Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The Rosary of the Virgin Mary
Pope John Paul II's Apostolic
Letter Rosarium Virginis
Mariae in condensed form
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 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
The rosary is distinguished by its specifically
Christian characteristics. This is a methodology, moreover, which
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 his Mother. 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 mankind; 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Not outdated, not against Vatican II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 repetition
is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely
to Christ, the true program of the Christian life. St. 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.
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— (Lk 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 Mt 6:6); indeed, according to the teaching of the Apostle they
must pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17). The rosary, in its own
particular way, is part of this varied panorama of —ceaseless— prayer.
By immersing us in the mysteries of the Redeemer—s life, it ensures
that what he 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 just 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
(see Jn 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,
she 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— (Lk 1:38).
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 rosary is both meditation and supplication. Insistent
prayer to the Mother of God is based on confidence that her maternal
intercession can obtain all things from the heart of her Son. The
rosary 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.
—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— (Ps
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 daily lives.
Next: Lent, Day by Day — Creating Peace (by Karen