The Memento Mori Rosary

A meditative prayer by Fr Sam McNally-Cross

Memento Mori – Remember, you shall die.


This is quite a personal post for me to write, but it is something that I have been gradually putting together over the past few months, maybe even a year or so. A few Christmases ago I was at the doctors seeking help for a mental health condition of severe health anxiety. Hypochondria, once called, has been reclassified in more recent years as a legitimate mental health condition that can include physical as well as psychosomatic symptoms. Mine manifest in a crippling fear of death, belief that I had terminal bowel cancer and obsessive ‘checking’ behaviour. The only thing that seemed to help was having blood tests to rule out anything sinister occurring in my body. It stopped me sleeping, I fluctuated in weight dramatically as I went from overindulging to starving myself, scared of any change in my body. There were days I could focus on nothing else. I tried various talking therapy and medication. Nothing seemed to be working. I then decided to, along with other therapy and medication to try the Christian practice of Memento Mori and face my fear head on, to rob it of its power over me and therefore weaken its grip on my mental state and allow me to achieve some balance. I took my favourite repetitive prayer devotion, the Holy Rosary, and adapted it to be focused on Memento Mori, literally, Remember you shall die. Below is the outline and the reflections that I have developed and written for use.

I no longer suffer from Health Anxiety.

The Memento Mori Rosary – By Fr Sam McNally-Cross

On the Cross – say the Apostles Creed
1st Bead – Our Father
2nd, 3rd and 4th Bead – Hail Mary
5th Bead – Glory Be

First Mystery – Death enters the world (The Punishment of Mankind)
Genesis 3:16-19 (NRSV)
16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The Dominion of Death crept into the world through the deceit of the Prince of Lies, Satan, and in doing so he created a new natural order, not what God had envision, chosen and created for His people. The fall of Adam and Eve ushered in mortality for their sin could not remain unpunished. In sorrow God expelled them from the garden, increased their pain in childbirth, caused their toiling of the ground until eventually they would return to it, their bodies ravaged by disease, injury and age, a curse that would be at the doors of their children’s children’s children ad infinitum. Whilst this may seem a victory for darkness, it will be short lived and his celebrations will be premature, for the Messiah will come.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer followed by 10 Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be.

Second Mystery – The Flood (Mankind is Destroyed)
Genesis 6:3, 5-8 (NRSV)
3 Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

The continued evil of humanity drove us further from God. No longer was expulsion from paradise enough, the years on earth were shortened, mortality came with haste and the years no longer stretched far into the future. Humankind had lost their way and there was no desire to seek union with God, no willingness to repent, and so the Spirit of the Lord left mankind and reduced the years of life. But more, the anger of the Lord was kindled against His creation and, save for Noah the Righteous and his offspring and their wives, all life was wiped out on the face of the earth. The Lord showed His power over life and death, that He can give and He can take away. Yet, this was not to be the end. The seed of new life remained in Noah and his lineage, and, The Messiah is coming.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer followed by 10 Hail Mary’s and the Glory Be

Third Mystery – The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Psalm 23 (NRSV) 
1The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; 2 he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The shadow of death is cast long over our lives, and there is an inevitability to our mortality, from the moment of our birth as our body ages and we grow, we are also decaying, and we will end as we began – small, weak, delicate and relying upon the assistance of others. Yet, in our journey toward the grave we are not deserted, though we inherit the blight from our ancestors God has not left us alone. He draws close in the darkness, raises us to exalted heights and prepares a table for us. Our death does not prevent us from entering His presence. Our Christian life prepares us not simply to live, but to die well and come to Him. Our Creator and our God. The Messiah is coming.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer followed by 10 Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be

Fourth Mystery – The Death of Lazarus
John 11:11-16 (NRSV)

11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, is gravely ill and then dies. Our Lord speaks of the young man as being asleep and He is going to wake Him, the disciples do not comprehend and urge their master to leave him be and allow him to wake naturally. But Jesus tells them plainly that Lazarus is dead. The causal way in which the Lord approaches the death of Lazarus is not because he is uncaring, quite the contrary, for He wept at the grave of His friend, He is, however, dismissive of the power of death, for in his presence it has no power. With a word Lazarus rises, when he is called he responds to the voice of the Christ and comes back from death. The Messiah is here.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer followed by 10 Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be

Fifth Mystery – The Death of Jesus
Matthew 27:45-50 (NRSV)
45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

It seems as though the Prince of Lies has gained the ultimate victory. The Baptist is dead, the Apostles are scared and scattered, the betrayer has taken his life and now the Christ is nailed to the tree, crying out that God has abandoned Him, mocked by the crowds that He cannot save Himself. And yet in this action the saving power of God is enacted, the salvation for humanity is being hard one. The death of the Lord on Golgotha, the place of the skull, is not the end of the story, it is only the beginning for Hell shall be harrowed, the Saints shall be saved, life will be made new. The deceiver cannot outmanoeuvre Him and death cannot hold Him. Hell cannot stop Him and the mocking cannot touch Him. The Messiah is here, He is dead, but He will rise in glory.

Pray The Lord’s Prayer followed by 10 Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be

Final Prayer (Fr Sam McNally-Cross)
Lord, take my life
However long or short it may be
If it is lived in health or endured in sickness,
May I be nothing more than a steward
of the mortality you have given me.
May I be worthy of the immortality that awaits me.
I shall cling to the cross of Christ,
and honour His sacrifice,
and praise His holy name.

The Anima Christi
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever.

Published by SJMC

Parish Priest - Catholic Anglican - Aspiring Contemplative - Writer of poems.

7 thoughts on “The Memento Mori Rosary

  1. I am so sorry to hear about your trials with mental health issues and thankful that you have overcome these fears. I have started haltingly to use the rosary you sent but still need to make a habit of it. This post reminded me that when I was much younger I used to say the 23rd Psalm when I was afraid. The repetition of the words gave me comfort then and now.


  2. Thank you very much for this new form of the Rosary. When I was first diagnosed with HIV, a friend sent me The Way of the Cross for people living with HIV and AIDS. I didn’t find it very helpful at that point, but it did for a while since. Sometimes, I think I should have a go at writing something about this myself.


  3. Fr. Sam, I have never been afraid to die. When Cancer struck a few yrs ago my response was that of the psalmist “even tho he slay me, yet shall I trust him.” However, I find this rosary speaks to me and I should like to have one please. I love the fact you end it with the Anima Christi. For many years I prayed that prayer every morning as I put on my crucifix or Benedictine medal after dressing. When I take my vows and feel privileged to wear my medal once more, I shall begin the practice again.


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