This raises some questions: Is there one right way to say the Rosary? Are some ways better than others?
A reader from the Philippines writes:
Sir Jimmy, a vital question. I somehow made an initiative to put “add-ons” to my rosary. For example, I put Bible verses before every decade, in order to capture the essence and the focus in every mystery.
I get distracted and drift away when my focus is lost, especially in the repetition of the Hail Mary’s without this.
I knew this is unhealthy, but maybe I have not arrived at the point yet that I can really meditate through the repetitions.
I am a young and adjusting Catholic. Is what I’m doing permissible?
Adding Scripture Verses
First of all, I would not say that it is unhealthy to add Bible verses before each decade. This practice is extremely common, there are many texts that have been published to help people do exactly this, and many people find it helpful to deepen their meditation.
You know who specifically endorsed this practice? Bl. John Paul II. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he wrote:
30. In order to supply a Biblical foundation and greater depth to our meditation, it is helpful to follow the announcement of the mystery with the proclamation of a related Biblical passage, long or short, depending on the circumstances. No other words can ever match the efficacy of the inspired word. As we listen, we are certain that this is the word of God, spoken for today and spoken “for me”.
If received in this way, the word of God can become part of the Rosary’s methodology of repetition without giving rise to the ennui derived from the simple recollection of something already well known. It is not a matter of recalling information but of allowing God to speak.In certain solemn communal celebrations, this word can be appropriately illustrated by a brief commentary.
Got that? Not only is reading Bible passages–even longer ones–okay, but adding a brief commentary to them is okay, too!
So if the reader from the Philippines finds that adding biblical verses between the decades helps his own meditation, that’s great.
But the flexibility in how the Rosary can be said goes beyond this . . .
In the same apostolic letter, John Paul II noted:
37.At present, in different parts of the Church, there are many ways to introduce the Rosary. In some places, it is customary to begin with the opening words of Psalm 70: “O God, come to my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me”, as if to nourish in those who are praying a humble awareness of their own insufficiency. In other places, the Rosary begins with the recitation of the Creed, as if to make the profession of faith the basis of the contemplative journey about to be undertaken. These and similar customs, to the extent that they prepare the mind for contemplation, are all equally legitimate.
Different Ways of Announcing the Mysteries
There are also different ways of announcing and preparing for the mysteries. According to John Paul II:
29. Announcing each mystery, and perhaps even using a suitable icon to portray it, is as it were to open up a scenario on which to focus our attention. The words direct the imagination and the mind towards a particular episode or moment in the life of Christ. In the Church’s traditional spirituality, the veneration of icons and the many devotions appealing to the senses, as well as the method of prayer proposed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises, make use of visual and imaginative elements (the compositio loci), judged to be of great help in concentrating the mind on the particular mystery.
Taking a Moment for Silence
One may also take a moment for silence after the mystery has been announced and any Scripture readings done. John Paul II indicates that this is fitting (though he does not say it is required):
31. Listening and meditation are nourished by silence. After the announcement of the mystery and the proclamation of the word, it is fitting to pause and focus one’s attention for a suitable period of time on the mystery concerned, before moving into vocal prayer. A discovery of the importance of silence is one of the secrets of practicing contemplation and meditation. One drawback of a society dominated by technology and the mass media is the fact that silence becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. Just as moments of silence are recommended in the Liturgy, so too in the recitation of the Rosary it is fitting to pause briefly after listening to the word of God, while the mind focuses on the content of a particular mystery.
Differences in the Gloria (“Glory Be”)
The Glory Be that concludes each decade can also be done in more than one way. John Paul II indicates that it may be said or sung:
34. . . . It is important that the Gloria, the high-point of contemplation, be given due prominence in the Rosary. In public recitation it could be sung, as a way of giving proper emphasis to the essentially Trinitarian structure of all Christian prayer.
Prayers at the End of Each Decade
There is also variability in the prayer (if any) said at the end of each decade, after the Glory Be:
35. In current practice, the Trinitarian doxology is followed by a brief concluding prayer which varies according to local custom. Without in any way diminishing the value of such invocations, it is worthwhile to note that the contemplation of the mysteries could better express their full spiritual fruitfulness if an effort were made to conclude each mystery with a prayer for the fruits specific to that particular mystery. In this way the Rosary would better express its connection with the Christian life. One fine liturgical prayer suggests as much, inviting us to pray that, by meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, we may come to “imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise”.
Such a final prayer could take on a legitimate variety of forms, as indeed it already does. In this way the Rosary can be better adapted to different spiritual traditions and different Christian communities. It is to be hoped, then, that appropriate formulas will be widely circulated, after due pastoral discernment and possibly after experimental use in centres and shrines particularly devoted to the Rosary, so that the People of God may benefit from an abundance of authentic spiritual riches and find nourishment for their personal contemplation.
If there are different ways to begin the Rosary, there are also different ways to close it:
37. . . .Is it any wonder, then, that the soul feels the need, after saying this prayer and experiencing so profoundly the motherhood of Mary, to burst forth in praise of the Blessed Virgin, either in that splendid prayer the Salve Regina or in the Litany of Loreto? This is the crowning moment of an inner journey which has brought the faithful into living contact with the mystery of Christ and his Blessed Mother.
Of course, John Paul II would be the first person to agree that different mysteries can be used in the Rosary. He was the pope who, in the same apostolic letter we’ve been quoting, proposed the Luminous Mysteries, but these are optional. He wrote:
19. . . . I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.
The Best Way to Say the Rosary
From what we’ve seen, there is not one “right” way to say the Rosary. There are many legitimate options. But is there a best way?
For a given individual or group . . . perhaps.
The underlying principle by which “bestness” should be judged is the degree to which it helps with devotion, with meditation, with growing closer to God.
For an individual, there might be one particular way that does that better than other ways. Or a person might find different ways equally helpful. If so then for that person there is no “best” way.
When the Rosary is said in groups, it can certainly help for there to be a predictable format, so that everyone in the group knows what to expect and is not caught off guard in a way that disturbs their meditation.
The “best” way for that group, then, is likely to be the format every is expecting. That might change over time. The group might decide to include new things, omit some things that were there before, or substitute one option for another. That is okay. The key is not jarring people with the unexpected. (Which, incidentally, can also include the speed at which the prayers are said. Some people race through them, which isn’t good. Others can take a really slow, contemplative pace that might suit them personally but may not be suited for the group. In general, a not-rushed but not-glacial pace is good for groups, without dramatic speed ups or slow downs.)
Expecting the Unexpected
In some cases, when a group recites the Rosary together on a regular basis, over a long period of time, with the same people there, a common format may emerge by consensus. When that’s the situation, individuals should generally try to conform to the group’s way of doing things so as not to disturb the meditation of others by proposing–or even defiantly imposing–what they find privately preferable.
But since many groups are less stable and include different people passing in an out of them, some variability is to be expected with some groups.
When that happens, people should treat it as an opportunity to experience the Rosary in a different way. It may not be the way that they personally would have done it, were they leading the whole thing, but they should “go with the flow” and not get bent out of shape internally (or externally).
In particular, they should recognize that different people have different spiritualities and not look down on the different spirituality of someone else. If another person adds a prayer that you wouldn’t have added, fine. If they omit a prayer that you would have included, fine. If they substitute a different prayer, fine.
What we should not do is look down our noses at others for their differences in these matters. Nobody is “a better Catholic” because they maximize the number of prayers . . . or minimize it . . . or use different ones.
We’re all just different . . . which is the will of God.
What do you think?
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