National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Mysteries Unlocked

The Scriptural Rosary Adds Depth to the Decades

BY Joseph Pronechen

October 5-11, 2008 Issue | Posted 9/30/08 at 3:19 PM


Do you ever get distracted while praying the Rosary? Struggle to stay focused? Find yourself zipping through the decades over the speed limit?

If so, you know what it’s like to feel disappointed in prayer. Or to feel like you must be doing something wrong. From there, it can be a short skip to not even trying the next time.

And giving up on this powerful prayer is exactly what the devil wants you do to, notes Edward Sri, author and professor of theology and Scripture at the Augustine Institute in Denver.

His suggestion: Spend October — the month of the Rosary — learning the scriptural Rosary. This is the version John Paul II cherished and recommended in his 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Most Holy Rosary).

And make an especially ardent plea for Mary’s help in keeping up with this devotion on Oct. 7, memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Sri, who wrote The New Rosary in Scripture: Biblical Insights for Praying the 20 Mysteries (Servant, 2003), says that whenever he gives a talk about praying the scriptural Rosary, he’s surprised by the excitement with which Catholics of all ages respond.

Then, too, he can relate. “I prayed the Rosary for a long time, but studying John Paul’s teaching on praying the Rosary had a profound impact on my life,” he says. “He offered encouraging, practical advice on how we can encounter Jesus in the heart of the Rosary.”

It’s so spiritually attractive that even youth stick with it, says Sri. And that’s no accident. As John Paul wrote, “If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group.”

“In my experience, the Holy Father was right,” says Robert Feeney, author of The Rosary: The Little Summa (Aquinas Books, 2004). “The kids are always looking for authenticity and in the John Paul method, they find the real deal.”

Feeney, a religion teacher at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va., says he’s discovered that 95% of his students continue praying the scriptural Rosary after learning it. When he assigns them to teach five others this meditative method, many start with their parents.

Simple Steps

To guide participants in starting the scriptural Rosary, both authors outline the basics John Paul gave in his apostolic letter: Announce the mystery, read a related passage from Scripture, then pause in silence to let God’s word penetrate heart and mind before vocalizing the prayers.

“The goal of the Rosary is to assimilate the mystery of Christ and to apply it to everyday life,” Feeney points out. “You have to meditate on Christ in the Scriptures to really assimilate these mysteries.” Hence the direction to read a related Bible passage after announcing the mystery.

Length can vary with circumstances. For the First Joyful Mystery, for instance, “read the Annunciation, a part of it, one verse, or even a word,” explains Sri. “The power of God’s word should never be underestimated when praying the Rosary.”

As John Paul noted, “No other words can ever match the efficacy of the inspired word. As we listen, we are certain that this is the word of God, spoken for today and spoken ‘for me.’”

God wants to tell us something, inspire or encourage us in a certain way, says Sri. We see our life in new ways with new insights by praying the Rosary this way. “If we rush into the vocal prayer,” he adds, “we may miss out on the spiritual treasure that the Lord wants to unlock for our lives through the mysteries of the Rosary.”

Next, silently contemplate the mystery. Feeney’s students practice this meditation during their Rosary project. For instance, after reading Scripture on the Fifth Luminous Mystery, the institution of the Eucharist, they reflect on Jesus as the bread of life and apply this to their everyday lives.

Before moving on to the 10 Hail Marys, John Paul gives two more strategies. First, pray for the grace to imitate the virtue that is the fruit of the particular mystery: the humility of God in the Annunciation, love of neighbor shown in the Visitation, and the awe inspired at the Ascension.

Second, gaze on a picture or icon portraying the mystery. Feeney, a third-order Dominican, used an illustrated booklet from The Rosary Center ( while completing his booklet titled The Rosary: School of Mary (which is scheduled for release early next year).

Presenting John Paul’s method for all 20 decades, the Register’s own Guide to the Rosary (available at includes beautiful images, Scripture readings, and practical points for meditation and imitation for each Hail Mary, along with an additional clause to recite during each Hail Mary.

The Register’s guide notes that, in the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, for example, after each “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” we can add, “who bore the heavy cross for us.”

Vivid Imagery

This scriptural method works wonders even for those familiar with the Rosary.

“I have prayed the Rosary before, but I think the John Paul method really gives a better aspect of praying it,” says Vince Kenney, a senior at Bishop O’Connell High School. “You get to focus more in-depth on it, instead of speeding through.”

He taught his parents, who are auxiliary members of the Legion of Mary. “When Vince brought this home, we were familiar with the tradition of embellishing the Rosary already,” says his dad James. “The John Paul method is a logical extension of the things we were doing.”

Mom Kathleen, who says she’s had a love for the Rosary since kindergarten, likes a vivid sentence or phrase to accompany each Hail Mary. “It gives more of a picture of what’s going on with the mystery,” she shares.

If you can’t incorporate everything at once, begin with only one decade a day, suggests Sri. “It’s important,” he says, “to do something daily.” Then on Sundays pray the whole Rosary as a family.

At the end of his letter, John Paul challenges everyone to rediscover and “confidently take up the Rosary once again.” Our Lady of the Rosary will surely help.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is

based in Trumbull, Connecticut.