Fr. Noel Molloy, OP is an Irish Dominican Priest of the Indian Province who arrived in India in 1969. He is well known Retreat Preacher and teaches Dogmatic Theology in St. Charles Seminary, Nagpur
There are times in all our lives when the raising of mind and heart to God in true prayer is extremely difficult, if not impossible - times of great distraction of mind, times of illness or unusual tiredness, times of grief or mental agitation. The Rosary, even if it does not seem to go beyond the mere material telling of the beads, can be of real value on such occasions.
In the first place, in so far as it involves the sacrifice of our times, it is a concrete expression of our desire for communion with God in prayer, a communion which circumstances have made practically impossible. As such, it is an external act of the cult of God, which we offer him when we are not capable of anything higher. Like St. Vincent de Paul who, in times of temptation against faith when acts of faith became psychologically impossible, clasped in his hand a piece of paper on which he had written the Creed, as a concrete affirmation of his will to believe, we hold in our hands the beads and recite the words as a way of affirming our desire to pray. At first sight it might seem, like the ointment which Mary poured on the Lord’s head, a mere waste, and yet, in so far as it involves the sacrifice of our time purely for God’s sake, we can be sure that it is indeed ‘a beautiful thing’ in his eyes. Many people, whose lives are lived in situations of great dissipation, and who in consequence often experience the Rosary as little more than a continuous battle against distractions, nevertheless feel instinctively this value of the Rosary as tending to create a sacred space in their lives which they can consecrate to God.
This first way of saying the Rosary, then, characterized by a rather mechanical telling of the beads with little direct focusing of the mind on God, can be of positive spiritual significance in certain circumstances which arise more or less frequently in the lives of all of us. But in addition to the value which it has in itself, this first way is also of value in so far as it can lead us gently to the threshold of true prayer. The slow, repetitive recitation of the ‘Hail Marys’, holy words that sink roots far back in the forgotten years of early childhood, has the power to quieten the mind and gently fill it with a certain sense of the presence of Mary and, through her, of God. This process is helped by the use of the beads, ‘Without entirely understanding the relation between body and soul that causes this special connection between thought and some mechanical activity, we know that it exists. The world around is one huge distraction from prayer; the very holding, the very slipping through our fingers of the beads, can be a powerful counter-distraction’. And Maisie Ward goes on to quote Caryll Houselander in this connection: “It requires something like a Rosary literally to focus one’s prayers, even just to hold it in one’s hands. I find it the one strengthening and comforting thing at times, just to put my hand in my pocket and feel my Rosary there. It is like finding your mother’s hand in the dark. But the more one has learnt about and thought about the Mysteries, outside these moments of crisis, the more truly does even a menchanical saying of the Rosary seem to be a true prayer, even just holding it in one’s hand”[fn] Maisie Ward, “The Splendour of the Rosary”, Sheed and Ward, London, 1948, p. 20[/fn]. This psychological value of the Rosary as a gateway to true prayer is, of course, objectively undergirded and supported by the fact that the blessing of the beads has made of them a sacramental, a humble, physical instrument that, because of the prayer of the Church that has hallowed them, God will often use to communicate the grace of prayer.
When we say the Rosary in this way, it is to Mary first that we are instinctively turning in our distracted groping after God. Even its merely mechanical recitation is an implicit prayer to Mary to enter into our lives and to make her gracious presence felt there, for we know that when we have found her who first brought Christ into the world, and who remains the Gate of Heaven, she will, in ways that she knows best, enrich us, as she enriched Elizabeth, with the presence of her Son. And so I would describe this first way of saying the Rosary as a looking for Mary.