By praying the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can in a certain sense enter into Mary’s
school, learning more about Jesus from Mary. We can become more fully conformed to Christ in the company of Mary. Through the heart of Mary the Rosary invites us to enter more deeply into prayer of the heart. Through faith, silence, and attentive listening the Rosary offers an opportunity for greater inward knowledge of the Lord. As Pope John Paul II once observed, “a Rosary without contemplation is like a body without a soul.”
In meditation there must always be a certain tension between our hunger to understand and our wonder before what is truly infinite. Every Christian mystery is entirely dependent upon God’s hidden purposes. So in any authentic prayer there must always be a profound sense of humility before the
boundless richness of Almighty God. John Paul II repeated the teaching of Pius XII when he described the Mysteries of the Rosary as “a compendium of the entire Gospel.” Reflecting upon the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries is a most effective way to assimilate the grace and awesome truth of the Gospels into our everyday lives.
Patiently repeating simple prayers taken almost entirely from the words of the scriptures is rather like repeating words of love. The circling of these inspired words invites us to embrace the core images of our faith and the most profound hopes of our human existence. The Rosary helps us to calm our
minds that are so often impatient and distracted. The Rosary invites us to see Jesus through the luminous eyes of Mary and to rest more fully in his peace. The Rosary humbly and simply makes a space to savor the great goodness of the Lord.
The Rosary is a most accessible means of reflection and intercession. You can pray the Rosary recollected or distracted. You can pray the Rosary wide awake or half asleep. You can pray the Rosary in deep trouble or in great joy. You can pray the Rosary in churches and cathedrals, in the city or the country, at home, in cars, trains, subways, boats, or planes. The healthy and the sick can pray the Rosary. Both the young and the old can pray the Rosary, but sometimes near the end of life, the Rosary may be the only prayer some folks are still able to pray.
In its origins the Rosary is derived from the very ancient practice of counting prayers by the means of pebbles or beads. By the time of Saint Benedict and his “Rule for Monks,” the Our Father and somewhat later the Hail Mary (at least the first half of the prayer we now say) was connected with the conclusion of specific liturgical hours, and multiple repetition of these prayers were encouraged for those monks and nuns who could neither read nor chant. In the passage of time this series of prayers came to serve as a kind of psalter for the whole body of the faithful. Praying the Paters and Aves helped to mark the liturgical seasons and related personal prayers to the official prayers of the Divine Office. What eventually was called the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary soon entered into the shared piety of nearly all Catholics, including priests and laity, the rich and the poor, the highly educated and the illiterate, saints and sinners.
There were and still are various traditions of this prayer associated with different religious orders, congregations, confraternities, and their related devotions. It was the Dominicans who promoted the basic form as we now know it. It was only in the late Middle Ages that this popular prayer with its prayer beads connected by a chain came to be called the Rosary; a word derived from rosarium or rose garden.
The Rosary appears rather frequently in religious art. In Michelangelo’s dramatic depiction of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, a Rosary can be seen pulling a sinner up from the grasp of hell. Almost every Pope since Saint Pius V and the Battle of Lepanto has strongly recommended the Rosary and enriched this important Catholic prayer with indulgences. In every year of his long pontificate Leo XIII issued an encyclical letter promoting the Rosary. Blessed Pope John XXIII once declared that “the only wasted Rosary is the one never said.” Peoria’s own Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen encouraged: “Learn to sanctify the idle moments of life. It can be done thanks to the Rosary.” Most significantly for Catholic believers, Our Blessed Mother at Lourdes, Fatima, and in other great occurrences of vision and grace, has herself recommended this prayer as a means of conversion, renewal, and intercession.
Very sadly, fifty percent of marriages today end in divorce, but when a married couple shares even a brief daily prayer, that statistic is reduced to less than one in one thousand. Certainly if husbands and wives prayed even a part of the Rosary together, their love and commitment for one another would be enormously enriched. If children see their parents pray together, they would themselves be more easily drawn to lifelong habits of prayer and personal devotion. Father Patrick Peyton from my Holy Cross religious family insistently and accurately taught: “The family that prays together stays together.”
In the midst of culture wars, the deconstruction of marriage, a moral meltdown, the mass media’s intense hatred for the Catholic Church, the economic crisis, foreign wars, and a culture of death, perhaps we now need the Rosary in our arsenal of prayers more than ever. It is often said that more people own Bibles than read them. I am also afraid that many of the Rosaries that are blessed at Baptisms, Confirmations, First Communions, graduations, and marriages remain in their cases rather than are used for prayer. I have therefore asked that all our Catholic primary and secondary schools, religious education programs, Newman Centers, Koinonia retreats, and TEC programs, annually teach our young people how to pray the Rosary. I have also asked that all our parishes, our Catholic hospitals, Cursillo, all our adult renewal programs, Bible studies, prayer groups, RCIA programs, teach about the Rosary.
As a Holy Cross religious who is so undeservedly blessed to live under Mary’s loving patronage, as a priest once privileged to serve at the University of Our Lady, as a bishop whose cathedral and diocese proudly honors by name Mary’s Immaculate Conception, I entrust my ministry and my whole life to Mary’s maternal protection. With the help of God may the entire Catholic Diocese of Peoria renew our love for the Blessed Mother and our appreciation for her Holy Rosary.
The Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C.
Bishop of Peoria