Meditation for the Feast of the Holy Rosary, 5 October 1879

Author: Cardinal John Henry Newman


Cardinal John Henry Newman

Newman had no text for this short sermon. What we have here is the report given in a newspaper and written from notes taken at the time of preaching. It was delivered on Sunday, 5 October 1879. The Cardinal was then 78 years of age, and was speaking "from his heart" to the boys at Oscott College, in the north of Birmingham. As it was the Feast of the Holy Rosary, he preached on the text: "They found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in a manger" (Lk 2,16).

Five months previously, Newman was in Rome to be created Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.

Personal love for the Rosary

Newman himself was very fond of his beads. He said: "to my own feelings nothing is more delightful" (The Letters and Diaries, XII, 217). For him it was not a matter of a mechanical repetition, but a meditation and contemplation of the mysteries of our Lord's life in the company of his Mother. He has not told us expressly how he said the Rosary, but the following advice which he gave to a recent convert whom he directed probably reflects Newman's own procedure: "Try it thus, if you don't so use it at present, but perhaps you do;—viz. before each mystery, set before you a picture of it, and fix your mind upon that picture (e.g. the Annunciation, the Agony, etc.) while you say the Pater and 10 Aves, not thinking of the words, only saying them correctly. Let the exercise be hardly more than a meditation. Perhaps this will overcome any sense of tedium" (The Letters and Diaries, XII, 263). Needless to say, the material repetition of Paters and Aves has then reached its scope and becomes genuine prayer (cf. Philip Boyce, OCD, 'At Prayer with Newman', in In Search of Light. Life Development Prayer. Three Essays onJohn Henry Newman. Rome, International Centre of Newman Friends, 1985, p. 82).


I am not going to make a long address to you, my dear boys, or say anything that you have not often heard before from your superiors, for I know well in what good hands you are, and I know that their instructions come to you with greater force than any you can have from a stranger. If I speak to you at all, it is because I have lately come from the Holy Father, and am, in some sort, his representative, and so in the years to come you may remember that you saw me today and heard me speak in his name, and remember it to your profit.

You know that today we keep the Feast of the Holy Rosary, and I propose to say to you what occurs to me on this great subject. You know how that devotion came about; how, at a time when heresy was very widespread, and had called in the aid of sophistry, that can so powerfully aid infidelity against religion, God inspired St Dominic to institute and spread this devotion. It seems so simple and easy, but you know God chooses the small things of the world to humble the great (I Cor. 1,27-28).

Of course it was first of all for the poor and simple, but not for them only, for everyone who has practised the devotion knows that there is in it a soothing sweetness that there is in nothing else. It is difficult to know God by your own power, because He is incomprehensible. He is invisible to begin with, and therefore incomprehensible. We can in some way know Him, for even among the heathens there were some who had learned many truths about Him; but even they found it hard to conform their lives to their knowledge of Him. And so in His mercy He has given us a revelation of Himself by coming amongst us, to be one of ourselves, with all the relations and qualities of humanity, to gain us over. He came down from Heaven and dwelt amongst us, and died for us. All these things are in the Creed, which contains the chief things that He has revealed to us about Himself.

Now the great power of the Rosary lies in this, that it makes the Creed into a prayer; of course, the Creed is in some sense a prayer and a great act of homage to God; but the Rosary gives us the great truths of His life and death to meditate upon, and brings them nearer to our hearts. And so we contemplate all the great mysteries of His life and His birth in the manger; and so too the mysteries of His suffering and His glorified life. But even Christians, with all their knowledge of God, have usually more awe than love of Him, and the special virtue of the Rosary lies in the special way in which it looks at these mysteries; for with all our thoughts of Him are mingled thoughts of His Mother, and in the relations between Mother and Son we have set before us the Holy Family, the home in which God lived. Now the family is, even humanly considered, a sacred thing; how much more the family bound together by supernatural ties, and, above all, that in which God dwelt with His Blessed Mother.

This is what I should most wish you to remember in future years. For you will all of you have to go out into the world, and going out into the world means leaving home; and, my dear boys, you don't know what the world is now. You look forward to the time when you will go out into the world, and it seems to you very bright and full of promise. It is not wrong for you to look forward to that time; but most men who know the world find it a world of great trouble, and disappointments, and even misery. If it turns out so to you, seek a home in the Holy Family that you think about in the mysteries of the Rosary. Schoolboys know the difference between school and home. You often hear grown-up people say that the happiest time of their life was that passed at school but when they were at school you know they had a happier time, which was when they went home; that shows there is a good in home which cannot be found elsewhere. So that even if the world should actually prove to be all that you now fancy it, if it should bring you all that you could wish, yet you ought to have in the Holy Family a home with a holiness and sweetness about it that cannot be found elsewhere.

This is, my dear boys, what I most earnestly ask you. I ask you when you go out into the world, as you soon must, to make the Holy Family your home, to which you may turn from all the sorrow and care of the world and find a solace, a compensation, and a refuge. And this I say to you, not as if I should speak to you again, not as if I had of myself any claim upon you, but with the claims of the Holy Father, whose representative I am, and in the hope that in the days to come you will remember that I came amongst you and said it to you. And when I speak of the Holy Family I do not mean Our Lord and Our Lady only, but St Joseph too; for as we cannot separate Our Lord from His Mother, so we cannot separate St Joseph from them both; for who but he was their protector in all the scenes of Our Lord's early life? And with Joseph must be included St Elizabeth and St John, whom we naturally think of as part of the Holy Family; we read of them together and see them in pictures together. May you, my dear boys, throughout your life find a home in the Holy Family; the home of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, St Joseph, St Elizabeth, and St John.

(MaryThe Virgin Mary in the Life and Writings of John Henry Newman, chap. 6, Edited by Philip Boyce).  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
5 February 2003, page 10

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