The months of May and October have traditionally been recognized by the Church as months dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and in particular to the devotion of praying the rosary.
I am pretty sure that everyone knows what a rosary is and that many people actually have one, but do we actually pray it? My fear is that we have allowed it to become a symbol of our faith stripped of its meaning and significance. What I mean here is that there is a growing trend to hang a rosary from one’s rear-view mirror or around one’s neck as a piece of jewelry rather than to actually pray the rosary or to mediate upon the mysteries they represent.
Although ever a topic of tension among Catholics and non-Catholics, “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Mother is intrinsic to Christian worship,” as Blessed Pope Paul VI explained in “Marialis cultus” in 1974. The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times, Mary has been honored with the title “Mother of God” to whose protection, faithful Disciples of Christ Jesus have sought throughout the centuries” (CCC, 971).
“Devotion” to Mary, and all the saints for that matter, should not be confused with “Adoration,” which is essentially different, and given only to the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, to God the Father and to God the Holy Spirit. When we “pray to Mary,” we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sent his Son to save all humanity. Like the beloved disciple St. John, we welcome Jesus’ mother into our lives, for she has become the “new Eve,” the mother of all the living. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope (cf. LG 68-69).
Mary first gave her consent of faith at the Annunciation and maintained it throughout her life without hesitation even at the foot of the Cross, where she watched her only Son crucified. Ever since then, her motherhood has extended to the disciples her Son “who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.” Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her” (CCC 2682).
Throughout the centuries, many different titles have been attributed to our Blessed Mother, including “Our Lady of the Rosary” which is celebrated on October 7th. The feast was established by Pope Pius V in 1571, attributing the victory at Lepanto to the intercession of the Blessed Mother though the rosary, which prevented the Islamic invasion of Europe.
Pope Paul VI explained that, “the liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and the Marian prayer, such as the rosary which is “an “epitome of the whole Gospel,” express this devotion to the Virgin Mary” (MC 42). Each of these liturgical feasts of Mary invites us to reflect upon the life of our Blessed Mother, who is the most perfect of all of Christ’s disciples.
The Rosary is a centuries-old way of praying. According to tradition, the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary around the year 1214. It seems however, that the history of the rosary goes back to the early Middle Ages when lay Christians began praying 150 Our Fathers and 150 Hail Marys in imitation of the monks who would pray all 150 psalms each day. They would recite these prayers while counting knots that they had tied on a cord. By the middle of the 11th century, beads began to be used.
The rosary is one of the traditional paths of Christian prayer directed to the contemplation of the face of Christ. Although obviously Marian in character (reciting the Hail Mary), the prayer is actually very Christ-centered in the fact that the mysteries which are meditated upon are reflections on the life of Christ.
“Meditation on the mysteries of the rosary as a form of prayer engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of our mental faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our hearts, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Mediation upon the mysteries of the rosary leads us to contemplation. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value to those seeking to deepen their relationship with our Lord. But Christian prayer should always go further, reaching to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus and to union with Him” (cf. CCC 2708)
In his Apostolic Letter on the rosary in 2002, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II explained, “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.
The rosary blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, “the way, the truth and the life” (RVM 1).
Each day in October, and then again in May, I will be praying one day of the rosary with our school children at the beginning of the day to teach them this great tradition.