psychology of the rosary

The rosary is a Catholic prayer cycle. It consists principally of Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glorias, surrounded by a Creed and a couple of closing Marian prayers. I don't want to consider its religious significance, but instead to think a little on the psychological value of its recitation.

For striking about the Christian faith is its constant rehearsal of what the Kleinian lingo registers as significant positive internal object relations. We have the cultivation of those states of mind which comes when one is in relation both to a powerful and generous and safety-providing father figure and to a loving graceful mother figure. We have the rehearsal of the acknowledgement of guilt and of reparation through forgiveness. And the faith also invites its practitioners to identify with (or at least, to imitate!) Christ in their lives.

No doubt there's all sorts of perverse ways that prayers can be used. For example, perhaps the Our Father could be said in a servile way, rather than in a way which releases us from life-devaluing narcissism. Or perhaps their emphasis on guilt could strengthen not the conscience, not our trust in the essential value for the inner life of repentance and forgiveness, but instead merely the punitive or hope-quashing superego.

But there's no need to read the prayers that way. With the Our Father we're invited into a confident relationship with a benign, truthful, trustworthy, respect-worthy, father. With the Hail Mary we're invited to recollect the qualities of a good, graceful, forgiving mother. Both figures are life-givers; both prayers rehearse the hallowedness and blessedness of their objects, both encourage hope rather than despair.

The good functioning of the human heart and hence of the human mind depends, I'd say, on the following:

a. A sense of inner strength, power, courage, efficacy.
b. An inner sense of lovableness, a receptivity to and capacity to give love.
(a and b, with their courage and love, offer the two magic ingredients of a happy soul)
c. An acknowledgement of one's narcissistic failings.
d. A real knowledge of the possibility of true forgiveness and reconnection.
(c and d make for a good conscience, i.e. for that integrity that is itself essential for integration)
e. A hopeful attitude.

By their very nature these vanquish the loneliness, hopelessness and fragmentation that is otherwise at the heart of human misery and psychopathology.

Whatever its more distinctly religious functions (which, I imagine, are neither to be understood separately from, nor reduced to, its psychological functions), the rosary works to rehearse, bring imaginatively to mind, inculcate, encourage an indwelling in, a supremely good set of internal objects. Who'd not want to endlessly rehearse it?!

Addendum from Gaita's A Common Humanity:

On the loving goodness beyond virtue of the saintly nun in the psychiatric hospital he worked at as a teenager, Rai Gaita writes ‘I doubt that the love expressed in the nun’s demeanour would have been possible for her were it not for the place which the language of parental love had in her prayers.’ And that 'the unashamedly untheoretical, anthropocentric language of worship has great... power to reveal the structure of the concepts which make the nun's behaviour and what it revealed intelligible to us.'


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