You got a nice white dress and a party on your confirmation
You got a brand new soul
Mmm, and a cross of gold
But Virginia they didn’t give you quite enough information
You didn’t count on me
When you were counting on your rosary…
“Only the Good Die Young”, Billy Joel
I’m a Billy Joel fan… a fairly big one in fact… but this particular song from his breakout album, “The Stranger”, never made much sense to me. Only the good die young? So if you are bad, then you can live longer? Huh?
In any event, the song is about seduction and the resistance of one young Catholic girl to the protagonist’s advances. In the pop tune, Billy Joel is trying every argument conceivable to promote his own personal and self-oriented cause including the disparaging comment about her tendency to pray by “counting on your rosary”. Back when that song was popular, I remember feeling as though that disparagement was justified. I mean, who prays the rosary, right?
Well, all these years later… I do.
It seems to me that there are two primary objections to the rosary. Let me comment on both of them.
Criticism 1: Real prayer must be directed toward Christ.
Response: The rosary relies on the intercession and aide of his mother to do exactly that. The rosary is scripture-based and contains reflections on twenty “mysteries” spread across four groupings: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous. These include critical moments from the Gospels including the nativity, finding Jesus in the temple, the agony in the garden, the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the resurrection, the wedding feast at Cana and so on. The groupings are used on different days of the week and after praying the rosary on a regular basis, the one who prays reflects thoughtfully on Jesus and the Triune God to whom all prayer, especially the rosary, is most certainly directed.
Criticism 2: Prayer is a dialogue with divinity but the rosary is just mindless chanting of words.
Response: One can certainly mindlessly chant words when saying the rosary but contemplating those words and the beauty and mystery they contain is… well, a better approach. And, as stated above, reflecting on the mysteries of Jesus’ life and the Gospel events is anything but mindless.
But, now I’ll throw in a little plug for mindless chanting. Anyone who meditates or prays using contemplative methods can appreciate the peaceful state one can achieve by focusing on rhythms, such as the rhythm of breath. I just read a book on meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, considered a pioneer of the mindfulness movement, and he speaks of the power of rhythm. Of focusing on breathing, the ticking of a clock, a musical beat, repetitive physical motions such as through knitting, the pulsation of waves upon a beach… and the impact that these can have on reaching that peaceful state.
The rosary prayer can be used in this manner and can help create a cadence to one’s prayer life as well. Commuting time, early morning walks, down time during the day… can become regular moments of prayer, ones we come to rely upon as they become part of the routine of our lives. And sometimes we don’t notice that these routines are forming until we miss a day and feel their absence.
The rosary can be a most helpful vehicle to find such rhythm in life and to move us toward contemplative peace and mindfulness, all squarely focused on Jesus.
And finally… and there is no analysis possible here, no logical argument worth offering… prayer through Mary to her son works. It simply does.
But the rosary is not like the spare tire in the trunk of your car. When you are need, you call upon it to get you out of a jam? No, it is about regular practice, it is about that cadence.
Catholics and many Christians hold that Mary occupies a singularly unique position in all of history.
She was the mother of God.
She was born without sin.
She said yes when asked to accept her role.
She provided Jesus’ humanity.
This is a unique role indeed. But it well may have been a lonely road, one she needed to take all by herself. It was probably glorious, joyful and luminous at times. We know it was also sorrowful.
In our prayer, as we bring our high points to our Creator… and as we offer our lowest points too… Mary understands. She loves her son. She is our intercessor.
Try the rosary.
Here are some good instructions.