The rosary is a method of prayer, not a mandate. It doesn’t hold the weight of a precept of the church, like the one that obliges Catholics to gather for Mass each Sunday. Like the Stations of the Cross, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or daily scripture reading, I think of it as an offering of the church: a way to grow closer to God and the divine mysteries.
So what’s to be gained by this particular prayer form? The rosary supplies a healthy appreciation of Mary’s role in Catholic identity: the whole-souled human response to God's invitation that she embodies so beautifully. Mary is the realization of our vocation to “be church.” She is what we must become. Mary shows us how discipleship is done. But she’s not to be confused with a celestial celebrity. She's better than that. She's the one who assures us that saying yes to God, fully and completely, is possible. Her story and her destiny shine a light on human potential in relationship to God. We, too, yearn to become “full of grace.”
The rosary offers a unique view of the gospels through the heart of the woman from Nazareth. Mary was the first to ponder the greatest events of salvation history. Through her eyes, we reflect on these moments of joy, light, sorrow, and glory and learn to appreciate life’s sacred dimensions. Birth and death, joy and grief, expectation and loss are not only details of our humanity but mysteries connected to sin and grace. We reclaim all the hours of our experience as holy when we pass these simple beads through our hands.
The rosary multiplies the avenues of prayer. It's Scripture meditation, petition, song of praise, and instruction in the faith all at once. Pope Pius XII called it a "compendium of the entire gospel" presented in jewel-like cameos. Blessed John Henry Newman declared that the rosary provides us with a way of "holding in our hands all that we believe." Silence and vocal prayer are the rosary’s alternating energies. If we race through it, we miss the graced encounter that lurks between the beads. Pope John Paul II declared that a "rosary personality" is a witness against violence, injustice, arrogance, and intolerance in any form. In which case we might hope more folks will take up the practice of the rosary.
• The Rosary: Mysteries of Joy, Light, Sorrow, and Glory by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications, 2003)
• The Rosary Prayer by Prayer: How and Why We Pray the Christ-Centered Rosary of the Blessed Mother by Mary K. Doyle (ACTA Publications, 2006)