Oct. 7, 2015 Wednesday: Our Lady of the Rosary
DISCOVERING THE ROSARY
By Immaculee Ilibagiza
Excerpt from the Book, "The Rosary: The Prayer that Saved My Life"
Even though I’ve been asked the question hundreds of times, I’m still a little amazed when someone wants me to describe what the rosary is. I have three different reactions when the question is put to me. At first I’m both a bit shocked and a tad saddened, realizing that not everyone was as lucky as I was to have been exposed to the rosary in childhood. But when the surprise passes, I am delighted to produce a rosary from my pocket and talk about my favorite subject. And then, for a moment at least, I am inexplicably tongue- tied by the enormity of the question— it’s like being asked to explain what the ocean is. I could say that the ocean is a huge body of salt water, which is a simple and accurate answer. Or I could give a more meaningful reply, explaining that the ocean is God’s gift to us, the source of life that brings the rain to our crops and helps to warm and cool our planet. Without the ocean, life on Earth would be impossible. I could answer the question about the rosary in much the same way. I could hold it out in the palm of my hand and say, “As you can see, it is a string of prayer beads.” Or, I could say, “It is a string of prayer beads that, like the ocean, is a gift to us from God. It was presented to us by the Virgin Mary. When we pray with it the way the Blessed Mother instructed us, it will sustain us and our spirit will flourish. And without prayer, a spiritual life is impossible.” Of course, that still wouldn’t answer the question properly or enough. So what I do, and have done on so many occasions, is to sit down and share the story about how I came to know and learn about the rosary. And if you will allow me, that is what I’d love to do with you right now.
I PROBABLY FIRST HEARD THE GENTLE RATTLE of my parents’ prayer beads on the very day I was born. Both of my parents loved to pray the rosary, but my father was especially devoted to the daily practice of using the beads to connect with God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. My dad was raised as a Protestant, but as a young man converted to Catholicism because (among other reasons) when he read the Bible he fell in love with the purity radiating from the My dad was raised as a Protestant, but as a young man converted to Catholicism because (among other reasons) when he read the Bible he fell in love with the purity radiating from the heart of the Virgin Mary. In Rwanda’s Catholic Church he found a place where Mary was truly venerated and the rosary was accepted and encouraged in an individual’s public and private prayer life.
When I was still an infant Mom, Dad, and my two older brothers— Damascene and Aimable— prayed the rosary together, kneeling as a family on the living room floor. By the time I was four years old I had a rosary of my own and was praying with the rest of my family. I just accepted that this was a part of my life. I cannot recall a single instance from my childhood when I felt awkward or embarrassed when, no matter where we were, my family would pull out our rosaries and begin praying together. If we went to visit relatives in a neighboring village, you could be certain that the hours- long car ride would be passed reciting rosary prayers.
When I was old enough to walk to school on my own, I carried a rosary in my hand and prayers on my lips the entire eight- mile hike there and back. To ensure we were never without a rosary, or had spares if an unexpected guest dropped by during prayers, my parents kept extra rosaries tucked away in cubbyholes all over the house. This may make my folks sound like religious zealots, but nothing could be further from the truth. They were very balanced in their religious beliefs— devoutly Catholic, but universal in their Christian beliefs and always did unto others as they would have others do unto them. What made them special, in my eyes and in my heart, was their love for the Virgin Mary and for Mary’s special affinity for the rosary. I believe that my father knew that the rosary was one of the greatest tools of prayer and devotion available to humankind. He did everything in his power to instill within his family, friends, and community the same love and fervor he had for the rosary.
I’m also aware that the first impression many have of the rosary is of people sitting in dark churches mumbling Hail Marys in an endless, repetitive monotone. But I never thought of the rosary as a dull recitation of meaningless words, not even as a rambunctious child who loved playing outside more than anything. No, to me the sound of that lovely prayer to the Blessed Mother— Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death landed softly upon my ears like sweet music floating down from heaven. Besides, praying made me feel good … I felt special, I felt loved, and I felt protected. Any form of prayer filled me with a warmth and sense of well- being that was always strongest when praying the rosary with my family. It was as though every cell in my body was absorbing peace and happiness as I listened to the prayers being recited, and I often found my eyes welling with tears.
In all honesty, I really didn’t know what all the prayers meant when I was child, and I couldn’t commit more than one or two of them to memory. More often than not I just repeated the Hail Mary and listened to my parents and older brothers recite the other prayers. I guess the problem for me was that most of the rosary prayers are contemplative; you have to think about certain Bible stories and events between reciting the Hail Marys. Well, deep meditation wasn’t my strong suit as a child; instead, I preferred getting lost in the beautiful words and rhythm of the Hail Mary prayer. I didn’t feel the need to probe the depths of the words or dwell upon the stories. At that point in my life it didn’t matter to me what I was saying as long as I was part of my family’s prayers and a member in good standing in the family of God. I had a blessed childhood— I was a very, very happy little girl. I loved my family, I loved God, I loved praying, and more and more, I was growing in my love for the Virgin Mary.
- By Immaculee Ilibagiza