Praying the Rosary?

Question
Is praying the rosary doctrinally correct?
Answer

Thanks for your question. My closet friend is a Catholic brother in Christ. He loves and believes in the Lord. He and his wife (also a believer) and I and my wife volunteer at the same homeless shelter - they more than I because of my health. He is a crusader at visiting the sick. He visits me more than every member of my church combined. Mind you he is not trying to earn his salvation this way, but as he has expressed to me in the past, 'I love because he first loved me' (1 John 4:19; cf. Matt 7:20).

This said, we disagree on numerous theological issues. One of the teachings of the Catholic Church I disagree with in part is "praying the rosary."

This answer is divided in multiple sections dealing with (1) Praying the Rosary: The Apostle's Creed; (2) Praying the Rosary: Purpose; (3) Praying the Rosary: Process; and (4) Praying the Rosary: Some Doctrinal Problems.

What is Praying the Rosary?

Praying the Rosary consists of a series of statements. I've arranged these statements in the order they come in the prayer below.

1. Praying the Rosary: Apostle's Creed

The first part of the praying of the rosary is the Apostle's Creed, which is a brief summary of Christian doctrine. We have no real problem with the Apostle's Creed when it is properly interpreted.

However, the phrase "the holy Catholic Church"can be troubling for some. When we recite the Apostle's Creed we say this phrase but understand that the word "catholic" actually means "concerning the whole, general, or universal." Therefore, since, we understand the invisible church to be the "whole" company of redeemed believers in Christ extended throughout all time and space, we have no problem reciting it. However, we realize that Catholics interpret it as meaning the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

Another part of the Apostle's Creed that is troubling to some is the phrase, "the communion of saints." However, this phrase is perfectly fine as in Scripture Christians are called "saints" (KJV - Psa 31:23; Rom 8:27; 1 Cor 1:2; Heb 6:10, et. al.) and in Hebrews 12:1-2 we read of "a great cloud of witnesses." So, again we have no problems with the Apostle's Creed when properly interpreted.

2. Praying the Rosary: Its Purpose

Praying the rosary can be in private or said as a group. Generally speaking, the repetition in the rosary is meant to lead one into deep contemplative prayer related to each "mystery." In "praying the rosary" there are 20 mysteries reflected upon: (1) five joyful mysteries, (2) five luminous mysteries, (3) five sorrowful mysteries, and (4) five glorious mysteries.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The Five Joyful Mysteries are traditionally prayed on the Mondays, Saturdays, and Sundays of Advent:

  • 1 The Annunciation
  • 2 The Visitation
  • 3 The Nativity
  • 4 The Presentation in the Temple
  • 5 The Finding in the Temple

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries are traditionally prayed on the Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays of Lent:

  • 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 and Death

The Five Glorious Mysteries are traditionally prayed on the Wednesday and Sundays outside of Lent and Advent:

  • 1 The Resurrection
  • 2 The Ascension
  • 3 The Descent of the Holy Spirit
  • 4 The Assumption [of Mary]
  • 5 The Coronation of Mary

The Five Luminous Mysteries are traditionally prayed on Thursdays:

  • 1 The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan
  • 2 The Wedding Feast at Cana
  • 3 Jesus' Proclamation of the Coming of the Kingdom of God
  • 4 The Transfiguration
  • 5 The Institution of the Eucharist

While of course we have problems with the Assumption of Mary and her Coronation, etc. in essence, the prayer according to the RCC is meant to strengthen one's faith, assist in resisting evil, and to help one grow spiritually, etc. While a noble cause, it is the wrong path to attain such.

3. Praying the Rosary: The Process

From the rosary-center.org here is how Catholics are to pray the rosary:

  • 1 Make the Sign of the Cross and say the "Apostles' Creed."

  • 2 Say the "Our Father."

  • 3 Say three "Hail Marys."

  • 4 Say the "Glory be to the Father."

  • 5 Announce the First Mystery; then say the "Our Father."

