The Rosary: Mary Points the Way to Jesus Christ
My Dear People of God,
One of my earliest and most vivid childhood memories is taking a walk with my mother. When she had finished her work in the evening, she would take me by the hand and we would walk together under the oaks that surrounded the university campus which lay across the street from our home.
For me the rosary is a walk with my mother. Mary, our Mother, takes all of us by the hand and leads us through the mysteries of her Son’s life, the joyous, sorrowful, glorious and luminous moments that teach us all we need to know about what He came to do—redeem us from our sins. Each decade of ten salutations to Mary guides us in our journey with the Lord from His birth through His public ministry, to His suffering, death and resurrection. The gentle recitation of Mary’s prayer forms a backdrop for reflecting on these mysteries revealed to us in the Sacred Scriptures.
We come to know Jesus Christ through His mysteries. Recall the famous episode in the Gospel of St. Matthew when the disciples wondered why Jesus taught in parables. Why not speak plainly? Jesus answered them saying, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted” (Matthew 13:11). The parables could be enigmatic. This was as it should be because the prophet Isaiah had foretold that when the Messiah came there would be those who heard but did not understand, looked but did not see (Matthew 13:14-15). However, the disciples were to have a wise and knowledgeable insight into what Jesus was revealing. Jesus was so intent on their understanding these mysteries that at times He even explained the parables to the disciples (cf. Matthew 13:18ff; 13:36ff.).
So the mysteries are entrusted to us. Like a precious gift given to us by a mother, we embrace the mystery, observe it, ponder it, and delve into it. Before each decade of the rosary, a mystery is introduced, and it rests in our mind so that our thoughts might revolve around it and then enter into it. In this way, we kneel in a room at Nazareth when Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of God (Luke 1:26-38). We run to the Manger at Bethlehem to join the shepherds in adoration (Luke 2:15-20). We listen to the words of Simeon as he acknowledges Jesus as Messiah (Luke 2:29-32). We are present as Jesus begins His proclamation of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20). The mysteries of His life become our atmosphere, the air that we breathe, as we wander the streets of Jerusalem, sit in the synagogue of Capernaum, recline at the table of the Last Supper, mourn at the foot of the cross, marvel at the empty tomb, gaze as Jesus ascends, receive the fire of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, and await fulfillment of the Church’s hope with the “woman clothed with sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1).
When we visit an art gallery, look at photographs of our vacation, or stand in awe of beautiful landscape, the object remains external to us. But the rosary allows us to take into ourselves the object or objects of our faith, to kneel or sit with the mystery that consumes our attention, feeds our imagination and engages our love. And, we must never forget, it is the Sacred Scriptures that inform us.
The Rosary is a Scriptural prayer. The prayers we recite come to us from the Gospels. The Our Father from St. Matthew (Matthew 6:9-13; cf. Luke 11:2-4). The Hail Mary from St. Luke (Luke 2:28, 42). Their repetition forms the background for the action of the mysteries we contemplate, like scenery for a play or the strumming of a guitar for the singer. If we see the repetition in this way, then we understand its true purpose.
But allow me to address a common complaint from some about the rosary. They find it too repetitious, even monotonous. Didn’t Jesus warn us against needless repetition?
In answer I begin with human experience and return to the walks with my mother. Parents don’t accompany their child once and then never again. A father doesn’t take his son fishing once in his life. A mother doesn’t cook one meal to remember always and then never again. No, this is not human. My mother went walking with me frequently. You might even call it a routine. I call it love.
We don’t tell someone we love that person only once. A husband doesn’t say, “Well, I told my wife I loved her on our wedding day. That’s enough.” This would be ridiculous. Love requires repetition. So do the words that express it. So do the actions that prove it. So does prayer, if it has any meaning.
But didn’t Jesus say that we should “not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7)? What did He mean? All we need do is read ancient pagan prayers, which can be found in any good library or history book of the period, to understand what Jesus meant. The babbling or repetition had to do with superstition. The pagans were obsessed with “getting it right.” Jesus wanted to save us from this. So, Jesus adds, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Jesus is not admonishing us not to pray. Jesus wants us to pray, or as St. Paul will teach us, “[P]ray at every opportunity” (Ephesians 6:18) and “Persevere in prayer” (Colossians 4:2). For this reason, we must never be afraid to bring prayer into our homes.
The family rosary is an excellent opportunity for us to bring the power of prayer into our midst. Our liturgical prayers, like the Mass and the other sacraments, have their proper place in our churches. Very often we pray with the Scriptures where we work, recreate or study. The rosary can be with us anywhere, but primarily in our homes around the dining room table or kneeling before sleep or beginning a day of work.
Daily praying the rosary is a superb way to bring a family together. In today's frantic world, the family is torn apart by a multitude of competing interests. Extra-curricular school activities, rehearsals, practices, tournaments, tutoring, and lessons are added to the occupations and obligations of the parents that can create an illusion that something is actually being accomplished. When we fill our lives with too much, we lose sight of what really matters in life. The difference between a group photograph and a portrait is the difference between many and one. The lens of our camera needs adjustment. The quiet pause of the family rosary can help to focus on the One who really matters to us.
The family rosary brings into our homes the mysteries that we celebrate in our churches. In this way the faith ceases to be compartmentalized, as something we do only at church on Sunday. The gift of faith is not meant to be left behind when we drive out of the church parking lot. Mary, as it were, takes the family by the hand and leads us through the mysteries of her Son. There is no babbling here, no useless repetition. Instead, we have a watchful mother who leads her children to the Son. “[K]nowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” belongs to us.
Through the rosary, the family comes together. Quarrels and disagreements cease. A husband and wife can forget their personal troubles or, better yet, bring them to prayer, where they belong. Children can join their brothers and sisters, laying aside the petty differences that divide them, turning off the distractions of electronic media, and recollect themselves. Perhaps such quiet moments can teach us something about silence which is so necessary for listening to God.
May Mary’s prayers bring our families together, especially as we prepare for our Holy Father’s visit to the United States in September for the gathering of our families. May Christ live in our hearts and in our homes.
With prayers for your intentions, that Lent be a time of renewal for you and your families, I remain
Devotedly yours in our Lord,
+Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles