The Rosary is a special meditative prayer in which five mysteries are examined in detail and reflected on (CCC 2708, definition of Rosary p. 897). The hope is that after the prayer the person will understand the mysteries just a little more, gain new appreciation for all the good things Jesus and the saints did, and see a few things they need to improve in their life. Examining the mysteries is really just discernment. When we meditate on the mysteries, we are asking God to enlighten us on something about the mysteries. We hope to learn something new after the prayer. This discernment can be directed toward anything we wonder about though. By following the same form of the Rosary, we can ask God for help in discerning other things besides the significance of the mysteries.
The Rosary form has three parts: the opening, the meditation, and the closing. The opening prayers focus us on God, get us into the prayer mood. When our mind is in the right place, we are ready to meditate. After the meditation, we say a few closing prayers to Mary and God to help the meditation bear fruit in our lives. Below is a short list of the prayers for each part:
The Opening Prayers
Sign of the Cross
3 Hail Marys
The Meditation Prayers
Repeat for each mystery (5 times):
10 Hail Marys
The Closing Prayers
Hail, Holy Queen
Prayer to God for our meditation to bear fruit (O God, whose Only Begotten Son…)
While keeping this overall structure intact, the Rosary can be made into a meditation for discernment with just a few changes. No changes are needed for the opening prayers. They are a reiteration of our Catholic beliefs and get us in the spiritual mood to meditate. The closing prayers need to be changed to ask God and Mary for help with whatever information we seek or decision we need to make. This is the end result of discernment, to enlighten us as to what would be best for us. While specific prayers can be written down, it is easy enough to make up the prayers as you go. The only structure you have to maintain at the end is to say a prayer to Mary and then to God. To change the meditation part, split up the overall discernment question into a few parts.
Instead of meditating on a mystery, each decade of the Rosary can be used to meditate on one option in a choice or question you have. The Rosary has five decades, but you can change that to any number depending on what you want to pray about. Discernment is most popularly used for choosing a vocation: priesthood, consecrated life, or marriage. In this case, you would reduce the Rosary from five decades to three decades. During the meditation you would imagine yourself in each vocation, examining what you would like and dislike about each one. For the closing prayers, you would ask for guidance from Mary and God. Discernment is not restricted to vocations though. It can be used for any major decision, such as choosing which job offer to accept.
Sometimes you might want to meditate about just one thing. In that case, you can split the one thing into a few parts. Continuing with the idea of vocations, say you discerned that you had a calling for consecrated life. You could then meditate on a few different religious orders that seem to be the best fit. Each decade of the prayer you would meditate on one of the possible religious orders. After some dedication to this praying, you would be able to whittle down the list of possible religious orders to just one or two. So the Rosary structure is great for discerning a vocation*, but you can discern other things too.
The Rosary meditation can be used to aid an examination of conscience. In this case, you would look at all your recurring sins and think about each one in detail, the when, where, and how you committed those sins. This would help during a later Sacrament of Penance but also might give you some clues as to what changes you need to make in your life to avoid future sins. You could go even deeper with this practice by focusing on just a single sin you struggle with. Maybe there are certain occasions you usually commit sins during. You could then meditate (one decade) on each of those occasions with the goal to improve your actions when those occasions happen again. You would not simply be thinking about what you should do. Instead, you would invite God, with Mary’s intercessions, to help make these decisions.
The Rosary can be used as part of thanksgiving for all the good things God has done for you on a particular day. Meditate on all good things that happened before, during, and after work. Those were the blessings God gave you that day. This is discernment too. You are discerning how God helped you in your life. The closing prayers would be of thanksgiving towards Mary for her prayers on your behalf, to God directly for what he has done for you.
The possibilities are really endless. Anything you can think of where discernment might help can be thought about deeply in meditation with God and Mary’s help using the structure of the Rosary. The Rosary isn’t required for discernment, of course, but I have found it an easy, prayerful way to help me think deeply about my life and decide on any changes I need to make. During my normal prayer, my mind tends to get bombarded by outside thoughts. The Rosary is one of the few prayers that keeps my mind on track most of the time.
*Note: Discerning a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life involves more than just your own personal prayer. Please contact the vocations director in your diocese if you feel called to one of these vocations. You want to get all the support you can before making such an important decision.
May God bless you with his abundant grace,