A Gateway to Silence

Or, how to pray the Rosary.

This is rather longer than I’d planned. I suggest going and getting a cup of tea first…

The Rosary is one of the treasures of the Church. Put simply, it is a series of meditations on the life of Christ, arranged as four sets of five Mysteries:

The Joyful Mysteries (prayed on Mondays and Saturdays and the Sundays in Advent)
1) The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin (Luke 1: 26-33, 38)
2) The Visitation to St. Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39-45)
3) The Nativity of Our Lord (Luke 2: 6-12)
4) The Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2: 25-32)
5) The Finding in the Temple (Luke 2: 41-50)

The Luminous Mysteries (prayed on Thursdays)
1) The Baptism in the Jordan (Matthew 3: 13-17)
2) The Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11)
3) The Proclamation of the Kingdom (Mark 1: 14-15)
4) The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Matthew 17: 1-8)
5) The Institution of the Eucharist (Matthew 26: 26-28)

The Sorrowful Mysteries (prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays and the Sundays in Lent)
1) The Agony in the Garden (Luke 22: 39-46)
2) The Scourging at the Pillar (Mark 15: 6-15)
3) The Crowning with Thorns (John 19: 1-8)
4) The Carrying of the Cross (John 19: 16-22)
5) The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord (John 19: 25-30)

The Glorious Mysteries (prayed on Wednesdays and the Sundays from Easter until Advent)
1) The Resurrection of Our Lord (Mark 16: 1-7)
2) The Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven (Luke 24: 45-53)
3) The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 1-7, 11)
4) The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven (Luke 1: 46-55)
5) The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin as Queen of Heaven (Revelations 12: 1, and Judith 13: 18-20)

At its most basic, the Rosary as a combination of Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Gloriae can be rattled through in 15 minutes, but if you pray it like that, I wouldn’t say you were doing it incorrectly exactly, but you are missing out on the wealth of riches that the Rosary can offer, as it leads you gently through the gateway to the contemplative silence that is the heart and powerhouse of the Church, where you look deeply into the heart of God, and God looks back at you.

The Rosary as a prayer can be prayed at many different levels, the superficial level of merely reciting the words out loud as you move round the chaplet, thinking briefly about each mystery, then moving on. Or it can be used as a tool to draw you deeper into the heart of God, the beads acting as an anchor as your mind wanders into the Mystery, at the heart of which all is silent contemplation, and you rest, lost in wonder, love and awe. It can be prayed when you have no words of your own, when the recitation of the set prayers is all you can do, and then the Holy Spirit, Who knows all hearts, will intercede for us with groans too deep for words, taking the prayers we cannot say and offering them before the Throne of God.

The Church teaches that it is necessary for a Christian to meditate on the will of God, the life and teachings of Jesus, the price He paid for our salvation, and our eternal reward in Heaven. Unless we do this we risk taking these great gifts for granted, and, through pride, falling away from Christ. Every Christian must meditate in some way in order to keep the gift of salvation. The Rosary is a way of meditating on these gifts that can be done anywhere and at any time. You don’t even, strictly speaking, need a rosary. On a number of occasions, I’ve prayed it on the Tube, with nothing more than my fingers to keep track of where I am (my favourite rosary is a rather hefty haematite and sterling silver affair that chimes merrily away as you pray. It’s a little hard to manage it discreetly on the Tube). It has been prayed on jewelled chaplets in palaces, on the links of prison chains, and using pebbles moved from one hand to the other.

It is not necessary to pray all five Mysteries in one go – one decade done well, getting into the heart of the mystery, is better than five decades, or twenty decades, rattled off at machine-gun pace to get it out of the way.

The mechanics are thus (the words to all the prayers are at the bottom of this post):

Begin by saying why you are praying this rosary – your intention.

Kiss the Crucifix, and make the Sign of the Cross.

On the Crucifix, pray the Apostles’ Creed.

On the first, large bead, pray the Our Father

On the next three smaller beads, pray three Hail Marys, for the virtues of Faith, Hope and Love.

On the next large bead, pray the Gloria and the Fatima Prayer

On the medal, or central bead, announce the first mystery you will be praying.

Again on the central medal, pray the Our Father. On the next ten beads, pray ten Hail Marys, meditating on the Mystery that you announced at the start. To help with this, some people like to read a short passage of Scripture that relates to the Mystery before they pray the Our Father. This will bring you to the next large solitary bead, where you pray the Gloria and Fatima Prayer. This completes the first Mystery.

