This is one question I always get from my Protestant friends...do you pray to Mary?! And the short answer is yes, I do, and I believe Jesus blesses me for it! The communion of saints is a wonderful truth that deserves a whole post to itself. In this post I want to focus on the easiest and first way I started praying with Mary, and that is her Rosary.
I began praying the Rosary long before I ever stepped foot for Mass in a Catholic Church. The first time I ever saw a Rosary was the one my roommate had in college. She was raised Catholic but had converted to Protestantism but kept the Rosary because it had belonged to her grandmother. When I questioned her about it she quickly explained the prayers to me in one of the fastest "Hail Marys" I ever heard and then talked about how she now just considered it "vain repetition" and she no longer prayed it. At the time I agreed with her, wondering why Catholics would pray that way when the bible specifically forbids prayers using "vain repetition".
Many prayers can be lumped into the "vain repetition" category. In Jesus' day, the Jews would pray by reading out loud and meditating on the Psalms. I often wondered how the apostles (along with Mary) were praying for days waiting for the "power" Jesus had promised when He was taken up to Heaven (Acts 1:14). Do you know how hard it would be to pray constantly for an unspecified time if you didn't use some sort of prayer guidance for your meditating? They were more than likely praying the Psalms, like they had been taught as Jewish children. Jesus himself was praying the Psalms even while he hung from the Cross, He was quoting the Psalms in His most difficult hours of His earthly life! Sometimes when we are in our most desperate hour it is all we can do to repeat over and over, "Jesus, help me" or "Jesus, I love you" as our only prayer. He will not criticize us at that time, saying we're just using vain repetition. No, He knows this is all we can offer and He takes that offering and turns it into something wonderful.
The Rosary is a contemplative prayer. When Catholics pray the Rosary they are not focusing on the actual words they are speaking, they are meditating on one of the 20 mysteries of the Rosary. The mysteries are broken down into 4 groups, the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous mysteries. Each group holds 5 mysteries and lay Catholics typically pray a certain group on a certain day (consecrated religious might pray all the mysteries in one day). The mysteries are things like "The Nativity" or "The Transfiguration" or "The Crucifixion". They are like looking through a photo album of Christ's life with His mother, Mary. I haven't been praying the Rosary nearly long enough to give a good description of how it is done. Luckily, there are great websites out there who do a much better job! I particularly like The Rosary Center's website because it has pictures and 10 points included with each mystery to go with the 10 Hail Mary's. It really helped me get into the meditative aspect of the prayer. I found that meditating is a discipline, training your mind to focus on one thing and not get distracted was not easy for me at first. It is a wonderful discipline to develop and it comes in handy at other times when I need to focus on good thoughts instead of bad ones. It also helps me to not multitask as much and be more present in the everyday moments of my life. It is so easy in today's technology ready world to multitask so much that we're not really focusing on the things that matter, we're not paying enough time and attention to the task at hand. As a mother (and I know you moms out there get this) changing a diaper, cleaning, laundry, doing dishes...they can all become so repetitive and boring. Focusing my thoughts and being present in my tasks can make the mundane into a holy offering to Jesus.
When I started researching Catholicism and their views on Mary, the Rosary kept coming up. It seems to have been very highly regarded in the Church for centuries and many people more saintly than I have vouched for it's help in their prayer life. What gave me the incentive to actually try it for myself was Scott and Kimberly Hahn's book Rome Sweet Home. In it, Scott talked about how he started to say the prayer strictly out of obedience but how it changed his life. After reading his testimony I knew I had to at least try to pray a Rosary and see what happens. I was a "closet" researching Catholic at the time and really didn't know any Catholics who could lend me a Rosary so I went down to the local Catholic bookstore and was delighted to find a cheap $1 Rosary (I wasn't about to spend a lot of money on something that I might use only once)! Plus, I felt like I was sneaking in and out of the place and making off with contraband! I didn't want to be caught dead with a Rosary by my Protestant friends and family. I didn't even know what to do with it, but thankfully the internet offers tons of helpful instruction. Before I started I prayed, "Lord, I'm just trying to follow Your will and leading and if I'm way off course and this is offensive to you then please forgive me and let me know. But if this is where You're leading, please show me." It was probably the hardest Rosary I have ever prayed and it was incredibly awkward because I didn't know the words to the "Hail Mary" so I had to basically read all of them. In fact, it took about a week's worth of Rosaries before I had the words down well enough that I could start to (kind of) meditate on the mysteries. Before that I had to focus too much on what I was actually saying. Plus, I didn't know the mysteries so I had to keep looking that up too. However, I couldn't deny the peace that I felt after finishing a Rosary. If you're doing it right it should take about 20 min. to complete 5 decades. Jesus seemed to be pouring tons of graces on me every time I prayed a Rosary, so I could know in my heart, without a doubt, that He was blessing this endeavor. The very first thing I noticed was that it helped me control my tongue. I thought of the bible verse in James...
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water." (James 3: 9-12)There is power in the words we speak. God actually created the world by speaking it into existence and we are made in His image.
"The tougue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit." (Proverbs 15:4)The action of physically speaking the good words of the Rosary (which contain direct quotes from the bible) helped me to catch myself when I wanted to speak harshly to one of my kids when they disobeyed. Instead, I would choose to speak in a soft voice...
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1)I started practicing the discipline of actually speaking softer the angrier I became as a way to diffuse my frustrations.* I started cringing when I would hear yelling, it started to grate on me like hearing someone rake their nails down a chalkboard. We live in a bi-level, so it was common for our family to yell up and down the stairs to each other. Instead, I started asking my children to please come up or down to speak to me if you needed something (and I started setting the example by doing the same). This is just one example, I have many more of how powerful focusing and contemplating on one event in Jesus' life can bring clarity and peace to my life. I was falling in love with Jesus all over again!
Ultimately, I have to admit that if the Rosary is some scheme from Satan to keep our focus off of Jesus then it is backfiring on him, big time. Praying the Rosary not only helps me meditate on Jesus more but it actually changes me too. When I pray it regularly I'm a more patient and peaceful person...in other words, more like Christ!
* I have to give credit to Michelle Duggar for first suggesting this method of handling anger, in her book The Duggars: 20 and Counting!. She gives credit to God and the bible for giving her spiritual insight on this matter.