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Praying the Rosary with Mary as a Believer
Jesus Chris should be as a book always opened before us rom which we are to learn all that is necessary to know.
For Christians in the new millennium, the rosary or prayer beads are familiar aids to prayer. Originally all forms of beads--ropes with knots, cords tightly twisted around one's fingers or wrist or kept hidden in a pocket or under a surplice or apron--served as a reminder to follow the exhortation to pray constantly. Stories are told of the desert fathers and mothers beginning their day by collecting stones, counting them out in sevens, and filling their pockets with them. Then, as the day unfolded and they went about their duties they would finger a stone, pray, and then drop the stone as they walked to their next task; when all the stones were gone, they would stop and once again collect more. These prayers weren't meant to be finished, but were never-ending, a way of praying that was a way of life, drawing the observers daily into a deeper consciousness of being "followers of the way" (the first name for those who followed Jesus Christ).
With the advent of Western monasticism in the fourth century, members of the community were encouraged to learn all one hundred and fifty psalms that were prayed during the seven hours of the Office, the public prayer of the Church meant to draw all of creation--all of time and all the peoples of the world--into an endless prayer from East to West. This was the idea of ringing the world and encircling it, making all one in Christ. Since many could not read or found the task of memorizing the psalms a daunting proposition, they were allowed to substitute the Our Father "Paters" instead, and the recitation of one hundred fifty Our Fathers became a "paternoster." In the Eastern tradition the prayer that was recited was called the "Jesus Prayer" from the Scriptures: "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This prayer was chanted slowly, carefully, silently or very softly over and over again, filling the one who prayed with a sense of the presence of God everywhere at all times. John Paul II refers to this tradition of prayer in his recent Apostolic Letter "On the Most Holy Rosary" when he writes: "The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation. Developed in the West, it is a typically meditative prayer, corresponding in some way to the 'prayer of the heart' or 'Jesus prayer' which took root in the soil of the Christian East." (p. 12, #5)
Just as the Jesus Prayer centered the believer on the person of Christ, so the praying of the Rosary is intended to center the believer on "a commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery." (ibid.) The heart and fullness of the Christian mystery is, of course, the person of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh of Mary, the Theotokis (she who bore the Word into the world). Jesus is a singular human being in history and then the Christ of the Word of God (the Scriptures) where this presence of the Risen Lord is given to the Church for all believers to ponder and to incarnate into their own lives now.
John Paul II refers to the Rosary as "a compendium of the Gospel" ("On the Most Holy Rosary," p.25, #18). And he quotes Paul VI to describe how the Rosary is a Gospel prayer and a Christological prayer.
As a Gospel prayer, centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation. Its most characteristic element, in fact, the litany-like succession of Hail Marys, becomes in itself an unceasing praise of Christ, who is the ultimate object both of the angel's announcement and the greeting of the mother of John the Baptist: "Blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Lk 1:42). We would go further and say that the succession of Hail Marys constitutes the warp on which is woven the contemplation of the mysteries. The Jesus that each Hail Mary recalls is the same Jesus whom the succession of mysteries proposes to us now as the Son of God, now as the Son of the Virgin. (#28 Apostolic Exhortation Marials Cultus [February 2, 1974], 46: AAS 6 , 155 ).
