specialized set of beads.  They each focus on a different aspect of our relationship to God.   Catholic theologian Scott Hahn actually talks about the Rosary as another example of the multi-sensory approach to prayer and teaching that is prominent in the Catholic Church.  The multiple devotions that can be done using one set of ordinary beads reminds me of the choice and diversity within the Church:  the choice between the Tridentine and Novus Ordo Mass, different types of optional prayers from the Holy Rosary and Novenas to the Divine Office, and the cultural flavors of a world-wide Church when I sometimes go to the predominantly Asian Catholic Church in my town or see the gigantic display for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at my predominantly Hispanic Catholic Church.

Recently I went on an online quest for CDs of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and/or Holy Rosary.  I have found that the van is a great place for quiet prayer and meditation when I am out and about running errands.  Unfortunately, most of the ones I found involved singing the prayers; I really just wanted a straight up saying of them.  Then I found this website that offers a “free” recitation CD of the Holy Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet; there’s just a one dollar transaction fee per disc that you order.  I went ahead and ordered three copies:  one of the house, one for the van, and one as a back-up.

I’ve also been thinking that I should try to incorporate the Rosary more into our homeschool religious instruction.  It is such an amazing teaching tool between the prayers and the Mysteries.  And even if my children never recite the Rosary again without me forcing them to (and I have no doubt that a certain amount of force will be involved) they will have that particular weapon in their prayer arsenal should they ever want/need to use it.  I can’t help but thinking of Sister Ernestine smiling down from me in heaven with her pitch pipe in one hand and her rosary in the other.

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One Comment on “Rosary Beads”

  1. Kelly Says:

    We have tried to do a regular rosary for years, and the past year or so we have managed to say one pretty consistently on Sunday evenings. What helped for us was to say only a decade really, with two Hail Marys for each mystery. That way we learn all five mysteries, but it doesn’t take as long for short attention spans. Since we are mostly hitting only Sunday, we just alternate between the four different groups of mysteries and don’t worry about the traditional mystery for day of the week division.


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