  • 6 Say ten "Hail Marys," while meditating on the Mystery.

  • 7 Say the "Glory be to the Father."

  • 8 Announce the Second Mystery; then say the "Our Father." Repeat 6 and 7 and continue with Third, Fourth and Fifth Mysteries in the same manner.

After the rosary one is to pray:

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 vale 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!

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray. O GOD, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

4. Praying the Rosary: Some Doctrinal Problems

While we do not have the time and space to discuss every problem with "praying the rosary," we will briefly look at: (1) Hail Mary, (2) Mary Queen Mother and Mother of God, (3) Mary as "our hope" and "our life," and (4) asking Mary to "pray for us." However, we will begin with a short answer.

The short answer is simply, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus;" (I Tim 2:5). While the RCC teaches that Mary was "preserved free from all stain of original sin" (CCC 966), in reality:

  • (1) Mary was a sinner who had a sin nature and needed a Savior too (Luke 1:46-47; Rom 3:23).

  • (2) She was not and is not the Co-Redeemer or Co-Redemptrix. Co-Redemptrix, refers to the Catholic teaching that Mary is a subordinate but essential participant in redemption; in essence that Mary gave free consent to give life to the Christ the Redeemer, to share his life, to suffer with him under the Cross, and to offer his sacrifice to God the Father for the sake of the redemption of all mankind.

    This is blatantly false theology. There is one and only one Redeemer, Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5; cf. John 17:3; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 7:25; 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Praying the rosary assigns a task to Mary that the Bible never gives her (Co-Redemptrix). Jesus is our one and only and complete Redeemer (Gal 3:13; 4:4-5; Tit 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18-19; Rev 5:9), our advocate (1 John 2:1), and our only mediator (1 Tim 2:5).

  • (3) Scripture never instructs us to worship mere "men" (anthropolatry, Acts 10:25-26; 14:11-15).

(1) Hail Mary

Luke 1:28 (KJV) states, "And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou [Mary] that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." We note from the text that this is the angel Gabriel greeting Mary, not a man. The word "hail" (GK, "chaire") was a common greeting in New Testament times (compare "shalom" meaning "peace" in the Hebrew). The phrase "highly favoured" (GK, "kecharitomene") means "favored with grace," a reality for all Christians (Eph 2:5, 8; cf. Rom 3:24).

Mary was sinner too and needed grace. Much as Noah did (Gen 6:8), Mary found grace in God's sight. By God's grace alone Noah gave birth to a re-created world (Gen 8:1-3) and Mary gave birth to the one that makes "new creatures" (2 Cor 5:17). Both Noah and Mary found grace in God's sight. However, the emphasis in both cases was not upon their own merit, but on God's sovereign choice. God's grace was needed in both instances (cf. Judg 6:12). As Mary herself said to Gabriel, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1:38, KJV).

Though Mary was thoughtful, faithful, and pondered the things of God (Luke 1:38, 45; 2:19), she was not the dispenser of grace, but as all of us, an unworthy recipient of it (Eccl 7:20; Rom 3:23; 6:23; 1 John 1:8-10). There is one and only one Savior mentioned in the text, Christ Jesus the Lord (Luke 2:11; cf. Matt 1:16, 21; Acts 2:36).

We should not worship Mary. "Hail Mary" is not a part of Christian worship in the way the RCC teaches.

(2) Queen Mother, Mother of God

The terms "Queen" and "Mother" are meant to elevate Mary's position. However, there is absolutely no Scripture supporting the Assumption of Mary or her Coronation. We should not worship mere men (anthropolatry, Acts 10:25-26; 14:11-15). Please read the notes above.

In addition, Mary is not the Mother of God, she is the mother of baby Jesus. God doesn't have a "mother," nor does he need a "queen." Note that while "Queen of Heaven" is found in the Bible, it is used in a negative way (Jer 7:17-19; 44:16-27).

