Reflections on Rosarium Virginis Mariae - 4

Author: Archbishop Angelo Amato, S.D.B.


Archbishop Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Secretary of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith

Rosarium Virginis Mariae

The Rosary, at heart a ‘Christological prayer’

1. The Rosary an evangelical prayer

1 The Rosary is one of the devotional practices most highly praised by the Supreme Pontiffs. Pius XII considered it: "the compendium of the whole Gospel" (Pius XII, Letter Philippinas Insulas, in AAS 38 [1946] p. 419). Bl. John XXIII held it to be an excellent form of meditative prayer, through which "the drama of the Incarnation and Redemption of Our Lord is presented to the mind as in a series of images" (John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Gratarecordatio.Introduction). Paul VI described it as a Gospel prayer, centred on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation: "the Rosary is therefore a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation" (Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, n. 46). The Holy Father John Paul II pointed out the Christological aspect in his two-year cycle of Marian catecheses (1995-1997), when he presented the Rosary as the prayer clearly directed to the goal of "the Glorification of Christ" (John Paul II, Prayers to Mary, General Audience, 5 November 1997, n. 2; ORE,12 November 1997, p. 11).

The Christological dimension, which has been one of the essential features of the Holy Father's magisterium since his first Encyclical, is broadly developed in the recent Apostolic Letter dedicated to the Rosary, in which he expresses his personal participation in its joyful authenticity: "The Rosary is my favourite prayer.... How many graces have I received in these years from the Blessed Virgin through the Rosary: Magnificat animamea Dominum!". I wish to lift up my thanks to the Lord in the words of his Most Holy Mother, under whose protection I have placed my Petrine ministry: Totus Tuus" (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Rosarium VirginisMariae, n. 2. The numbers in parentheses in this text refer to this document).

With the Rosary, which is "at heart a Christocentric prayer" (n. 1), beloved by the Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium, and a compendium of the Gospel message, the Christian people go to the school of Mary in order to contemplate the beauty of the Face of Jesus and to experience the depths of his love. Thus, the Rosary is part of the finest and thoroughly tested traditions of Christian meditation. Developed in the West, it is a simple, popular prayer, corresponding in a way to the "prayer of the heart" or "Jesus Prayer" which took root in the soil of the Christian East (cf. n. 5). For this reason the faithful have made it a genuine school of prayer. In it their hearts are opened to praising the merciful love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, contemplated with Mary in the mysteries of his redemptive life.

II. The Rosary, a prayer of Christological contemplation

The Holy Father closely examines the theme of contemplating Jesus. On Mount Tabor and only briefly, Peter, James and John were overwhelmed by the beauty of Jesus, transfigured by the light of his divinity. Mary, on the other hand, diligently devoted herself to the contemplation of her divine Son in Bethlehem and in Nazareth, at Cana and on Calvary. Contemplation of Christ finds in her an incomparable model: "in a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary" (n. 10). Throughout her life, Mary, the Mother, never lifted her gaze from her divine Son, treasuring his every word and action. Her memories of Jesus, impressed upon her soul, were to be "the ‘rosary' which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life" (n. 11).

The Rosary is therefore described as an exquisitely contemplative prayer that focuses on the face of Christ, seen through the heart of the One to whom the Lord was closest. This contemplation is composed of five approaches.

1. Remembering Christ with Mary

Remembering here is understood in the full biblical sense of remembrance, which makes present today the works God accomplished in the history of salvation. This making present takes place above all in the Liturgy. But, if the Liturgy is the highest salvific action, "the Rosary too, as 'a meditation' with Mary on Christ, is a salutary contemplation" (n. 13). In this way, with participation in the liturgy and with the recitation of the Rosary, the faithful live the Gospel call to ceaseless prayer and the assimilation in their lives of the mystery of salvation.

2. Learning Christ from Mary

In the Rosary, Jesus is the Teacher who teaches and at the same time, he is the Lesson tobe learned: "it is not just a question", the Pope says, "of learning what he taught but of 'learning him’ (n. 14). In this learning no one is more expert than Mary, since "among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his Mother" (n. 14). Thus, meditating on the scenes of the Rosary means in practice putting oneself in the school of Mary to "read" Christ, to penetrate his secrets, to understand his lesson of truth and of life.

3. Being conformed to Christ with Mary

This learning implies not only a theoretical knowledge but a vital experience of the mystery of communion with Jesus. This is Christian spirituality which means being conformed to Christ, sharing his deepest feelings (cf. Phil 2,5), putting on Christ (Rom 13,14; Gal 3,27). The Rosary enables Mary to educate us and to shape us with motherly tenderness until Christ is fully formed in us (cf. Gal 4,19). This is what the Holy Father has personally experienced, as he explains: "This role of Mary ... 'does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ, but on the contrary fosters it'. This is the luminous principle expressed by the Second Vatican Council which I have so powerfully experienced in my own life and have made the basis of my episcopal motto: Totus Tuus"(n. 15).

