Kitchen Catechism: Featured Articles


by Lois Donahue

("A Woman's Rosary" was published by Liguori Press in 1995. Its insightful, loving words, written by our own Lois Donahue, are meant to bring the message of Mary closer to women of today. Many thousands of women have read it in booklet form and now Lois has obtained permission to put it up on's Website. We will put the first mystery up in May and then one each month thereafter. Following is the Introduction and the beginning prayer).


Centuries ago, even before the 1500s when they evolved into the form we recognize today, the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries were as much a part of our rosary as the beads and vocal prayers themselves.

These fifteen Jesus/Mary moments plucked from salvation history form our meditation thoughts as surely as our lips shape our prayer words. They remain the inspirational core of this popular Marian devotion.

However, the church recognizes that sometimes we need other thought-guides for meditation, times when we desperately want to look toward heaven but seem helplessly locked into looking straight ahead at now. The American bishops addressed this need in 1973 in a pastoral letter entitled Behold Your Mother: Woman of Faith when they wrote "...we can freely experiment. New sets of mysteries are possible." These words of reassurance validated my search for a Mary that I could not find in the traditional mysteries.

I used to feel guilty when my thoughts were locked into my now, when they wandered when I tried to pray the rosary. These weren't my usual momentary distractions: forgetting that the Ascension was the second glorious mystery because I wondered if I had enough gas in the car to drive my neighbor to work, or replacing Annunciation thoughts with concerns about my teenage son off somewhere on his motorcycle. No my uneasiness stemmed from something else. I felt "unconnected."

I tried to get back on track, tried to concentrate. I thought about Mary and Jesus, said the familiar prayers. But I still didn't experience what I yearned to feel. I reminded myself that feeling wasn't essential to prayer. Then I remembered, "God created me a human being and feeling is part of being human." I wanted so much to feel something each time I prayed my rosary.

I wondered if Mary yearned for "connectedness"when she prayed. I thought about Mary and about me: how God created us human, how we shared so much in common despite our vastly different circumstances. She had no car, but she certainly did favors for her friends and neighbors. I had no son conversing with teachers at a temple, but I experienced anxiety when he wasn't where I expected him to be.

I had reflected on similar images before: Mary living in her village neighborhood, cooking and sewing, laughing and crying, worrying and wondering, spending most of her life doing ordinary things, but I hadn't thought about her in this way for a long time. Suddenly, I realized I needed to think this way again, to get back in touch with the "like me" Mary. I hadn't really been out of touch when I said my rosary, but the traditional mysteries connected me to her during the special events in her life, the great history-altering, faith-essential moments. Occasionally, I needed to connect with Mary during her everyday moments, those moments more like mine.

However, needs are not satisfied in an instant. Many times during my search for the human Mary, my meditations shifted into neutral and I merely coasted along on my beads-"Hail Mary...Hail Mary...Hail Mary." Words, repetitive prayer words. But when our searching companion is prayer, we find what we seek. I found contentment with my rosary and a sense of connectedness. I reestablished ties and began once more to communicate intimately with a special woman, wife, mother, neighbor, and friend. This new focus became the "five human mysteries."

Preface: As you begin to walk this unfamiliar prayer path, remember that with this set of mysteries, as with the traditional ones you already know, only the titles remain fixed. We are the ones who ultimately and very personally choose the thoughts and nurture the feelings that guide our meditation. Thus the reflections I offer for each mystery are intended to serve as heart and mind openers, as a bridge from "my" Mary to "your" Mary.

Because we are different from each other, our views of Mary will be different. Certainly, Elizabeth of the Visitation knew a quite different Mary than Juan Diego of Guadalupe. The young girl chosen to crown Mary during the month of May has her Mary. The priest who teaches the homily on the feast of the Immaculate Conception will introduce us to his Mary. The aging woman in the convalescent home with her scapular pinned to her nightgown and the businessman with a rosary deep in his pocket have their Marys. A sculptor chips away to find his Mary and the scholar searches manuscripts for her Mary. Our Mary depends on who we are, where we are, and what we need our Mary to be.

How we relate to Mary today may not be the same way we did years, months, or even days ago. She hasn't changed; we have! How we relate to Mary on a day-to-day basis will be reflected in our prayer life. Therefore, bring to each human mystery those thoughts which come from your moment of prayer, your life experience, your faith, and your Mary. Treat the prayers that follow each meditation in the same way-use them if they are helpful but don't consider them a "must".

Finally, remember that the rosary, whatever mysteries we use, is a beloved and time-honored devotion to Mary. However, it is intended primarily to establish and strengthen our relationship with Jesus: Mary would want it no other way.


Beginning Prayer:

Dear Mary, this seems to be a time when I need your humanness. I need your heart to beat and your flesh to feel, your lips to move and your eyes to see, your feet to touch the ground and your arms to hold a child. Just as God chose to create you human and through your humanity to send his divine Son, may my remembrances of your humanity draw me closer to Jesus, to know him better and to love him more.

