To linger in the domain of Mary is a divinely great thing. One does not ask about the utility of truly noble things, because they have their meaning within themselves. So it is of infinite meaning to draw a deep breath of this purity, to be secure in the peace of this union with God.
With this we come back to what we said in the beginning. Man needs a place of holy tranquility that the breath of God pervades and where he meets the great figures of the Faith. This place is the inaccessibility of God Himself, which only Christ opens to man.
All prayer begins by man becoming silent — recollecting his scattered thoughts, feeling remorse at his trespasses, and directing his thoughts toward God. If man does all this, this place is thrown open, not only as a domain of spiritual tranquillity and mental concentration, but as something that comes from God.
For this reason the Rosary is so important in times like ours — assuming, of course, that all slackness and exaggeration are done away with, and that it is used in its clear and original forcefulness. This is all the more important because the Rosary does not require any special preparation, and the petitioner does not need to generate thoughts of which he is not capable at the moment or at any other time. Rather, he steps into a well-ordered world, meets familiar images, and finds roads that lead him to the essential.
The Christian heart has always known Mary as the essence of compassion and love, to whom men can turn with particular and unreserved confidence. This is expressed so well by the intimate name that was given her from the beginning: the name of mother. When Christian hearts begin to beat, they know that Mary is theirs because she is the mother of Christ. The same maternal mystery in her surrounds Christ, “the firstborn among many brethren,” and us. Christians have at all times carried their petitions to Mary with the conviction that they were doing right.
There is something stupendous in the profusion of human petitions that find expression in the Hail Mary: that she may intercede for us “now and at the hour of our death.” There is no naming of details. Every human need is included, and we all employ the same words to portray our misery.
To this we must add something else. To say the Rosary correctly is not easy, and I must ask the reader not to dwell on single words but to strive to find their right meaning.
The Apostle Paul speaks in his letters again and again of an ultimate mystery of Christian existence: namely, that Christ dwells “in us.” “It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me,” he says in his message to the Galatians. He exhorts us to be faithful and vigilant, “until Christ is formed in you.” He sees the significance of Christian growth in “the deep knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ,” and in “becoming conformed to the image of His Son, that He should be the firstborn among many brethren.”
This, in the first place, is an expression of the unity of faith and the communion of grace, just as one may say of a person that a venerated model lives in him. But there is more significance to this, more from a human standpoint: namely, a communion that surpasses the joint indwelling of grace and mercy, of conviction and loyal allegiance; a participation in the reality of Christ that cannot be felt deeply enough. There is more significance also in the eyes of God; and we only rightly value the meaning of these words if we seek to understand what they mean to God.
God loves man. We say and hear this again and again. But it seems that this message is not always understood in its whole gravity. For it means not only that God is kindly disposed to man, that He pardons his sins, gives him the strength to lead a virtuous life, and leads him toward that likeness to God which is the meaning of creation. Surely all of this must not be treated with disdain. It should be enough and more than enough, and, anyway, it would be senseless in this case to lay such things on a scale. But we see that it is not enough when we use the measurements that God Himself has placed in our hands: namely, what He has done for His love’s sake.
God has taken the task of atoning for our sins upon Himself; in the human nature which He assumed, He became man, remained man, and keeps the human form eternally. We must put an end to the attitude of taking it for granted when we hear and accept all this.
Here must be found a motive in action that concerns God Himself, and we can only express it by saying that His love must have meant fate for Him from the beginning. The word is uncommon, but I do not find a better one; so I must ask the reader to try and understand what is meant by it.
This same God has loved man from the start, and loved him in divine truth. So man’s commissions and omissions are not consummated “beneath” God, so to speak, and pursued by Him with the eyes of affection but still as something that does not concern Him. Loving man, God has in a way allowed man’s fate to touch His heart. He has united His honor — the honor of a loving Creator — with the salvation of His creature in such a manner that whatever happens to this creature becomes His own fate.
Again, one might object that no creature by virtue of his own power can have any significance in the eyes of God, least of all man who sins and becomes God’s contradiction. One might object that God’s love can find no worthy object, being a consummate motive in itself. That is very true! No creature can, of his own power, draw down God’s love upon himself, because the creature has nothing to offer of his own. Whatever he has and is, he has from God. But he has it very truly from Him — and that establishes its validity before Him. Otherwise, what could it mean that God Himself, looking at His work of creation, declared with mounting emphasis that all He had made was “good.” It was indeed “good”; in fact, it was “very good” in His eyes.
Here begins the self-investment of the honor of a loving Creator of which we spoke before. It continues when it is said of man that he was created in God’s image, for this means that God has placed the honor of His own image into man; and as His motive was love, it further means that He is now united with this man in a manner that cannot be compared to a loving union on the human plane. This self-investment grows deeper and more inexorable with the advent of God into the course of sacred history, with the covenant He formed with man, and with the revelation of His holy truth and decrees — up to the event of the Incarnation, a deed that burst asunder all and every earthly scale.
To be of real importance to Him is a gift God gave to man. It is the beginning of His love. There must be a mysterious longing for man in God. In the eyes of the infinite Eternal, in the eyes of the Lord who is and possesses all, man must be very precious, and God wants to have a share of him.
This is the mystery to which the spiritual masters refer when they speak of God’s birth in man. God not only strives to be man’s helper and guardian, as He is with all that has being, but to have a share in his existence, to enter it, transfer Himself into it, to become the Son of Man. This happened, once and for all, in the Incarnation of the Son of God. Christ’s life is the essential and substantial fulfillment of God’s love expressed to man.
No one is dispensable, for every one exists only once, and God loves man so much that He wants to renew the mystery of the Incarnation in every one of us. To become a true believer means to receive the risen Christ within us. To live the life of faith is to make room for Him, so that He may express Himself and grow within oneself.
Faith is finally fulfilled when Christ penetrates a man’s being and becomes his one and all. The life of Christ is the theme that is given and carried out in every man anew. More and more Christ enters into his life, and God in Christ; evermore man’s human side is led across to Christ, and through Christ to God.
In this manner the new man is created, in whom the Lord lives again, in whom God sates His love. Through this, man becomes what God wants him to be. The Rosary conforms to this mystery. What happened in Mary does not concern us at a holy distance, but fashions for us the unique, unattainable, and yet primal form of what should take place in the life of every Christian: the “taking shape” of the eternal Son of God in the life of the man of faith.
When that man meets the figures that make up the cast of the Rosary, he comes close to the primal form of this proceeding, and the hidden spark in him is ignited. Not consciously, so that he desires this and does that; but by seeing and pausing, by praising and imploring in the surroundings of Mary, the mystery of a Christian life is roused and awakened. It is called forth, it breathes, it grows, and it expands.
Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from a chapter in Fr. Guardini’s The Rosary of Our Lady which is available from Sophia Institute Press.