Wednesday, May 18, 2016


When you look at a Rosary, for a lot of non-Catholics there is, forgivably, some confusion about what it is and what it is for. Some of them will even tell me that it is some kind of pagan practice that has no place in Christianity. In my experience, some people have a problem with the prayers and meditations that are employed in the practice of the Rosary. Others don't even know what we say when we pray the Rosary, but have a problem with the concept that we use objects or images of any kind in our devotions and meditations. Some people have a problem with the repetition of prayers.

My intention with this entry is to shed a little light on what the Rosary is to a Catholic who actually practices this devotion in contrast to the prejudicial notions that are expressed about it from a distance.


The Rosary is a meditative discipline and devotion that is pursued by many Catholics. It often revolves around the use of a string of beads that aid in keeping track of where you are in the meditation. This object is not an absolutely necessary element for one to be able to pray the Rosary, but it is extremely common as it adds a tactile and familiar aspect to the discipline as well as being a quite practical tool.

The practice of the Rosary is not a requisite for being Catholic. I've come across a lot of people who think that I pray the Rosary because the Church tells me I have to. This isn't true. There is only one prayer that you are required to participate in on a regular basis in order to be considered a practicing Catholic and that is the Mass.

All other devotions and disciplines that you see Catholics pursuing regularly, that is, outside of seasonal precepts that we actually are obliged to take part in, are personal disciplines. We call them spiritual exercises. They are things that you can do to bring yourself into greater focus on God. Some people respond to certain of these practices better than they do others and they are free to practice any or none of them as they see fit.

The Rosary  and other devotions are, however, greatly encouraged throughout the Catholic Church because they have proven themselves to be very beneficial disciplines.

I've been confronted many times over the years by non-Catholic Christians who believe that I should give up this part of my culture because it is not scriptural.

It's important to note that a person making this objection is likely unaware of how Catholics understand scripture. If this describes you, I'd like to refer you to an earlier entry that I made concerning that exact topic:

The short explanation is that Catholics do not believe that their religion came from the Bible. They believe that the Bible came from their religion. The Bible refers to that religion, but it by no means contains it in it's entirety.

The Rosary, also being a product of my religion, has a similar function to the Bible in it's own way.

Consider this.
Your Bible is made of paper (which comes from wood) which is bound together with glue and string. 
So, essentially, it's an object that is made up of wood and string. It's got some markings in ink.
What makes it special to you, though, is that it contains what you believe to be the Word of God. 

My Rosary is also made up of wood and string. It has markings that evoke meaning to those who can read them. So, actually, it's got many of the same exact physical components of a Bible, right? 

But you might say that there is no connection since my Rosary does not contain the Word of God. 

This is where it get's interesting. And really, this is a key to understanding the Catholic way of life, in a way.

To pray one Rosary means 3 times around the ring of beads. 

The Rosary contains 5 sets of 10 beads called "decades."
What's 5 times 10? 
What's 50 time's 3?

How many Psalms are in your Bible? 


Stop there for a moment. For the man that knows how to read a Rosary, this object, combined with the preservative of Catholic Tradition, contains all 150 psalms. So, the
 Rosary could be used to recite the entire Psalter, and is, in some cases, actually used for that. Monks and nuns who follow the Benedictine Rule, for example, sing all 150 psalms over the course of 3 weeks, stopping what they are doing and singing them 7 times a day. 

There is also what some call "the poor man's Psalter." 

This is what is generally referred to as "The Rosary."

In this case, the 5 groups of ten beads each represent a part of scripture concerning the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. There are 15 of these. 

So, if I were to recite an entire Rosary, which I actually recite one third of every day, making a whole Rosary about twice per week, that means that I've now meditated on the scriptural core of Christ's work of salvation twice per week simply by praying the Rosary for 15 to 30 minutes per day. 

So, now I've demonstrated that the Rosary contains a spectacular amount of scripture. 

But there's more!

