Rosary Beads : Vain Repetition or A Way to Holiness?
In my former life as a non-Catholic Christian, I had come to view rosary beads as the "quintessential" example of what Jesus meant when he said "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words."
As a young Catholic (before I left the Church at 14) I said the rosary but didn't understand how to pray it. I didn't understand that as you pray the prayers on the rosary , you are to meditate on specific events in Jesus' and Mary's life. What can be better than that as a way of getting close to Jesus?
As a revert to Catholicism, I have now learned how to pray the rosary. Different days of the week are assigned to a different set of events that the Church calls mysteries. These "mysteries" are not real mysteries but events based in the Scripture. (As I have said before, Catholics tend to have a different vocabulary that causes confusion and fear among the un-initiated) My favorite is the Sorrowful Mysteries. As I pray each decade of Hail Mary prayers, I think on my Lord's agony in the garden, his scourging by the guards, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross and finally the crucifixion. Praying the Hail Mary allows me to ask Mary's intercession for myself and others in light of the agony and suffering that Christ endured for me. My meditation of Him as the Psalmist says surely "is sweet." In between the decades are the Our Father Prayer which is the prayer that Jesus gave His church to pray. Praying the rosary is not worshipping Mary as noted in my last post. If you have any doubt, please go back and check!
So praying the rosary is not vain babbling, because we are not thinking that our prayers will be heard because of the quantity of them. In my former charismatic church, many folks would repetitiously pray, "thank you Jesus, praise you Jesus, thank you Jesus" over and over . We never felt this was vain or repetitious. In Revelations 4 it says the heavenly hosts proclaim "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty", day and night. So repetition is not wrong. The Jews prayed the Psalms over and over and Jesus being a good Jew participated in temple worship and certainly repeated prayers over and over again. The unjust judge and the widow make us understand that God expects us to intercede often and Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing.
The rosary is not in the Bible,(Neither are Scripture flash cards or "praise and worship tapes") but it is a tool that us humans use to get us closer to our God. The concept of holding beads in your hand seems to disturb some non-Catholics because they think it is a pagan practice. Unfortunately, this attitude has its roots in the persistent unspoken paradigm of some forms of Protestantism as well as Christian Science: "spirit= good" but physical= bad ." Catholicism is incarnational , God has come to us in the flesh and He allows us to use the things of the material world to get closer to Him. The beads aren't magical and carry no power of themselves. Actually the word bead is from middle English meaning bede which translates to the word prayer. So the beads hold our place, keep our physical body engaged in an attitude of prayer, the Hail Mary prayers engage our lips in intercession and the mysteries engage our hearts and minds on Christ and the events in the Gospels. What's not to love here?
Some non-Catholic denominations have taken to praying a rosary as well and the Christian bookstores are starting to carry a "non-denominational" rosary using the Jesus prayer. So if you are a non-Catholic reading this, you can now tell your friends what you have learned: the Rosary is not Mariolatry nor vain repetition, not vain repetition, repeat not vain, not vain repetition, not vain repetition, etc. You get the point.
For more information on the rosary please check the links below.
http://www.rosaryarmy.com/ (Get a free rosary here)
http://www.virtualrosary.org/ (On-line rosary) Look Ma no beads!
John Paul 2's Writings about the Rosary
If you are a Catholic who has been blessed by praying the Rosary, please feel free to comment here how God has used it in your life.