“.. a Gospel prayer ..”
– Pope St Paul VI, ‘Marialis Cultus’
The Rosary is a deeply Scriptural prayer and it has been referred to as ‘theologically rich in Biblical content’ (Pope St John Paul II) – indeed, it is the Gospel in bead form.
The prayers of the Rosary come from the Gospels – the ‘Our Father’ is the prayer of Christ Himself, taken from the Gospel of St Matthew; and the ‘Hail Mary’ is comprised of the message of the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation and the salutation of Elizabeth at the Visitation, from the Gospel of St Luke. The ‘Glory Be’ comes from the command of the Lord prior to His Ascension, recounted in Matthew 28:19, and gives glory to the Most Holy Trinity. We always begin the Rosary with the Apostles Creed, reminding ourselves of what we actually believe as Catholics, and we conclude each decade of the Rosary with the little prayer, ‘O Jesus’, given us by Our Lady at Fatima, who asked that we ‘pray the Rosary every day’. We end the Rosary with the beautiful ‘Hail Holy Queen’ or ‘Salve Regina’, one of the four great antiphons in honour of the Blessed Virgin, and one which links us to the official prayer of the Church, as it is always prayed at the end of Night Prayer of the Divine Office.
The late Archbishop Fulton J Sheen spoke beautifully on the value of the Rosary when he said –
“The Rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the Rosary is beyond description.”
St John Paul spoke about the Rosary as a spiritual journey we make in the company of the Mother of God and through which, we become true friends with her Son –
“In the spiritual journey of the Rosary, based on the constant contemplation – in Mary’s company – of the Face of Christ, this demanding ideal of being conformed to Him is pursued through an association which could be described in terms of friendship. We are thereby enabled to enter naturally into Christ’s life and, as it were, to share His deepest feelings.”
The Catechism echoes this sentiment when it reminds us that ‘Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the Rosary’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.2708).
In his wonderful book ‘The Secret Of The Rosary’, the great Marian Saint, Louis Marie de Montfort, reminded us that ‘Rosary’ means ‘crown of roses’ – a spiritual bouquet which we lay at the feet of the Mother of God every time we pray it devoutly.
But it is more than this. The Rosary, when prayed well, is also a spiritual garden of roses; each time we pray the Rosary, we walk through this heavenly garden in the company of Mary, who gently leads us ever closer to Her Son – and as we do so, we are covered in something of the fragrance of this exquisite garden, a fragrance which clings to us and remains with us after the last echoes of the vocal prayers have died away. The more we walk in this garden, the stronger the fragrance becomes.
There are many ways in which to pray the Rosary; what matters most of all, of course, is that we do actually pray it – the precise manner of doing so matters a little less. I gave some broad suggestions in a recent post called The Secret Of The Rosary. In that post, I said –
‘Above all, I would heartily recommend reading – and becoming deeply familiar with – the Gospel passages relevant to each of the Mysteries. The Rosary is a Gospel prayer and so it is important that we become familiar with the source material.. You will never reach the bottom of this well – there is always something new to be found there.’
There are various forms of praying the Rosary along with Scripture; but for the sake of this post, I would like merely to suggest a very simple one, perhaps the most simple way.
When you go to your quiet place to pray the Rosary, first ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you with His divine grace, and ask the Blessed Virgin to pray with you and help you, for She is the exemplar in Christian prayer. And then, as you begin each decade, start by reading the passage of Scripture to which it relates. The Joyful Mysteries, for example, are all recounted within the first few chapters of the Gospel of St Luke.
Now, as you pray, don’t concentrate on the vocal prayers you are praying with your lips; instead, focus on the Scriptural passages, and pray these with your heart. You know the vocal prayers intimately well and do not need to focus on them consciously to pray them, so let them sink into your soul as you continue to pray them. Your mind and memory will take care of these and free you to do the next step. Focus your conscious attention on the passage from Scripture. As your lips repeat the vocal prayers, let your mind engage with the Scriptures as you silently read the passage. Read it slowly as you pray, then read it again. Meditate on it, become part of it, even if only for those couple of minutes.
Although this may sound like an odd way to do things, and perhaps even impossible – as I am asking you to do two things at once – trust me, it is perfectly possible to do so. It is not beyond your ability to keep going with the recitation of the vocal prayer, while your eyes and mind focus on the Scriptures and contemplate these.
Try it, even once. You may be surprised.