The living Word of the living God is the heart of that marvelous prayer known to generations of Christians as the Rosary of Our Lady. An enduring prayer of great beauty, "marvelous in its simplicity and depth," the Rosary opens a doorway to the world of Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word. What matters in the Rosary is what mattered most to Mary: her son, Jesus. When we pray its mysteries, we see the events of his life through her eyes, and linger in the company of the mother who "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19).
"The Holy Rosary," said John Paul II, "introduces us into the very heart of faith." (1) Its sequence and order reflect, as Paul VI commented, "the very way in which the Word of God, mercifully entering into human affairs, brought about the Redemption." Its Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries set forth "the mystery of Christ in the very way in which it is seen by Saint Paul in the celebrated 'hymn' of the Letter to the Philippians--kenosis, death and exaltation (2:6-11)." (2)
The prayers of the Rosary are drawn from Scripture. The words "become an arch in the sacred room of revelation, in which the truth of the living God is made known to us."(3) We enter the holy setting of each mystery repeating the prayer Jesus taught his disciples: "When you pray, say, 'Our Father who art in heaven...'." Within the sacred room, the decade, of the mystery we repeat the "Hail, Mary." The words draw one directly into the mystery of the Incarnation. The first phrase echoes Gabriel's greeting to the Virgin of Nazareth. The next repeats the praise Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried when she heard Mary's greeting. In the concluding words we plead that the Mother of God, will be with each of us in the essential moments of life, now and the hour of our death.Each decade closes with praise of the Triune God who has revealed his love for us in this mystery of Jesus' life: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
The Rosary incorporates the succession of these holy words and the telling of beads with moments of silence to form a background against which the fifteen mysteries of salvation unfold within the mind and heart. Far from being mere repetition of phrases, counting of prayers, or multiplication of words, the Rosary is the Christian expression of an almost universal contemplative prayer tradition. People of widely varying religious heritage have used beads or counters to guide and sustain their prayer for centuries. Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "To use beads with a prayer, Indian or Moslem or Christian, is to enflesh the words, make thought tangible. Unless misused, it is not in the realm of superstition but is an affirmation of creation, of all matter, of ousia [being]." (4) Father William Johnston calls the Rosary "finger prayer," a prayer that engages the body as well as the mind and heart. Praying the Rosary involves the whole person.
In every religion concerned with mystery one finds words and phrases repeated over and over in prayer. As they echo over and over in the mind, these words descend gradually to deeper levels of consciousness. In Christian spirituality the sacred word of centering prayer, the Jesus prayer, the chaste simplicity of Gregorian chant, short phrases from Scripture or Liturgy, are all intended to draw the one praying into a more profound awareness of God's presence. At these deeper levels the repetition of holy words becomes rhythmic, like waves upon a shore or the beat of one's heart. In time, the prayer becomes natural, a part of one's life, as essential as breathing out and breathing in. Rhythmic repetition is "the basic cadence that allows us to walk with Jesus and Mary without watching our feet." It liberates us, sets us "free to wander, to explore, to contemplate the mysteries that are the heartbeat of our lives." (5)
Indeed, the mysteries of the Rosary embrace life itself. They are the rhythms of salvation, the songs of God's communion with his people. They lead one to spiritual awareness, mindfulness, and enlightenment, to knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, to union with God. Praying the Rosary means entering into contemplative prayer centered in the mystery of the Incarnation. We meet the God who reveals himself as love in the life, passion, death, resurrection and exaltation of his Son, and who longs to draw us into communion with him.
Basically the Rosary is a Gospel prayer. But, while its content comes from the good news of Mark and Matthew, Luke and John; its fifteen mysteries form a continuum with the whole of salvation history. All of Scripture, the entire record of God's dealings with his people, contributes to one's understanding of Christ's life among us, and thus may lead one to explore new spiritual paths in praying the Rosary.
The Book of Acts, which describes the struggles and triumphs of the apostolic Church, weaves a richly colorful, vivid tapestry of Christian life among the earliest believers. The experience of these sisters and brothers from a distant time and place provides a wonderful source for reflection and contemplation as we strive to live as Christians in our own day. The letters written by Paul, Peter, James, and other first-century believers to guide the churches they established contain some of the earliest treasures of our spiritual heritage. The wisdom and experience of these apostles and leaders still informs the life of the Church and guides twentieth-century disciples in understanding the words and deeds of our Lord. The Hebrew Scriptures record the earliest treasures of salvation history: God's relationship with his people Israel, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings or Wisdom. Both Old and New Testaments, inspired by the Spirit, enhance our realization of life transformed in Christ Jesus our Savior.
