“The Virgin” by Pinturicchio
Before I delve into how to pray the rosary, I want to spend a little time going over what to pray in the rosary. Since the verbal prayers of the rosary are meant to be a sort of underscore to the meditations on the mysteries, it helps if these prayers are familiar. You can, of course, pray the rosary even if you are just learning them, but be warned that you may find it cumbersome in the beginning until the prayers become second nature to you. Don’t be discouraged! Before long, the words of these ancient prayers will be written on your heart, leaving your mind freer to reflect on the mysteries of the Faith. For those who are already familiar with these prayers, I have included a brief explanation of each, which I hope all my readers will find edifying.
The Sign of the Cross
[recited while crossing oneself by placing the fingers of the right hand on the forehead, over the heart, and touching each shoulder]
In the Name
of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.
A prayer in itself, this is the common method of beginning all prayers in the Roman Rite. It is typically the very first prayer that a Catholic child will learn. My two-year-old is currently learning the words, though she can already cross herself.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of Heaven and Earth,
and in Jesus Christ,
His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
suffered, 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 the Father.
He will come again 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.
This is the creed of belief that has been passed down from the very beginning of the Church. It is the faith declaimed by the apostles and handed down to us today. The words of this creed will be familiar not only to Roman Catholics but also those from the Western Orthodox, Calvinist and Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and Anglican churches, who all use the same phrasing in liturgy and catechesis.
Pater Noster, or The Our Father, or The Lord’s Prayer
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.
The “Our Father” predates Christianity as a religion—because Jesus Christ gave us this prayer during His lifetime on earth. In fact, it is the prayer that He taught His disciples to pray. Versions of it appear in the Gospels of Matthew (6:9-13) and Luke (11:2-4). It is the best-known prayer in all of Christendom. The doxology, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” does not appear in the Gospel of Luke or in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew, though it does appear in later Byzantine documents of Matthew’s gospel. It is not used in the Roman Catholic version of the prayer, though is often added by Protestant denominations and some Eastern Rites. Presumably, the practice of adding this doxology to the end of the Lord’s Prayer stemmed from the common Jewish practice of ending prayers doxologically, though it was probably used only in congregational worship.
Gloria Patria, or Glory Be
Glory be to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
and ever shall be,
world without end.
This common doxology dates back to the earliest days of the Church. It appears often in many Christian traditions. Roman Catholics will find it in the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, in responsories, in the Introit of the Mass, and in other non-liturgical devotions. The Easter Rite churches use the Glory Be frequently in liturgical service, in private prayer, and in series of hymns. Anglicans recite it in their Daily Offices, and Lutherans and Methodists often recite it at the conclusion of the recitation of psalms in various liturgies.
Ave Maria, or Hail Mary
full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now, and at the hour of our death.
The first phrase of this prayer is drawn from the salutation of the Angel Gabriel in Luke’s gospel. The second phrase is the greeting St. Elizabeth gave to Mary at the Visitation, also from the Gospel of Luke. The final phrase is a petition for the Blessed Mother’s intercession on behalf of all her children. This is the prayer used most frequently in the recitation of the rosary.
Some non-Catholic Christians are put-off by this. “Why do you address ten prayers to Mary and only one to God for each decade?” First of all, this is inaccurate. There are ten prayers addressed to Mary and four addressed to God for each decade, but nonetheless, the rosary contains a great deal more Hail Marys than any other prayer. To understand why this is, you must understand the orthodox view of Mary. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (487). In brief, Mary points us to Jesus.
We know that it was through Mary that our Lord Jesus was given to the world. Jesus spent ten times as many years with His Mother as with His disciples (think about that one), so we know that we can benefit from deep relationship with her, if Christ did. Mary is the pinnacle of human virtue, and we long to emulate her. We do not worship Mary, but we do venerate her above all other saints. There is no danger in venerating her, for she always turns those who approach her toward her Son. When an angel greeted her and proclaimed her “full of grace,” Mary was not proud; she humbly yielded herself to receive God’s Son in her womb and deliver Him to humanity. When Elizabeth declared her blessed among women, Mary reflected this praise directly back to God, extolling her famous Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord!” When the servants turned to her at the wedding feast at Cana, she stepped aside, pointed to her Son, and said, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary was the closest person in the world to Christ. The nearer we draw to her, the closer we come to Him.
Peggy Noonan, in her work John Paul the Great made a thought-provoking observation:
It is interesting that those countries whose Catholics love Mary most ardently, and who have by tradition been most public in that love, have tended to be those that have known intense political oppression and poverty: Poland, Ireland, Mexico, Italy, the Phillippines. Why would this be? Maybe protracted trouble helps human beings admit they need as much help as they can get, and if a father, a son, and a mother are available, they’ll take all three.
The Fatima Prayer
O my Jesus,
forgive us our sins,
save us from the fires of Hell,
and lead all souls to Heaven,
especially those most in need
of Thy mercy.
A variation on the ancient Jesus Prayer, the Blessed Mother gave this prayer to Bl. Lucia Santos, and Bl. Jacinta and Francisco Martos when she appeared to them at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. It was afterwards added to the recitation of the rosary.
Salve Regina, or Hail, Holy Queen
Hail, holy Queen,
Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, O most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy
of the promises of Christ.
Authorship of this anthem, which is also sung as a hymn, is highly debated, but it was composed sometime at the end of the 11th century. It has been widely used in Catholic liturgy and in devotions such as the rosary since the 13th century. It also appears in the Liturgy of the Hours, most notably at the end of Compline.
I know that the words of this prayer may be off-putting to non-Catholic Christians. I urge you, again, to reflect upon the orthodox understanding of Mary as you read it. Consider these words from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
Mary receives praise as a mirror receives light: she stores it not, nor even acknowledges it, but makes it pass from her to God to Whom is due all praise, all honor and thanksgiving.
Prayer After the Rosary
whose only begotten Son,
by His life, death, and resurrection,
has purchased for us
the rewards of eternal life,
grant, we beseech Thee,
that by meditating
on these mysteries
of the Most Holy Rosary
of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
we may imitate what they contain
and obtain what they promise
through this same Christ, our Lord.
This prayer is optional, but I prefer to say it whenever I pray the rosary.