When I ponder what it means for Mary to be the mother of God incarnate, one of the most astounding aspects is the role she played in shaping Jesus’s human prayer. Yes, in the heights of His soul Jesus beheld the Father as clearly as the angels in heaven; but as a child, “He learns the formulas of prayer from his mother. . .He learns to pray in the words and rhythms of the prayer of his people” (CCC 2599). When Jesus entrusted the Church to Mary at the Cross (Jn. 19:26-27; Rev. 12:17), He extended her motherhood to His entire Mystical Body. She became, in an utterly unique way (next to her Son, of course), the Church’s great instructor in prayer. I think we see this most especially in the Rosary, and the way it mirrors the prayer times Mary and Jesus shared as devout Jews.
As faithful Jews, Jesus and Mary stopped three times each day to pray together. They recited Israel’s creed, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. . . .” (Deut. 6:4–9, 11:13–21; Num. 15:37–41). They also prayed the Eighteen Benedictions, a beautiful, comprehensive tapestry of praise and petition. And between those times of prayer, as Mary went about the business of the day, she pondered the words of the Torah and the Prophets that she had heard in the synagogue and discussed with Jesus and Joseph. Through her meditation the Holy Spirit planted the words of Scripture so deeply in Mary’s heart that they naturally permeated her spontaneous prayer (see 1 Sam. 2:1-8 and Lk. 1:46-55) Most importantly, Mary’s heart was fixed upon her Son’s every word and action, contemplating the divine condescension to which she was exposed on a daily basis and how the covenants with Abraham, Moses and David were all reaching their fulfillment in Jesus. Mary’s prayer, so intimately united to the prayer of her Son, is the most beautiful imaginable – and that is what the Holy Spirit wants to give you and me in the Rosary!
You see, in the New Covenant, the magnificent prayer of God’s people has been brought to new heights. Jesus commanded His disciples to pray the Our Father. Its seven petitions encapsulate all others – the Eighteen Benedictions included (CCC 2767). And when it is prayed slowly, with the proper awe and love expressed in the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” it can encapsulate all blessing and thanksgiving as well. Further, the revelation of God’s oneness constantly confessed by the Jewish people in the Shema, has been completed by Jesus’ revelation of the Trinity and our confession of it in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and our making the Sign of the Cross (the Creed in miniature) each time we prayer. All of this, and more, is present when we pray the Rosary.
We also join Mary’s contemplation of her Son – contemplating Him in the light of Scripture. We invoke her intercession, softly praying the words of Scripture (the Hail Mary – Lk. 1:28, 42-43), as we mediate upon the mysteries of her and Jesus’ lives, narrated in the gospels. As we think and rethink the evangelists’ inspired words, the Holy Spirit blesses us with deeper understanding of their significance and calls us, as He did Mary, to ever more profound discipleship. We complete our meditation on each mystery with the Glory Be – even more Scripture (Lk. 2:14; Matt. 28:19; Rev. 1:8). It’s such an amazing reflection of our Lady’s prayer life!
Pope St. John Paul II called Mary’s meditation, “the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life;” and he invited us to join her: “With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 11; 1). Is it any wonder that when our Blessed Mother has been sent to earth – as at Lourdes and Fatima – she beseeches us to pray the Rosary? It is one of the most important ways she nourishes and instructs the children entrusted to her by Jesus, at the Cross. It is one of the main ways she cooperates with the Holy Spirit to mother the Body as she did our Head!
This article was adapted from Shane Kapler’s book, Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own (Angelico Press, 2014).