This article was excerpted from The Rosary of Our Lady by Msgr. Romano Guardini, copyright Ó 1955, 1983 by P.J. Kenedy & Sons. The book is available from Sophia Institute Press at www.sophiainstitute.com
We must say a few words about the different ways of praying the Rosary, for it has a simple form but its substance is wide and deep. This combination makes praying it easy and difficult at the same time: easy for a person with a vivid imagination and an open heart, capable of arresting the picture with the flow of words and identifying his own existence in the holy figures; difficult for him who has bartered his inner contemplative faculties for the multiformity of modern life.
So if a person belonging to the second order wishes to pray the Rosary, he must be prepared to grapple with some difficulty. He must practice, and learn gradually what comes naturally to others. Above all, he has to subdue his repugnance to repetition, for this is an essential part of the Rosary. The quiet rhythm of the same words is its form.
He must also subdue the restlessness so deeply entrenched in modern man. One who cannot do this had better not give a thought to the Rosary. He will not only be disappointed, but will run the danger of attaching little value to something beautiful. The Rosary is a prayer of lingering. One must take one’s time for it, putting the necessary time at its disposal, not only externally but internally. One who wants to pray it rightly must put away those things that press upon him and become for a time purposeless and quiet. This is necessary, whether he has thirty or ten minutes at his disposal. Neither should he attempt too much. It is not necessary to ramble through the whole Rosary; it is better to say only one or two decades, and to say them right.
Into this one may take his whole life—joys and sorrows, men and things, everything—as he would take it to someone whose presence he finds restful, not to find out how he might act with more success, but to put everything into a proper light. The real meditation takes place in the Hail Mary.
The first part of the prayer consists in beholding and penetrating, in understanding and praising whatever mystery it is that follows the name of Jesus. After that, one’s thoughts are suspended for a while in contemplation. In the second part of the prayer one turns to Mary as the center of the mystery, asking her intercession “now and at the hour of our death.” All petitions for body and soul, one’s own and those of others, personal and general, are laid before her, and above all, the petition to participate in the mystery of Christ.
In reading these directions for the first time, one may receive the impression that they are complicated and difficult. This impression may grow even stronger if one tries to carry them out, and one may possibly become discouraged and provoked. The point is to realize that one has something to learn. This is a paramount truth, and the crux is the linking together of one’s heart’s desires and one’s conception of the mystery with the words of the prayer.
The following illustration may serve to make this relationship clearer. When I speak to a person, it may be that I have something definite to tell him. In that case, my attention is concentrated on using the right words and on making my hearer understand them properly. My attention runs, so to speak, along a single track. But it may also be that we have a quiet conversation, and that the words do not run along a prescribed course but wander here and there. I then speak to my listener and watch whether he grasps what I mean. I follow closely his bearing and gestures, sense his motives, and feel his whole reaction. I observe the surroundings; pictures of other people enter; events of the past emerge, and the future steps forward. This means that my attention is spread out. It does not have the shape of a line but resembles instead a space. It acts, one might say, symphonically; it sees the background in the foreground, the essence in the gesture, and the past and the future in the present.
One might say the same about the action in the Rosary. It is not directed toward anything definite; it is all-embracing. It is not sharp-cut, but unconstrained. The words are not anchored to a special meaning but left free, so that pictures that are not directly related to them may also emerge. The person praying not only looks at these pictures but dwells in their company, feels them, speaks to them, and allows his own life to pour into them. In this way a quietly moving world comes into being, a world in which the prayer moves with a freedom that is bound only by the number of repetitions and the theme of the mystery.
This has to be learned, of course, and it requires patience. A loving patience, one is tempted to say: the kind of patience a person needs when he strives for something beautiful and alive, and does not give in until it reveals itself.
Although the Our Father before each decade must not be prayed like the Hail Mary, each of the words in it should retain its own meaning. It is the “Lord’s Prayer”; we must shield it carefully; and yet, in the sequence of the Rosary it will always have a ring of its own.
The start and the goal of all spiritual movement is the Father. So the prayer to Him is placed at the beginning of each decade, to ask Him for the things that are really vital. The meditation that follows is thus made in the sight of the Father; like the seer in the Revelation of St. John we look at all the different events that pass before the eyes of Him “who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever” (Rev. 4:9).
The Creed is the introduction to the whole Rosary. In it, the Faith is expressed in its entirety. And, finally, with the “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” at the end of each decade, he who prays bows before the triune God, from whom everything comes and to whom everything returns.
Msgr. Romano Guardini (1885-1968) was born in Italy and grew up in Germany. Internationally renowned as an educator, Msgr. Guardini authored dozens of books, including The Art of Praying, Meditations Before Mass and The Lord.