On the same large bead, you announce the second Mystery, pray the Our Father, and move on to the next ten beads, saying a Hail Mary on each. In this manner, you work your way round the loop of the chaplet, until you come back to the central medal again.

To complete the Rosary, on this medal you pray the Hail Holy Queen or other Marian antiphon according to the season, and the concluding rosary prayer, and finally make the Sign of the Cross again and kiss the Crucifix.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have occasionally (just occasionally) got a mind like a butterfly, rather than a steel trap. So my praying of the rosary has been known to go rather like this:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, did I leave the gas on? The Lord is with thee, and what do I need to put on my shopping list? Blessed art thou amongst women, and I really must phone my mum tonight. What was I doing? Where am I going? And why am I in this hand-basket?” so to help me keep my mind on which mysteries I’m praying, I insert a short phrase into the centre of each Hail Mary. For instance, the first Joyful Mystery would go like this:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, Whom thou conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

The other short phrases are:

For the first three Hail Marys on the short chain between the Crucifix and the medal:
…Who increases our faith…
…Who strengthens our hope…
…Who perfects our love…

For the Joyful Mysteries:
…Whom thou conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit…
…Whom thou carried in thy womb, visiting Saint Elizabeth…
…Who was born of thee in Bethlehem…
…Whom thou presented in the Temple…
…Whom thou found in the Temple…

For the Luminous Mysteries:
…Who was baptised by John in the Jordan…
…Who turned the water into wine…
…Who proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom…
…Who was transfigured before the apostles…
…Who gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist…

For the Sorrowful Mysteries:
…Who sweated blood for our sins…
…Who was scourged for our sins…
…Who was mocked and crowned with thorns…
…Who carried the Cross for our sins…
…Who was crucified and died for our sins…

For the Glorious Mysteries:
…Who rose from the dead…
…Who ascended into heaven…
…Who sent us the Holy Spirit…
…Who raised thee Blessed Virgin, into Heaven…
…Who crowned thee, Blessed Virgin, Queen of Heaven…


The Prayers

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. 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. Amen.

Our Father
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. Amen.

Hail Mary
Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

Glory Be
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The Fatima Prayer
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.

The final Marian antiphon

Loving Mother of our Redeemer, – said from the first Sunday in Advent until the Feast of the Purification (February 2)

Loving Mother of our Redeemer, hear thou thy people’s cry
Star of the deep and Portal of the sky!
Mother of Him whom thee from nothing made.
Sinking we strive and call to thee for aid:
Oh, by what joy which Gabriel brought to thee,
Thou Virgin first and last, let us thy mercy see.
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. And she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Queen of Heaven – said from the Feast of the Purification to Holy Saturday.

Hail, O Queen of Heaven.
Hail, O Lady of Angels
Hail! thou root, hail! thou gate
From whom unto the world, a light has arisen:
Rejoice, O glorious Virgin,
Lovely beyond all others,
Farewell, most beautiful maiden,
And pray for us to Christ.
Grant that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin. Give me strength against thy foes.
Grant unto us, O merciful God, a defense against our weakness, that we who remember the holy Mother of God, by the help of her intercession, may rise from our iniquities, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Queen of Heaven – said from Holy Saturday through Pentecost Sunday

Rejoice, oh Queen of Heaven, alleluia!
The Son thou wast found worthy to bear, alleluia!
Has risen as He said, alleluia!
Pray for us to God, alleluia!
Rejoice and be glad, oh Virgin Mary, alleluia!
For the Lord has risen indeed, alleluia.

The Hail Holy Queen – said from Pentecost until Advent.

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 vale of tears.
Turn then, 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 worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Concluding Rosary Prayer
O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech Thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that we may both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(I’m going to keep fiddling with this post, I’m sure. There’s so much to say that it will never be quite right).

[edited 03/11/06 to correct embarrassing mistake, and add a bit].

8 thoughts on “A Gateway to Silence

  1. Thank you for sharing this information with someone who was rather ignorant…I knew the basics, but you’ve given me a much better appreciation. Thank you.

  2. Thank you. A very clear description. I particularly like the idea of the extra phrase in the Hail Mary to remind what you are meditating on.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by intention. Could you say a bit about how this fits with the prayer? Would this be a question you are asking and hoping to receive an answer about during your meditation?

  3. What Tractor Girl said. Unlike Ian I didn’t even know the basics, but this made a lot of sense. Thank you.

  4. Thanks very much, that’s a really interesting post. I’m a bit too Protestant when it comes down to it to manage to do the Rosary, but I can see what a valuable aid to meditation it is. I really could do with something that kept my own butterfly mind from flitting about whilst trying to pray.

Comments are closed.