Praying the Rosary, as magnificent and sweet as it is, can be challenging to the new convert and seasoned Catholic alike. Common to both is one big difficulty: a lack of focus.
Normally, as we make our ring around the Rosary, we should be meditating on the individual scenes of the joyful, sorrowful, luminous, or glorious mysteries. We should rehearse them in our minds and ponder them in our hearts, blending them into our own spirits, so that “we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.”
I was an adult convert to the Church, so when I first began praying the Rosary, it took a little while to memorize the vocal prayers and recite them all properly. I was so intent on “doing it right”—saying the right words at the right time while navigating the beads—it felt that concentrating on the mysteries at the same time was nearly impossible.
But it was possible. After sufficient practice, I could go outdoors for a 30-minute nighttime stroll and think deeply on the mysteries while reciting the vocal prayers. Those were rich experiences: staring into the starry sky in the cool of the evening; lifting my heart to the Lord; finding a good pace with a peaceful rhythm in my breath, my fingers, and my thoughts.
Fast-forward a few years. These days, I can still struggle with focusing on the mysteries in prayer, but for different reasons. The vocal prayers are so ingrained in my muscle memory that the words just pour past my lips, and my fingers slide expertly over the beads, but my mind wanders from the mysteries. During the Hail Marys, my mind can go from updating my task list to planning my workout routine to thinking, “I really like blueberry pancakes!” Depending on the day, it can be a real fight to focus.
Nevertheless, I know I’m not alone when it comes to distraction. Don’t tell me you don’t occasionally have the same struggles. While some saints used to enter into mystical ecstasies while praying the Rosary, Saint Therese of Lisieux admitted in her autobiographical Story of a Soul, “[B]ut when alone (I am ashamed to admit it) the recitation of the Rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them.” Later she realized her efforts to focus were pleasing to our Mother.
In my own efforts to focus, one very helpful aid I’ve come across is the Scriptural Rosary. The Rosary is plenty “scriptural” on its own, but a “Scriptural Rosary” is one in which you read a verse of Scripture (relating to the present mystery) before each of the ten Hail Marys. The effect is that, as your mind begins to stray, each Bible verse that’s read before a Hail Mary gently draws you back to the mystery, sharpening your focus and coloring the mystery with God-breathed Scripture. It becomes the food to nourish your meditations.
My wife and I often pray this way together at home and in the car, but it’s also ideal for families with children, who are not always known for their laser-beam focus. Kids can take turns reading the Bible verses while the others say the vocal prayers.
Give it a try. You can buy Scriptural Rosary booklets from Catholic bookstores, or download one for free as a PDF or MP3. Follow along and see if it doesn’t help your meditations. You owe it to yourself and your family to once again take up this powerfully biblical prayer—but this time with your mind fixed and focused on each mystery of the Rosary, sharpened one verse at a time.