The Rosary is difficult. If you’ve ever snapped back to reality during the fifth Luminous mystery after spending four decades thinking about what you had for breakfast that morning, you know what I mean.
If you’re looking for a secret to make the Rosary fun, I’ve got some bad news for you: everyone finds this prayer a challenge. Look at the seers of Fatima. As dramatized in The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, the three children would often go to a valley, shout “Hail Mary!”, and count each echo as an entire prayer (totally cheating). So even people who later became saints didn’t start off loving the Rosary.
And yet, the Rosary has been prayed for centuries with amazing effect, and it brings comfort and consolation to people across the world. Look up the Battle of Lepanto, or if that’s too dated for you, go to the Rosary service for that fellow parishioner who just passed away.
The Rosary is difficult, but like any difficult thing, it’s worth doing well. Here are five hacks to help you.
The idea of praying a Rosary might sound like running a marathon, and that’s OK. Think about it like a marathon: would you try to run 26 miles if you’d never run one? No. So if you’ve never prayed a Rosary before or if you’re having a hard time finishing the whole thing, start with something smaller.
Take this next week to just pray one decade every day. Pick any mystery you’d like and really give it your all. Next week, add another decade. After a month, you’ll have a habit of praying, and you’ll have stronger focus and the mental attention to make it through the entire thing. You just won’t get a sticker to put on your car.
2. DON’T COUNT
I sometimes catch myself just ticking off down the Hail Marys without thinking about what I’m saying, just trying to get to the end so I can say the daily Rosary got prayed, aware that time is passing and that I could be doing other things. It’s easy for the prayer to become some sort of Catholic abacus, but God knows when I’m just going through the motions. (That whole omniscient thing, y’know.)
Some easy ways to fix this: don’t look at your Rosary beads when you pray, just move them until you get to the decade break. Or if you have to pray on your fingers, make sure you’re not in sight of a clock. And remember that a Rosary takes, on average, 15 minutes out of your day. That’s shorter than an episode of Friends.
3. PRAY OUT LOUD
It’s so much easier to stay focused if you involve your body in prayer. The physical movement of your mouth and the sound of your voice help keep you in the present moment and fight distractions. When you’re alone, like in your house or your car, this is perfect; when you’re waiting at the DMV, it might be a bad idea. Or maybe the DMV could use it. Your call.
4. PRAY WITH OTHERS
At my university, there was a Rosary walk that left the dorms every evening and circled around the campus. There’s a rhythm to the prayer that’s almost like music, and whenever I prayed with other people on those walks, it was easy to be carried along by the tempo and meditate on the mysteries.
You can find people to pray with, too. Try a weekly or daily Rosary with your family (only 15 minutes, remember). If there’s no one nearby who can pray with you, start a Skype Rosary with a friend. And if that doesn’t work, go to a site like this one, where you can follow along with a recorded Rosary.
5. MAKE IT PERSONAL
You might be tempted to think that there’s some Italian grandmother out there who prays so many Rosaries she replaces the beads after 5,000 miles, and each times she prays, there’s an angelic glow around her face (and she’s possibly levitating) because the Rosary is her favorite thing to do, and she’s always felt that way. But I guarantee you that grandmother was once a little girl who mumbled through her Hail Marys because she wanted to go play outside. So what’s the difference between you and her? She’s been doing it longer than you, and it means more to her.
While only time and practice can give you experience, you can make every Rosary more important to you right now. Think of an intention you want to pray for: maybe someone you know who is hurting or someone striving for great things. Or you could be like Mary, who witnessed the mysteries we pray and “pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Focus on the mystery you’re praying and try to discover something new and beautiful that you’ve never thought of before; ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Either way will make every Rosary more personal and help you find purpose in prayer.
Let’s recap. To make the Rosary easier, you:
• Don’t count
• Pray out loud
• Pray with others
• Make it personal
These steps aren’t magic, and you’ll need to work at them. But if you do it for the next half-century or so, you’ll find it a joy to start that Rosary every day.