When I was a child, memorization was the way we learned things like the multiplication tables or our spelling words. Repeating them over and over secured them in our memory so they became part of the fabric of our being. This happened with prayers as well. In early Christian monasteries, where some members were illiterate, the daily repetition of the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary – up to 150 times a day or week – eventually had an addtional, deeper benefit. The constant repeating led people to a meditative state from where one might contemplate the mysteries of Christ’s life. Out of this practice the rosary was born.
Some Roman Catholics think that this way of praying is theirs alone. I learned somewhat recently that there is also an Anglican rosary which is fascinating in it’s symbolic design, created in the 1980’s as a result of contemplative prayer in a group in the United States, a mix of the Orthodox Jesus Prayer and the rosary. Since the earliest of times, however, people have used pebbles or a string of knots or beads on a cord to keep track of prayers offered to God. Virtually every major religious tradition in the world uses some form of prayer beads – notably the Buddhist mala meaning “garland” – which counts the times a mantra is recited, breaths while meditating, prostrations or the repetitions of the names of God.
Today is the feast of “Our Lady of the Rosary” which honors the Virgin Mary but at it’s deepest purpose is that meditation on the life of Jesus. Whatever your prayer (some just hold their beads in silence), today seems a good day to recommit to the practice which may also have the effect of increased peace of soul.