The rich biblical content of the Rosary together with its focus on the world of Jesus and Mary make it a superb teaching prayer. The orderly sequence of the mysteries helps one remember the events of Christ's life interwoven with the responsive love and trust of his Mother who is the model for all Christians. Praying the Rosary within the family, a prayer group, or a parish can become a rich learning experience for the individual believer and for the community. We enter the continuing prayer of the Church when we pray together the "common office of the people," as some one described the Rosary.
The universal nature of the Rosary appealed particularly to St. Dominic, Founder of the Order of Preachers. The simplicity of the prayer, the gospel content of the mysteries, the possibilities for silent meditation and deep reflection, the teaching and preaching potential, convinced Dominic that this was a prayer not only for him and for his nuns and friars, but also one beautifully suited to the people, the little ones to whom his Order would proclaim the gospel. Dominicans have prayed, taught, and preached the Rosary, encouraging its spread among believers, ever since their founding in the thirteenth century.
As a prayer grounded in the Word of God, the Rosary fosters spiritual growth by drawing us into the life of our Lord. Its holy words alternating with silent reflection inform Christian life by enriching communion with God. To little ones of every age, whom Jesus loved and to whom it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, the sacred words of the Rosary become seeds sown in the rich, fertile soil of loving hearts. Just as the farmer casting seed into the earth looks forward to the harvest, so God's word "shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Is 55:11). Any one whose life is transformed by an encounter with the living Word of the living God becomes fertile soil in which the seed of the Word takes root and begins to grow fruit for the final harvest. Prayer, communion with the Word, shelters, protects, and waters the growth of life in God. The Rosary mysteries nourish faith, love, and hope in the deepest truths of our Christian heritage.
The person who prays discovers he or she cannot remain a mere student or spectator of Christian life. God's Word, alive and active, calls us to become part of the mystery, disciples of Christ, children of his Father, in brief, to become Christians, members of the believing community in whom God's Spirit dwells. God too looks toward the harvest and expects his people to bear the fruit of his gifts in the fullness of life. Each of us grows and shares the fruits of our communion with God by the way we live. As one's experience of God deepens, his presence within becomes more apparent and more compelling.
The memory of Jesus' life and of all that God has done for his people enriches our lives and overflows to enrich the lives of others. Prayerful meditation on the Rosary mysteries sustains the communication of ourselves to others as graced, Spirit-filled friends of our Lord. Prayer marks the Church as a people united in communion with God and with one another.
In a very real sense, those who pray the Rosary hold the world and all it contains within the loving, life-giving presence of Christ. They walk with the compassionate Lord who went among his people doing good. In his company the disciple becomes alert and hears the cry of the poor. The presence of the Lord urges him to heed the cry, to go out to help those in need. One who prays the Rosary casts a lifeline of hope around the sick, suffering, anxious people of this harsh and struggling world.
Pondering the Rosary mysteries with Mary, one also brings all that lies within one's own heart before God. As Jesus was the center of Mary's life, so also his concerns, his struggles and celebrations, his joys and griefs were hers. The people Jesus cared for were important to his Mother. The possibilities and ramifications here are endless, for Christ's love embraces the universe. No one stands beyond the outstretched arms of the crucified Lord; no one exists outside his mother's love for the daughters and sons he gave to her care.
In the Rosary we undertake a universal apostolate of prayer. Within that sacred arch of holy words we bring everything that concerns our life in this world. We praise and adore God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We offer reparation for our sins and the sins of the world. We pray for the needs of others, for the cares and troubles of our time. We return thanks for all he has done for us.
The Rosary celebrates God's abundant blessings and gifts, calling everyone to recognize the loving kindness of our God who sent his Son to share our earthly existence that we might share eternal life with him. It celebrates our faith and our heritage as Christ's people and urges us, "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phi 4:4).
Mary's response to the good news of the Incarnate Word and to the demands Jesus' coming would make of her was an unequivocal yes. Praying the Rosary helps us to respond as she did: to follow the way and truth and life of Christ; to enter into the loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and to receive the gift of salvation.
In the rhythm and song of the Rosary, in joy, sorrow, and the hope of glory, we hear the word of God as heartbeat and life breath. When, like Mary, we keep it, we too are blessed.