Book Review: The Eucharist and the Rosary

Originality — I know, the last word you were expecting me to use for a book about the Eucharist and the Rosary, but that is what Matt Swaim delivers.  I am not aware of another work that uses the twenty mysteries of the Rosary to zero-in on specific elements of the Mass.  I love both and have written on both; but this book made new connections for me between Scripture and the Mass — insights that emerged for Swaim while meditating upon the mysteries of the Rosary — that I couldn’t wait to share with friends.

Allow me to back up.  Matt Swaim, if you aren’t yet familiar with him, is the producer of EWTN Radio’s popular Son Rise Morning Show.  Each morning, he and host Brian Patrick help thousands of us re-orient ourselves to the Lord and stay abreast of the wealth of resources we can draw upon as members of His Church.  And talk about hitting the ground running – all of this from a young man who entered the Catholic Church only five years ago!  Given his track record, I suspect that The Eucharist and the Rosary: Mystery, Meditation, Power, Prayer will prove to be only the first of many insightful books.

Following a brief introduction, the book takes us immediately into the Joyful Mysteries – each individual mystery receiving a chapter, followed by reflection questions appropriate to an individual or group. The book proceeds in this manner through the Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries — using the reflective, Scriptural powerhouse that is the Rosary to illuminate the Mass as our entry into Jesus’ Paschal Mystery.  Take Swaim’s reflection on the Second Glorious Mystery, Jesus’ Ascension:

At the beginning of Mass the priest processes from the back of the Church to the  front of the Church.  But the priest also makes a journey, one which elevates him from the level of the parishioners, up the steps of the altar.  In this, we find the first symbolic representation of the ascension in the Liturgy of the Mass.

The connection with the beginning of Mass and the ascension is perhaps better envisioned in more traditional liturgies, especially where the priest carries incense with him to the altar . . . the cloud of incense that accompanies the ascendant priest is reminiscent of the ascension itself, as Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles.  The ascending Jesus is hidden by a cloud . . . The rising of the smoke from the incense is [also] an ancient Jewish symbolism meant to remind us how our prayers rise up to the Father.  We even reflect on prayer as an upward motion when we say the Sursum Corda: “We lift [our hearts] up to the Lord.”  For the priest to offer our prayers upward from the altar should call to mind for us how Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father to carry our prayers to him as the true mediator between God and Man.  We acknowledge this role of the ascended Jesus in the Gloria: “You are seated at the right hand of the Father; have mercy on us.”

And this meditation on the Ascension provides the perfect segue for discussing one of the theological currents I noticed running throughout — priesthood.

Swaim says in the book’s introduction that he views it as a work of “personal devotion rather than liturgical exploration or even theological speculation;” but as evidenced above, there’s more than enough liturgical and theological insight to satisfy even the most intellectually-oriented among us.  Swaim’s language is down-to-earth and easy to follow, but the realizations he leads us to are incredibly profound; and I found this to be especially true in his recurring consideration of the priesthood.  Here’s but a glimpse into the treasure trove:  “The reason that the response of Elizabeth [in the Visitation] to the Christ-carrying Mary is striking to us is because our own response to the Christ-carrying priests is usually underwhelming by comparison… a mistake we sometimes make in the Catholic Church [is] one of treating priests, whose consecrated hands make Christ present on the altar, as mere sacramental vending machines” (p.9).

I sincerely hope that other readers will make us of Appendix I as I do — in preparation Mass.  Swaim has somehow crystallized his reflections on each mystery into prayers only two or three lines in length, that nonetheless capture an application of each mystery to the Mass and petition the Lord to allow us to share therein.

If I haven’t tipped my hand yet, let me say that I enjoyed this book a great deal and hope that it has a wide readership.  At 7” by 5” and 115 pages, the books’ physicality strikes me as rather iconic of the realities it focuses upon — the contemplation of an unassuming young girl from Nazareth and sacramental signs as mundane as bread and wine; nothing of note in the eyes of the world but both filled with the power and very presence of God incarnate.

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