Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
September 12th, 2011

Buoyed Up By the Rosary


Mary was very perplexing to me before I became a Catholic. She was like some unnamed bird that I could not see and did not know, perching in a tree nearby. I knew she was there — I also knew she was important to some people, but I had no idea why.

Even after coming into the Church, I struggled with my beliefs about Mary: Did I believe in the Virgin Birth? Was that even important? Wasn’t it odd that the Church insisted on Mary’s continued virginity (poor Joseph!) when the Bible clearly represents Jesus as having brothers and sisters? Was she some kind of holy gal I could never emulate or was she more powerful, more funky and more earthy than I could possibly imagine?

I didn’t come to Mary until the tires of my family life hit the road when one of my loved ones suffered a serious illness. In my grief and distress I was prepared to invoke any help I could get, and made a small altar atop a bookcase in the bedroom. On it I put a small figurine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was a gift from my family during happier times. Accompanying Mary were other protective figures: a carved Santos of my favorite St. Francis; two small angels; and pictures of my parents, who I prayed were also watching over us.

At night I would light a candle on my altar and pray the Memorare, asking Mary to please take care of my loved one, to protect her from harm. And damned if I didn’t receive a direct infusion of mother love every single night when I prayed those ancient words… “never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection was left unaided.” I would rise up from prayer feeling strengthened for the day to come.

Giving the rosary a try

As I was learning to give my beloved into the hands of Mary, I decided that praying the rosary might be a good thing to do — heartening and all of that… One day I was stunned to realize, “Wow, those are the words of the Angel Gabriel that I am repeating!” As Mary opened her arms to a future she could not know — which she learned would wound her terribly — I was able to open my arms to an uncertain future instead of clenching them around my body to ward off tragedy.

As I was learning to give my beloved into the hands of Mary, I decided that praying the rosary might be a good thing to do — heartening and all of that. I read a little booklet describing the Mysteries — “Sorrowful? Nope, not this time. Luminous? OK, that sounds good.” But my favorite was the Joyful Mysteries, where I walked with Mary in the early days of her pregnancy. One day I was stunned to realize, “Wow, those are the words of the Angel Gabriel that I am repeating!” As Mary opened her arms to a future she could not know — which she learned would wound her terribly — I was able to open my arms to an uncertain future instead of clenching them around my body to ward off tragedy.

Every night I crept into bed clutching my rosary and began to slip the beads through my fingers, saying the words silently, feeling almost as if I was floating on a choppy sea and the rosary was a lifebuoy. The images swept through my mind, taking me away from my current situation and putting me with Mary, and Jesus and Joseph and the rest of their companions, on their mysterious journey. Eventually, my frightened chatter would still and I’d sleep with the beads in my hand and holy words in my mind.

I still say the rosary nightly. This year I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries on Good Friday kneeling by my bed and was astonished to find tears streaming down my face as I walked — in my imagination — with Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. It was almost unbearable because I saw and felt so much. But I did it. With His help.

Do I want to join a rosary group? Nope, not my thing; I find chanting these prayers with others to be distracting. But that is just my weird little soul and personality. Do I have a rosary bracelet that I wear when I go to the dentist? Yes, indeedy do. Recently, as my dentist pried at various bicuspids (why do they give it the elevated name of “crown” as if we were being rewarded?) I fingered the small silver roses on my wrist rosary and found calm in the midst of drilling.

In the book How God Changes the Brain, authors Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman direct us to a meditation where you chant syllables, moving your fingers in time to the sounds. The scientists’ research has found (surprise, surprise!) that sacred words with hand motions calm the brain and emotions and increase one’s attention span.

I expect St. Augustine could have told them that, or Thomas Aquinas. I expect the good sisters who work in dangerous parts of the world, putting their lives on the line, know about the strengthening and calming effects of the rosary. As for me? I’m avoiding a rosary ring, which just isn’t big enough to do the job. I’ll continue to sling my set of beads over the headboard, ready to comfort me when my sleepy fingers reach for them as night draws in, ready for Mary to buoy me up on the choppy seas of my life.

The Author : Annie Turner
Ann Turner is a passionate convert to the Catholic faith, who is also passionate about life in general, small dogs, food and wine, friends, nature, and the blessing that comes from just showing up and being a witness with other people. Follow Ann's faith journey & more at: itsthegodthing.blogspot.com. Ann is also the published author of over forty children's books. She loves to hear from her readers.
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  • Ann Turner

    Hank, that’s a great suggestion. Saying the Rosary can almost become like a thread of music at the back (or front) of our lives, continuing throughout our day. Didn’t Padre Pio say the Rosary all day long?

  • Hank

    Valarie, I have learned to use my travel time in the car as prayer time. It’s amazing how saying the Rosary makes an otherwise mundane trip into a wonderful trip. I’ve purchased a Rosary CD to facilitate prayer in the car.

  • judith

    The Orthodox are also devoted to Mary.

  • Eamonn

    Wow… I have to say I’ve felt the same way, except I am a cradle Catholic. I’ve never really understood Mary or her role, but I have been becoming enlightened. Thanks for your words!

  • Ann Turner

    Valerie, that’s so interesting you used the word “comfort oneself.” It’s like when I had babies and T.Berry Brazleton would talk about how babies need to learn to comfort themselves, to get back to sleep. So, too, when we say the Rosary we are comforting ourselves. I also find that when I’m completely in distress and can’t come up with “free-lance prayers,” the Rosary absolutely fits and offers comfort even beyond the words.

  • Valerie


    That was a heartwarming description of how sacred words can help someone during prayer.
    Learning how to comfort oneself, even during times of immense stress such as during dental work, is so helpful!

  • Pam

    Mary and the rosary is what drew me to the Catholic Church. So, much of the past year and half this has been about the only I could pray. The great comfort of Mary going with me to her Son has been such a great comfort!

  • Steven

    Thank you for your article. The Memorare and the rosary are where I turn when I most need comfort, and they never fail.

  • AnitaH

    I keep a Rosary ring on my key chain. Remember the “Love” key chain that Jennifer Hudson’s character had in the first “Sex & the City” movie? She had it so that she was bringing love to her each time she picked up her keys. My Rosary ring is the same for me. Each time I pick up my keys I bring Mary’s love and guidance to myself to help me in my day.

  • mags

    I recently taught the rosary to a group of Anglicans who all brought along their own rosary set that they had had and not known how to use. I have also given talks on Mary to other denominations – they do honour her – I think they get confused by the ‘worship’ some people direct at her.

  • Ann Turner

    Andy, thanks for your thoughtful comments, and the Memorarae is my favorite prayer too. I honestly don’t know other denominations that pray to Mary; I think she holds a unique and special place in Catholicism. However, Islam does give great honor to Mary in the Koran, although prayers are not directed to her, I don’t believe.

  • andy

    the Memorare is my favorite prayer. it is so so comforting in dark times and light times too. i could repeat those words over and over ’til the end of time if i had to. the Luminous mysteries are the ones i like best, which is funny because when they were first introduced i thought, this is an outrage, introducing new mysteries – but those 5 episodes of Christ’s life are the most emotionally and mystically pleasing to me.

    a question real quick, (and possibly an idea for a future piece,) are there any other Christian denominations that pray to Mary? i know Catholics do it the most, but are there any others out there?


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