I’m a fan of the Catholic Answers Forums. For those who have never visited it, CAF is a huge forum of questions, updates, and news regarding Catholicism. If you read it long enough, you will start to see patterns emerge in the type of posts submitted. You will see posts of the type “Is this a mortal sin…?”, “Please pray for…”, “Why does God allow…?”, etc. I frequently see this one — “Does rosary prayer count if I…?” It ends with “was watching TV?”, “thinking of something else?”, “was listening to it on the radio?”, etc.
I find this way of approaching rosary prayer interesting since I believe it misses the point of why we pray. What does it mean for a prayer to “count?” For me, that conjures up images of our Mother Mary sporting a visor, whistle, and holding a clipboard like a junior high school gym teacher. And she’s marking down how many “valid” prayers you’ve said as if you were taking a pushup test. “Bad form Brent!” “You missed a word!” “Hands not folded in approved fashion.” And in the end, “Not bad; in that chaplet you said 33 decent Hail Marys; you pass!”
I believe many people approach their faith in this binary fashion; that the things you do are scored and count towards getting into Heaven or against it. You’re in Heaven if you rack up a high enough score by the time you die. And who knows, maybe certain aspects of our faith are a little like that like attending Mass on Sunday — if you miss it for no valid reason then you’ve broken a Commandment. Definitely points off.
But I don’t think the rosary breaks down into a nice little checkbox on whether it counts or not. It’s not a pass/fail activity. You have to approach the rosary more like a conversation. Are you talking and listening to God through prayer? Are you concentrating and meditating on each mystery and really trying to communicate with God or are you just going through the motions with your heart and mind are somewhere else? Furthermore, what do your thoughts and actions say about the quality of your prayers? Does prayer actually motivate you to lead a life of conversion towards Jesus’ teachings or does it not really affect you in any meaningful way? Are you just tuning out God?
Maybe we can think of rosary prayer like exercise. No, I’m not going back to the junior high gym class type of exercise that is highly quantitative and you either pass or fail. I’m talking about general exercise. You can go to the gym and idly walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes. And that is better than nothing. But did you actually push yourself and stress your heart and muscles to make them stronger? Do you follow up workouts with healthy meals or do you down that slice of cheesecake?
Rosary prayer is similar to the exercise experience except instead of stressing physical muscles, you’re stressing spiritual ones. Is the rosary helping you develop a closer relationship with God? Is it motivating you to desire God’s grace and His Kingdom of Heaven? Are you trying to follow up rosary prayer with virtuous behavior while avoiding sin?
Overall, the rosary only “counts” as much as you make it count. It’s not evaluated by some external, quantifiable criteria. I know many of us take comfort in absolutes and it can be frustrating and even a little scary in the absence of it. But the rosary requires faith to accept that there won’t necessarily be a straight and immediate answer to your prayers. But don’t worry, it’s a prayer worth learning and becoming comfortable with even if it doesn’t produce the absolute answers you’re looking for. Because the answers it does provide go far beyond what is observable and quantifiable. Our faith and God’s grace cannot be limited to rules, regulations, and items on a checklist.
Want the rosary to count? That’s entirely up to you. Look at your relationship with God and your faith in His plan. Has praying the rosary given you more faith and a closer relationship with God? If not, maybe it’s time to look at how you can get more out of the rosary by investing more time and concentration to it.