Many Catholics, non-Catholics, and especially anti-Catholics, say that the rosary is a repetitious prayer which directly violates the following directive from Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, verse 6:7, "But when you pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking."
Catholics often take pause after reading that verse. After all, when we pray the rosary, we are clearly repeating prayers over and over again. To make it more complicated, Pope John Paul II added five new mysteries to the ancient rosary in 2002. Now, to say an entire rosary with all the mysteries, we must repeat the Hail Mary at least 200 times, not to mention the Our Father, Glory Be, and Fatima Prayer.
Another area of concern is that the words of the prayers seem to exalt and worship Mary, rather than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Mary is not God, and therefore should not be worshiped as such. Again, Catholics contemplate this argument with a degree of discomfort. Yes, we do seem to exalt Mary when we pray the Hail Mary, and many times even in front of a statue!
So, why is the rosary still a stronghold in the Catholic Church? Why has the rosary stood the test of time for at least eight hundred years since it originated from Spanish theologian St. Dominic, c. 1170-1221? Don't Catholics read the bible? What about the statues?
To begin with, the rosary is not a prayer of words, but of meditation. When a Catholic completes praying an entire rosary of 20 mysteries, he or she has meditated upon the entire gospel; the incarnation, birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. No method of prayer is more beneficial than this. Most Catholics will pray five mysteries per day, and when saying the words, he or she must meditate upon one mystery at a time; for the duration of 10 Hail Marys, before going on to the next "mystery," or meditation. The memorized words are the vehicle by which Catholics are able to keep their minds on the gospel stories.
Secondly, why do Catholics seem to exalt Mary as they recite the Hail Mary over and over again? Actually, when we seem to be exalting Mary, what we're really doing is quoting the gospel verse Luke 1:28 when the Angel Gabriel salutes Mary, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blest are you among women!" This greeting is repeated to her a second time in Luke 1:41-42 when an expectant Mary visits her pregnant cousin Elizabeth in Judea. At Mary's approach, the unborn child within Elizabeth leaps, and she exclaims, "Blest are you among women, and blest is the fruit of your womb!" In other words, blessed is the child within you. That child is Jesus.
In the remainder of the Hail Mary prayer, Catholics ask Mary to pray for them now, and at the hour of death. Catholics often ask Mary to approach her Son Jesus for their petitions. Consider the gospel story, "The Wedding Feast at Cana," in John 2:3-11. Jesus heeds Mary's request and miraculously produces excellent wine for the wedding guests. Here, Jesus performs His first public miracle, revealing His glory through the intercession of His Mother, Mary. Being ever faithful to God in heaven, Jesus obeys the commandment that says, "Honor thy father and mother." He does so in an exemplary way.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes, "Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ." Therefore, if we are to imitate Jesus, then we too honor the woman Jesus gave to us with his dying breath when He said to John, "Behold thy mother," and to Mary, "Behold thy son," John 19: 25-27. The key word is "honor," and not "worship."
Finally, what about the statues? The simple answer is that the statues of any saint, not just Mary, are not objects of worship in themselves, but reminders for people to help them focus their minds as they pray. Think about the last time you looked at a photo of your children and said a loving, sincere prayer for their well-being. Perhaps you looked at a photo of a deceased loved one and uttered sincere words to God for their peace. You may even have requested the person himself to help you in your own difficulties. Is the photo the object of the prayer? Of course not. And neither are the statues and images Catholics may use to help them focus their minds as they pray.
The commandment, "Thou shalt not make graven images," refers to worshiping a material object or concept as if it had power unto itself, rather than the God Who created it. This not only refers to statues of false "gods", but things that don't even seem to be objects of worship. Examples of these are astrology, nature, Hollywood celebrities, money, excessive body-building and fitness, excessive "achievement" for its own sake leading to pride and arrogance, animals, the list goes on and on. While most of these things have their proper place and can be inherently good, the excessive pursuit is where the danger enters.
How many people criticize the repetitious prayers of the rosary, and yet regularly watch their favorite television show for empty-headed entertainment? Something to contemplate.
Pray the rosary for world peace while humbly meditating on its mysteries and you will see miracles happen!