To help us reflect on the Rosary I will use ideas from Pope John Paul II’s Letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae of 2002. Our Holy Father says the Rosary played an important part in his own life.
From my youthful years this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life…To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago, on 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…” (§2)
Our Holy Father says the Rosary is nothing other than contemplating Christ with the face of Mary (§3) and is among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation (§5). The Pope says that Mary in many apparitions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries encouraged people to pray the Rosary, and the Pope mentions especially the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima (§7).
Since we contemplate and meditate on Jesus in the Rosary our Holy Father goes on to write about the Rosary as a contemplative prayer. Mary is our model for contemplating Christ (§10). When the shepherds told Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem that the angels had announced the birth of Jesus to them Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19). Then the Pope makes an interesting point. Because Mary contemplated Jesus during her life on earth and because the Rosary is above all a prayer to contemplate and meditate on Jesus we can say that Mary prayed the “rosary” throughout her earthly life without interruption (§11). The Pope says the Rosary is an exquisitely contemplative prayer (§12). If we are just saying words and not contemplating Christ while praying the Rosary it would be, as Pope Paul VI said, a body without a soul and these words of Jesus would apply to it, “When praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard by using many words.” (Matt 6:7) (§12). Therefore the Pope encourages us to use a quiet rhythm and slow pace when praying the Rosary. And indeed that makes perfect sense. Any time I hear the Rosary prayed in a terrible hurry I think it is an abomination of such a beautiful prayer. But whenever I hear the Rosary prayed lovingly with devotion and contemplation it uplifts me. It is no wonder that in some apparitions Our Lady has had to teach the visionaries how to pray the Rosary. When we rush prayer we miss out on much of the graces awaiting us. The Rosary is a prayer to be prayed with the heart, it is not a race to get to the last prayer. I return again to the Pope’s words; he says that contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to read Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message (§14). The Pope says the Rosary is a method of contemplation; it is the means to the end and not the end in itself (§28). So what is the end or goal to which the Rosary leads us? We could say the Pope gives the goal or end of the Rosary in a quotation from Blessed Bartolo Longo
“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” (§15)
So the goal or end of the Rosary is to become similar to Jesus and Mary. To help us contemplate Jesus as we pray the Rosary we can read a passage of Scripture or maybe even a meditation before praying decade (§30).
Our Holy Father says the Rosary takes us to Mary’s side as she is busy watching over the growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mould us with the same care until Jesus is formed in us. That is why Pope John Paul II took as his motto, “Totus Tuus”, referring to Our Lady, “Totally Yours.” The Pope quotes St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort,
“Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ” (§15)
Then in the letter our Holy Father proposes adding the Luminous Mysteries or Mysteries of Light to the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries (§19) and suggests praying the Joyful Mysteries on Mondays and Saturdays, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesdays and Sundays and the new Luminous Mysteries or Mysteries of Light on Thursdays, (§38).
The Pope says the center of gravity of each Hail Mary is the name of Jesus and sometimes in hurried recitation it can be overlooked (§33). An example which we unfortunately hear too often is some people beginning the second half of the Hail Mary before the first half has concluded with the name of Jesus. I always consider that very disrespectful towards the holy name of Jesus.
During the conclusion of his letter our Holy Father encourages families to pray the Rosary together (§41). The Pope says the Rosary is a prayer of and for the family. He writes,
“At one time this prayer was particularly dear to Christian families, and it certainly brought them closer together. It is important not to lose this precious inheritance. We need to return to the practice of family prayer and prayer for families, continuing to use the Rosary.” (§41)
I conclude with our Holy Father’s words encouraging us to pray the Rosary again.
“Dear brothers and sisters! A Prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community. Let us do so…I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again…May this appeal of mine not go unheard!” (emphasis mine) (§43)
A Homily by Fr. Tommy Lane