The First Human Mystery:

Mary the Woman

It isn't easy trying to isolate the woman in you, Mary.  You are woman in all that you are and all that you do.  Nevertheless I need to try, because unless I know you as a woman, I won't really know you at all.  Where do I begin?  Maybe with the word woman itself.

God first called you that, didn't he?  He said to the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman" (Genesis 3:15).  That doesn't help much.  Woman is such an impersonal word, like calling an owl "bird" or a Great Dane "dog."  If only he had been more explicit.

You were called "woman" at Cana, too, when your son  asked, "Woman, how does your concern affect me?" (John 2:4).  Again so nondescriptive, so impersonal, so devoid of any emotional dimensions.

   Later, on that first Good Friday, Jesus spoke from his cross, "Woman, behold, your son" (John 19:26).  Once again, woman.  What is the significance of woman?  Why did God's Word refer to you simply as "woman"?

   There may be many reasons.  And I'm certain, Mary, I could find a logical explanation from scholars familiar with your culture and its vocabulary, but I don' think logic is what I want.  Something tells me to go with feelings, and I think calling you "woman" may have been God's way of reminding you and me and every other woman that we are identifiable first and foremost as daughters of God.  Female.


At that moment in time when I became me,
God breathed into this body a soul;
With purpose and love was my destiny set:
"She is woman; let that be her role."

No role to be played on a limited stage,
Nor rewritten to mimic a man,
But fashioned in fiber to deal with God's world
As only a woman can.

So let me think as a woman, feel as a woman,
Love as a woman, and seek,
With man, the crossed pathways to heaven,
Leaving footprints distinctly unique.

   You know, Mary sometimes it's very confusing being a woman today.  Everywhere I turn someone is
    redefining the word woman according to what we are rather than who we are.  Can't people see that
    whether we are single or married; whether our ethnicity, cultural backgrounds, or religious
    preferences are the same or different; whether we chose to scrub floors, run companies, or do both,
   we are women.  God wants this common bond of woman to draw us together rather than drive us
   apart.  Please pray for us all because I think each of us is trying so very hard to be the kind of woman
   that God wants us to be.

The Second Human Mystery:

Mary the Wife

The first time Scripture introduces you by name, Mary, is when Matthew refers to you as a wife: "Mary...Joseph her husband" (Matthew 1:18-19).

Although your marriage was probably arranged by family, I am convinced that you and Joseph were in love.  That is why, when I think of you as wife, I remember when that love was tested, when you told Joseph that you were "with child" (Matthew 1:18).  Whether you tried to explain before or after that disclosure, the moment itself must have been devastating for both of you. 

How you must have hoped he would understand.  But he didn't, did he?  I have no way of knowing what he did; I can be fairly certain the night that followed must have seemed endless for you.  Joseph was gone.  Your world was shattered.  You must have spent a long and agonizing night of prayer and tears:  prayer because you would have turned to God to provide reassurance, tears because your humanity felt the pain.

The next day brought an answer to those prayers.  Joseph returned, no doubt told you what he dreamed, how he loved you, how much he regretted not believing you.  Your world was whole again.  Pregnant with Jesus, you went to Joseph's house to complete the Jewish marriage ceremony and to become "wife".  Because God chose to have his Son Incarnate present on your wedding day, I'd like to believe that you were part of the very first step he took toward elevating marriage to a sacrament.


He watched the fading sunset;

                                                     She nestled by his side.
                                                     They spoke of love
                                                        of theirs, of God's--
                                                     He drew her close with pride.

                                                     He had no thoughts of Egypt'
                                                     She'd not felt Simeon's sword.
                                                     The chosen man of Naz'reth
                                                     Kissed the handmaid of the Lord.


   Mary, I'm sure that you and Joseph didn't
   always agree, didn't always perceive things
   in the same way.  But I'm equally sure that
   at those times, with God's help, you were
   able to know whether he expected you, as a
   wife, to accept graciously, confront kindly,
   or compromise honestly.  When I don't
   agree with others, Mary, I am not always
   certain what God wants me to do.  Please
   ask the Holy Spirit to guide me

The Third Human Mystery:

Mary the Mother

Even under your title ""mother" there are different ways to think of you, Mary.

One is as my mother because I first learned to turn to you on that personal level when I was young.  Whenever, for whatever reason, I felt bereft of a mother, you were there to fill that emotional void, to listen, to comfort, to love.

Approaching you as a mother may seem a bit less personal.  Yet how many, many times you have given me the feeling of understanding and support which can only come from someone who has known the joy, pride, hurt, loneliness, and everything else that goes with being a mother.

However, Mary, when I think of you as mother it is usually as his mother.  Whether through the eyes and emotions of my childhood, my adulthood, or any stages in between, no nativity scene is complete
without you kneeling beside his manger.  The Way of the Cross is incomplete unless you meet him at the fourth station or stand at the foot of his cross.  I know you encountered him resurrected, stood gazing upward as he ascended, heard the wind when he sent his Spirit.  Even now, when you appear, you come as his messenger.

Mary, no matter why or when I turn to you as mother, I always know I am talking to the extraordinary woman chosen to be Jesus' mother and the mother of us all. 


