The power of the rosary

Photo: Stephen Brashear Photo: Stephen Brashear

October is the month of the rosary, the string of beads and prayers that popes have called a “compendium of the entire Gospel.” For centuries, the rosary has been one of the most prevalent forms of popular piety in the Catholic Church. By meditating on its mysteries and reciting its Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Bes, countless Catholics have used the rosary to draw closer to Jesus Christ and his mother Mary. Meet four local people whose lives have been touched by the rosary.

Grace at gunpoint

For 15-year-old Jennifer Sokol, it was second nature to start praying Hail Marys when the robbers put a gun to her head.

Jennifer SokolDecades later, recalling that night still brings her to tears. Then a sophomore at Holy Names Academy, Jennifer was babysitting for two small girls and had just put them to bed when three young men broke into the house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. One of the men held her at gunpoint while the other two ransacked the place.

Panicked and powerless to stop them, she started to pray. “‘Hail, Mary, full of grace’ — that’s what I had been taught to do and I’d done all my life,” she said. “I’ve always turned to our Blessed Mother in times of trial, and that’s what I did.”

When they’d finished robbing the home, the three men surrounded Jennifer. “And one of them said, ‘Pull down your pants, girl.’”

She was terrified, but silently resolved, “Over my dead body.”

“And when I didn’t do anything, one of them finally said, ‘No, leave her alone.’ And I knew that was our Blessed Mother — she had intervened and somehow moved that guy to say that. And they all backed away.”

Jennifer had grown up praying the rosary with her family, but surviving that night changed her relationship with Mary. It was no longer formal or theoretical. “It just felt very natural, like friendship,” she said.

Now a parishioner at St. James Cathedral, she prays the 15 traditional mysteries of the rosary each day. As Catholics, she said, “we have such a gift in Mary — the gift that God has given us in Mary and her motherly protection.”

No pagan goddess

As he prepared to enter the Catholic Church in 1987 after eight years as an evangelical Christian, Mark Shea worked through all the usual issues that crop up for converts — papal infallibility, the Crusades, etc. — but his “last big hurdle” was the Virgin Mary, who made him jittery.

Mark SheaThe prevailing “pseudo-knowledge” among his evangelical friends was that Mary was just a “nice peasant lady” who served as “the delivery chute for Jesus,” but that Catholics had turned her into “kind of a warmed-over pagan goddess.”

Shea came to grips with Mary as he realized that “in Catholic piety, the thing about Mary is that the thing is never about Mary,” he said. “Mary is always referring us to Jesus.”

Though still wary, he began to practice Marian piety — “as an act of the will, not out of this sort of gush of emotion,” he said.

Shea has never had a particularly emotional relationship with Mary, but he still makes the rosary a regular part of his prayer life.

“The rosary is a contemplation of the life of Jesus through the eyes of his greatest disciple,” he said. “So what we’re doing in the rosary is we’re walking with Mary alongside Jesus, watching the life of Jesus unfold.”

Eventually Shea — a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish and a popular blogger, speaker and author — wrote the kind of book he’d wished for when he was converting. Mary, Mother of the Son, first published in 2009, is a comprehensive explanation of Catholic dogma and devotion around Mary.

Shea’s goal in writing, he said, has always been to help Catholics appreciate “the million-dollar treasure that they’re sitting on.”

Mother and protector

When Eusebio Elizondo decided to enter the minor seminary for the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, he faced resistance from his parents.

Bishop Eusebio ElizondoThey were both very pious — his mother regularly led her 10 children in praying the rosary, and his father had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe — but they felt that Eusebio, at 12, was just too young.

“My dad, to test me in the authenticity of my call, said, ‘Well, you are going to do it by yourself. I’m not going to take you to seminary.’”

His father gave him a little money and his blessing, and Eusebio set out for Guadalajara, on the other side of Mexico. He was sad to leave his family, and scared about the three-day journey.

“But I was also very confident because my mom gave me a rosary and she said, ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary will protect you, and you will find the way.’ And I did, praise the Lord.”

Now the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Bishop Elizondo said Mary has been a faithful mother and protector throughout his life.

He prays the rosary as he travels around Western Washington, beseeching Mary to intercede for “the discernment and the wisdom that I need to be a docile servant, a good instrument of God’s presence in the church,” he said.

When he was a child, his image of Mary was primarily romantic and supernatural. But he’s come to appreciate her more as a “strong, courageous woman.”

“She was just a simple human being like you and me, and with an incredible faith that brought us the impossible [made] possible: God himself among us.”

Closeness to God

To say that Judy Atkinson is enthusiastic about the rosary would be putting it lightly.

Judy AtkinsonShe prays eight rosaries most days, working through the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries twice. She’s a longtime member of the Rosary Makers group at St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Port Townsend. She even named one of her daughters Rose Marie, “because I thought that sounded like ‘rosary,’” she said.

Atkinson wasn’t always like this — she was in her 30s before she began praying the rosary regularly.

“I started saying one rosary when I’d be out walking, and then when I was finished I would put the rosary away and I would just continue to walk,” she said. Soon she figured, why stop there? “I might as well be praying another rosary.”

Eventually she worked her way up to eight, offering each for a different intention: her family; pro-life and marriage issues; the government; the church hierarchy; vocations to the priesthood, religious life and marriage; and Christian unity.

“It’s so relaxing,” she said. “It just puts you in a meditative mood. I love it. I love the rosary. I just feel a closeness — a closeness to Our Lady, a closeness to God — as I’m walking and praying the rosary. I just love it.”

Atkinson has seen many of her rosary petitions answered in striking ways: a new house, changes in local schools, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center in her area.

But she doesn’t get hung up on getting everything she asks for.

“When the Lord doesn’t answer your prayer right away, it’s because he’s got something better in mind,” she said. “I don’t worry a bit.”

How to pray the Rosary

How to pray the rosary

1. Make the sign of the cross and say the Apostles’ Creed.
2. Pray the Our Father.
3. Pray three Hail Marys.
4. Pray the Glory Be. 
5. Announce the first mystery and pray the Our Father.
6. Pray 10 Hail Marys while contemplating the announced mystery. Then pray the Glory Be.
7. Repeat steps five and six for the other four mysteries.
8. Conclude with Hail, Holy Queen and the sign of the cross.

Note: If praying the Fatima Prayer, add it between the Glory Be and announcement of each mystery.

Sign of the Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Our Father
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Hail Mary
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. Amen.

Glory Be
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Hail, Holy Queen
Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us; and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

Fatima Prayer
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need of thy mercy. Amen.

Joyful Mysteries (Mondays and Saturdays)
1. The Annunciation
2. The Visitation
3. The Birth of Our Lord
4. The Presentation in the Temple
5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Luminous Mysteries (Thursdays)
1. The Baptism in the Jordan
2. The Wedding Feast at Cana
3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God
4. The Transfiguration
5. The Institution of the Eucharist

Sorrowful Mysteries (Tuesdays and Fridays)
1. The Agony in the Garden
2. The Scourging at the Pillar
3. The Crowning with Thorns
4. The Carrying of the Cross
5. The Crucifixion

Glorious Mysteries (Sundays and Wednesdays)
1. The Resurrection
2. The Ascension
3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit
4. The Assumption
5. The Crowning of Our Lady Queen of Heaven

Read the Spanish version of this story.

Northwest Catholic - October 2013

Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at [email protected].

Kevin Birnbaum es el editor de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic y miembro de la Parroquia del Sagrado Sacramento en Seattle. Pueden contactarle en: [email protected].