Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

Telling the beads

Rosary prayers offer a form of meditation on the life of Jesus

By Kristin Peterson

Most Catholics have at least a handful of rosaries, given at milestones such as first Communion or confirmation. Some are inexpensive, made from plastic beads and string. Some beautiful chain rosaries have crystal or glass beads; and corded rosaries have knots for beads. In addition, there are rosary bracelets, decade rings and single decade rosaries.

The rosary beads are a way of keeping us on track as we say the prayers of the rosary and reflect on the life of Jesus. Father James Presta, the rector-president of St. Joseph Seminary College at Loyola University Chicago, explained that the rosary is a meditative prayer. “It is an easy prayer to pray because it is repetitious and you are thinking about the mysteries of Jesus’ life,” he said.

Father Louis J. Cameli, pastor at Divine Savior in Norridge, added that the recitation of the prayers “provide a background rhythm to ease into the mediation.”

The rosary beads are a way to count the prayers, but Presta said the beads themselves serve as a tangible sign for Catholics. “As Catholics, we like to be able to feel with our senses, to experience,” Presta said. “Using the rosary beads is a way to connect to God.”

Cameli said that the rosary engages several senses—those praying the rosary touch the beads, say the prayers and use their imagination to reflect on the mysteries.

For many Catholics, the rosary serves as a symbol throughout our lives. “We put rosary beads into the hands of small children and in the caskets of loved ones,” Presta said.

The rosary has a connection to Mary, but the rosary is about the life of Christ. “The rosary is a Christ-centered prayer that we pray in union with Mary,” Presta said. “Mary accompanied her son, so she is also with us.”

In his apostolic letter on the rosary from 2002, Pope John Paul II explained that while the rosary is “Marian in character,” it is still a “Christocentric” prayer. “With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love.”

The late pope showed his support for the personal devotion of the rosary when he proposed the new set of Luminous mysteries in 2002. These mysteries feature events in Jesus’ public ministry. Presta said this addition “completes the cycle of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”

The mysteries of the rosary are a summary of the Gospel. “When you pray the rosary, what you are really doing is reviewing the essential mysteries of Christ, reviewing the Gospel,” Cameli said.

The rosary is connected to the life of Christ but for some troops stationed in Iraq, the rosary has had a special connection to their lives.

Thanks to the work of Father John T. Hannigan, a Marine chaplain and a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago, more troops have access to rosaries and other religious items. Hannigan is now stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., but last year he was serving the U.S. soldiers, sailors and Marines in Iraq.

Hannigan noticed that the Marines—both Catholics and non-Catholics—wanted rosaries. Hannigan would see the Marines wearing the rosaries around their necks, and he wondered about the trend. The troops were influenced by a movie in which the characters wore rosaries around their necks. But Hannigan said the interest in the rosaries went beyond just “wanting to emulate something in a movie.”

“They not only wanted to have the rosaries, they also asked how to pray it,” he said. Hannigan tried to get information to the troops on how to pray the rosary and he said this was “a way of evangelizing and a way of catechesis.”

In order to get more rosaries, Hannigan contacted Mary Z. Becker, who owns an online religious goods store in the Chicago area, and Becker organized volunteers to make corded rosaries for the troops.

The rosaries are made with practical and strong material, strong, tan-colored cords with a black crucifix. The cord is quiet, and there are not beads to reflect light. “The soldiers got beaded rosaries but they break and fall apart,” Becker explained. “It makes a difference to have a strong rosary.”

The troops also have the rosary as something to take with them to remind them of God’s protection. For many of them, Hannigan said, the rosary “is the only [religious item] that they could carry with them.”

The rosary has also been important to pilgrims in Lourdes. Melinda Henson, a Buffalo Grove resident who has visited Lourdes several times, said that pilgrims in Lourdes walk around praying the rosary, and the rosary is said daily during a candlelight procession.

Henson has been helping to plan events in the U.S. for the 150th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Lourdes, which begins this December.

At the first apparition in Lourdes, Mary and Bernadette prayed the rosary together. Bernadette was initially too scared to begin praying. “Then Our Lady made the sign of the cross, and only then could Bernadette pray with her,” Henson said. “There were no words in the first apparition; the communication between them was the rosary.”

Back in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the World Apostolate of Fatima or the Blue Army promotes the praying of the rosary. The international organization was founded to promote the message of Our Lady of Fatima. One of the elements of this message was to pray the rosary and to pray for peace. “Our Lady promised whoever prays the rosary faithfully will be given special graces,” said Gloria Violante, the president of the Blue Army of Chicago.

But the Blue Army in Chicago does more than just pray the rosary. “We make them, we distribute them, we say them and we teach others how to say them,” Violante said. The Blue Army makes rosaries and distributes them to hospitals, schools, prisons and missions, along with leaflets that explain how to pray the rosary. They also organize rosary rallies, living rosaries, May crownings and holy hours of reparation.

Violante said the rosary is an easy prayer for everyone to learn. “It is such a simple little prayer but it is so powerful,” she said.