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 2,000 years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings.
The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered
prayer. It has all the depth of the gospel message in its entirety. It is an
echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive
Incarnation which began in her virginal womb.
The Rosary is my favorite prayer, marvelous in its simplicity and
its depth. It can be said that the Rosary is, in some sense, a prayer-commentary
on the final chapter of the Vatican II Constitution on the Church (Lumen
Gentium), a chapter that discusses the wondrous presence of the Mother of
God in the mystery of Christ and the Church.
An Age Seeking Prayer
The West is now experiencing a renewed demand for meditation,
which at times leads to a keen interest in aspects of other religions. Some
Christians, limited in their knowledge of the Christian contemplative tradition,
are attracted by those forms of prayer.
The Rosary is distinguished by its specifically Christian characteristics.
It corresponds to the inner logic of the Incarnation: in Jesus, God wanted to
take on human features. It is through his bodily reality that we are led into
contact with the mystery of his divinity.
Against the background of the words “Hail Mary,” 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
At the same time, our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary
all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the
Church and all humanity, our personal concerns and those of our neighbor, especially
those who are closest to us. Thus, the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the
rhythm of human life.
Not Outdated, Not Against Vatican II
There are some who think that the centrality of the Liturgy,
rightly stressed by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, necessarily entails
giving less importance to the Rosary.
Yet, as Pope Paul VI made clear, not only does this prayer not conflict
with the Liturgy, it sustains it, since it serves as an excellent introduction
and a faithful echo of the Liturgy, enabling people to participate fully and
interiorly in it and to reap its fruits in their daily lives.
If properly revitalized, the Rosary is an aid and certainly not
a hindrance to ecumenism! But the most important reason for strongly encouraging
the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering
among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery
as a genuine “training in holiness.” It is more urgent than ever that our Christian
communities should become “genuine schools of prayer.”
Meditation on the mysteries of Christ in the Rosary is a method
based on repetition. This applies above all to the Hail Mary, repeated 10 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.
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 Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely
to Christ until we attain true holiness.
The Rosary Remembers Jesus
Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every
word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; see
2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her,
leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son’s side.
In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly
throughout her earthly life.
Even now, Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries”
of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release
all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community
enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary. The
Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary’s own experience, is an exquisitely
Mary’s contemplation is, above all, a remembering. We need to understand
this word in the biblical sense of remembrance (zakar) as a making-present
of the works brought about by God in the history of salvation. The Bible is
an account of saving events culminating in Christ himself. These events not
only belong to “yesterday”; they are also part of the “today” of salvation.
This making-present comes about, above all, in the Liturgy: What God accomplished
centuries ago did not only affect the direct witnesses of those events; it continues
to affect people in every age with its gift of grace.
Christians, while they are called to prayer in common, must also
go to their own rooms to pray to their Father in secret (see Matthew 6:6); indeed,
according to the teaching of the Apostle, they must pray without ceasing (1
Thessalonians 5:17). The Rosary, in its own particular way, is part of this
varied panorama of “ceaseless” prayer. It ensures that what Jesus has done and
what the Liturgy makes present are profoundly assimilated and shape our existence.
Learning Christ From Mary
Christ is the supreme teacher, the revealer and the one revealed.
It is not simply a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him.”
From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us
to the full truth of Christ (cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).
But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one
can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his mother.
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.
As we contemplate each mystery of her Son’s life, Mary invites us
to do as she did at the Annunciation: to ask humbly the questions which open
us to the light, in order to end with the obedience of faith: “Behold, I am
the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Meditation and Supplication
The Rosary 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 mold us with the same care, until Christ is “fully
formed” in us (see Galatians 4:19). This role of Mary, totally grounded in that
of Christ and radically subordinated to it, in no way obscures or diminishes
the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.
Never as in the Rosary do the life of Jesus and that of Mary appear
so deeply joined. Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ! If Jesus, the one
Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and most transparent
reflection, shows us the Way.
The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. It is also a path
of proclamation and increasing knowledge, in which the mystery of Christ is
presented again and again at different levels of the Christian experience.
New Additions to the Rosary
Of the many mysteries of Christ’s life, only a few are indicated
by the Rosary in the form that has become generally established with the seal
of the Church’s approval. The selection was determined by the origin of the
prayer, which was based on the number 150, the number of the Psalms in the Psalter.
I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth
of the Rosary, it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern
which could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry
between his Baptism and his Passion.
It is during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of
Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: “While I am in the world, I am
the light of the world” (John 9:5).
Consequently, for the Rosary to become more fully a compendium of
the Gospel, it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and
the hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the
sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection
(the glorious mysteries), a meditation on certain particularly significant moments
in his public ministry (the mysteries of light, luminous mysteries).
The addition of these new mysteries, without prejudice to any essential
aspect of the prayer’s traditional format, is meant to give it fresh life and
to enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary’s place within Christian spirituality
as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of
light, of suffering and of glory.
The New Mysteries of Light
Certainly, the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light.
He is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Yet this truth emerges in a special
way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the gospel of the
In proposing to the Christian community five significant moments—“luminous”
mysteries—during this phase of Christ’s life, I think that the following can
be fittingly singled out: 1) his Baptism in the Jordan, 2) his self-manifestation
at the wedding of Cana, 3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his
call to conversion, 4) his Transfiguration and finally 5) his institution of
the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the paschal mystery. Each of
these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person
The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here,
as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became
“sin” for our sake (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), the heavens open wide
and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Matthew
3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest
him with the mission which he is to carry out.
Cana Wedding. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given
at Cana (cf. John 2:1-12), when Christ changes water into wine and
opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention
of Mary, the first among believers.
Proclamation of the Kingdom. Another mystery of light is the preaching
by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls
to conversion (cf. Mark 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw
near to him in humble trust (cf. Mark 2:3-13; Luke 7:47-48): the
inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise
until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of
Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. John 20:22-23).
Transfiguration. The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration,
traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory
of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father
commands the astonished apostles to “listen to him” (see Luke 9:35
and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of
the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection
and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit.
First Eucharist. A final mystery of light is the institution of the
Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under
the signs of bread and wine, and testifies “to the end” his love
for humanity (John 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself
‘Come Unto Me...’
To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful
hearts of Christ and his Mother. It is natural to bring to this
encounter with the sacred humanity of the Redeemer all the problems,
anxieties, labors and endeavors which go to make up our lives. “Cast
your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:23).
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. Rediscover the Rosary in
the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy and in the context of your
This article is a reprint of “The
Rosary of the Virgin Mary,” which appeared in the January 2003 Catholic
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