“One thing is clear; although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately addressed, with Her and through Her.”
– St John Paul, ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’
A Rosary is a very tactile object. There is something quite soothing about feeling the beads gently slipping through the fingers, while the mind is engaged elsewhere. The prayer of the holy Rosary uses the beads to very good effect. To pray the Rosary, we generally go to a quiet place, where we can begin to settle ourselves in order to pray, and to pray as well as we are able. This is the moment at which we begin to slip the beads through our fingers, and it is the moment at which the gentle repetition of the Rosary commences.
When we are familiar with the vocal prayers and the names of each of the Mysteries, we can focus a little less on them and think a little more on the content of those Mysteries and on what it is we are actually praying. Our hands are occupied with one thing – slipping the beads as a way of counting – whilst our minds (and hopefully our hearts) are engaged in the actual praying part of the exercise – it is this meditation which is the soul of the Rosary, while the vocal part is the body. Now, we can begin to experience the gentle effects of this soothing repetition. It is not too dissimilar to being lulled to sleep by the gentle whisperings of a mother to her child.
In his ‘Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary’, entitled ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’, St John Paul spoke about the repetitive nature of the Rosary and countered any argument that it is mere ‘vain repetition’. He wrote –
“Meditation of the mysteries of Christ is proposed in the Rosary by means of a method designed to assist in their assimilation. It is a method based on repetition.. If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is quite another thing, however, when the Rosary is thought of as an outpouring of that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved, with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them.”
The Holy Father went on to add that “to understand the Rosary, one has to enter into the psychological dynamic proper to love”. In other words, it is no less meaningful than constantly telling the person we love, over and over again, ‘I love you’. The words are the same each time, but no less meaningful because of that. Every time we repeat them, they are filled with deep meaning and in that sense, they are new every time. So it is with the Rosary.
We tend to think of the Rosary as being very Marian in character and focus – and this is true, to an extent. However, there is a deeper level to praying the Rosary which we should be mindful of, and which Pope John Paul noted well –
“..Although the Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with Her and through Her. The repetition is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ, the true programme of the Christian life.. the Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness”.
Suddenly, this prayer of the Rosary, which we might once have considered to be dull and tedious, has changed; like the rock polished by the Divine Jeweller, it has now become a glittering diamond in our hands and we are beginning to appreciate it’s true value and worth. It helps us to become more Christ-llike – and this, surely, is the very goal of our spiritual lives.
Considering all of this, we might find ourselves to be a little surprised – something we had considered as mundane and repetitive (and perhaps even beneath us, in a sense), has shown itself to be far more wondrous than we had at first realised.
Pope John Paul reminds us that God communicates Himself to us through the ordinary things of life – and especially through words, actions, gestures, “respecting our human nature and it’s vital rhythms”, as he put it. He went on to add that this is also the case with the Liturgy – filled, as it is, with words, actions, gestures.
Looking back over what we have learned here from the Holy Father, we have come to see that what at first seemed repetitive and child-like is, in fact, a continual ‘outpuring of love’ which invites us to enter into ‘the dynamic of love’ – love of the Lord, Who desires that we love Him.
And we learn how best to do so through Mary and with Mary, who loved Him more than any other created being in all of Creation. The combined love of all the Saints and Angels toward the Lord, immense though that certainly is, cannot match the depth of the love of His own Mother.
And so, as St John Paul says elsewhere, we are coming to see that the Rosary really is ‘the school of Mary’, where we sit at Her feet and from Her, we learn how best to love the Lord. As each bead slips through our fingers, it represents another ‘I love You’ given to the Lord through and with His own Mother, and ours.