“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 .. it is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become ‘genuine schools of prayer’. The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation.”
– St John Paul II, ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’
Saint John Paul was greatly concerned that our communities as Christians should be founded and nourished by prayer, to such an extent that they might become “genuine schools of prayer”.
His reasons for this were fairly straight-forward.
It is easy to become knowledgeable about the Catholic Faith – anyone can pick up a book and learn what it is we believe as Catholics. Equally, it is just as easy to pick up any theological book and learn something about God. But knowledge is not the same as Faith. Knowledge is something we gather – it is information about a particular subject, whether the subject is God or anything else. But Faith is something quite different to this.
First and foremost, Faith is a gift, given freely to us by God. He desires that we know Him and so love Him. It is not something we get but something we receive.
Secondly, Faith is not about knowledge – it is about relationship. It is about a real person – Jesus Christ. It is about getting to know Him on a deep, personal and intimate level.
In other words, Faith is a living thing. It is like a little plant, which we need to cultivate carefully, tending the soil, adding nutrients, watering the plant, so that it might gradually grow and develop and bear good fruit for us.
This Faith is nourished by the Word and by the Sacraments and by prayer; these are the primary means by which we come to know the Lord, Who reveals Himself to us by these means. In the Word, we begin to learn Who the Lord is, what He tells us about Himself, and about the Father. The Catechism tells us –
“Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In Him He has said everything; there will be no other word than this one.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.65)
And in the Sacraments, the same Lord comes to us – through the particular graces of several of the Sacraments of the Church, and uniting Himself directly to us in the greatest Sacrament of all, Holy Communion, which the Church tells us is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (‘Lumen Gentium’, quoted in the Catechism, para.1324).
Prayer is the bridge that connects God and man, the human and the divine. Prayer is the opening of our hearts to God and to the action of His divine grace, and to His divine mercy. Prayer, which may seem like our approach to God, is actually our response to His approach to us.
Pope John Paul tells us that –
“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; cf. 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.” (Rosarium, para.11)
The Holy Father then encourages us to imitate this contemplative quality of the Immaculate Heart of Mary –
“The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary’s own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer.” (Rosarium, para.12)
Explaining what he means by this, Pope John Paul goes on to say that –
“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.”
Our own contemplation, then, is also this same type of remembering – we are making present in our hearts all the works and actions and revelations of God, and in remembering them in this way, we are giving thanks to God for them. Applying this sense to the prayer of the Rosary, the Holy Father goes on to add this –
“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. This school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that She teaches by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as She offers us the incomparable example of Her own ‘pilgrimage of faith’.” (Rosarium, para.14)
If Faith is about knowing God, about developing a deep and meaningful relationship with Him, then the Holy Father has proposed to us a most excellent means of doing so – the prayer of the Rosary; there, with Mary, we remember the works of the Lord in our contemplation; we make them present in our hearts and learn from them, following Our Lady’s own example.
All of this, we do in union with Mary –
“If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, His purest and most transparent reflection, shows us the Way. ‘Beginning with Mary’s unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their prayer to the Holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ manifested in His mysteries’. At the wedding of Cana the Gospel clearly shows the power of Mary’s intercession as She makes known to Jesus the needs of others: ‘They have no wine’ (Jn 2:3).” (Rosarium, para.16)
And so, remembering Christ with Mary, we are then led a step further –
“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. Its form is that of a prayerful and contemplative presentation, capable of forming Christians according to the heart of Christ.. Our Lady of the Rosary continues Her work of proclaiming Christ.” (Rosarium, para.17)
If the prayerful recitation of the holy Rosary can achieve all these things, then truly it is capable of forming us into those ‘genuine schools of prayer’ to which Pope John Paul referred.
Imagine, then, how powerful that prayer might be if prayed every single daily and if prayed in our local communities – our families and our Churches.
Throughout this month of October, the Church can consistently asked us to pray the holy Rosary – and many will have responded to this noble call. It is not a new call – for centuries, the Church has asked us to take up our beads and to pray, particularly for special intentions in the Church and in the world as they have arisen and as they have threatened the peace of the world.
At Lourdes, the appearances of the Blessed Virgin began with the recitation of the Rosary and continued with it, and even now, so many years later, there are constant Rosary processions through the Grotto.
And at Fatima, the Mother of God asked over and over again that we “pray the Rosary every day”.
Let us take up our beads and respond wholeheartedly to Her heavenly call.