Every day, on the cross of the Rosary, I recite the Apostle's Creed, which calls out of me the Tradition that Christians have preserved to the point of dying for from the beginning of the Church. These are truths about Jesus Christ, as is everything that is in Scripture and as is everything that is in the Rosary, that have been preserved since before a single letter of the New Testament was even written:

"I believe in God, The Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, Our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen."

On the first bead of the Rosary and again on the first bead of each decade of beads, I say the 'Our Father' prayer. 

This is the Prayer that Jesus himself taught to the apostles in Mathew 6:9-13:

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

On each of the beads in between I recite the "Hail Mary."

This is also scripture. 
"Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with Thee." -Luke 1:28
"Blessed art thou among women and Blessed is the fruit of your womb." -Luke 1:42

On each bead between the 15 decades I recite the "Glory be" prayer. 

"Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."
This is a Catholic exegesis on the Biblical concept of the Trinity. That the three persons of the Trinity are one God. 
It is an underpinning of all Christian doctrine, Catholic or otherwise.

And so, even with my limited use of the Rosary, you can see that, when it is preserved within it's living culture, the Church, it is, in fact, not a mystery at all. It is the Bible come to life. 

Outside the culture of the Church it seems abstract and pointless. A ring of wooden beads. But, within the culture of the Church, it's purpose is remembered until the end of the ages. 

The Bible is really the same thing to us. Outside of the culture of the Church, the Bible becomes abstract. But inside, it comes to life. Those who remember it's purpose remember what it means. Those who stray from the Tradition can come to all sorts of wild conclusions about Scripture that have nothing to do with what it was intended for. It can even lead to a complete rejection of the Bible, just as many have rejected and utterly forgotten and even come to hate other important aspects of Christian culture... like the Rosary. 

This is another common objection I am confronted with. It is a reference to Mathew 6:7. 
This one is an interesting one because, in my Bible, Mathew 6:7 doesn't even mention repetition. 

My favorite Bible, The Didache Bible, Ignatius Bible Edition reads:
"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words."

The New American Bible (which is used for Masses in the United States) reads:
"In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words."

Neither of these translations supports the objection, but let's be fair. Some translations actually do use the words "vain repetition." 

The King James version reads:
"when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." 

I'll be generous here and just go with the King James translation of the Bible, even though it's a translation that I utterly reject as a Catholic. 

The first thing I see when I look at this verse as an argument against the repetition of certain prayers in the Rosary is that Jesus says "vain repetition." He doesn't say "repetition" by itself. So my short refutation is that Jesus condemns vain repetition, yes, but He doesn't come anywhere near telling us that all repetition is Vain. 

There are many examples throughout Christian history that support the use of repetition in prayer, but I'll just use Biblical ones here to show that this objection doesn't hold any water.

Revelation 4:8:

"And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

The above is a depiction of angels engaging in liturgical worship in which they repeat a proclamation day and night that, itself, contains a repetition. It is a repetitive prayer within an endlessly repeated prayer.

Below, we see these creatures referenced in a text that was written 800 years earlier.

Isaiah 6:1-3

"In the year that King Uzzi’ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

That's the same 4 creatures praying the same repetitive prayer for 800 years. If I'm to interpret Mathew 6:7 in the way that my accuser would have it, then I guess I also have to assume that God is not being worshiped correctly in the heavenly liturgy.

There are plenty of these examples, but here's one of my favorites. 

Mathew 14:32-39

"And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ”Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptiation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.

Jesus comes and goes 3 times if you read the whole passage, and each time he goes back to pray he is praying the same words each time. 

I could go on and on like this, but my point is that when Jesus said, 
"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words," it's safe to say that he wasn't talking about the Rosary.


It is my hope that this humble entry has given you some insight into the reason why every time someone tells me I should give up my Rosary because the practice could lead me astray, it's a little like someone telling you that you should give up your Bible because it could lead you astray. A Catholic believes that either one of these objects can easily lead you astray when you look at them outside their appropriate context.. But within that context, the context of 2 millennia of Catholic Tradition, they preserve the truth and make us remember our history and who we are in Christ. Therefore, my devotion to the Most Holy Rosary is going to stay right where it belongs.