January 16, 2009

My History With The Rosary

My finger rosary looks almost identical to this.
My finger rosary — a garland of roses at the feet of Mary and a shuriken of prayer.

I really do prefer a finger rosary to a regular rosary with multiple beads and a fragile string which often gets entangled in other stuff. The finger rosary I have is small, sturdy, and fits right into the watch pocket of my pants. In my mind, I think of it as a masculine rosary, one that won’t break if it’s tugged on too much, one that is heavy and solid like a coin or a fist. (In fact, I sometimes think of it as a ninja shuriken that strikes trouble down through prayer. I’m sure conservative Catholics everywhere would disapprove of that image, though!)


I’ve had this finger rosary for a long time. So long in fact that I don’t remember when I first found it. All I know is that someone had disembarked and left it on a bus some years ago and I– not knowing how to return it to its owner– decided to keep it. Didn’t use it much at the time. In fact, I’d venture to say, it lay dormant in a corner of my drawer for several years. Not until my maternal grandmother Lola Evy lay dying at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City, did I pick up the finger rosary I’d found and started to actually use it.


I’m not sure if I remember correctly. But my earliest memory of praying the rosary is Lola Evy sitting in bed with a blanket wrapped around her, and teaching us how to pray it with her at night before sleeping. I was 7 years old, I think, in the Philippines on summer vacation. She gave my sister Nessa and I plastic rosaries with glow-in-the-dark beads which were ultra-cool to us 7-year olds. Later on, thinking it a fashion accessory, I tried wearing it around my neck (this was 10 years before Madonna) before my own mom berated me for it. Also, good thing the beads were imperfectly shaped and made me itchy, which made me stop that disrespectful behavior soon enough.

Mary and Jesus
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

The point was, Lola Evy took the time to teach us, the eldest grandchildren how to use it. And when she was lying in her ICU bed, I was in tears remembering this. I started praying the rosary again every morning on the way to work during that period. But soon stopped when I realized I was going to work angry all the time at the crowded rush hour. Mouthing a repetitive prayer didn’t help me at all. I was still angry by the time I’d finish.

I began praying it once more in 2005 to sometime in the middle of 2006, again on the way to my work as a teacher in college. And this time, there was an improvement. The commuter crowds bothered me less, and at the end of the ride and of the rosary, I would immediately notice a lifting of the spirit, enough to make every day seem new and positive. Finally, I felt like I was doing it right. But once again, due to laziness and a growing appetite for worldly things, I soon quit.


Today, like a typical weekday, I was with the elderly ladies after the 8:30 AM mass in St. Joachim’s, on my knees in front of the tabernacle housing the Blessed Sacrament, which is God made present in the form of the Communion host. We were praying the rosary together as we reflected on the highest and lowest points of Jesus’ life.

With us in the Adoration Chapel were the grandchildren of several of the ladies present. Some fidgeting in their seats and walking in and out of the place, others reciting their Hail Marys with us like obedient children. I remembered my Lola Evy with fondness and how she taught us as children, and I prayed for her.

The truth is, and I realized this with much humiliation, I had been praying the rosary wrongly many times in the past and have only now come to realize the proper attitude one needs in order to recite it properly.

  • First off: I was doing it as quickly as possible in order to get it over and done with in the least amount of time. Like the rest of my life at the time, I was in a rush, heading nowhere. I mean, it’s fine if you do it on a commute, after all we are asked to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)… but don’t rush it in order to say “Look God! I’ve done my prayers! Can I listen to my iPod now?” Not taking the time to do it properly was the first error.
  • Second mistake: Because I was always doing it in a rush, I was mouthing the prayers without meaning the words. If ever there is a danger in doing formula prayers, it is in losing the meaning of the words due to familiarity. And yet is that a fault of the prayer or the one praying? Obviously, it is the attitude of the one praying which counts.


I did some research into the rosary a few years back, out of sheer curiosity and found that the word comes from the Latin rosarium, which is “Crown of Roses.” And an early legend which spread throughout Europe in the 13th century or earlier, connected this word with a story of Mother Mary, who was seen taking rosebuds from the mouth of a young monk reciting Hail Marys, and then wove them into a garland which she placed upon her head.

Don’t ask me how, but this image has helped me come to love the devotion even more.

Rome Sweet Home
Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn

One more thing that has helped me is something I discovered in ROME SWEET HOME by Scott and Kimberly Hahn, an autobiographical book about how a married Presbyterian minister and his wife eventually converted to Catholicism as their journey in faith took them to the truth. In one chapter where Kimberly struggles with Marian doctrine, a friend calls her on the phone and asks her to read Revelations 12, where in verse 17 it says:

Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.

And then at the foot of the cross (John 19:26-27), Jesus saw his mother and the beloved disciple and said:

“Woman behold your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.”And from that hour, the disciple took her into his home.

Do we keep the commandments and bear witness to Jesus? Then Mary is our spiritual mother, whom the Bible calls blessed, who found favor with the Lord, who was mother of God. Are we Jesus’ disciples? Then shouldn’t we take our spiritual mother into our homes as well?

Several pages later, Kimberly Hahn writes that she had difficulty saying the rosary for the first time, (after a lifetime of being anti-Catholic) unsure of whether it would offend God. But a nun urged her to see herself as a young child before Mary, saying “I love you, Mommy. Pray for me.” Children say that all the time to parents, and yet how can that be “vain repetition” since they mean it with all their young hearts?


After all is said and done, why do I continue praying it? Because the rosary helps me to reflect on our Lord Jesus Christ’s life and death, and at the same time it asks the Blessed Mother to pray for us to Jesus.

“I love you, Mommy. Pray for me.”

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