The WSC in answering the question, "What is God?" states, "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth" (WSC Q4). Mary could not give birth to him who is eternal, uncreated, unborn, infinite, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining. The theological term "aseity" means that God is entirely self-sufficient - not dependent or contingent upon anything else - which includes Mary! Isaiah says it plainly, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isa 9:6). Jesus "the child" was "born, but "the Son of God" had to be "given," as God can't be born.

A proper understanding of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ is imperative. See The Belgic Confession, Article 19. In Jesus Christ, his divine nature and his human nature are united in the one Person, Jesus Christ. Jesus' divine nature is eternal and has no beginning. However, Jesus' human nature has a beginning (Gal 4:4); he was born of Mary (Matt 1:18, 20, 23; Luke 1:34-35). In Jesus Christ, these natures are united, so that God is Jesus' Father and Mary is Jesus' mother. So, Mary is not the mother of God, but of baby Jesus. Mary was the biological mother of Jesus' humanity, but she was not the mother of Jesus' divinity.

So, God needs no mother as he had no beginning and thus was never born, immortal, etc. (Psa 90:2; 1 Tim 6:15-16). He is self-sustaining and therefore at no time needed a mother. But, according to Catholic theology, there must have been a time when God merely two or three seconds, hours, days, weeks, months, and years old. This is heresy, as how could God be born to Mary and yet create the world in which Mary lived (Elohim is the plural of El, Gen 1:1, "us" in Gen 1:26; John 1:3, 10; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2).

While Mary is "the mother of my Lord" (Greek, kurios, Luke 1:43), this is different than being the mother of God (Greek, theos) - which words Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit did not use. Mother of my Lord (kurios) in context refers to Jesus in the flesh (John 1:14; 2 John 7).

Mary should not be elevated and worshiped. Mary should not be made into an idol (1 Cor 10:14; 1 John 5:21).

(3) Our Hope, Our Life

Nowhere in the Bible does it state that Mary is "our hope" or "our life." The Scripture plainly teaches that Jesus and he alone is "our hope" (Rom 5:1-5; 15:4; Col 1:23; 2 Thess 2:16; 1 Tim 1:1; Tit 2:13; 1 Pet 1:3, etc.) and "our life" (John 1:4; 3:15-18; 5:24; 10:28; 11:25; 14:6; 1 John 5:11, etc.). Clearly, Mary believed the same way saying, ". . . My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." (Luke 1:46-47). Mary's only "hope" and "life" was found in Christ too!

The teaching that Mary is "our hope" and "our life" is not scripturally correct.

(4) Pray for Us

Once again, nowhere in Scripture do we see that Mary, a sinner in need of redemption herself, is to pray for us. Jesus (Heb 7:25) is our intercessor and the Holy Spirit aids us in our prayers (Rom 8:26). A Christian can "approach the throne of grace with confidence" (Heb 4:16) without the aid of Mary.

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). There is ONE Mediator. Since, there is only one, than it stands to reason that Mary (or others) cannot be our mediator. While Paul and others asked others to pray for them (2 Cor 1:11; Eph 1:16; Phil 1:19; 2 Tim 1:3, etc.), nowhere in Scripture (except in the person of Christ) do we see someone asking for someone in Heaven to pray for them. The rich man in Hell asked for relief and for his bothers to be warned, but neither request was granted, (Luke 16:14-31). While there are prayers going on Heaven (Rev 5:8; 6:10), nowhere do we read that they are tuning into all of ours. In addition, we do not find in Scripture that Mary is omnipresent and omniscient, which she would have to be to hear all the prayers to her.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the Lord's Prayer (Matt 6:9-13), he taught them to address their prayers to God. However, when one prays the rosary they spend more time calling out to Mary than to God himself (3 Hail Marys, 10 Hail Marys, Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, etc.).

John answers the question thoroughly when he wrote, "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (1 John 5:14-15). John does not mention Mary, but "we" and "us." Once again, we observe that RCC doctrine is in error.

There are numerous other problems with this prayer. However, suffice to say that with just this brief introduction to its problems a Christian should not engage in this idolatry (or any other).

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).