Have you ever had the experience of praying the Rosary and come to the end of a decade only to ask yourself: "Um, did I just say 10 Hail Marys?"
Sometimes we lose our place, we get lost in the repetition, or we are distracted. And when I say distracted, I'm not talking about wrapped in a mystical union with God, but wrapped up in thinking about what to have for supper, or thinking about the guy that cut you off in traffic.
Of course, it's natural that our minds will wander, and it shows that we really do have to make an effort when praying the Rosary. In my experience, I find recitation of the Rosary becomes routine and I have to remind myself that it is in fact a prayer of contemplation.
Servant of God John Paul II writes in his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae
To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.
The Rosary, reclaimed in its full meaning, goes to the very heart of Christian life; it offers a familiar yet fruitful spiritual and educational opportunity for personal contemplation, the formation of the People of God, and the new evangelization. (3)
According to the Polish Pontiff, the repetition of the Hail Marys is a means to better enter into this contemplation. In fact, he says, the rhythmical recitation is not dry or boring, but draws us closer to Christ:
...Although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her and through her. The repetition is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ, the true programme of the Christian life. Saint Paul expressed this project with words of fire: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). And again: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). The Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness. (26)
He explains the repetition further by using an example from the Eastern Church:
...in the East, the most characteristic prayer of Christological meditation, centred on the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”(34) is traditionally linked to the rhythm of breathing; while this practice favours perseverance in the prayer, it also in some way embodies the desire for Christ to become the breath, the soul and the “all” of one's life. (27)
I can't help but think of John Paul II, several times a day, praying decades of the Rosary -- beads dancing through his fingers, Hail Marys gently whispered, to the point where it is as natural as breathing... and with each breath he takes, Christ breaths deeper in him, and through him.
John Paul II loved the Rosary. It's certainly no secret. In Rosarium Virginis Mariae
From my youthful years this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life. ... The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago, on 29 October 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I frankly admitted: 'The Rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer! Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth.' (2)
Perhaps knowing their dear deceased Papa's love for the Rosary, at the October 7th General Audience
, Pope Benedict said to Polish pilgrims
The Rosary is a special prayer of the Church and a spiritual weapon for each one of you. May meditation on the lives of Jesus and Mary be a light for all of us on our evangelical journey of spiritual renewal and conversion of heart.
And added in Italian:
October is the month of the holy rosary, which invites us to appreciate this prayer so dear to the tradition of the Christian people.
I invite you, dear young people, to make the rosary your daily prayer. I encourage you, dear sick, to grow in confident abandonment in God's hands, thanks to the recitation of the rosary. I exhort you, dear newlyweds, to make of the rosary a constant contemplation of the mysteries of Christ.
Perhaps on today's feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and in this month dedicated to the Rosary, we should take a moment to rediscover -- or to discover for the first time -- this beautiful prayer.
As a start, I would suggest taking a look at John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae
. It's a thorough, yet easy to read letter that offers meditations on the four mysteries, insight into the the significance of the Our Fathers and the Hail Marys, thoughts on the physical beads of the Rosary, it's role as a prayer for peace, for families, for children, and much more.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec