Praying, Not Saying, the Rosary Helps Us Become Christ-like Contemplatives

Author: Fr Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.


Fr Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.
Cofounder and Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity
—Contemplative of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Our beloved Holy Father John Paul II published his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae on Wednesday, 16 October 2002, the beginning of the twenty-fifth year of his Pontificate. The Holy Father has also proclaimed the year from October 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the Rosary, for he writes: " continuity with my reflection in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which, after the experience of the Jubilee, I invited the people of God to 'start afresh from Christ', I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary, as a kind of Marian complement to that Letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ" (RVM, n. 3).

This Apostolic Letter was our Holy Father's jubilee gift to the Church, which coincided with the 120th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio (1 September 1883), on devotion to the Holy Rosary, its place, significance and importance in the life of the Christian faithful.

Pope John Paul II goes further and deeper in his reflections on the Rosary and joins it with the most basic document of the II Vatican Council Lumen Gentium, Chapter VIII: "The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church" (nn. 52-69). The Holy Father writes: "It can be said that the Rosary is, in some sense, a prayer on the final Chapter of the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium, a chapter which discusses the wondrous presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church" (RVM, n. 2).

The Holy Father shares with us like a true loving father, his own personal devotion and love for Our Lady. For he says: "From my youthful years this prayer held an important place in my spiritual life. I was powerfully reminded of this during my recent visit to Poland and in particular at the Shrine of Kalwaria. The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago, on 29 October 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I frankly admitted: ‘The Rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer! Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth'" (RVM, n. 2).

The Holy Father not only exhorts the Christian faithful to pray the Rosary with love and devotion, but also invites all to enter more deeply into the mysteries of the whole life of Jesus through contemplation, reflection and meditation. He says: "The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI

clearly pointed out [in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus that]: Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul...'" (RVM, n. 12). Without this contemplative dimension, praying the Rosary will become simply "a mechanical repetition of formulas" which may be reduced to a collection of empty phrases and may not have any real effect on our daily life.

Our Lady also told our Beloved Mother Teresa back in 1947: "Fear not. Teach the people to pray the Rosary, the family Rosary—all will be well. Fear not". Frequent praying and not simply saying or reciting the Rosary will lead us to be contemplatives like Jesus and Mary.

Only a contemplative can go through severe trials, temptations, hardships and even martyrdoms without being sunk and drowned. Only a contemplative will have the courage and the humility to transform the world and see everything in it as the arena of God. Only a contemplative can live in this world and possess things without being possessed by them. Contemplation strengthens both our wings: The wing of the commandment of the love of God—that is, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and the equally important wing of "loving our neighbour as we love ourselves". Both these wings must balance if we are to fly to God.

"Of the many mysteries of Christ's life, only a few are indicated by the Rosary..." writes the Holy Father, "I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern... to include the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion. In the course of those mysteries we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God" (RVM, n. 19).

For this reason, immediately after the five joyful mysteries the Holy Father has added five more mysteries from the public life of Jesus. They are known as the Mysteries of Light or Luminous Mysteries. They are:

1. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (Mt 3:13-17).

2. Jesus' self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-11).

3. Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with His call to conversion (Mk 1:14-15).

4. Jesus' Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8).

5. The institution of the Eucharist as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery (Mt 26:17-30) (cf. RVM, n. 21).

"Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus", the Holy Father writes. "The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became 'sin' for our sake (cf. II Cor 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (Mt 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs given at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1-12), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers.

"Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls for conversion (cf. Mk 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk 7:47-48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. Jn 20:22-23).

"The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to 'listen to Him' (cf. Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit. A final mystery of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies 'to the end' his love for humanity (cf. Jn 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice (RVM, n. 21).

"In these mysteries, apart from the miracle at Cana, the presence of Mary remains in the background. The Gospels make only the briefest reference to her occasional presence at one moment or other during the preaching of Jesus (cf. Mk 3:31-5; Jn 2:12), and they give no indication that she was present at the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Yet the role she assumed at Cana in some way accompanies Christ throughout his ministry. The revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan and echoed by John the Baptist is placed upon Mary's lips at Cana, and it becomes the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age; 'Do whatever he tells you' (Jn 2:5). This counsel is a fitting introduction to the words and signs of Christ's public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation of all the 'mysteries of light'" (RVM, n. 21).

The Holy Father invites us to pray the Rosary with contemplation, a contemplation that can transform our lives into Jesus' and Mary's lives. Let us take time to read meditatively the entire Rosarium Virginis Mariae, and to then translate it into life. The Holy Father hopes that his appeal to Our Lady goes not in vain but produces much fruit. He concludes his Letter with a prayer to our Lady of the Rosary:

"O Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels.... May you be everywhere blessed, today and always, on earth and in heaven" (RVM, n. 43).  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
30 April 2003, page 10

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