An informal series addressing questions Protestants and Catholics have about each other
Today's topic is one of the frontrunners that inspired me to start this series so I thought it would be a good pick for the first to tackle. For more information about this series and Protestant denominations, see the previous post here.
I've already posted about saying my very first Rosary in its entirety, but today I wanted to address why the Rosary and other form prayers can be helpful and why Catholics choose to use them. (Saying the Rosary is in no way required of Catholics.)
Before I became Catholic, I did kind of feel like Catholics were not particularly good at doing their own praying. In my first RCIA class there was a prayer printed on our leaflet each week that was read. The same technique was used during our pre-marital counseling. Depending on your Protestant tradition, ad lib prayers might be something very central to your faith (this is quite common in Baptist, Pentecostal, and other evangelical traditions, but not limited to them). For instance, my father frequently comments on the talent for ad lib prayers that one of the friends in their church dinner group has (Presbyterians there).
While I don't want to criticize Catholics on the whole for shying away from ad lib prayer, I have had many admit that this is something they wish they were better about and Catholics should know that this is something that likely stands out as a bit "off" to their Protestant brothers and sisters. But since we've acknowledged that, let's move on to the positive aspects of a Catholic prayer life.
If you're a Protestant reader, there might be a lot of questions and mystery for your surrounding the Rosary and other form prayers like Novenas and prayers to certain saints. I don't want to address prayers to saints today since I think that is too much for this post, but let's talking about the prayers themselves.
The Rosary is a form of prayer that uses a mostly circular string of beads as a way of guiding the individual through a ritualistic recitation of specific prayers in repetition. Incorporated into the prayers is the practice of meditating on certain "mysteries" that vary according to the day of the week or holy day. I have known what the Rosary is for many years, but I never saw it as a form of prayer I was interested in pursuing because I assumed it would be long and complicated. It is a bit complicated for a newbie, but it does get easier. However, I have come to really value what form prayers are able to do for me.
Have you ever experienced something in your life that you knew needed prayer but you simply didn't have the words or you didn't know for what intentions you should pray? A tragedy like yesterday's at the Boston marathon or terminal illness in a family member are some examples. When we don't have the words, prayers that have already been written and given to us by others bring us to our knees in prayer when we may have otherwise hesitated to pray.
The day I started my second RCIA class the topic was prayer. Something that was said by the leader of the discussion really struck me that day and has continued to stay with me, causing me to pray when in the past I would have faltered. She reminded us that God already knows our hearts when we come to pray. Vocalizing our wants and needs is more for us.
The more I considered this idea, the more I realized that sometimes what stopped me from praying was that I didn't know for what I should be praying in certain situations, or the words were too difficult to string together. I had previously wondered how one could possibly say the Rosary or Hail Marys for an intention--if you're saying a bunch of other words, how can you be praying for someone? But by coupling this understanding of God knowing what was in my heart with ancient prayers, I was able to still kneel and pray and bring my troubles to God.
I will say that it becomes much easier to use form prayers in this way once you know them well and do not have to read them from a paper. (This is why doing the Rosary can so challenging for first-timers.) But all Christians know the Lord's Prayer or Our Father. If you're Protestant, try reciting the Lord's prayer a few times while meditating on a particularly difficult situation in your life and see what that is like. If nothing else, it will hopefully bring you to a greater understanding of the peace Catholics gain from the recitation of ancient prayers, passed down thousands of years and recited by many, many other Christians.
**I have four Rosaries in my home; one handmade and given to me by a friend from my first RCIA class, another in the same style from a different class, and two I received as gifts for my recent Catholic confirmation. One is a traditional Rosary with beautiful green beads and Celtic styling my husband found for me at a Marian shrine (used in the photo above). Another is a shortened Rosary from my aunt and uncle for a saint from the area in which they live. Her name is Kateri and she was a Native American convert to Catholicism. The Rosary is simply the Sign of the Cross and eight Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory be's. I have found this to be especially useful to me lately because I don't have to look anything up to do it.
Do you use form prayers or the Rosary a lot? What do you find helps your prayer life?
Be sure to let me know if you'd be interested in helping with this series in any capacity, large or small.