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 beginnings 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 Saviour, “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.”
So begins St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which was promulgated on October 16, 2002, just a couple of years before his death. October is the month the Church devotes to the Holy Rosary and the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary falls on October 7th. It is a prayer and devotion that has changed the lives of many. It is to walk the life of Christ through the eyes of His Mother. Our eyes are ever fixed on Our Savior, but under the loving guidance of the Mother He gave us on the Cross. St. John Paul II referred to devotion to the Rosary as a “genuine training in holiness” that guided Christians in the contemplation of the great mysteries of our Faith.
The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation. Developed in the West, it is a typically meditative prayer, corresponding in some way to the “prayer of the heart” or “Jesus prayer” which took root in the soil of the Christian East.
St. John Paul II implored the faithful to pray the Rosary most especially for peace in the Third Millennium, which began in the West with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Rosary has been a unique weapon in spiritual warfare and is especially suited in praying for peace throughout the world. It is also a great defender in family life. In the last few decades an onslaught of attacks have been waged against the family and its ontological reality.
A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age.
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The Rosary is much needed in a time like ours in which divorce, “gay marriage”, and contraception have divided human beings from their call in family life. Children are increasingly becoming either irrelevant or accessories in a “throwaway culture”, as Pope Francis has stated many times. We must implore Our Lord through His Mother to heal the deep wounds that exist in our culture.
It is essential that we pray the Rosary for peace and for the family, but more than anything, the Rosary guides us on our journey to holiness. The meaning of our lives is to become a saint. The goal is the Beatific Vision. In this “veil of tears” we need every possible weapon at our disposal and this is why the Rosary is so important. Not only should we pray it as individuals, we need to bring it into our domestic churches in our homes. We need to teach our children to pray the Rosary and pray it together as a family.
The Rosary guides us through the life of Christ as it was seen through Our Lady. We are brought into a deeper understanding and knowledge of Jesus Christ as we pray Scripture in the Mysteries of the Rosary. If there is anyone throughout human history who contemplated Jesus Christ, it was Our Lady, His Mother.
The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7)
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Mothers know just how much they contemplate their own children. They work to understand the inner-workings of each child and how that child should be loved best. So it was with Mary, who not only contemplated her Son, but the face of God in the quiet moments of her life. Mary spent her days in contemplation of Our Lord, “she kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” is the example she has given us.
Beginning at Baptism, the Christian life becomes centered on the constant conformation of the person to the Most Blessed Trinity. In Baptism we descend into the depths of sin and death and arise a new creation in Christ. We have accepted the truth that we must die to self in order to have eternal life. Mary is the most able guide in show each one of us how to live a life in conformation to her Son.
In the spiritual journey of the Rosary, based on the constant contemplation – in Mary’s company – of the face of Christ, this demanding ideal of being conformed to him is pursued through an association which could be described in terms of friendship. We are thereby enabled to enter naturally into Christ’s life and as it were to share his deepest feelings. In this regard Blessed Bartolo Longo has written: “Just as two friends, frequently in each other’s company, tend to develop similar habits, so too, by holding familiar converse with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection”
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The Rosary serves as a guide and constant reminder of how our lives must be shaped by our desire to be more and more like Christ. Our Mother quietly shares this truth with us in the movements of the Rosary through the Mysteries of Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection.
A good deal of the Christian life is shrouded in mystery. The Holy Eucharist, the reality of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, and the list goes on and on. Words and our intellects fail us in the face of the great mystery of God, but we are allowed a foretaste of Heaven through these mysteries if we rely on the supernatural gift of faith.
Meditation on 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. This applies above all to the Hail Mary, repeated ten times in each mystery. 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.
In Christ, God has truly assumed a “heart of flesh”. Not only does God have a divine heart, rich in mercy and in forgiveness, but also a human heart, capable of all the stirrings of affection. If we needed evidence for this from the Gospel, we could easily find it in the touching dialogue between Christ and Peter after the Resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times this question is put to Peter, and three times he gives the reply: “Lord, you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:15-17). Over and above the specific meaning of this passage, so important for Peter’s mission, none can fail to recognize the beauty of this triple repetition, in which the insistent request and the corresponding reply are expressed in terms familiar from the universal experience of human love. To understand the Rosary, one has to enter into the psychological dynamic proper to love.
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 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. Saint Paul expressed this project with words of fire: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). And again: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). The Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness.
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St. John Paul II wanted to faithful to pray the Rosary faithfully in order to grow in holiness, conformation to Christ, and to change the world. It is a prayer of great power and importance in the Christian life. It is one that is capable of healing the wounds in our world, whether caused by violence or the splintering of the family. It is not a mindless rote prayer. It is a prayer that focuses on Christ by seeing through the eyes of His Mother who is also Our Mother. If you have not added this prayer to your repertoire then October is a good month to do so. Give it a try and see how it transforms your life. As you begin your journey with the Rosary be sure to read through Rosarium Virginis Mariae so that you can truly understand the fruits of this great spiritual weapon. Our Lady of the Rosary, ora pro nobis.