Adapting the Mysteries of the Rosary

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Adapting the Mysteries of the Rosary

ROME, 22 DEC. 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: What mysteries of the rosary should be said on Sundays of Advent, Christmastime/Epiphany, and Lent? The glorious are scheduled for it, but in the past (before the luminous), we changed the Sunday mysteries to sorrowful in Lent and Advent and joyful in Christmastime. And, of course, when one of the feasts should occur on any day, we changed to that set of mysteries. But now the glorious are said on one day only of the week if Sunday is changed. In the past, it was three days a week and two if Sunday was changed. — M.C., Cork, Ireland

A: There are two principal official sources regarding this question: the 2001 Directory for Popular Piety issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, and John Paul II's beautiful apostolic letter on the rosary published a year later.

The following text from the Directory illustrates the rosary's nature and the faithful's freedom with respect to the distribution of the mysteries:

"197. The Rosary, or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of the most excellent prayers to the Mother of God. Thus, 'the Roman Pontiffs have repeatedly exhorted the faithful to the frequent recitation of this biblically inspired prayer which is centered on contemplation of the salvific events of Christ's life, and their close association with the his Virgin Mother. The value and efficacy of this prayer have often been attested by saintly Bishops and those advanced in holiness of life.'

"The Rosary is essentially a contemplative prayer, which requires 'tranquility of rhythm or even a mental lingering which encourages the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life.' Its use is expressly recommended in the formation and spiritual life of clerics and religious.

"199. With due regard for the nature of the rosary, some suggestions can now be made which could make it more proficuous.

"On certain occasions, the recitation of the Rosary could be made more solemn in tone 'by introducing those Scriptural passages corresponding with the various mysteries, some parts could be sung, roles could be distributed, and by solemnly opening and closing of prayer.'

"200. Those who recite a third of the Rosary sometimes assign the various mysteries to particular days. [Following John Paul II, these are now: joyful (Monday and Saturday), sorrowful (Tuesday and Friday), glorious (Wednesday and Sunday), luminous (Thursday).]

"Where this system is rigidly adhered to, conflict can arise between the content of the mysteries and that of the Liturgy of the day: the recitation of the sorrowful mysteries on Christmas day, should it fall on a Friday. In cases such as this it can be reckoned that 'the liturgical character of a given day takes precedence over the usual assignment of a mystery of the Rosary to a given day; the Rosary is such that, on particular days, it can appropriately substitute meditation on a mystery so as to harmonize this pious practice with the liturgical season.' Hence, the faithful act correctly when, for example, they contemplate the arrival of the three Kings on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, rather than the finding of Jesus in the Temple. Clearly, such substitutions can only take place after much careful thought, adherence to Sacred Scripture and liturgical propriety.

"201. The custom of making an insertion in the recitation of the Hail Mary, which is an ancient one that has not completely disappeared, has often been recommended by the Pastors of the Church since it encourages meditation and the concurrence of mind and lips.

"Insertions of this nature would appear particularly suitable for the repetitive and meditative character of the Rosary. It takes the form of a relative clause following the name of Jesus and refers to the mystery being contemplated. The meditation of the Rosary can be helped by the choice of a short clause of a Scriptural and Liturgical nature, fixed for every decade.

"'In recommending the value and beauty of the Rosary to the faithful, care should be taken to avoid discrediting other forms of prayer or of overlooking the existence of a diversity of other Marian chaplets which have also been approved by the Church.' It is also important to avoid inculcating a sense of guilt in those who do not habitually recite the Rosary: 'The Rosary is an excellent prayer, in regard to which, however, the faithful should feel free to recite it, in virtue of its inherent beauty.'"

In his apostolic letter John Paul II also acknowledged the faithful's freedom in adapting the mysteries to the seasons. With respect to Directory No. 201 above, he suggested that the insertion to the Hail Mary is best made after the name 'Jesus' (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, No. 33). This brief insertion should be inspired by the mysteries of Christ's life and is especially suitable for community recitation.

Given that the Church gives grants wide leeway to the faithful, our reader has many options if she desires to pray the glorious mysteries twice in one week. A simple solution would be to switch Tuesday and Sunday and pray the sorrowful mysteries on Sunday and the glorious on Tuesday.

I have misgivings, however, regarding the appropriateness of celebrating the sorrowful mysteries on a Sunday. The Lord's Day always celebrates the Resurrection, even during Lent and Advent. I believe that Sunday's essentially paschal character should be reflected through the glorious mysteries albeit allowing for possible exceptions such as Palm Sunday.

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Follow-up: Adapting the Mysteries of the Rosary [1-19-2010]

Related to our reply regarding the mysteries of the rosary (Dec. 22), a reader from Harare, Zimbabwe, asked: "The months of May and October are generally and popularly known as set aside for devotions to Mary. The question is: Can we call all these two months 'rosary months' or it is that May is simply a month of devotion to Mary and October is the actual rosary month?"

Regarding Marian months, the Directory for Popular Piety states the following:

"190. With regard to the observance of 'Marian months,' which is widespread in the Latin and Oriental Churches, a number of essential points can be mentioned.

"In the West, the practice of observing months dedicated to the Blessed Virgin emerged from a context in which the Liturgy was not always regarded as the normative form of Christian worship. This caused, and continues to cause, some difficulties at a liturgico-pastoral level that should be carefully examined.

"191. In relation to the western custom of observing a 'Marian month' during the month of May (or in November in some parts of the Southern hemisphere), it would seem opportune to take into account the demands of the Liturgy, the expectations of the faithful, their maturity in the faith, in an eventual study of the problems deriving from the 'Marian months' in the overall pastoral activity of the local Church, as might happen, for example, with any suggestion of abolishing the Marian observances during the month of May.

"In many cases, the solution for such problems would seem to lie in harmonizing the content of the 'Marian months' with the concomitant season of the Liturgical Year. For example, since the month of May largely corresponds with the fifty days of Easter, the pious exercises practised at this time could emphasize Our Lady's participation in the Paschal mystery (cf. John 19, 25-27), and the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 1, 14) with which the Church begins: Our Lady journeys with the Church having shared in the novum of the Resurrection, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The fifty days are also a time for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation and of the mystagogy. The pious exercises connected with the month of May could easily highlight the earthly role played by the glorified Queen of Heaven, here and now, in the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.

"The directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium on the need to orient the 'minds of the faithful ... firstly to the feasts of the Lord, in which, the mysteries of salvation are celebrated during the year,' and with which the Blessed Virgin Mary is certainly associated, should be closely followed.

"Opportune catechesis should remind the faithful that the weekly Sunday memorial of the Paschal Mystery is 'the primordial feast day.' Bearing in mind that the four weeks of Advent are an example of a Marian time that has been incorporated harmoniously into the Liturgical Year, the faithful should be assisted in coming to a full appreciation of the numerous references to the Mother of our Saviour during this particular period."

Notice that at this point the document makes no mention of October as a Marian month. But shortly after, in No. 198, and referring to the blessing of rosary beads, it suggests: "As indicated in the Benedictionale [Book of Blessings], Rosary beads can be blessed publicly, on occasions such as a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine, a feast of Our Lady, especially that of the Holy Rosary, and at the end of the month of October."

Every celebration of the Christian mystery's Marian dimension is typically characterized by an emphasis on praying the rosary. It would appear, however, that the month of October is especially apt for promoting this pious exercise and hence the title of "rosary month" is probably best reserved to it.

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