On the Rosary

A Catholic apologist (I'll call him Josephus) replied to my post dealing with the Rosary. Josephus's interactions on message boards are noteworthy for their courteous nature as well as the quality of their content. The man is one of those rare Catholic apologists who seem actually to have a solid working knowledge of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. I consider him to be one of the truly formidable Catholic apologists on the Internet. I have enjoyed my interactions with him.

Josephus wrote:

I happen to enjoy praying the Rosary, so I am not unbiased in this…When I pray [the Rosary] I always focus on certain planned objects or images, such as Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit, etc. Or, I will be in a terrible mess over something, and I will be praying over this, and this is on my mind as well as the Lord. There is no connection between zen meditation and the Rosary simply because one focuses one's attention. The subject of the latter is the life, death and passion of our Lord, whereas the former is a dependence upon oneself to find happiness. And, you may have read books on the Rosary, but just like the Our Father, until you actually experience a prayer, it is just a set of words to fixate upon.

I have prayed the Rosary a number of times, but never alone. When I was Catholic, the doors to my church were never locked in the evening in order that the faithful might come to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, or to light a candle and pray for some special intention or a departed loved one. People would gather to pray the Rosary in a quiet corner of the nave while others moved along the walls praying the Stations of the Cross.

On those occasions when I joined with others to pray the Rosary, we never stopped with just five decades, but always went through all 15 that made up the Rosary in those days. As I recollect, we always paused briefly after each mystery was announced before beginning the series of repeated prayers to Mary, preceded by the Lord's Prayer and followed by the Fatima prayer to Jesus. I cannot know what was happening with others in the prayer groups, but my meditation on the mysteries was confined to that opening portion of each decade when the mystery was announced. When I joined with the others to repeat (chant) the prayers, my attention was on the praying. When the Rosary was finished, I generally felt rather good about myself for having participated in an act of pious devotion to Mary.

I do not recall ever having been aware that a Rosary group I prayed with was offering its activity for any special purpose or private intention, so I cannot speak to that particular aspect of Josephus' experiences.

Josephus wrote:

There is no connection between Zen meditation and the Rosary simply because one focuses one's attention. The subject of the latter is the life, death and passion of our Lord, whereas the former is a dependence upon oneself to find happiness.

Josephus, I accept those words are true, in your case. However, I am convinced that they are not true for many; particularly those who make a daily practice of praying the Rosary. Over the years, even though I left 'Mother Church' in the late 1950's, I have been present many times as individuals and groups prayed the Rosary. The great bulk of my family is Mexican or Mexican-American, a group known for its association with the Catholic Church. When the family gathers for some special occasion, such as a wake, some will come together to pray the Rosary; and others regularly pray the Rosary every morning and/or evening and when travelling.

In their group praying, the monotonic rhythm and expressionless faces give the impression they are chanting a mantra while seeking inner peace. Granted, external signs do not always reflect what is going on inside, but they sometimes do. Almost always, when praying alone, my Rosary-praying family members and friends seem to be trying for a new speed record as they rip out the syllables of the Rosary prayers with machinegun-like rapidity.

Josephus wrote:

I felt that Ron was saying that to try to do two things at once, i.e. pray to Mary, and meditate on the mysteries, is going to cause distraction, and make both less valuable. While I don't agree, obviously, I do understand the point when considering the basic understanding of the Rosary in a mechanical sense.

More specifically, I was attempting to call attention to the fact that the majority of the prayers in the Rosary sequences, 76 percent, are directed to Mary, not to God the Father or to Jesus Christ the Savior. I consider this fact to lend substance to the argument that Catholicism, in practice as opposed to published doctrine, is focused more on its version of Mary than on its emasculated clone of Christ.

Another Catholic poster had written that, though three times as many Rosary prayers are directed to Mary than to the Godhead, the Rosary is Christ-centered in that while praying the repeated prayers, the faithful are meditating on the mysteries which involve events in the life of Christ. My point in this matter was that attempting to meditate on the mysteries while repeating the prayers must involve two parts, or levels, of the brain (consciousness). I doubt many are able to devote equal attention to two separate activities being carried out simultaneously; one must be given precedence over the other.

If one focused on the prayers in the conscious, then the meditation must be relegated to the subconscious, or vice versa. If the prayers have primacy of effort, then the meditation must necessarily be of some inferior quality (superficial?). On the other hand, if one is concentrating on the meditation, the praying will become a mere mechanical recitation of learned words, similar to a CD player set to repeat a single track, over and over and over. These postulations give rise to metaphysical questions the answers to which each person who prays the Rosary must honestly seek within himself: Is there true spiritual value in superficial meditation or mechanical recitation of prayer?