4. Praying to Christ with Mary

Being conformed to Christ involves a ceaseless life of prayer. The Rosary sustains the prayer of the faithful and insistent prayer to the Mother of God rests on the confidence that, as she did at Cana, she can obtain all things from the heart of her Son. The Pope says: "she is 'all-powerful by grace', to use the bold expression, which needs to be properly understood, of Bl. Bartolo Longo in his Supplication to Our Lady.This is a conviction which, beginning with the Gospel, has become ever more established by way of the experience of the Christian people. The supreme poet Dante expresses it marvellously in the lines sung by St Bernard: 'Lady, thou art so great and so powerful, that whoever desires grace yet does not turn to thee, would have his desire fly without wings' (Divina Commedia, Paradiso XXXIII, 13-15)" (n. 16).

5. Proclaim Christ with Mary

As well as being a contemplative prayer, the Rosary also becomes "a significant catechetical opportunity" (n. 17). Just as in past centuries it was used to defend the true faith against the spread of heresy, so today, when we face new challenges, the Rosary "retains all its power and continues to be a valuable pastoral resource for every good evangelizer" (n. 17). The Christological heart of this prayer not only renders it catechetically effective, but also gives it an apostolic quality. This is why it is a prayer with a strong Christian identity. In contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, it becomes a valid reference point of the Christian faith in our multi-faceted, variegated culture.

III. The Rosary, 'a compendium of the Gospel'

Despite its deeply evangelical character, the Rosary singles out only a few of the mysteries of Christ's life. To complete and reinforce its Christological depth, the Pope felt it appropriate to include the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion, in which he reveals himself as "the light of the world" (Jn 9,5). Consequently, "it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and the hidden life of Christ (the JoyfulMysteries)and before focusing on his sufferings of Passion (the Sorrowful Mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection (the Glorious Mysteries), a meditation on certain particularly significant moments in his public ministry (theMysteries of Light)" (n. 19).

On the one hand, this integration confirms the Rosary as a "compendium of the Gospel"; on the other, it enriches it with a spiritual content, making it a "true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory (n. 19). Therefore to cover the entire event of the Incarnation of the Word, the Holy Father lists and comments on the five new Mysteries ofLight.If it is true that Christ's whole ministry is light since he is "the light of the world" (Jn 8,12), it is equally true that this dimension emerges in a special way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom: "In proposing to the Christian community five significant moments—'luminous' mysteries—during this phase of Christ's life, I think that the following can be fittingly singled out: (1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, (4) his Transfiguration, and finally, (5) his institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery" (n. 21).

The introduction of these mysteries, which constitute a few essential moments of pre-paschal Christology, give the Rosary that "biographical" completeness that make it extraordinarily suitable not only for contemplation, but also for telling the story of Jesus. It integrates with the word prayed what the people of God have learned down the ages through the painted word, in other words, the image. Indeed the life of Jesus has been the greatest source of inspiration for artists of all times and cultures. Someone might perhaps object that in these five mysteries, Mary's presence remains in the background. However, the recommendation which at Cana she addresses to the whole Church: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2,5), is an appropriate Marian horizon for ail the mysteries of light.

IV. The Rosary, the way to the mystery of Christ andthe mystery of man

The biblical cycles of meditation that the Rosary proposes are by no means exhaustive, but they call to mind what is at the heart of the Gospel, what is essential, introducing the faithful to "a thirst for a knowledge of Christ continually nourished by the pure source of the Gospel" (n. 24). Everything in the life of Jesus is a sign of his mystery, and the Apostle's greeting is addressed to every member of the faithful: "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith..." (Eph 3,17). The Rosary is at the service of this ideal. It offers the "secret" which leads easily to a profound and inward knowledge of Christ. This is why the Holy Father calls it "Mary's way".In the Rosary, "the mysteries of Christ are also in some sense the mysteries of his Mother,even when they do not involve her directly, for she lives from him and through him" (n. 24).

However, the contemplation of Jesus also leads to contemplation of the mystery of the human being, since the mystery of Christ recapitulates, reveals and redeems the mystery of the human person. And here the Pope makes a very fine and original anthropological analysis. In reviewing the mysteries of Jesus, the faithful rediscover the truth about their own human existence: "Contemplating Christ's birth, they learn of the sanctity of life; seeing the household of Nazareth, they learn the original truth of the family according to God's plan; listening to the Master in the mysteries of his public ministry, they find the light which leads them to enter the Kingdom of God; and following him on the way to Calvary, they learn the meaning of salvific suffering. Finally, contemplating Christ and his Blessed Mother in glory, they see the goal towards which each of us is called, if we allow ourselves to be healed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. It could be said that each mystery of the Rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man" (n. 25).

V. The Rosary, a way of assimilating Christ

The Rosary, with its simple and repetitive rhythm and its characteristic meditation on the Gospel, expresses and, at the same time, satisfies the believer's heartfelt need for spirituality and full conformity with Christ, according to the Apostle's striking phrase: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1,21); "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2,20).

For this reason the Rosary is truly the prayer of all the hours and seasons of life. Whether it is recited in a group or prayed in private, the Rosary is the breath of personal prayer for the elderly and for the young, for parents and for their children. With the Rosary, the bonds of communion and fraternal charity are reinforced. The Year of the Rosary will therefore propose again the Jubilee experience of our pilgrimage towards Jesus in the company of Mary. This daily Marian practice will be marked by the seeds of hope and peace which contemplation of Jesus will abundantly sow in the hearts of men and women and on the highways of the whole world.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 March 2003, page 11

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