Contemplating the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
“The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the ages, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.”
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
This description of the rosary from Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen is probably one of the most quoted. In its essence, we are being told that the rosary should transport us when we close our eyes on this world and open it on the substance of the next – “the greatest drama of love the world has ever known.” The way we do this is through contemplation.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen has this to say about the rosary:
“It is a prayer that has a beautiful combination. I don’t think there is any prayer in the world that has the combination of the rosary. First of all, it is vocal: we say some prayers with our lips. Secondly, it’s mental because as we say, for example, the Hail Mary, [but] we are not so much concentrating on the Hail Mary; we are thinking about the mystery.
It is very much as if we were in a theater, and there’s beautiful music in [the] back of a speaking voice. Now the speaking voice is the Hail Mary; the music behind it is the meditation. Then in addition to the mental of the prayer (the thought) and the vocal (the prayer itself), there is the physical – the movement of the fingers over the beads.
This explanation of Archbishop Sheen clearly explains that three things should happen at the same time when praying the rosary: actively reflect on the mystery, recite the vocal prayers, and use the beads as a counter.
An Approach to Contemplating While Praying Vocally
Put yourself in the scene
A type of remembering
Each year, Israelites come together and remember the original Passover that marked the end of their slavery and initiated their exodus to the Promised Land. This zakar or “remembering” is not just a recalling, but a “making present” of the original event. It is as if the original Passover is present to all those who partake of it today. They feel what the original Israelites in Egypt felt that night. For example, they eat bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of their bondage, and they eat unleavened bread because they left Egypt in haste that there was no time for the dough to rise.
When Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist during the Last Supper, which was a Passover meal, he said, “do this in remembrance of me.” The apostles understood that he meant this type of remembering. This is why until today we believe that the sacrifice of Calvary is made present in every mass when the body and blood of Christ become present when the words of consecration are said.
Mary, who was a Jew, knew what this type of remembering is. She lived her life with her eyes fixed on Christ from the moment he was born until his death. There are times in the Gospels where the writers tell us she, “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Mary remembered Christ this way – a way that “makes present” the salvific works of God. In a way, she “recited” the rosary uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life this way, and we want to emulate this type of remembering when we pray the rosary. We want to make present each scene in the “eyes of our mind.”
Announce each mystery
It is suggested to announce the mystery vocally, or if you are praying silently, by moving your lips. For example, “The third joyful mystery is the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” Doing this opens up a scenario on which to focus our attention.
Include yourself in the scene
Insert yourself in the scene by being a silent character. What we want to do is immerse ourselves in the scene as if we were there. We want to emulate Peter, James, and John who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ. They were amazed and afraid when the face of Jesus shone like the sun and this magnificence entranced them. We want to be like these apostles who looked at the face of Christ and recognize the divine splendor of he who sits in glory at the right hand of the Father – for this is the task of every follower of Christ!
Full of grace
Whenever angels manifested themselves, fear gripped the people to whom they appeared. Zechariah certainly was troubled and fearful when Gabriel visited him. The angel must have been a sight so awesome that he appeared otherworldly and, therefore, frightening.
However, when the Angel Gabriel went to Mary, Scripture tells us that she was troubled at his greeting, not his appearance. When angels are described in bible stories, they seem so formidable that they scare the onlooker. When an angel appeared to Daniel, he described it like this: “I saw a man dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face shone like lightning, his eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and feet looked like burnished bronze, and the sound of his voice was like the roar of a multitude.” Daniel continued to say that the others with him, even if they had not seen the vision, were seized with fear and fled. After that, Daniel’s strength was drained and became powerless, fell forward, and became unconscious.
If they were filled with dread and weakened from the angel’s manifestation, Mary did not fear and become weak at Gabriel’s presence. Maybe it was because her perfection was more magnificent than his was.
When we focus on the message that is the cause of Mary’s distress, there are two parts. The first is, “Hail, full of grace.” This seemingly short and trite greeting should not be distressing at all – unless we break it down to its structure.
Usually, it is the name or title of the person that comes after, “Hail.” Romans, for example, greeted their leader, “Hail, Ceasar!” In later and darker years of World War II, the Nazi party greeted their Führer as, “Heil, Hitler.” Therefore, when we apply this syntax to Gabriel’s greeting, it is as if “Full of Grace” is the name or title of Mary.
If this is so, we don’t think it was Gabriel who gave Mary a new name, but God himself. From Old Testament times, it was God who changed the names of people. He changed Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, to name a few. Since he is the creator, he reserves the right to change the names of people according to the role they are to play in his plan.
The second part of Gabriel’s greeting is, “The Lord is with you.” Mary, being a devout Jew, must have known this is a phrase uttered whenever God asked something from someone. When an angel asked Gideon to lead God’s chosen people against the Midianites, for example, the greeting was, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior!” Also, when Jeremiah prayed for counsel at what to do when Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar, the Lord told him, “Do not fear the king of Babylon, as you do now. Do not fear him – oracle of the LORD – for I am with you to save you, to rescue you from his power.”
Both parts of the greeting seem to be a preparation for some role that God is asking from Mary, and this is probably what concerned her. Not that she was fearful of what God would ask her, but that what could she, a lowly servant, be able to give him that he already doesn’t have or cannot do. So genuinely humble is Our Lady that she thinks lowly of herself when compared to God.
How to pray the Rosary
The rosary is a set of prayer intended for us to meditate on the life of Jesus. We also call the set of beads, the rosary.
Some researchers say when friars used to pray, they would pick up a stone from a pre-numbered pile and throw each stone into another pile. This way they could keep count of their prayers without being distracted by counting. Different variations of this kind of counting evolved into what it is today our beads.
So the beads themselves are a means to help us meditate. They do this by allowing us to focus on the mysteries while the beads do the counting for us.
Most likely, you are reading this section because you would like to learn how to pray the rosary. Do not worry about making mistakes at first. It isn’t the technical correctness that counts, but our intentions.
There are different sets of prayers we use when saying the rosary. There is a section right after this that contains all the prayers:
The sign of the cross
The Apostles’ Creed
O, My Jesus (The Fatima Prayer)
Hail Holy Queen
Litany of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary
The rosary provides us the means to reflect on the life of Christ by meditating on the different episodes, which we like to call “mysteries.” They are called “mysteries” because as solitary events, their meaning is part of God’s plan of salvation that is inexpressible in design. However, taken together, the events of Christ’s life paint a picture of God’s love to save humankind. It is through a supernatural lens that we view these events to see that God must have planned it so that they perfectly complement one another. Without this lens, we are left with logic alone, and it will be difficult to use logic solely to explain them thoroughly. Because of this quality, they are called “mysteries.”
These episodes are grouped into four major themes: Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious. And each group has five mysteries (episodes.)