Gal. 3:1-5; Luke. 11:5:13 (Gal 3, 23 – 29, Luke 1, 26 – 38)
Today on the 7th of October the church celebrates the feast of Holy Rosary and commemorates the Devotion of the Rosary, a prayer which is at the heart of Christian and religious practice. This feast was established in 1573 by St. Pius V, a Dominican pope who had great personal devotion to the prayer. He instituted the feast in thanksgiving for the Christian victory over the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto. Because the feast falls in October, the entire month is dedicated to honouring Mary with the rosary. The devotion of the Holy Rosary has been treasured in the church for many centuries. The Rosary is one of the best prayers in common and is a family prayer. Precisely because it starts with Mary’s own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. It is one of the traditional paths of Christian prayer directed to the contemplation of Christ’s face. Pope Paul VI described it in these words: “As a Gospel prayer, centred on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is a prayer with a clearly christological orientation.”
The devotion of the Holy Rosary is a popular family devotion and at the same time a community prayer. During the apparitions of Mary at Lourdes and Fatima to little children, she placed her request before them to pray the Holy Rosary. This devotion of the Rosary, as a gift of prayer from the Mother of God, leads us to Christ in a way unique among the devotions in the Church. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, focuses with particular attention on the special way she is active on the soul as we ponder or contemplate Jesus through the eyes of His Mother. We put ourselves under her maternal guidance and allow her to direct our hearts. “The Rosary,” he says, “mystically transports us to Mary’s side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mould us with the same care, until Christ is ‘fully formed’ in us”. The Rosary brings us, through a devoted pondering of its mysteries, into intimate union with the very Person of Jesus.
The rosary in simplest terms is a tool used to aid prayer and meditation. The beads of a rosary count the prayers as they are recited out loud or in the mind. Relying on the rosary beads to keep track of how many times one has said a particular prayer allows you to clear your mind and meditate on your prayer more effectively. The Rosary is part of the Catholic veneration of Mary, which has been promoted by numerous popes, especially Leo XIII, known as “The Rosary Pope”, who issued twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary and added the invocation Queen of the most Holy Rosary to the Litany of Loreto. Pope Pius V introduced the rosary into the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrated on October 7. More recently, on May 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the Rosary is experiencing a new springtime: “It is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and his Mother.” To Pope Benedict XVI, the rosary is a meditation on all important moments of salvation history. Before him, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae built on the “total Marian devotion” pioneered by Saint Louis de Montfort. Pope Pius XII and his successors actively promoted the veneration of the Virgin in Lourdes and Fatima, which is credited with a new resurgence of the rosary within the Catholic Church.
Our Lady of the Rosary is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to the method of prayer namely the rosary, whose origin has been attributed to a Marian apparition to Saint Dominic in 1208 in the church of Prouille. In 1571 when Pope Pius V instituted “Our Lady of Victory” as an annual feast to commemorate the victory of Lepanto, a procession was offered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome for the success of the mission of the Holy League to hold back Muslim forces from overrunning Western Europe. In 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the title of this feast-day to “Feast of the Holy Rosary”. This feast was extended by Pope Clement XII to the whole of the Latin Rite, inserting it into the Roman Catholic calendar of saints in 1716, and assigning it to the first Sunday in October. Pope Pius X changed the date to 7 October in 1913. In 1969, Pope Paul VI changed the name of the feast to “Our Lady of the Rosary”, and it is celebrated as a memorial in the ordinary form.
The Rosary probably began as a practice by the laity to imitate the monastic Divine Office or the Breviary or Liturgy of the Hours, during the course of which the monks daily prayed the 150 Psalms. The laity, many of whom could not read, substituted 50, or even 150, Hail Marys for the Psalms. This prayer, at least the first half of it so directly biblically, seems to date from as early as the 2nd century, as ancient graffiti at Christian sites has suggested. The rosary is often used as a guide for other Catholic prayers. These prayers are related to challenges or celebrations in the life of one praying the rosary or on behalf of another for whom the prayers are said. The history of the rosary in Catholicism can be traced back to the time of St. Dominic in the south of France in the early 1200s. It is said that St. Dominic was shown a string of beads by the Virgin Mary and instructed to preach the rosary among his people to battle against sin. From that time the rosary then spread slowly throughout Catholicism with Pope Leo XIII officially attributing the rosary’s beginnings to St Dominic. The word rosary comes from Latin and means a garland of roses, the rose being one of the flowers used to symbolize the Virgin Mary. Rosary means a crown of roses, a spiritual bouquet given to the Blessed Mother. It is sometimes called the Dominican Rosary, to distinguish it from other rosary-like prayers, for example, the Franciscan Rosary of the Seven Joys or Franciscan Crown, the Servite Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. It is also, in a general sense, a form of chaplet or corona or the crown, of which there are many varieties in the Church.
