Praying the Chaplet: When? How? And for Whom?

A few weeks ago we did several installments in this Q&A column on the meaning of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy - the intercessory prayer given to St. Faustina from Jesus. The installments have prompted a flurry of further questions about this powerful form of prayer.

One woman simply asked me: "I know it is proper to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet when someone is dying, however, can we pray the [chaplet] after the person has died? Or do we just pray the Rosary?"

As a matter of fact, as an "extra-liturgical" form of intercessory prayer (that is, as a prayer that is recited outside of the context of the formal, liturgical prayers of the Church), it is almost always appropriate to use the Chaplet to pray for one's own needs, and those of others. It is appropriate because (as I explained in previous columns) the Chaplet is a prayer of intercession made in union with the offering up of Christ's own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity at every Eucharist. In other words, the Chaplet is like an extension of the intercessory prayers and supplications at the Mass, the Church's central and most powerful prayer of all.

This does not mean one is required to use the Chaplet when praying for others, of course. The tradition of the Church provides us with a variety of forms of intercessory prayer to choose from, as the Spirit moves us, including the Rosary, an array of litanies and novenas, and works of piety to which the Church has attached the promise of an indulgence that can be gained on behalf of the souls in purgatory. Also, we are free from using any set form at all, but rather to spontaneously pour our hearts out to our Savior, and place into His hands all of our troubles and concerns - and especially the care of loved ones, both for their needs in this life, and for the life to come. For those who have died, above all we should have Masses said for them, and pray for them at the Holy Eucharist ourselves, because the Eucharist is the great prayer that most intimately unites the Church in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory. As Catechism entry 1032 puts it: "From the beginning the Church has honoured the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God."

I also received several questions about how to recite the Chaplet. A man named Tom Robertson wrote to me this interesting question:

In the interest of getting the most out of the Chaplet, I was wondering if there were meditations during each decade like there are while praying the Rosary? Do I meditate on the prayers only or meditate on the mysteries of Christ's passion?

Well, Tom, it seems to me that the Chaplet was intended primarily as a prayer of intercession, a way of opening the floodgates to the Father's mercy, so that He can pour out His merciful love upon the world through His Son. The Rosary, on the other hand, was primarily meant to be a prayer of meditation: We meditate on the joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries of Christ, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, who "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19, 52). Therefore, most of the time it is best to use the Chaplet as an extended form of intercession for mercy on oneself and on the whole world.

I find that a good way to do this when praying in private is to offer each and every bead of the Chaplet for the needs of someone or some situation known to you. For example, on one bead I will say: "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on my daughter Christina" or " on my parish priest Fr. Mario," or "on the college where I teach, Redeemer Pacific," or "on our soldiers in Iraq" - "and on the whole world." One cannot do this when the Chaplet is being recited with others (that would be to "hi-jack" a communal Chaplet for one's own personal prayer list!), but in solitude there is nothing wrong with such an adaptation, because it fits with the spirit and intention of the prayer Christ gave to us. Other people simply offer up a special intercessory intention before each decade of the Chaplet. A good way to offer up an entire Chaplet for the needs of the Church and the world is to use the Novena intentions that our Lord dictated to St. Faustina, found in entries 1209-1229 in her Diary. It is perfectly acceptable to use those Novena intentions throughout the year, as we do at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., (and not just in the nine days before Divine Mercy Sunday itself).

On the other hand, just as it is also appropriate at times to use the Rosary as an intercessory prayer (and especially as a prayer for peace, a cause that our Saviour seems to have entrusted in a special way to the prayers of His Mother, the loving Mother of us all), so we can, on occasion, use the Chaplet as a prayer of meditation on Christ's Passion. Marian Press publishes a pamphlet compiled by Br. Leonard Konopka, MIC, on praying the Chaplet while meditating on Christ's sorrowful passion. The pamphlet, Contemplate My Wounds, can be ordered on our online gift shop.

A woman named Mary recently sent me this question: "I would like to ask what is the difference between praying and chanting the Chaplet. Is chanting the Chaplet a stronger prayer than praying without chanting?"

Remember, Mary, that our Lord does not so much care about whether we chant it or say it; what He cares about is that we do so from the heart, with sincerity and devotion, and with trust in His boundless mercy. If chanting helps you do it that way, with those interior dispositions, then by all means chant it. Music can indeed warm the heart and help us to pray. Saint Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:19, "Address ... one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with all your heart." Saint Augustine wrote: "He who sings, prays twice." You can order DVDs of some beautiful, chanted versions of the Chaplet from the online gift shop.

But where chanting is not possible, or where that custom would be awkward or unfamiliar to people, the Chaplet can be prayed with just as much power by simple recitation that springs from the heart. As Jesus said to St. Faustina: "The graces of My mercy are drawn by the means of one vessel only, and that is trust" (Diary, 1578). It is "trust" above all that enables us to draw on the power of the merciful love of God through the Chaplet.

Finally, a fellow named Eugene sent me the following, tricky question about the intercessory "mechanics" of the Chaplet:

I look forward to reciting the Chaplet daily, but I only manage to recite it four or five times a day. So do I aim for as many persons as possible or do I try to pray as many chaplets per person as possible? In other words, I pray for hundreds of souls at the moment, but I get the feeling that one chaplet per soul is not nearly enough. If I pray dozens of chaplets per soul, I can only pray for a limited number of souls. Which approach is the most likely to help the poor souls the most?

Your question, Eugene, reminds me of a saying of one of the saints (I think it was St. Theresa of Avila): "The Lord does not look so much on the magnitude of the things we do, but on the love with which we do them." With that in mind, I think my advice to you would be to pray just two Chaplets per day for all the souls you want to pray for, and use one bead for each soul, as in my recommendation to Tom (above). After all, 2 Chaplets = 100 "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion" beads, and you said that you have about 100 souls that you feel led to pray for. But say the prayer on each bead slowly, with love and sincerity, mentioning the soul you are praying for by name: "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on X, and on the whole world." I will bet that the love and attention with which you offer two Chaplets this way will be of greater value to them, and more pleasing to our Lord, than many chaplets a day, offered more hurriedly, perhaps, with less attention and more distracted love.

Saint Therese of Lisieux, the "Little Flower," summed it up best: "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy" (quoted in Catechism, entry 2559).

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of The Divine Mercy. Got a question? E-mail him at [email protected].

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