Solemnity of the Most Holy Rosary
The month of October brings us to the feast of the Most Holy Rosary, celebrated on the 7th, but solemnised on this first Sunday of the month. It is an opportunity for us to reflect a bit on this prayer, which after the Mass is probably the best known of all prayers that are considered to be specifically Catholic. Up until a few decades ago, the Catholic that did not own a Rosary and pray it at least occasionally would have been an oddity indeed. After Vatican II, with a misunderstood stress on participation the liturgy, many abandoned this cherished prayer. Both Paul VI and John Paul II, however, made laudable efforts to promote the devotion and bring it back to the fore. The latter in particular, in the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, published in 2002, urged the faithful to once again take in hand Our Lady’s Rosary and rediscover its perennial value.
Pope John Paul II, who was frequently seen with his Rosary, insisted that the main reason for which we must rediscover the Rosary is that it is a path of contemplation. The Rosary leads us to contemplate the life of Christ with the unique perspective of His Mother. When we take our Rosary in hand, and begin to recite the Our Fathers and Hail Marys while turning the gaze of our heart to each of the mysteries that are there commemorated, we are entering upon a path of loving attentiveness to the mysteries of our salvation. As we say, Hail Mary, Mary turns our attention to those mysteries in which she took an active part, and which brought us salvation. The whole of the Christian life is based on the saving presence of Christ in the events which brought us salvation, and this is why any devotion that helps us take part in those events by turning our mind to understand them better and our heart to love them more, of its very nature leads us deeper into that great mystery of Christ that St Paul tells us was hidden before all ages in God but is now made manifest in Christ.
Pope John Paul II points out that Our Lady was the first to contemplate these mysteries. He writes: “The face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary” (RVM 10). Her gaze was one of tender wonder as she contemplated Him in the mysteries of his childhood; it was sometimes questioning, as when she and Joseph did not understand Our Lord’s reply at the Finding in the Temple; it would always be a penetrating gaze, capable of deeply understanding her Son, and perceiving His hidden feelings and anticipating His decisions, as at Cana; it would be also a look of sorrow, especially during the passion, and one radiant with joy on Easter Sunday.
St Luke tells us twice in the second chapter of his Gospel that Mary kept and pondered all these events in her heart. These memories of Jesus, impressed upon her maternal heart, were always with her, long after the Lord’s ascension. Those memories became the first “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.
There are of course a number of objections to the Holy Rosary. One of them is that it is a vain repetition, condemned by the Lord in the Gospel. If we believed that a mechanical repetition of the formulae were able to move God and obtain grace, that would be true. It is true of any prayer that is said with the lips, while the heart is elsewhere. But if we turn our mind to what we are saying, especially if the gaze of our heart goes to the mystery we are contemplating, then the repetition, far from being vain, serves to give tempo and rhythm to our prayer. The modulations of our voice, the movement of our lips, the fingers sliding over the beads, allow our entire body to enter into the prayer, which is a portal of entry into the mystery of God Himself. We can thus see that the Rosary is a truly contemplative prayer. It calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the soul meditate on the mysteries of the Lord through the eyes of His Mother.
Another objection is that our Protestant friends find it idolatrous. They say that we worship Mary instead of trusting in the Blood of Jesus and our faith in Him. If we did worship Mary as a goddess and if we did not trust in the Blood of Jesus and have faith in Him, then they would be right. But the truth of the matter is that far from worshipping Mary, we side with her in adoring Christ Our Lord in His mysteries. As we contemplate the Blood of Jesus streaming down from His pierced hands and feet, we know that same Blood which purifies us of our sins, purified Our Lady in advance, preventing her from ever being touched by sin. No, on the contrary, since the Rosary is nothing but a summary of the Holy Gospel, it should actually help us reach out to our Protestant friends. They too should not be afraid to learn it, for it is 100% taken from the Gospel which they so love.
Finally, some suggest that we don’t need the Rosary since we have rediscovered the value of the liturgy. This would be true if the Rosary rivalled with the liturgy, proposing a parallel path to God. But on the contrary, the mysteries of Our Lord, for the very precise reason that they are centred upon the Divine and Eternal Person of the Word, do not pass away like other events. They remain ever in Christ, who is with His Church. The place par excellence in which these mysteries are encountered is indeed the sacred liturgy. But the Rosary, far from entering into conflict with the liturgy, actually sustains the liturgy, since it serves as an excellent introduction to it and a faithful echo of it, for it enables the faithful to participate more fully and interiorly in the liturgy and to reap its fruits in their daily lives. So a question: is it acceptable to say the Rosary during Mass? We can answer that question with another: what is the Mass, and what is the Rosary? The Mass is the presence of the greatest mystery of our faith, the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord; it is the reenactment of that mystery, and in a way, the reenactment of all the mysteries of the Incarnate Word. The Rosary is a privileged way of entering into the spirit of those mysteries. Now, while it would not be proper to pray the Rosary and pay no attention to what is going on at the altar, it can be very helpful and beneficial to make use of the Rosary to unite with those mysteries, especially during the offertory, Canon and Communion. No one, more than Our Lady, can introduce us into the secret of what takes place there. In her company we are assured of attending Mass in a spirit of reverence and devotion.
A final objection would be that the Rosary is for weak souls who cannot take in the more substantial fare of the liturgy and the Psalms. While it is true that an attentive participation in the Psalms requires more effort, it is also true that in the spiritual life, we remain forever like little children. The child, when it senses danger or has any need, turns instinctively to Mother, it reaches out for Mother’s hand; if she is near, all is well. So it is for us. Let us turn frequently to the Mother of God, who is also our Mother. Let us stretch out our hand to her, and take hold of her soft, loving, but strong maternal hand. There are times when we are tired and distracted, and it is hard to be attentive even to the Rosary. On those days, the simple gesture of taking hold of our beads is a means of holding Our Lady’s hand. We can go for a walk with her, letting her comfort us as we walk along and say to her over and over again how much we love her and how grateful we are that she is there and she is our mother.
The Rosary, with all its charm and capacity to lead us to the heights of contemplation, is also our most powerful weapon. Numerous times in history, the Church has been spared disasters thanks to the recitation of the Holy Rosary. The feast of the Holy Rosary on 7 October commemorates the great naval victory of the Christian fleet over the Turk at Lepanto, miraculous victory which spared Europe being overtaken by the Muslims in the 16th century. A century later, at Vienna, Austria, John Sobieski, king of Poland, led his troops to a similar victory over the Ottoman Turks in response to intense prayer to Our Lady. The annals of our history are replete with miracles of grace, in both the natural and supernatural orders, obtained thanks to the intercession of the Virgo Potens, the Most-Powerful Virgin Mother of God. At Fatima, a century ago, Our Lady once again asked that all recite the Rosary, promising that if enough people did so, there would be world peace.
As our world distances itself more and more from the Creator, as it falls more and more for the great lie that man can determine his own fate and remake the world according to his whims, as it enters into ever greater opposition to Christ and His Church, more than ever we need our Mother. Let us turn to her with renewed confidence. Let us never tire of taking our Rosary in hand, knowing that when we do so, we have all the power of God with us, and no enemy can resist. Give it a try. Pray the Rosary. Pray it together as a family. Pray it on your own. Pray it when you are sad, when you feel joy. Pray it when you need light and strength. Forget not your Mother. She knows the way to Christ. With Her as guide, you will arrive at the eternal port.