The rosary has been a part of my spiritual life since I learned it from my first husband, Blaze, during our courtship, years before I was ever Catholic (or Christian at all.) It became a natural part of daily Catholic devotion for me over the years and the way I experience praying it has grown and changed with my prayer life.
As a Discalced Carmelite Secular, I have, of course, assimilated St. Teresa’s teachings on prayer into my life with the rosary, and this has helped me pray it more reflectively and with ever more meaning.
I try to pray the rosary as part of a relationship; a relationship with Mary, and as a way of living the Gospel in her company.
St. Teresa taught us that prayer is conversation and contact with “the Friend who we know loves us.” The prayer of the rosary, in particular, as well as being a wonderful point of contact with God, flows out of the joy of friendship with Mary.
The rosary at its best, is, to me, an intimate sharing between ourselves and Mary as she invites us into our family mysteries; the events in the life of Jesus. She intensifies our experience of the treasures of the Gospel for us by her presence, perspective, and teaching.
God is within us, and, as St. Teresa points out in The Way of Perfection, that indwelling of God in us means that also within us is all His holy court, and all of heaven. Everyone in Heaven is right here, in the “Little Heaven” of our souls.
In The Interior Castle, St. Teresa imagined the soul as a beautiful, crystalline castle with God at the center, enthroned in the heart. It is not hard for me to imagine that the Queen of the castle is also within, leading me gently through its many rooms, inward to the King.
Our Holy Mother, St. Teresa, called the way of prayer, “The Royal Road.” Similar to now, there used to be a lot of roads people had to pay to travel on. But the Royal Road was free and open to everyone. This can certainly be said about the rosary. It is a prayer for everyone, whatever style or level of prayer each person who prays it is most proficient with. It is vocal and communal prayer. It is personal, imaginative prayer. It is mental, interior prayer. It can lift us and become, should the Lord will it, the mysterious grace of contemplative prayer that brings us into the deepest consciousness of God.
This royal road of the prayer of the rosary is well trod by many before us, and many fellow “rosarians” are on this road any time we step onto it; people all over the world praying the rosary at any given moment, to walk with us in spirit.
If you are just starting to learn the rosary, or to get serious about it, a good book of religious art based on the Gospel can be a great prayer aide for you. Find one that is beautiful to you, that inspires you, that you love looking at. As you pray each mystery, you can gaze at the corresponding pictures. This is a great way to imprint these scenes on your soul and help them to begin to live in you on their own. This is what I did and it brought the rosary alive for me.
When I am about to begin the rosary, I try first to quiet my heart, laying all my troubles and distractions at the feet of Mary. Then I pray to the Holy Spirit that I will be able to pray it well.
If we want to pray the rosary more deeply, it’s going to take time. Mary wants our time. She wants to hang out with us. We want to hang out with her too, without rushing.
Making a habit of the rosary helps lay the foundation for you and Mary and God to build on as you grow in your relationship.
I began by making the rosary part of something else I already did. I most often pray the rosary on walks. My evening walk is my walk with Mother Mary. I take my time with it. I love being with her. I think she likes to be with me too.
Friendship takes time and effort. To develop your relationship with Mary, you might get a good picture or statue of her, one that you like, and talk to her sometimes during the day.
Look at her when you are doing something around the house.
Pause in prayer with her a moment during the day now and then.
Imagine her with you as you go through your day.
Keep a rosary in your pocket, touching it now and then, even if you don’t necessarily “pray” it right then.
Try to make contact of some kind with her before you close your eyes in sleep. Pray a Hail Mary, perhaps, or imagine kissing your heavenly mother good night. I like to sleep with a rosary in my hand. I know several of my friends find meaning in doing this too.
All these things will make the soil of our lives more fruitful for the roses of the Gospel Mary wants to plant in us.
St. Teresa thought that to begin practicing what she called “mental prayer,” or, we might say, deep inner prayer, we should learn to say our vocal prayers perfectly. She even said praying our vocal prayers perfectly and with attention was already mental prayer.
So when we pray the prayers of the rosary, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, we can learn to pray them well by paying attention. We can focus on who it is we are talking to. We can truly pay attention to what it is we are saying to the Father, to Our Lady, to the Blessed Trinity.
This sounds really simple and obvious but when I make myself conscious of this, it makes all the difference. Mary is a real person in our lives. We would never speak to a friend without looking at her, without knowing what we said to her. We would do our best to make eye contact, to speak intentionally, to speak from the heart. When we do this with Mary, she reciprocates, and our prayer is immeasurably deepened.
St. Teresa talked about “recollection” in prayer as the setting aside of outward stimulation, commanding our senses at will, so that the soul can enter into itself to be with God (and in this case Mary, too.) This takes practice. We want to work toward being able to close ourselves into the inner room of our souls to be with Mary in the rosary. In this way we allow her to vivify the Gospel for us from within.
After we have learned to pray our vocal prayers with attention, we can begin to let them lead us naturally to the mysteries the rosary has us reflect on. Sometimes we will use our imaginations to focus on each event and re-live it with Mary. Other times we may recall or include verses of Scripture that keep us connected to the story.
At times, we will be caught up in prayer. Then the vocal prayers, the inner vision, the union with God, happen at once as the Holy Spirit prays within us in ways we can feel.
Other times, the rosary’s rhythm may slow or stop completely and we will be taken up into the simple, mutual gaze of contemplation with God.
Sometimes we will be too overcome by anxiety or pain to pray in the usual ways, and the best we can do is simply hold the rosary, like holding our mother’s hand. That is OK too.
As with any friend, there are all kinds of days with Mary. The important thing is to continue to live with her, rosary in hand, in faith, hope, and love, through them all.
*Note: The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is October 7. The Feast of St. Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church and Reformer of Carmel, is October 15.
Also, October is the month of the rosary.