Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Last summer I led a men’s pilgrimage for our military men’s Catholic community here in Italy. It was extraordinary to see the growth and the pushing of comfort zones as we ate in total silence with monks and walked the strenuous and steep road that St. Francis traversed daily.
Those were awesome memories and I can remember planning those in the anticipation of the men commenting on their spiritual growth and understanding. And they did. But on the very last day there was another short event I planned, in which the reactions took me by surprise: we prayed the Rosary at St. Dominic’s Basilica in Bologna.
Do I need to explain how cool it was to pray the Rosary in the Rosary Chapel at the church that celebrates the saint to whom the chaplet was entrusted by Our Lady? Needless to say it was wonderful, but to a couple of the others, it was extraordinary. I received several positive comments about the 20-minute prayer we had in unison, but one gentleman — a lifelong Catholic — shocked me when he caught up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to learn how to pray the Rosary. I kept up with you, but you’re going to have to show me how to do it on my own.”
My heart leapt at the thought that God had inspired this man to learn how to pray one of the most powerful, and yet most common prayers of our Faith. It also alarmed me a little. As a convert and Catholic of eight years, I figured everyone knew how to pray the Rosary. If I was to think of one image when I think of Catholicism, a rosary is right up there with a crucifix and a priest’s collar. Since then, I’ve not taken this assumption for granted, and so I’ve made it an intent of mine whenever possible to demonstrate the importance of the Holy Rosary, and its effectiveness. Hopefully, then, people will be more like my friend who was compelled to learn.
Before we think of the Rosary, I think we owe it to ourselves to ask, “Why prayer?”
I think necessity comes first: There is no greater Christian teaching than that of prayer. “If we neglect prayer, we hope in vain for eternal salvation,” said Blessed Pius IX. A close competitor to necessity is motive: the confidence we have that in approaching God, and asking anything according to his will, he hears us (1 John 5:14). The fact is, the more we grow the more we learn that we need things, and the more we realize our truest needs, the more we realize God is the source every time. So we make our supplications to God.
Protection also comes to mind. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one,” Jesus prays in (John 17:15). We all desire security, spiritual especially. Then there’s the side of prayer that benefits others — namely, those we might not remember to pray for. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Finally, I think prayer, as far as form, has much to do with persistence: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
Why the Rosary?
Other than private revelation, such as when Our Lady of Fatima asks us to pray the Rosary daily, the choice to pray the Rosary comes from its proven effectiveness. Efficacy from two principal circumstances: perseverance, and incorporation. We are told, “Ask, seek, knock” (Matthew 7:7) constantly and with great persistence (Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17); every good Father desires to indulge the wishes of his children, but when a child asks in perseverance, they attach their hearts more closely to what they want. After time, they learn what is most worthy of requesting. Are we to question the revealing heart of God in the parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18?
There is also the idea of incorporated prayer, or communal prayer. “If two of you shall consent upon earth concerning anything whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by My Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20). And the incredible wisdom of Thomas Aquinas: “It is impossible that the prayers of many should not be heard, if one prayer is made up as it were out of many supplications.” (In Evang. Matt. c. xvii).
The Rosary is a prayer of deliberately high quantum of repetition, hence a great prayer for perseverance. The Rosary is also highly established as a communal prayer (in addition to private). Combining these two makes the Rosary a deeply effective form of prayer that gains merit and effects, in unity.
Not to mention, the basic Rosary consists of a rather simple and deeply biblical formula: the prayer Jesus commands us to pray in the Our Father, recitations of the Angelic Salutation straight out of the Gospel of Luke (1:28), and a humble request that she pray for us.
This is, really, the stumbling block for many, especially converts and non-Catholics. What remains is that Christ is the one and supreme mediatrix. That’s the Church’s teaching, plain and simple. And along with that, Mary is the utmost participant in Christ’s mediation because of her direct participation in the salvation of the human race. Merit from direct consequences are measured by levels of participation. The higher the participation, the higher the merit. Mary, thus, achieves and is due the highest merit.
And yet, as the Angelic Doctor teaches, “there is no reason why certain others should not be called in a certain way mediators between God and man, that is to say, insofar as they cooperate by predisposing and ministering in the union of man with God.” Her role as mediator, as we may all be for each other, is elevated due to her elevated involvement in our salvation! When making this comparison, I like to ask people, “If you thought you needed prayers, would you ask the atheist, or the priest? You’d ask the priest every time and you don’t need to explain why.”
Why the Mysteries?
We’ve covered almost everything about the Rosary: it’s an effective and efficient prayer that is deeply rooted in the Bible. But what about those mysteries? Don’t let yourself or others gloss over the details! The Rosary is a most powerful prayer against a host of causes, sins and demonic encounters. But don’t take my word for it. I leave you with what saints and popes have said about the rosary:
- “If I had an army to say the Rosary, I could conquer the world.” —Blessed Pope Pius IX
- “The Rosary is the weapon.” —St. Padre Pio
- “The Rosary is my favorite prayer." —Pope St. John Paul II
- “The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.” —St. Francis de Sales
- “When the Holy Rosary is said well, it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and is more meritorious than any other prayer.” —St. Louis de Montfort
- “The Rosary is the most excellent form of prayer and the most efficacious means of attaining eternal life. It is the remedy for all our evils, the root of all our blessings. There is no more excellent way of praying.” —Pope Leo XIII
- “Pray very much the prayers of the Rosary. I alone am able to save you from the calamities.” —Mary in Akita, Japan
- “If you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Rosary.” —Our Lady to St. Dominic
- “It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors.” —Venetian Senators after Battle of Lepanto
- “The Rosary is a prayer both so humble and simple and a theologically rich in biblical content. I beg you to pray it.” —Pope St. John Paul II