“A prayer so easy and yet so rich..”
– Pope St John Paul II
At the present time, it seems there is something of a resurgence in the praying of the holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are new books on the subject, renewed calls to it’s prayerful recitation, and Apostolic documents calling on the faithful to take up their beads and pray with fervour and devotion.
Most recently, Father Donald Calloway has written an extraordinary and very full book entitled ‘Champions Of The Rosary’ which begins by detailing the history and development of the Rosary, the waxing and waning of devotion to the beads, and detailing some of the great ‘heroes’ of the Rosary over the years. This book has rightly been called ‘a treasure’, ‘a scholarly work’, and ‘probably the most comprehensive book ever written on the Rosary’.
In some ways, this book is reminiscent – at least in it’s intentions – of the writings of St Louis Marie de Montfort, the great ‘Apostle of the Cross and Rosary’, in his book entitled ‘The Secret Of The Rosary’. Written three hundred years ago, this book is as valuable now as it was then. St Louis is at pains to write with fervour on the Rosary, explaining it’s origin and different ways of praying it – but above all else, he is desirous that his readers take up the beads and pray.
This resurgence in favour of the Rosary perhaps begins it’s present cycle with ‘Marialis Cultus’, the Apostolic Exhortation of Blessed Pope Paul VI, published in February 1974. However, it could also be argued that various factors up until that point in time led to the writing of this document – one being the continued work of Fr Patrick Peyton, the great ‘Priest of the Rosary’. Another would very rightly be the requests of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima in 1917, when She asked the children at every single appearance to ‘pray the Rosary every day’.
In ‘Marialis Cultus’, Pope Paul gives a hint as to the reasons why the praying of the Rosary was falling to the side –
“In our time, the changes that have occurred in social behaviour, people’s sensibilities, manners of expression in art and letters and in the forms of social communication have also influenced the manifestations of religious sentiment. Certain practices of piety that not long ago seemed suitable for expressing the religious sentiment of individuals and of Christian communities seem today inadequate or unsuitable because they are linked with social and cultural patterns of the past.”
Put another way, the Rosary was seen as in some way being old fashioned.
Pope Paul, in the third section of his Exhortation, looks at the Rosary very specifically, and he writes this –
“We wish now, venerable Brothers, to dwell for a moment on the renewal of the pious practice which has been called ‘the compendium of the entire Gospel’: the Rosary. To this our predecessors have devoted close attention and care. On many occasions they have recommended its frequent recitation, encouraged its diffusion, explained its nature, recognized its suitability for fostering contemplative prayer-prayer of both praise and petition-and recalled its intrinsic effectiveness for promoting Christian life and apostolic commitment. We, too, from the first general audience of our pontificate on July 13, 1963, have shown our great esteem for the pious practice of the Rosary.”
He refers to the Rosary as ‘a Gospel prayer’ and says –
“As a Gospel prayer, centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is therefore a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation. It’s most characteristic element, in fact, the litany-like succession of Hail Mary’s, becomes in itself an unceasing praise of Christ”
Pope Paul then gives what is really the secret at the heart of the Rosary – meditation on the Mysteries;
“There has also been felt with greater urgency the need to point out once more the importance of a further essential element in the Rosary, in addition to the value of the elements of praise and petition, namely the element of contemplation. Without this the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation is in danger of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas and of going counter to the warning of Christ: ‘And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words’ (Mt. 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are unfolded.”
The secret of the Rosary, then, is not merely the recitation of the vocal prayers. Rather, it is this vocal recitation in union with the interior meditation of the Mysteries, these scenes from the Gospels, which give the Rosary such great power.
Pope Paul’s document is a beautiful work and anyone devoted to the Blessed Virgin is encouraged to read it and to make sure that their devotion is ‘rightly-ordered’ in the way the late Holy Father explains.
In 2002, Pope St John Paul II wrote ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae‘, in which he said this prayer was ‘destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness’. He called it ‘a prayer for peace.. a prayer of and for the family’ and addressed this to the faithful and clergy reading his words –
“A prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community.. I turn particularly to you, my dear broth Bishops, Priests and Deacons.. through your own personal experience of the beauty of the Rosary, may you come to promote it with conviction.. I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life.. 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.”
It seems that in these days, that call of the Holy Father is being answered with increased fervour. May this response continue, gather pace, and bear that ‘harvest of holiness’ of which he writes.