I’ve been hearing pretty much all my life that Mama Mary is an invaluable ally in the quest for holiness. She’s Jesus’ mother, after all; she knows her Son better than any of us and wants us to know Him, too. But Mary hasn’t played much of a role in my spirituality until fairly recently. Near the end of my first year in West Virginia, at the suggestion of my spiritual mentor, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary (popularly known as “Marian consecration”) using Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory book. As I prepared for my consecration, though, I was confused about the role she wished to play in my life, and I continued struggling to understand that role even months after my consecration (see this blog post for that part of my journey). It wasn’t until more than half a year after my consecration that I received sudden clarity about who Mary is and how she helps us. Lately I’ve found myself turning to and praying to her more and more as I seek to know, follow, and love Jesus. I finally understand why people say she’s such an important companion on our journey to Christ. As our mother, her job is to help us follow Christ and to form us into saints. Plain and simple.
There’s always been one sticking point, one struggle, as I’ve sought to deepen my love of and devotion to Mary, though: praying the rosary every day. Any Marian enthusiast and scholar will tell you that the daily rosary is so important in fostering a relationship with Mary and warding off evil. But my fervor for the rosary has always been lukewarm at best, even now, as my relationship with Mary continues to strengthen. It’s a lengthy prayer–it usually takes me around 20 minutes to recite–and because it’s repetitive, I often find my mind wandering to everything but thoughts of Jesus, Mary, or the mysteries I’m supposed to be reflecting on. I’ve confided these struggles to my spiritual mentor and she always reminds me that the rosary is a very important–even necessary–aid in the spiritual life. I tried playing the “I’m just not sure if I’m called to pray the rosary every day anymore” card in my conversation with her once and she shot that notion down (in a pastoral way, of course). We’re all called to a relationship with Our Lady, and any lack of desire to pray the rosary is laziness on my part.
If you’re like me, the rosary is a battle. Many Catholics express the same sentiments. Even the great St. Therese of Lisieux admitted to getting distracted and sometimes falling asleep during her daily rosary! But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthy fight. The rosary is a wonderful way to meditate on the story of our salvation, and it can help us understand the role that Mary played in the life of her Son and that she plays in our salvation. If you struggle with incorporating the rosary into your daily prayer routine, here are some practices that I have found helpful!
- Don’t be afraid to start small. If a decade a day is all you can manage, that’s perfectly fine. A decade is better than nothing at all.
- If you’re gung-ho about praying a whole set of mysteries every day, try praying in the morning. It’s a good way to offer your first fruits and first thoughts of the day to Jesus and to Mary.
- Pray a scriptural rosary. A scriptural rosary involves reading a verse from scripture or a church document that’s relevant to the mystery at hand before every Hail Mary. Many Catholic bookstores sell pocket-sized scriptural rosary books and pamphlets. This website is devoted to it. I no longer use the scriptural rosary but I highly recommend it. It helped me stay focused on each mystery as I prayed it. It makes the rosary last a little longer, but if you have an extra few minutes, it’s worth it.
- If you’re a visual person, looking at an image or a few images of each mystery might also help you focus.
- Before each decade, name an intention that you’d like to offer that decade for. It can be anything, or it can be something relevant to the mystery you’re about to pray (for example, offering The Annunciation for all who are struggling to say “yes” to God’s will).
- Sometimes sitting still to pray for 20 minutes is hard. Try doing something active when you pray the rosary, if that’s you. I’ve found walking rosaries to be fruitful, and sometimes I’ll pray the rosary on my commute to work in the morning. Only pray it while driving if you know your route well, though; I wouldn’t recommend trying it if you’re driving an unfamiliar route or focusing on your GPS.
- Along a similar vein, if you’re comfortable praying the rosary or a decade without the use of beads, unite your prayer to the work that you’re doing. Especially if it’s work that allows your mind to wander: simple manual labor, gardening, doing the dishes, cleaning the house. Remember that the Holy Family worked, too, and for years lived a rather hidden, ordinary life. Remember that as you pray and work.
- This is a trick I learned in West Virginia: before praying the rosary, think of a verse to add to the Hail Mary, after the word “Jesus,” that reflects each mystery (or whatever mystery you’re praying, if you’re just doing one or a few). For example, for the mystery of The Visitation, you might say, “…and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, who caused John to leap in his mother’s womb” in each Hail Mary of that mystery. Or for the mystery of The Scourging at the Pillar, you might say, “…and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, who healed us by His stripes” in each Hail Mary of that mystery. If you find yourself forgetting which mystery you’re praying halfway through the decade, this might help you!
- Pick a mystery or set of mysteries that’s relevant to what’s happening in your life. If you’re going through a particular trial or suffering, for instance, offer that trial in union with the Sorrowful Mysteries.
- If you’re a daily mass person, pick a mystery and pray it during the consecration at mass (you can do this on Sunday, too, of course). I’ve found that each mystery is somehow a foreshadowing of the Eucharist or has Eucharistic imagery, though some connections are more obvious than others.
- Ask Mary to help you pray! Since Mary’s purpose is to help us know and love her Son, she can’t refuse the pleas of anyone who seeks her intercession. Plus, she’s the spouse of the Holy Spirit, source of knowledge and inspiration; wherever Mary is, so is the Holy Spirit. Double the help!
- Similarly, pray your rosary in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, if you can. I saw a poster at a retreat center that said that when we do this, Mary is so intimately united with us that Jesus accepts our prayer of the rosary as if it came from the heart of His mother. That doesn’t give us an excuse to be lazy or to not care as we pray, but it again speaks to Mary’s willingness to help us, and to the fact that Jesus can’t refuse anything that is offered in union with His mother.
- Above all, don’t beat yourself up if the rosary is a hard discipline for you. Sitting still and focusing the mind on prayer for 20 minutes is no easy thing. If you find your mind wandering, simply bring it back to a place of quiet and reflection. Offer your distractions to Lord and to Mary as you pray. If you pray with a sincere heart and good intentions, Jesus and Mary will always meet you halfway and make up for what you lack.
What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks for praying the rosary? Feel free to share in the comments!