                                                 The night wore silence reverently,
                                                 Sweet mystery filled the air
                                                 As Mary held the newborn child
                                                 Whom she'd been asked to bear.

                                                 Flesh of her flesh and yet divine,
                                                 Redeemer sent for all;
                                                 So powerful, yet so helpless, he;
                                                 So majestic, yet so small.

                                                "I know in faith you're God," she said,
                                                "And yet, my precious one,
                                                 Within my heart you'll ever be,
                                                 Before all else, my son."

   The great joys of motherhood also come with demands and responsibilities, don't they, Mary?  When
   do I say "Yes" and when do I say "No"?  When should I stand firm and when should I be flexible?
   When should I protect and when should I let go?  Please, Mary, when you speak to the one who calls
   you Mother, ask him to help this mother and all mothers.

The Fourth Human Mystery:

Mary the Neighbor

Living in the small village of Nazareth, "neighboring" must have been a way of life for you, Mary.  You had no hospital, fire department, convalescent home, or childcare center.  You had  to rely on your neighbors and they on you.  But beyond this kind of survival neighboring there must have been more; you must have developed a precious camaraderie among yourselves.  Neighbors are people and you were undeniably a people person.

I can easily imagine you visiting with the other women around the well; taking neighborhood children for a walk or on a picnic; bringing a gift to a new baby, a surprise to a housebound convalescent, food to a family in need.  These were the lessons of neighborliness you taught Jesus during his youth.  And he learned well, Mary.

He had pity on the hungry crowd and fed them.  He responded to the widow's grief and restored life to her son.  In his Good Samaritan parable, he taught us what you had taught him through your example good neighbors care.  He ranked loving my neighbors second only to loving my God.

But being a neighbor has painful demands, doesn't it, Mary?  You must have reached out to the families of disciples, helping those who did not understand but nevertheless had to deal with disruptive
consequences when loved ones left to follow your son.  You must have shared their grief as you tried to console Judas' bewildered family and friends after he betrayed Jesus and died so tragically.

How well you understand that being a woman for others is not always easy.


I gasped when I saw his thorn-crowned

                                                      A stranger took my hand.
                                              As I quietly wept at the foot of his cross,
                                                     A young man helped me stand.
                                             When my son cried out to his God in
                                                   She knelt with me to pray.
                                              And that sleepless night someone who
                                                   Gave me a place to stay.
                                              He taught them to love their neighbor,
                                              Whoever it might be,
                                              And the day he died, their neighbor
                                              Just happened to be ME.

I often forget how all encompassing is
   God's definition of neighbor.  Rarely do I
   think of people like my cousin or my aunt,
   my sister or my grandparents, as neightor,
   yet Jesus included everyone in the second
   great commandment.  He was quite clear
   about who qualifies as neighbor.  So Mary,
   when I forget or neglect to include family in
   my efforts to love others as I love myself,
   please remind me.

The Fifth Human Mystery:

Mary the Friend

In my earlier conversations with you, Mary, I've gone back: to your neighborhood, your time, getting to know you, imagining you sweeping the floor and walking in the rain.  But I feel your presence most in my everday now where you've become my any-time, any-place friend.

Sometimes you're my friend who is simply here, listening and understanding.  You listen to my talk-thoughts as I wonder or worry or when I can't sleep.  At other times, when my funny bone twitches, we share bits of wordless humor.  And how often we've silently delighted together in one of nature's camera-quick, postcard-pretty glimpses.

Yet I'm still unable to express the essence of you, probably because friend is a heart word, not a head word.  I can't explain heart words, can't describe or define them, can't even draw pictures of them.  Heart words just are


                                                  We are friends in a faith-world
                                                     of silence,
                                                  Never once have we met face to face;
                                                 But we stroll through Tradition
                                                   and Scripture,
                                                 And we talk in a prayer-private place.

                                                We're so different in times
                                                   and in culture,
                                                And have walked here
                                                  on world-apart sod.
                                               But our friendship's not rooted
                                                  in difference--
                                               We are friends in the sameness of God.

   How often, Mary, have I implored you to
   join me when I've pleaded for something.
   Once again I ask you to join me, but this
   time I want to say "Thank you." I want to
   humbly tell God how I appreciate the many
   blessings he has given me.  Please let him
   know how I am especially grateful for each
   and every friend who has or ever will touch
   my life.

Closing Prayer:
   I must go now, Mary, to return to the now
   of my vocation, but I leave confident of
   your presence, your understanding, and
   your love.  I'll be back.

   "Oh Blessed Mother," a teenager prayed,
   "I'm not married, yet pregnant,
      and so afraid."
   The Queen of Angels shed a tear--
   As a girl in Nazareth
     she'd known that fear.

   An only child and a mother's cry:
   "Mary, O Mary, why must he die?"
   The Mother of Jesus felt her pain,
   Reliving Golgotha once again.

   A lonely widow whispered low,
   "Oh, dear Mary, I miss him so."
   Our Lady of Sorrows touched her hand:
   "I lost my Joseph, I understand."

   Women's heartaches, women's fears
   Rise to heaven where a woman hears.

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