Josephus wrote:

I believe strongly in meditation. Not the varieties practiced in Eastern religions such as yoga and Buddhism, but Christian meditation. When I was a Buddhist, I was very attached to a specific type of meditation exercise designed to help find bodhi. This usually included focussing one's thoughts totally on the breathing. By doing this, it was hoped to find the truth of one's emptiness. This is a pointless technique as far as religion is concerned. One will likely find nothing of value in the way of God by doing this.

However, one may actually meditate on the scripture or a prayer and find great value in it. This is not the same as meditating on something like breathing or walking, but rather is a productive thing, by attuning your mind to God. We should pray with our mind and spirit.

There is a place for meditation in Christian worship. Paul charged Timothy to meditate on the things he had learned and on doctrine:

15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.
16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee
.--1 Timothy 4:15

God Himself commanded Joshua to meditate on doctrine:

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.-- Joshua 1:8

The Psalmist speaks of the results of meditating on God's Word:

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
—Psalm 1:1-6

In that God Himself clearly considers meditation to be important in the life of the faithful, can any of us say otherwise? I believe; however, that when that meditation is done in a manner that requires dividing one's spiritual effort between meditating on the things of the Lord and mechanically droning learned prayers, its value to God and to the one meditating is significantly reduced, perhaps eliminated. I also believe that, for some at least, praying the Rosary becomes nothing more than a mechanical chanting of a mantra-like series of prayers, the result of which can be a spiritual emptying that leaves a void in the consciousness that can be exploited by the enemy of our souls.

Josephus wrote:

All prayer, even a simple reading of the psalms, is a conversation with God. He may not say anything audible, as I am sure He rarely does in any case, but He still converses with the soul.

It has long been a practice of observant Jews, at least Orthodox Jews, to ritually pray specific prayers at specific times in their lives. These prayers include the Shema twice each day, blessing before meals and thanksgiving after, blessing of the wine, etc. In addition to these prescribed prayers, they also pray by reciting Psalms. I do not doubt that at least some Jews pray and have prayed intensely personal prayers to God, even as the Perfect Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, prayed that night in the Garden.

I do not know how many Catholics, and in particular lay Catholics, today pray intensely personal prayers. In my experience, in my family and as a visiting teacher in theology classes in Catholic high schools, the normative manner of Catholic praying appears to be to pray to a third party 'saint,' asking that real or imaginary ghost to pray to God for some 'intention.' In the case of the Rosary, the great bulk of praying seems to be of this sort. In that 76% of the Rosary prayers are not offered to God, does that mean that, in the Catholic understanding, most of the communicating with the soul is between Mary and the person praying? Again, looking only at the numbers, does this not at least suggest that the Rosary may constitute a violation of one of God's Ten Commandments?

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.—Exodus 20:3

I do not claim to know the mind of God, and can but speculate on the possible answers to this question, but it is something to consider.

I agree that prayer is communication between God and the spirit of man, but only when that prayer is between man and God. I do not believe that prayer to spirits of the dead, such as the pantheon of Catholic 'saints' ruled over by the Catholic Mary, is communication between man's soul and the Creator. I have not settled in my mind whether the God to whom Catholics pray indeed is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God to whom believers pray. I am, however, convinced that neither the 'saints,' the Catholic version of Mary nor her son are persons of the Godhead. Given that understanding, I believe that the Rosary, both in meditation and in prayer, serves to divert man's attention from God.

Josephus wrote:

The Rosary is like any other prayer, in that it is as active as the Spirit in you. When prayed with reverence and concern, it brings the same experiences of prayer as praying the Our Father, which is a similar streaming set of words. It only brings real benefits, i.e. reason, thought and logic, when one is properly disposed to receive them, and prays with the right intentions.

I agree that the interior blessings to the one praying are in direct proportion to his reverent involvement with the link between himself and God – the only Person to whom we should pray. By reverently praying the Lord's Prayer, which Christ gave as an example of how to pray, one is reminded of the nature of God, our utter dependence on Him and the promises of the Gospel. Absent the reverent disposition and the 'right intentions,' the prayer is nothing more than a meaningless repetition of learned words.

I believe one should communicate with God (pray) and think on Him throughout the day. However, if the motivation to make contact with God is anything other than a desire to draw near to Him – such as to gain status with one's peers – then I believe it were better not to pray. To prevent misunderstanding, I should point out that drawing near, in my understanding, involves not only worshipping Him, but also asking His help for oneself or another, or simply acknowledging His nearness, etc.

I can find no fault with meditating on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and would recommend so doing to all who profess the Christian faith, but outside the framework of the ritual prayers of the Rosary, the majority of which are offered to spirits of the dead.

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