The rosary is a prayer of memories, Mary’s memories of her Son’s life. As a mother remembers her child’s first word and first steps, Mary remembers Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. She holds all of these things in her heart, and now she shares them with us. As her children, we grasp the rosary as if to tug on our Mother’s hand. Remember when you visited your cousin Elizabeth? Tell us that story again.
Every October, the Church celebrates the gift of the rosary. To understand this gift better, I turned to a woman in my life with many treasured memories: my grandmother, Louise. Through a series of phone calls, I asked about her 80-something years of praying the rosary. Here are some highlights.
The Prayer of the Family
My grandmother received her first rosary for her First Holy Communion. In the depths of the Great Depression, her family gave her a simple rosary with blue beads and a gold cross. “I was pleased to get it,” she told me. “I thought it was beautiful.”
But her family gave her more than just beads—they taught her how to pray. Each day of Lent, the whole family—father, mother, and eight children—would kneel down in the living room to pray the rosary. As a girl, she felt it was an “awfully long prayer,” and midway through, her younger siblings would be running around the room. “We were all happy to get up,” she said; but still, this yearly tradition always stuck with her.
In a special way, her mother, Alice, was a great example to her. “She was very religious in a quiet way.” Throughout her daily routine, “she always kept a rosary close by.”
My grandmother, in her turn, passed on what she had received. She gave rosaries to her children on their First Holy Communions, and each Lent, they prayed as a family. “It was tough to get the whole family together to pray—there are so many different schedules.” Still, she gathered whoever was home and they prayed as her family had.
Now, my grandmother pulls out the beads every now and then. As a girl she thought about the words of the prayers: “Our Father…” and “Hail Mary…”. Now, as she prays, she thinks about the mystery, about how Mary would have felt. Remembering what it was like to raise a family, she meditates on Mary raising her family.
The Prayer of Miracles
My grandmother normally shies away from fantastic tales, but she shared with me one of her treasured stories.
She married my grandfather, Peter, when he was still in the service, and a few months after their wedding, they had to transfer from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, towing a 30-foot trailer home.
They made the drive on a rainy November day. As they drove through the Appalachians in Pennsylvania, my grandfather thought something was wrong with one of the tires, and so he pulled to the side of the road to check. The tire turned out to be fine, but when he tried to pull back onto the highway, the trailer started slipping sideways in the mud.
Next to the road, there was a steep drop with no guard rail. So my grandfather put the car back in park. The trailer rested in an uneasy equilibrium, still threatening to take a serious tumble. Miles from any garage, there was little hope of human assistance, and so my grandparents began to pray the rosary.
After finishing two rosaries, a truck pulled up, the driver offered his assistance, and he easily pulled their car and trailer back onto the highway. My grandfather went to pay the man, but he replied, “just do a good deed for someone else.” To this day, my grandmother is certain that “the good Lord was helping us out.”
My grandmother cautioned me though. We should not just pray when things go wrong. We need to pray on good days too! “Just tell God about your day and say thank you. Carry on a normal conversation with him.”
The Prayer of Memory and Hope
Today, my grandmother’s favorite mystery is the Assumption. She imagines that when Mary got up to heaven, “Jesus threw a party for her.” Yet she wonders: “how did Mary see her relatives? Did they just appear? Are they always around? Or do they have jobs to get back to?”
She admitted that she thinks more and more about the Assumption as she gets older and approaches her end. She has similar questions for herself about heaven. “What’s it going to be like? How many people will be up there? How am I going to find my mother and father and my husband? Will they just appear?”
This is a special grace of the rosary. We look into Mary’s heart to contemplate Christ, but we find that Christ returns our gaze. He stirs our hearts to understand that these moments are not simply past events, but eternal realities that replay themselves in our own lives. This is my grandmother’s intuition.
The Assumption is both about Mary’s entrance into heaven and—God willing—my grandmother’s own entrance. That’s just part of having Mary as our mother. The boundary between her life and our life is blurred by boundless love. Her memories are our hope. For her memories are of Jesus, and He alone is our hope.
Image: In the arms of my Grandma