Walking with Mary through the life of Jesus
The sound of the heart monitor was nothing like I had always imagined it would be. Growing up, I had been a fan of Star Trek, and I always thought the heart monitor in Dr. McCoy's Sick Bay sounded really cool. On that beautiful spring day in rural Indiana, however, the sound of the heart monitor was the opposite of "cool." Instead, it was the sign of my grandmother's fight for her life.
It was April 8, 2012, the Monday after Easter. I was physically tired, as was the rest of my family. We had travelled six hours north from Nashville on Easter Sunday after receiving the devastating news that my grandmother was most likely on her deathbed at a hospital in Kokomo.
When we had arrived in the intensive care unit, the scene was even worse than we expected. As she lay in the hospital bed, my grandmother—a woman I had known as vigorous and full of life—was withdrawn and wracked with pain and suffering. Each breath she took was labored, and the breaths got noticeably further and further apart. As I sat with her, my mother, and my aunt, a feeling of helplessness began to stalk our hearts.
In the midst of this anguish, my left hand found the Rosary I keep in my pocket. As soon as I touched it, I knew what I had to do.
Not wanting to offend the sensibilities of my Protestant relatives, I discretely stepped into the corridor outside my grandmother's room, and I pulled out my Rosary and began to pray.
Offering my prayers for my grandmother's recovery or, failing that, a holy death, I started the rhythm of the Sorrowful Mysteries, recalling Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, his Scourging at the Pillar in the Praetorium, his being Crowned with Thorns, his brutal Carrying the Cross to Calvary, and finally his Crucifixion and Death.
Even as I brought each one of these mysteries to mind, I was no longer alone. As surely as I was holding my Rosary beads in my hands in the Intensive Care Unit at Kokomo's hospital, the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom our Lord Jesus gave to his beloved disciples as He hung from the Cross dying for our sins (cf. Jn. 19:27), was holding my hand in hers as I walked with her through the last hours of her divine Son's earthly life.
That is what the Holy Rosary is all about: walking with Mary through Jesus' life. Recalling, from the point of view of Jesus' most perfect disciple, the saving events of His incarnation, his nativity, his earthly ministry, his passion and death, and his glorious resurrection and ascension.
The Rosary has a transcendent aspect that is difficult to explain to those who have never prayed it. One is both praying to God, offering the pious good of a prayer from the heart, united to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ crucified, while at the same time praying to and with Mary—asking her to pray to her divine Son and intercede on one's behalf. All the while, there is on-going meditation on the history of salvation as Mary herself lived it at Jesus' side.
Back in the corridor outside the room where my grandmother lay dying, I whispered the Our-Fathers, Hail-Marys, and Glory-Bes of the Rosary, contemplating the depths of agony to which Jesus would descend while the cries of my dear loved-one's suffering filled my ears. With Mary, I walked the road of vicarious, helpless pain, clinging to the grace of God while at the same time hoping against hope that the faith upon which I had built my life was true.
After I had finished the Rosary, I returned to my grandmother's bedside. Her condition was unchanged; I was not.
With the eyes of faith, I could see that my grandmother's struggle, pain, and suffering was neither pointless nor hopeless. I could see, having walked the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Tears, with the Mother of God, that it was human suffering that had brought about the salvation of the world: Jesus' torture and death in his Sacred Humanity. Having knelt at the Cross with Mary in the Rosary, I could kneel by my grandmother's deathbed with hope for her purification and resurrection.
That is the grace of the Holy Rosary: yes, it is a devotional prayer par excellence that brings us out of ourselves and invites us to ask the human person who knew Jesus better than any other to petition Him on our behalf, but it is more than that. It is a path to meditating on the Truth of the Gospel through prayer: an intimate union with the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a sharing in the communion of the saints with our sister and our mother: the first human person to experience the fruit of Jesus' salvation and grace, won by his shed-Blood on the Cross.
The Holy Rosary is, as soon-to-be-Saint John Paul II taught, "the school of Mary," in which the Christian people "is led to contemplate the beauty of the face of Christ and to experience the depths of His love" (Pope Bl. John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae ¶ 1 (2002)). With the saintly pope, I say: "confidently take up the Rosary" and "discover the Rosary in light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives" (id., ¶ 43).
1. Get the beads. Or don't—God has given us a built-in Rosary: ten fingers.
2. Figure out which Mysteries you're going to contemplate. There's a weekly cycle that can get you started: Sunday, Glorious; Monday, Joyful; Tuesday, Sorrowful; Wednesday, Glorious; Thursday, Luminous; Friday, Sorrowful; & Saturday, Joyful (there's a complete list of the mysteries below).
3. Or, if you're praying for a specific situation, you can use the series of mysteries that makes the most sense. For example, the Sorrowful Mysteries were poignant for me as I prayed for my grandmother. But the Joyful or Glorious Mysteries would be great for prayer of thanksgiving to God.
4. Once you've chosen the Mysteries, make the Sign of the Cross, and begin to pray:
- On the crucifix, the Apostles' Creed (see below for prayers).
- On the big bead, the Our Father.
- On the 3 little beads, a Hail Mary on each bead for the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
- On the next big bead, the First Mystery: announce it, "The First [Sorrowful] Mystery is the Agony in the Garden."
- Then pray the Our Father.
- On the next ten little beads, pray the Hail Mary (10 times: once for each bead).
- After the tenth Hail Mary, pray the Glory Be.
5. Remember to contemplate the Mystery you've announced while you're offering the prayers associated with the beads.
6. Repeat Steps 4 & 5 for all five Mysteries.
7. After the fifth Glory Be, pray the Hail, Holy Queen & the Rosary Prayer. Close with the Sign of the Cross.