C.C. Martindale, S.J. on the Rosary
Nearly everyone knows that Catholics have 'Rosaries,' and 'tell their beads.' They even make this a subject for rebuke if not derision. They talk about 'vain repetitions,' and allude to Buddhist 'praying wheels.' They also used, if they knew a little more about what rosaries are, and observed that there were ten 'Hail Marys' to any one 'Our Father,' to profess horror that Catholics should give ten times as much to Mary as they gave to God.
We may as well get rid, rapidly, of these impertinences.
First we recall that everything given to Mary is given to God, because it is because of God that she is what she is -- "What hast thou, that thou hast not received?" (cf. 1 Cor. iv. 7): "He that is mighty has done great things for me." And it is that we may better please God that we approach her, speak to her, and trust in her. Again, any prayer addressed to Mary is different in kind from a prayer addressed to God. We 'lift up our mind and heart' to Mary, and our voices, as one who will join her specially powerful prayers to ours and our to hers: you could no more add up prayers addressed direct to God, and those offered to Mary, than you could add up or contrast sonatas or motor-cars. They are different sorts of things. As for 'vain repetitions,' critics never continue the quotation -- 'they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking' (Matt. vi. 7). We shall see why, in the Rosary, we repeat the Hail Mary so often: enough to say here that it has nothing to do with the amount of words spoken, still less with praying-wheels where prayers are not said at all. A prayer is attached to the wheel, which is set turning, and the devotee departs. The turning wheel prays for him, while he dines, or otherwise disports himself.
Such critics, then, are the victims of their imagination; having no experience of Catholic prayer, and of the Rosary in particular, they think that what they can see with their eyes is everything that can be known about the subject, and enquire no further, but forthwith condemn.
To be fair, we should agree that the Rosary, recited very fast and sometimes noisily, in church, is calculated to provide others with no merely 'pharisaic' scandal. We thereby make things harder for them to understand than they need be. St. Paul never denied that 'speaking in tongues' was a preternatural gift from God; still, he deprecated its occurrence in public worship. Should anyone, not a Christian, enter your assemblies, he would think, said the Apostle, that they had all gone mad. This shows that we are perfectly justified in taking the feelings and probable views of others into consideration, and, so far as possible, should allow both the beauty and reasonableness of all that we do to shine forth upon them, and to convey themselves spontaneously.
For us Catholics, at any rate, the constantly repeated recommendations of the Holy See, and the enrichment of the recitation of the Rosary with so many indulgences, and sheer experience, leave us in no doubt at all as to its value, though each of us is free to recite it only as often and on what occasions he pleases.
But what is of supreme importance is that we should 'meditate' upon the Mysteries as they appear each in its due order. The very word 'mystery is significant. We do not mean, when we use it here, something 'mysterious' in the sense of uncanny or inexplicable, but of something which does not immediately reveal all that it is in it; which needs not only looking at, but looking into.
To help us see the point of this, let us go back to the moment when the first three 'Joyful Mysteries,' but no more, had been accomplished -- the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Birth at Bethlehem.
The Shepherds visited the Cave, had seen the Holy Family, and informed everyone about what had been said to them. "And everyone who heard it was astonished by what had been said to them by the shepherds." "But," proceeds St. Luke "Mary was 'keeping -- preserving -- together' all these words, 'putting them together in her heart.'" Every detail here deserves attention. The style seems to me to be unusually simple, almost naïf, for St. Luke, who usually writes with care. This is an affair of personal taste; yet it will prove not unimportant.
She proceeded to 'put them together' in her heart. She recalled all that had happened in every detail. Then she interconnected all this: she saw the 'bearing' of every minutest incident. She 'thought it all over,' in her heart, or as we might say, her mind. St. Luke adds that Mary went on keeping all these things in mind -- kept them 'throughout' in her thought -- and implies that he must be understood that she did so to the very end -- and, when what he wrote about was occurring, that end had not yet come.
To my mind there can be no doubt at all that St. Luke gives us to understand, from this repeated sentence, that the reason he can speak so positively about the Childhood of our Lord is because he had learnt the facts from Mary. But the point is the habit of our Lady, and the example that it provides for us, especially in connection with our way of saying the Rosary.
We should not be surprised if our very religion suffers if we never think about its doctrines and other 'mysteries.' All good things have their corresponding dangers annexed to them; and while a man who acknowledges no authority to teach him what is true and right has to spend endless trouble over trying to think the matter over for himself and, to think it out -- and if he cannot, he takes 'leaps in the dark' or despairs and gives up -- the man who possesses a guaranteed Teacher, as we do, may be apt to accept that teaching and never to reflect upon it, and give but a lip-allegiance to his Faith. His Faith thereupon becomes thinner and thinner; it is liable to float off from him like a snake's skin at shedding time; and most certainly, he does not communicate it to anyone else. He has never seen into it: he can only repeat its formulas: he has no experimental conviction about it: when asked to explain it, he can only answer: "Go and see a priest" -- which half of his enquirers would rather die than do. This is why the Church is so very insistent on 'meditation.' There are Retreats; there is the practice of 'meditation' for a quarter of an hour, or a half an hour, or five minutes, daily. We cannot suppose that this is a common practice, valuable though it be. There is at least the possibility of saying one's prayers slowly enough to think of the words one by one.
But must we wait so long that a new idea may be [miraculously] inserted into our mind? I do not think so. You do not come forth from prayer able to provide new ideas to your astonished friends, nor to make religious epigrams. Far deeper are the communications of God: deep beneath sounds; deep even beneath thoughts. But they produce their creative effect. They change the very foundation of your mind.
But then why wait? Cannot God do everything in an instant of time? We wait -- we recite the prayers slowly -- because what we really need is that everything spiritual should sink into us. It is one thing to say rapidly what the Joyful or the Sorrowful or the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are; and quite a different one to say what they mean -- what they count for -- what alone should be our due response to them.
I may dare to suggest that you say, if anything, more than you need, and think very much less than you ought. I agree that the way the Rosary is often said in church does not at all help you to think. So, I would far rather that you said less and thought more...one decade of the Rosary rather than the whole of any five, provided you thought deep into the meaning of the one instead of merely registering the subject of the five. But if you are so closely united with the memory of our Lord and His Holy Mother...then 'the whole house' shall be 'filled with the fragrance' of the rose garlands that you hang around their shrine.