However, as I became familiarized with Catholicsm through the expanation of devoted Catholics, I learned devotion to the saints was more of a guide, or imitation. Mary and the saints were those who enjoyed the presence of God, and would go to bat for us in prayer. That was one of the main reasons the Rosary became meaningful to me.
Why don't Catholics "witness" like Protestants do?
Every good Protestant knows how to witness to an unbeliever. Catholics, who - beside the devotion they practice - tend to be more of a confidential sort. They don't often fully explain intense spiritual emotion or love of God to people, but leave this to God alone in prayer. Indeed, most Catholics feel uncomfortable talking about the the greatness of God to other Catholics with those who are casual aquaintances. This may be because most Catholics believe true conversion of another is a result of good examples set by Catholics, and by prayer for others. As a result, it's rare to hear a Catholic singing the praises of various devotions, or openly trying to convert others - Catholics see this as intensly personal.
About the Rosary
Catholics are good at praying. The Rosary is by far the most practiced prayer. It is the repetition of the Our Father and Hail Mary. The full Rosary consists of 15 Our Fathers and 150 Hail Mary's, 15 "Glory Be to the Father, Son & Holy Ghost" and "Divine Heart of Jesus..." (for the words to these prayers, scroll to the bottom).
Catholic tradition teaches that it was given to St. Dominic by Mary herself as a means to combat heresy and to promote spirituality. The origin of the Rosary is in the 1100's. The entire rosary is biblically based, and is a meditation of the life of Christ through the eyes of the human being who knew him best: his mother. And as any parent would agree, if one saw his or her child suffer the way Christ suffered, it would be a vision that wound you through life, and remember through eternity - especially if you understood that your child was the Son of God and was unjustly put to death. Indeed, most parents would rather offer their own life in place of their child's. This is the reason the rosary can be such a passionate prayer. Because through the eyes of Mary, we begin to understand Jesus and the acceptance of God's will.
As a form of prayer, the Rosary is most effective because it utilized man's tri-fold nature: physical, mental and spiritual. Most praying I had ever done only involved the spiritual, or at best - physical and spiritual. The reason the Rosary is so encompassing is because as human beings, we are easily distracted. The repetition of prayers serves as a compassionate way for imperfect humans to pray, since - frankly - we don't always 'get' the full meaning of anything we say the first time. Try saying, for example: "I love, you Father" one time. Now get on your knees and say "I love you, Father" fifteen times, slowly and meaningfully. Then you start to understand what you are saying. You see, God does not need for us to repeat prayers 5, 10, 15 or 100 times. In fact, God does not need us to pray at all. It is we who need the prayers, and our nature which needs the repetition to bury the meanings deep within our souls. This is the basis of the Rosary.
Three natures of human beings
We are distractable beings. One of the main reasons I think the Rosary is so effective is because it keeps our more distractable sides busy for our souls to meditate.
The Rosary involves the physical side of our nature by kneeling while praying, by fingering the beads as we pray (or using our fingers).
It invovles the mental side of our nature by requiring us to speak (out loud) the prayers over and over again.
It involves the spiritual nature of us by requiring us to deeply meditate on the "mysteries" of the rosary, namely: Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection; the decent of the Holy Ghost and Mary's reward in heaven for saying "yes" to God's request.
Simple as this is, it really works.
Are we worshipping Mary?
Praying to Mary is not worshipping Mary. It is universally understood by Cathlolics that Mary wants nothing more than for us than for us to worship God. As a protestant, I didn't understand why Catholics bothered with Mary at all - why didn't they go straight to the Source? The fact is that Catholics DO go straight to the source (God, of course). But good Catholics place great emphasis on the avoidance of sin, and to combat sin in our lives, and understand we need the prayers of others....everyone. Living or dead. Who better than Mary to understand the complexity of human life and pitfalls, and yet who also knows Jesus better than any human being? Remember, the first recorded request Jesus ever answered was that of his mother's, during the marriage at Cana. And even he granted this prayer (or request) somewhat reluctantly since it wasn't a crisis matter and it was "before his time" - in spite of this he still obliged his mother. Even something as insignificant as providing more wine for a wedding feast Jesus did because he honored his mother's request and authority as his parent. Therefore a good Catholic not only prays to God as much as possible, but to everyone who can pray for him or her - mostly Mary. Catholics feel Mary has a special relationship with God - on earth as her role as Jesus' mother, and in heaven where she has become the spiritual mother of all. Mary is important because by accepting the will of God, she salvation began on earth because of her.
Remember, none of us would be saved in this manner if Mary hadn't said "yes". And think for a moment, she could have said "no". We directly or inadvertantly decline the will of God every day, and we will someday understand the harm we have caused or the good we have thwarted. In Mary's position would we have the wisdom and will to say yes?
Prayer is spiritual communication. Devotion and asking assistance of those in heaven is no different than asking a friend to pray for you. Worship is reserved for God alone. Any person, Catholic or not, who places any saint (or any other thing - money, people, etc.) in a position of being worshipped commits idolatry.
Other benefits of the Rosary
There are many promises attached to the Rosary, mostly to defeat heresy and to build fervor for the love of God. However, in my personal experience, I have seen dramatic changes in myself take place after reciting the Rosary consistently. Spiritually, I am more focused in a minute by minute way. Although my life is very busy, I am still able to concetrate on God, and remember to pray to him when I encounter a problem. (forgetting to pray is a big problem of mine, so much that I often pray just to "remember to pray" -ha,ha.)
I find everything I have going on in my physical life is better. This is an added blessing, in my opinion, since I've never found a promise attached to the Rosary for this - but it happens consistently every time I say the rosary with regularity. For example, our financial needs are met when we pray the Rosary. Life is more organized - I accomplish what I need to during the day. Somehow the house is clean, my tasks at work are completed. This has to be the rosary, since usually I run behind with everything! I am aware of sin to a greater degree and I am more patient with others in general. With such a powerful prayer, I can't wait to pray it! There are so many people on my lists to pray for! I am also glad, above all, to offer God my most tender devotion and to recall the experiences of Jesus step by step - year by year, of his years spent on earth.
Prayers said in the Rosary are biblically based:
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.
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.
Okay, I know if you don't pray the rosary, you were probably just fine until you got to the "mother of God" part. This is said because Catholics believe in the Trinity, and since Jesus is one of the persons of the Trinity, he is one with God. Therefore, Mary is the "mother of God". This is not so much a 'praise' of Mary for her part, but more of a confirmation of Jesus' oneness with the Father. Mary's role is a humble one. The previous parts are quotes from the Bible, if you remember:
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee!" - the words to Mary from the angel Gabriel announcing that she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus.
"Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb [Jesus] - these are the words of Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, whom she visited while pregnant with Jesus (and Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist). To understand Mary's humility, read the Magnificat - the praise Mary offers God after Elizabeth greets her in the Gospel. It's my favorite prayer.
Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Divine Heart of Jesus
Divine Heart of Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy.
I think all sincere efforts to seek God are worthwhile, and I do not intend to use this page as an effort to condemn anyone's opinion. I hold - as all believing Christians - that knock and the door shall be opened to you. If your goal is to improve your relationship with God and to improve your soul, I hope this becomes a good tool for you.