St. Bernadette tells us that on first seeing the young Lady in the Grotto she immediately took out her rosary beads. She attempted to make the sign of the Cross but her hand would not move. The Lady blessed herself and then Bernadette was able to copy her. From then on in her life people always noticed the reverence with which Bernadette made the sign of the Cross. Once Bernadette began to recite the rosary the Lady fingered each of the beads as she prayed with Bernadette. Her lips only moved at the Gloria at the end of each decade. At the end of the five decades the Lady disappeared.
We can see from this that the rosary was the most familiar prayer for Bernadette. Her immediate reaction was to take her beads from her pocket and pray. This reaction was typical for most Catholics until the last few decades. Their rosary beads were always close to them and they instinctively gripped them in moments of fear or concern. They always held to Mary in moments of uncertainty knowing that their heavenly Mother would care form them. Maybe we need to rediscover the practice of always having our beads with us. Each time we pray we hold them, whether or not we are praying the rosary. Their very presence reminds us that Mary is our constant companion in our openness to God and on our journey through life.
This first apparition of Our Blessed Lady in Lourdes also teaches us that when we pray the rosary Mary prays with us. This is probably the true secret of how to pray the Rosary, it is praying in the company of Mary. As you move the beads through your fingers remember that Mary is also doing the same thing with you as she did with Bernadette. Together with her you are thinking on the life of Christ and in his life thinking also on your own life and how the light of Christ sheds light on your life, all done in the company of Mary.
There is another incident which took place at the Grotto I often think about when I pray. One day as Bernadette was making her way through the crowds to get to the Grotto a rich lady from Paris gave her an expensive pair of rosary beads and asked Bernadette to use them during the apparition. As usual when the Lady appeared Bernadette began her rosary, but she realised that the Lady wasn’t praying with her. So she stopped and asked the Lady why. The Blessed Virgin asked Bernadette where her own rosary beads were. She told her they were in her pocket but that this lady had asked her to use her beads during the apparition. The Mother of God told Bernadette to put them away and use your own beads.
When we pray we shouldn’t try to pray like others. We can only pray as ourselves. That is what God and His Blessed Mother desires. In God’s presence there is no play-acting, indeed prayer is the one place we can be utterly ourselves and pray as we can. At times you may feel that somehow our prayers are inadequate or lacking life, but once they are true to us we are doing exactly what God wants. God desires us, not to be someone else but to be truly the person he lovingly created and redeemed. In the presence of Mary we learn to accept ourselves, as we are, but now also as the children of God without any fear or pretence.
Our Lady of Lourdes, teach us how to pray.
Fr. John M. Harris, O.P. St. Saviour’s Dublin.