A few months before my confirmation in the Catholic Church, several years ago now, I bought myself a Rosary and proceeded to use it as a tool in my prayers. The little leaflet that came with the beads succinctly covered the basics of praying the Rosary and I was quickly enjoying a—for me—new way to pray.
The gist of the prayer, on the surface at least, seems to be doing three things simultaneously: holding one bead after another with the fingers, reciting the Our Father…, Hail Mary, and Glory be… prayers with the mouth, and meditating on the events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection life with the heart. (There are a million and one on-line guides to the Rosary for anyone who’s interested.)
The “Our Father” sets the stage for each of the mysteries. The repetition of “Hail Mary…” seemed strange to me at first—why would I pray to Mary as I meditate on the mysteries of Jesus’ life? It finally occurred to me, that all those “Hail Marys” keep the events of Jesus life in the context of relationship. Still more I discovered the centrality of Jesus in the prayer—he is literally at its very center: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death—almost perfectly symmetrical, eighteen words before and seventeen words after the phrase”the fruit of your womb Jesus.”
Within each mystery, I find questions arising: Did Mary go alone to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, before the births of John the Baptist and Jesus? (probably not) Was there a midwife present with Mary at Jesus’ birth? (probably) Did Mary go with Jesus to the Jordan River to be baptized? Were women baptized or only men? Were the thorns in Jesus’ mock crown strong and sharp enough to pierce into his skull? Did the soldiers use new spikes for each crucifixion? Were they sharpened or were the used dull to inflict greater pain? How did the disciples remove the spikes to take Jesus down from the cross? Exactly what did happen at the ascension? Did Jesus literally “lift off?” Was he enveloped in a cloud? What?
So you see that the rosary has become a sort of pocket gospel, wearing grooves into my memory with each new repetition. I generally pray the rosary as I walk to and from work. I find that ten minutes is almost exactly enough time for one “decade” if I don’t hurry it. If I forget my beads, fingers work almost as well, though I’ve come to find comfort in the feel of the beads in my pocket, whether I’m consciously praying or not.