(Editor’s Note: Ellen Hopkins is a Midland-based freelance writer and parishioner at St. Ann’s in Midland.)
By Ellen Hopkins
The nuns who taught us in the 1950s and 60s deepened our Catholic faith immeasurably but their repeated point about the rosary being a “powerful prayer” always eluded me, until recently. Of course, my idea of “powerful” back then had more to do with cars and NASA’s space program than church or prayers. But now that I’m in my 50s and my mother and mother-in-law have both died, the nuns’ point shines as brilliantly as the Christmas star.
There are 53 Hail Mary prayers on each rosary and most people struggle to get through them without our minds wandering off on a tangent. We start thinking about God, the Blessed Mother and the five mysteries, and invariably revert to thinking about kids, office deadlines, where to eat lunch and whether the lawn mowing can wait until Saturday. All of this mind boggling thought occurs while we are still praying — or at least repeating — all those words in this powerful prayer. And powerful it is, as my mother could have told you.
Fifteen years ago, my stubborn Irish mother asked her priest, Father Patrick O’Byrne, to bring her five of the Irish rosaries he so often talked about at mass. When he returned from visiting his family in Ireland, she paid him for the five rosaries and told him she planned to give one to each of her two sisters, one to her favorite niece, one to her daughter, and to keep one for herself. Receiving the rosaries at various times over subsequent months, we recipients each felt special because we were the only five people we knew who owned a true Irish rosary. We christened ourselves an “Irish Rosary Family.”
The rosaries are not beautiful by any standard, but the green, plastic beads each have an engraved shamrock that is most noticeable as the fingers slip from one bead to another during prayer. Years later, when Mom became ill, I rushed home to take her to a specialist. Of course, her Irish rosary was among the items she packed for the quick trip to the diagnostic hospital. In only a matter of days Mom’s condition became critical. Despite the largeness of the circle of her family and friends, and the frantic phone calls among us, the only ones who were able to join Mom and me at the out-of-town hospital were her two sisters and favorite niece. On her last day – with a son flying from Philadelphia and a son-in-law flying from Midland – only Mom’s Irish Rosary Family members were at her bedside.
Mom had always been an advocate of the daily rosary, although she never spoke of its “power.” I wonder how many thousands of rosaries and hundreds of thousands of Hail Mary’s she must have said in her 73 years, each prayer ending with the line, “…pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” How often she must have prayed to the Blessed Virgin for a graceful death, one that included the Sacrament of Last Rites. She received that. And perhaps, unbeknownst to us as her health had begun to decline, she prayed in some way that her Irish Rosary Family would be there when she needed us most. And she received that wish,
too — the four of us coming from different directions, but finding the means to arrive at her side for her last few hours.
In those last few moments, Mom painlessly and peacefully slipped away from this life and into an everlasting life. Was her gentle, beautiful death a testament to the power of the rosary? The Irish Rosary Family members believe that with all our hearts.
If that weren’t convincing enough, the rosary’s power was evident again just a few months ago as my mother-in-law’s 85 years on earth came to an end. She, too, was a devout Catholic who prayed the daily rosary. Her health failed so suddenly that those of us who live 1,000 miles away were challenged to reach her before she lost consciousness. My husband and I got tickets on the last connecting flight out of Midland, rented the last available car in Omaha, which was hosting the College World Series and had rented every car and room in town, and got to her bedside near midnight. Her eyes were closed, her breathing shallow, but her solid grip on the Holy Land olivewood rosary we had mailed her several weeks earlier was unmistakable. Surrounding her bedside were her other children and their spouses. We joined them and prayed aloud one last rosary for her as she quietly slipped into heaven shortly after our arrival.
Were these women always convinced their powerful daily prayer would assist them at the hour of death, just the way they had requested 53 times a day for decades? Of course they were, and their example leaves no doubt for those of us who try and repeatedly fail at our commitment to a daily rosary. I intend to keep trying, and in an effort to help me focus I’ve designated each bead’s prayer for someone special in my life.
In addition to the 53 Hail Mary’s, there are Our Father’s, Glory Be’s, O My Jesus’ and other prayers I say for a total of 70 friends, family members, priests and nuns I pray for on each rosary. My husband is always the first Our Father bead, my nephew Andy is the third bead on the fourth decade, and so on as I pray my 70 prayers each day. That’s a lot of power in my hands and an amazing responsibility that I gladly accept. If only we could all keep trying to spend 20 minutes a day saying the daily rosary and affecting the lives of our 70 most-loved people. No doubt our grade school nuns would be proud of our efforts and our mothers in heaven would smile.