The Rosary is principally composed of the Prayer of Christ, the Our Father, and the Angelic Salutation, the Hail Mary. In his 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary), Pope John Paul II develops this dynamic further:
The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginning and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), “the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn.”
The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium. It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of redemptive Incarnation, which began in her virginal womb. With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty of the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary, the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer. (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 1)
I ardently testify that the Rosary is a spiritual powerhouse of prayer. Twenty-three years ago I had a profound conversion of heart through the Rosary, a reversion to the practice of the faith after seven years of spiritual mediocrity with little or no prayer. When I took up praying the Rosary it unlocked my mind and heart to an authentic experience of Jesus. The Rosary was an instrument of inner healing that helped reorient my mind to Christ so that I could leave behind the worldliness I had chosen for a time. When I began praying the Rosary daily for serious family situations, the fruit was miraculous in every case.
Never did the Rosary fail as intercessory prayer for my family as we went through a long period of intense suffering. Sometimes, it would take a year of praying the Rosary for a particular intention, but in the end the grace would come for every trial. Through the Rosary, peace and courage enabled me to carry my cross not with bitterness but rather abandonment to God. My family suffered a very heavy cross for many years but instead of being crushed by its weight, Jesus and Mary helped me trust that God would bring great good out of every suffering that is united to His Passion. The greatest solace came when I contemplated the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament. I would see that my suffering, seemingly so great, was actually small in comparison with the Lord’s Passion. I was not crushed but transformed by suffering. But I needed an arsenal of prayer: the Mass, Holy Hours (sometimes many hours before the Tabernacle) and the Rosary (prayed as often as possible). Mary taught me to keep my eyes on Christ by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, pondering the Lord’s life, death and resurrection. There is not enough room here to share all the miraculousstories that came to our family through the prayers of the Rosary!
Pope John Paul II was often seen and pictured with the Rosary in his hand. I wonder how many thousands of Rosaries he gave to the faithful who came to his papal audiences? I know many people who cherish the Rosary he gave to them! The Polish Pope continues, writing from the heart about the personal impact of the Rosary and how it ties in with his pontificate:
I myself have often encouraged the frequent recitation of the Rosary. From my youthful years this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life. I was powerfully reminded of this during my recent visit to Poland, and in particular at the Shrine of Kalwaria. The rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago, 29 October 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I frankly admitted: ‘The Rosary is my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer! Marvelous in its simplicity and its depth!… Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through—we might say—the heart of his Mother. At the same time our hearts can embrace in the decades of the Rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind; our personal concerns and those of our neighbor, especially those who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayers of the Rosary mark the rhythm of human life.”
…How many graces have I received in these from the Blessed Virgin through the Rosary: Magnificat anima mea Dominum! I wish to lift up my thanks to the Lord in the words of his Most Holy Mother, under whose protection I have placed my Petrine ministry: Totus Tuus!” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 2)
Pope John Paul II’s devotion to the rosary was deep and influential, and in 2005 was personally witnessed in a powerful way by none other than Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who we know today as Pope Francis:
If I remember well it was 1985. One evening I went to recite the Holy Rosary that was being led by the Holy Father. He was in front of everybody, on his knees. The group was numerous; I saw the Holy Father from the back and, little by little, I got lost in prayer. I was not alone: I was praying in the middle of the people of God to which I and all those there belonged, led by our Pastor.
In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his pity, his devotion was a witness. As the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice… in the same position in which knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me. I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego: “Don’t be afraid, am I not perhaps your mother?” I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope.
That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I have recited the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day.
Mary, pray for us sinners who have recourse to you. Amen.
Editor’s note: Excerpt from Kathleen’s upcoming book by Sophia Institute Press: Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization. Watch this space for more information.