Thursday, February 4, 2010

How I learned to love the Rosary

Before I ventured into Hispanic ministry, it would never have occurred to me to pray the Rosary. I came up as a convert in Catholic social activist circles and the Rosary was at best a boring distraction from the urgent work of changing the world and at worst something we associated with the most conservative elements of our Church. I knew a couple of Catholic peacemakers who would walk around the Pentagon with their rosaries, hoping that it would tumble down like the wall of Jericho, but that was all.

Then I joined the Renovación and the Rosary came along with it. Our spiritual director, Fr. Hoyos, imposed it on the prayer groups to make sure that with all the aleluias and alabanzas, the speaking in tongues and resting in the Spirit, nobody would ever mistake his flock for Pentecostalists.

At first, I approached it like a typical gringa. Because we had a lot of folks in our prayer group who didn’t know the Rosary, I set out to write a pamphlet that would codify the way we recited it at Santa Ana, which I assumed was the way everyone recited it. As I got to know the Renovación at the diocesan level, I found out that no two prayer groups recite the Rosary the same way and, for that matter, no two Hispanic Catholics do either. I gave up on the pamphlet and struggled with my personal frustration at the lack of any “standard”.

I searched the Web in vain for one “right way” to pray the Rosary in Spanish, but Hispanic Catholics do not approach the Rosary in a definitive way. Anything written down is treated merely as a suggestion, a skeleton on which they embroider like a talented pianist adding ornamentations to a Bach partita. In the case of the best rezadores, the add-ons can be quite elaborate, gathered over a lifetime of experience. And the source? “Pues, así lo rezaba mi abuelita…”

Gradually I learned to appreciate this diversity. The fact that there is no right or wrong way to pray the Rosary is actually liberating; I could develop my own individual style and it would be OK. And so I found my voice – a voice that evolved as I listened to others, adopting variations that resonated with me and discarding those that I didn’t care for.

Our group starts with the basic Rosary pamphlet from, either begged from the local Legion of Mary or bought in bulk at a discount. But this is just to remind us which mysteries to recite on which days and to provide a crutch for those of us who haven’t quite mastered the standard prayers.

At the end of each mystery, we have a choice of Fatima prayers. One is supposed to either say “O Jesús Mio perdona nuestros pecados y libranos del fuego del infierno, etc…” or “María es madre de gracia, madre de misericordía, en la vida y en la muerte ampáranos gran Señora, etc…” but our group does both for good measure and I tack on “Madre de Dios y abogada nuestra” behind the final “Virgen Santísima” because I can identify with this image of Mary as an “advocate” or “lawyer” (Our Lady as working mother and professional!). Then I’ll throw in three “Ave María purísima sin pecada concebida”s , which I learned from Fr. Hoyos, between each mystery.

Most people state their prayer intentions all at once at the beginning of the Rosary. I prefer to state an intention with each mystery and try to correlate them thematically, e.g. praying for couples while meditating on the “Wedding at Cana” (2nd Luminous Mystery). My prayers are a bit to the left of the Renovación. For example, the daily prayer for my priest friends (of which there are many) not only asks that they be faithful to their vows and free from temptation, but that God will give them the courage to always walk with the people. The rosary pamphlet suggests meditating on personal sin and conversion along with the “Proclamation of the Coming of the Kingdom”; I prefer to pray that God will raise up more prophets and that we will find and use our own prophetic voices.

I move the three “Ave Maria”s to the end of the Rosary and use the wording suggested in "Palabra, Vida Y Fe” (also online here) that specifies Mary’s relationship to each Person of the Holy Trinity, links them to the three theological virtues – faith, hope and love – and honors Mary’s virginity “antes”, “en”, y “después del parto”. It is reassuringly orderly like the numbered paragraphs in which I learned to write essays as a schoolgirl in France.

The herman@s customarily offer the final Salve only for the intentions of the Holy Father but that’s a bit too limited and patriarchal for my taste so I usually say “por las intenciones de TODO el pueblo de Dios, especialmente del Santo Padre…”

All this has changed the Rosary from a dull 15-minute race through the basics to a languid half-hour of contemplation every morning. I continue to listen for different variations, looking for ways to make “my” Rosary more beautiful and meaningful. The herman@s have taught me how to turn a tedious task into a treasure and for this I am thankful. Ruega por ellos y por mí, Santa Madre de Dios, para que seamos dignos de alcanzar las promesas y gracias de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Amén.


  1. This reminded me - stream of consciousness - of a unique experience of grassroots ecumenism I ran into in El Salvador in the countryside in the 1990s.
    It was the custom to recite the rosary in a different house in the village every night during the month of May. But there were evangelicals in the village and to preserve harmony one of the leaders has a prayer service in the evangelical family's home.
    I cannot remember now if they used one of the mysteries or not. But for me it was a wonderful expression of the effort to include all. Mary would be proud of those great people.

  2. I don’t says lots of Rosaries because I never been too much a friend of repetition and I prefer to say a well meaning and felt Our Father or Hail Mary once in awhile than to be repeating the prayers over and over again, but of course, I understand that the Rosary is a tool for meditation and if I can mention the word, a catholic mantra, that sets the mind in a vibration of peace and attunes attention and helps focus concentration in the inner self.
    But my wife belongs to the Holy Family ministry of the Pilgrim Virgin and some times I go along with her to pick or to deliver the statue up, thus saying a “casa” of Rosary mysteries in each house hold where we go.
    When we take a statue to someone’s house to stay during a week, a plastic file box comes along, which contains some prayer pamphlets, plastic Rosaries and a set of the “cartulinas” which have the entire procedure to pray the Rosary, with the litanies, etc, a very complete and long set of instructions and the required prayers to say, from the beginning to the end of the Rosary.
    This is the way that it has to be done according to the Virgin Pilgrim ministry.
    R.B., you know my e-mail, just say the word and I’ll mail to you one or two of this “cartulinas” for you to keep.
    By the way, this week the statue is coming to our house, Saturday is the day, but it may be delayed awhile because of the snow. It’ll be a pleasure for me to mail to you –if you like- some of these resources, which are there for the families to keep if they want.