“Confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives.”
This was the expressed hope of Pope St John Paul II in 2002, addressed to each and every one of us when he gave us his beautiful Apostolic Letter ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’.
St John Paul had reminded us that “a prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community”. His wish was that each and every one of us – simple people going about their daily lives, theologians teaching us in the Faith, and Bishops leading the faithful – take up the beads and pray.
His words also express a realisation that this praying with the beads had fallen away to some degree – this view will no doubt be shared by many – and that we had lost something simple, beautiful, ancient and much needed, in the process.
The beads belong not only in the hands of the dead, but in the hands – and upon the lips – of the living.
A great attraction of the Rosary is it’s sheer simplicity; it is accessible to all, whether child or adult, male of female, sinner or saint. Perhaps this very simplicity also causes some to look upon it with disdain – ‘it’s too simple! The Rosary is good only for children and old women!’. The wisdom of the Church, expressed in the voices of many, many Popes and great Saints, tells us otherwise, of course. Throughout the history of the Church, these voices have consistently advised us to pray the Rosary. In an age where ego seems to rule supreme, it takes a certain humility to take up the beads and to begin to open ourselves to the mysteries they contain.
One hundred years ago a further voice made precisely the same request. At Fatima in Portugal, the Mother of God asked the children to whom She appeared to ‘pray the Rosary every day’. She repeated this request in every single appearance there. She spoke, too, about the graces that can be obtained by the prayer of the Rosary and She went so far as to identify Herself on the final appearance with these words – ‘I am the Lady of the Rosary’.
We may choose to hear or to ignore the counsel of so many holy men and women in the history of our Church – but we would be foolish indeed to reject the explicit request of the Mother of God.
An objection to the praying of the Rosary is that is boring and repetitious. If that is our experience then it is not the Rosary which is at fault – it is how we are praying it. We have not understood how to pray it well.
Imagine going to the cinema to watch a film, only to discover there is no music soundtrack; how flat and tedious that film might appear, for the music lifts the visual aspect – it is the combination of these two which makes for a moving or exhilarating experience.
So it is with the Rosary. The vocal prayers are like the soundtrack to the film – there in the background, setting the scene, as it were; but it is the meditations upon the Mysteries which are the main feature and on which we concentrate. The prayers are the body – but the meditations are the soul which gives it life and vitality.
If you find the Rosary boring and repetitive, find yourself a good pamphlet or book which offers Rosary meditations and has good pictures of each of the Mysteries. Use these as you pray the beads. Actively think about what you are praying in each Mystery – your prayer will be transformed.
The Rosary is indeed ancient, dating back to the days of St Dominic Guzman several centuries ago. In the many years since then, however, it has often evolved in several ways, before gradually settling into the form with which we are now familiar. But in 2002, with the Apostolic Letter of St John Paul, a further notable development took place – the addition of the Luminous Mysteries.
These ‘Mysteries of Light’ add meditations on the adult life of Christ from His baptism to the institution of His gift of Himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament. Each Mystery says something of the revelation of God in Christ, of His revelation of Himself to each one of us. St John Paul tells us that “each of these Mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very Person of Jesus”.
The fruit of this revelation of Christ to us is conversion of heart – so that, like St Paul, we might one day be able to say that it is not us who live, but Christ living in us. Meeting Christ in these Mysteries of His self-revelation is a transformative process for us; His grace acts upon us and makes us new.
And so, while the Rosary is certainly ancient, it is also ever new – and these additional Mysteries give us a great deal to contemplate and on which to meditate as we pray.
Something Much Needed
All of us have need of prayer – prayer for ourselves, the prayer of others for us, and our prayer for others. Prayer is communal. St John Paul points this out to us in his Letter when he notes how the beads of the Rosary converge upon the Crucifix. Sharing a common humanity and a life of faith, all of it is centred on the Cross of Christ; like St Paul we ‘preach Christ crucified’. The Cross is the centre-point of it all. The Cross gives everything meaning; and it gives hope in the light of Faith.
The various Mysteries of the Rosary – Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious – say something of all the moments of life which we will experience. Remember – both Christ and the Blessed Virgin shared similar moments and much more. These Mysteries are like milestones along the path of our own life and they echo something of our own experience, whether happy or sad, in need of light and direction, or looking forward to eternity.
The Rosary is an intercessory prayer; it is a prayer not only for ourselves, but for those around us, those dear to us, those who hurt us, those we have lost and indeed for the entire world.
The prayer of the Rosary draws down innumerable graces from Heaven – we have the assurance of the Church, the Popes, the Saints and the Blessed Virgin herself on this truth.
In this year of the centenary of the appearances of Our Blessed Lady at Fatima, may we hear and respond to Her call to ‘pray the Rosary every day’, and so fulfil the expressed desire of St John Paul in ‘Rosarium Virginia Mariae’.
May the Rosary become a foundation and a pillar in our spiritual life, and may it lead us to the joys of Heaven.