Let us now try to understand the real practice of saying the Rosary. First we must know and keep in mind that they are meditations. It is the meditation on the mysteries that gives the rosary its staying power. When Catholics recite the twelve prayers that form a decade of the rosary, they meditate on the mystery associated with that decade. It isn’t just a recitation of prayers, but a meditation on the grace of God. Critics, not knowing about the meditation part, imagine the rosary must be boring, uselessly repetitious, meaningless, and their criticism carries weight if you reduce the rosary to a formula. Christ forbade meaningless repetition (Matt. 6:7), but the Bible itself prescribes some prayers that involve repetition. Look at Psalms 136, which is a litany (a prayer with a recurring refrain) meant to be sung in the Jewish Temple. In the psalm the refrain is “His mercy endures forever.” Sometimes in Psalms 136 the refrain starts before a sentence is finished, meaning it is more repetitious than the rosary, though this prayer was written directly under the inspiration of God.
The traditional 15 Mysteries of the Rosary were standardized, based on the long-standing custom, by Pope St. Pius V in the 16th century. The mysteries are grouped into three sets: the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries, and the glorious mysteries. In 2002, Pope John Paul II announced five new optional mysteries, the luminous mysteries, bringing the total number of mysteries to 20. The joyful mysteries contemplate the hidden life of the Child Jesus and induce one to accept and promote life. In the mysteries of light we contemplate the proclamation of the Kingdom of Christ and this impels us to live in daily life the beatitudes. In the sorrowful mysteries, we fix our gaze on the crucified Christ and contemplate the suffering and death of Christ. In the glorious mysteries we contemplate the risen Christ, but this means our dedication to making all things new. The Joyful Mysteries are the Annunciation by Angel Gabriel to Blessed Virgin Mary, the Visitation to Elizabeth, the Nativity of Our Lord, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and the Finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. The Sorrowful Mysteries are the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning of Jesus with Thorns, Jesus Carrying of the Cross to Calvary, and the Crucifixion of Jesus. The final Mysteries are the Glorious Mysteries are the Resurrection of Our Lord, the Ascension of Jesus to heaven, the Descent of the Holy Spirit on our Lady and the Apostles, the Assumption of Mary into heaven and the Coronation and exaltation of Mary. The Luminous Mysteries added by Pope John Paul II are the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, The Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, The Transfiguration of our Lord, and The Institution of the Holy Eucharist.
In his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Holy Father John Paul II urged Christian families to pray in their home by reciting the Rosary: “We need to return to the practice of family prayer and prayer for families, continuing to use the Rosary”. With his Letter on the Rosary Pope John Paul II has touched the hearts of the faithful. Indeed, the recitation of the Rosary does not only “go to the very heart of Christian life, offering a familiar yet fruitful spiritual and educational opportunity for personal contemplation”, but also enables people to recover “the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the spirit of God”.
The Rosary was also prominently featured in the Lourdes apparitions in 1858, where Saint Bernadette Soubirous stated that in the initial meeting of Our Lady of Lourdes: “The Lady took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross”. The apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima are sometimes also called Our Lady of the Rosary because the children related that the Lady in the apparition specifically identified herself as “the Lady of the Rosary.” The three children at Our Lady of Fatima stated that the Lady asked them to say the Rosary every day, reiterating many times that the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace. She had also asked that it be prayed every day, and that its mysteries be meditated on. Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima placed additional emphasis on repentance, praying for sinners and doing penance. Through this spiritual devotion, Our Lady assures the world that evil shall be overcome and that there will be a time of peace.
The rosary is often used as a guide for other Catholic prayers. These prayers are related to challenges or celebrations in the life of one praying the rosary or on behalf of another for whom the prayers are said. The history of the rosary in Catholicism can be traced back to the time of St. Dominic in the south of France in the early 1200s. It is said that St. Dominic was shown a string of beads by the Virgin Mary and instructed to preach the rosary among his people to battle against sin. From that time the rosary then spread slowly throughout Catholicism with Pope Leo XIII officially attributing the rosary’s beginnings to St Dominic.
In our Christian life, prayer reinforces the spiritual soundness and solidity of the family, helping to ensure that it shares in the strength of God. Indeed all the power of the Rosary lies in its Gospel character and in its distinctly christological orientation, meaning Christ Centred dimension, for it makes us think specifically and in our own way of the most important events of salvation that were brought about in Christ, seen through the heart of Mary, who was closest to the Lord Jesus. Indeed, the main feature of the Rosary is contemplation, without which it would be like a body without a soul; the typical features are constituted by the petition of the Our Father, the praise in the litany-like succession of Hail Mary’s, the adoration of the doxology, Glory [be] to the Father.
The Rosary in its simplicity and depth goes to the heart of Christian experience in the dialogue of faith expressed in prayer. It has a strong evangelizing impact. The members of the family can contemplate the central events at the heart of the faith through the mysteries. Now, we have the mysteries of light, in which we are invited to reflect on the wedding of Cana and on the beginning of a new family. We could say that in the Our Father and Hail Mary, we find a synthesis in which a dynamic, effective transmission of the faith passes through it that fortifies the experience of the family community in a special union that is a powerful aid because it is also stable and solid before the Lord of the Covenant. This family dimension of prayer and Christian worship is rooted in the faith experience of the people of the Old Covenant, which has been inherited by the Christian community. Indeed, it is well known that the paschal supper was celebrated in the home, and was a family celebration. Today, let us reflect upon the mystery of Our Lady of the Rosary that is unravelling itself upon the world. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the wonders that He has bestowed upon Our Lady of the Rosary, our heavenly Mother and our heavenly Queen.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but, in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.
Fr Eugene Lobo S.J. Mangalore, India