“I myself have often encouraged the frequent recitation of the Rosary. From my youthful years, this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life.. The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it, I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it, I have always found comfort.“
– Pope John Paul II, ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’
Saint John Paul spoke often about the prayer of the Rosary and went to great lengths to encourage it’s recitation, often referring to it in speeches and addresses, as well as writing very beautifully about it in documents such as his Apostolic Letter ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae‘ (2002). In this, he begins by explaining the simple mystery at the heart of the Rosary –
“With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of His love. Through the Rosary, the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.”
And as the Letter concludes, he implores us explicitly –
“A prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community.. I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life.. confidently take up the Rosary once again.”
I think sometimes we can look across – rather than into – the Rosary. Imagine a well; simply looking at the surface gives no real idea of what might lie beneath, nor of the depth or quality of the water within. To discover these things, we really need to get into the water. And the deeper we go, the more we are likely to discover. In other words, we need to persevere. Perseverance brings it’s own rewards – and as humans, we tend to place greater value on those things we had to work harder to gain.
Regarding the Rosary, there are a number of ways of really getting into this beautifully cool and limpid water.
One way is to use different methods of praying the Rosary – Saint Louis de Montfort speaks about this in his writings and gives various examples to illustrate what he means.
Another way is to consider different meditations during our prayer – those meditations are very much the secret at the heart of a truly prayerful Rosary. This is the way I wish to focus on here, and so to this end, here are some brief meditations on the Joyful Mysteries, which consider what those Mysteries tell us about the person of Blessed Virgin.
The Annunciation – Mary as the Immaculate Conception
Through the Angel Gabriel, the Most High sends His love song to the Blessed Virgin. Gabriel salutes Her as ‘full of grace’ (Lk.1:28) – an understatement, as the original Greek word actually means ‘overflowing with grace’ and extends across three tenses of the verb. Every possible divine grace, She has been given abundantly, in it’s fullness. For Her, nothing is lacking. First amongst these graces is that of the Immculate Conception. In anticipation of Her divine maternity, the Lord has preserved Her from every stain of original sin. And so truly She is, as Gabriel calls Her, ‘full of grace’.
The Visitation – Mary as the Model of Charity
Despite learning She is to become the Mother of the Promised Redeemer, Mary’s first response is to serve. Note the Gospel tells us that She went “with haste” (Lk.1:39) to visit Her cousin Elizabeth in order to help her in her time of need. This immediate charity then become the setting for two things – Elizabeth’s confession of faith, calling Mary “the Mother of my Lord”; and Mary’s exquisite ‘Magnificat’. The Most High has already sung His lovesong to the Blessed Virgin – now, She responds in kind.
The Nativity – Mary as the Mother of God
The Virgin and Child is the sign of a new beginning (Lk.2:12), the cause of great joy in Heaven and to all people of good will. Fulfilling the ancient prophecies, the moment has finally come when God is truly with us – Christ the Lord. Mary is the new Eve, bringing spiritual life where the first Eve brought death. She is the ‘Theotokos’ (the ‘God-Bearer’) – bringing the Redeemer to mankind. This little Child is indeed both God and Man. Truly then, Mary is the Mother of God.
The Presentation in the Temple – Mary as the Obedient Handmaiden
Mary will later teach Her Son much about humility and obedience, and He will have much to say on it to us. And the lesson begins here in this moment; although Mother of God, She remains the ever-obedient Handmaiden who fulfils exactly what is required of Her, “observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord” (Lk.2:23). Also much later, that obedience will cost Her dearly, as Simeon foretells here in the Temple. And yet knowing this, She continues to offer to the Most High, Her never-ending ‘fiat’.
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple – Mary as the Mother of the Church
Mary is the supreme contemplative, the one who “treasured all these things and pondered them in Her Heart” (Lk.2:51). This is the antidote to our drive to action, to ‘doing’. Mary teaches us that what is most important is the relationship we have with God – from this foundation, all else follows. To help us maintain that foundation, She gives us the example of Her own contemplative prayer. The Church reminds us that “We have here the prayerful presence of Mary in the early Church and in the Church throughout all ages” (‘Marialis Cultus’, Pope Paul VI) and asks us to follow Her example, as the Church herself does.