Again, there is that image of the loom, and the warp describing how the singular thread of the Hail Marys is meant to disappear into the other threads, the mysteries of the Word of God in the Scriptures. Always the unifying element is the Word of God. Again John Paul II writes: "The Rosary is also a path of proclamation and increasing knowledge, in which the mystery of Christ is presented again and again at different levels of the Christian experience. Its form is that of a prayerful and contemplative presentation, capable of forming Christians according to the heart of Christ." (p. 23, #17)
It is with this in mind that John Paul II decided to add to the traditional mysteries of the Rosary. As the Rosary developed in the Middle Ages, much of the core of the Scriptures, the life and teachings of Jesus, was omitted, with concentration on his birth, and sufferings, death, and resurrection. Since many could not read, emphasis was placed upon events and moments that had been described in the Gospels while neglecting the teachings, parables, and prayers of Jesus. What was left out was the heart of the Good News, "the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his passion." (p. 26, #19) Even with the insertion of these five new mysteries of light, or luminous mysteries, only a tiny portion of the Word of God in the Gospels is highlighted for reflection. The five mysteries of light are turning points, or large theological concepts that are found fleshed out in the Gospels. They are, as it were, jumping-off places, catalysts for entering into the depths of the Word of God in the Scriptures. The moments of light that have been singled out are: I. Jesus' 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. RVM*, "Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus." (pp. 28-29, #21)
In some ways the inclusion of these five luminous mysteries is an attempt to introduce major themes of the entire Gospels. The focus is to be on Jesus and only secondarily on Mary as believer, who with us seeks to follow the commands of Jesus, walking in his way, his truth and life, toword the Father, in the power of the Spirit. John Paul II explains how Mary is "found" in these mysteries.
In these mysteries, apart from the miracle of 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. Mark 3:31-35; 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" (John 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, p.30, #21)
Again, this command is directed to us, summoning us to obey the Word of God as found in the Scriptures, to concentrate on focusing our attention on what Jesus is doing and how he is revealing what the kingdom looks like now, in his presence on earth.
John Paul II seeks in his Apostolic Letter to help the Church to "rediscover the age-old tradition of the recitation of the Rosary" in the same light as his exhortation to rediscover the Liturgy of the Hours, in his letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," asking parish communities and groups to make the Office a part of their daily life. With the addition of the mysteries of light, the Pope seeks to infuse new life into this devotion, calling for renewed consciousness of the need to "pray always and not lose heart" (Luke 13:1) and to situate all prayer in the context of the Word of God, the Scriptures. As Therese of Lisieux said in her writings: ". . . it is especially the Gospels which sustain me during my hours of prayer, for in them I find what is necessary for my poor little soul. I am constantly discovering in them new lights, hidden and mysterious meanings." (Quoted in "On Reading with Abandonment," Pat Hall, Living Prayer, September/October 1994, pp. 13-17)
As with all devotions, the five mysteries' intent is to lead toward a deeper appreciation of and participation in the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist. Private and devotional communal prayer are to be practiced as the necessary basis for delving ever more deeply into the sources of our Christian life: the Word of God in the Scriptures, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the sacraments. The recitation of the Rosary with contemplative reflection on the mysteries of the gospel must invariably lead to an intimate reading, study, and love of the Word of God itself. As John Paul reminds us, as we pray the Rosary, it must be prayed with concentration, attentiveness, and with an attitude of conversion of heart and life, or it is an empty, run-on prayer. He writes:
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: "Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: 'In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words' (Matthew 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed." (Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus [February 2, 1974], 47: AAS , 156 in JPII [p. 17, #12])
For these reasons, each of the reflections presented in this book on the twenty mysteries of Christ's life as contemplated in the Rosary prayer will begin with portions of the Scriptures to be read and reflected upon prior to the actual recitation. And it is hoped that reflection upon these short pieces of the Word of God will lead those who pray the Rosary to use the Scriptures as their essential and basic prayer, alone and in community, along with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and to see the Word as primary to the Christian life of prayer.
The Rosary as a Prayer for Peace
"The Rosary is by is nature a prayer for peace, since i consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is 'our peace.' "
--Ephesians 2:14; p. 50, #40
At the very beginning of his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary, John Paul II writes that the Rosary needs to be prayed in these times "first of all, . . . to implore from God the gift of peace." (p.12, #6) This millennium began with acts of terrorism, violence, and bloodshed, and has continued to escalate into worldwide nationalistic and religious confrontations that threaten to engulf humankind in a future of fear. On January 13, 2003, the Pope met with ambassadors of the world at the Vatican to categorically state that there cannot be another war. He spoke forcibly, stressing both the teaching of the Church and of the United Nations. His points situate any prayer in the context of harsh and demanding realities that surround all peoples of the earth.
After referring to "the feeling of fear which often dwells in the hearts of our contemporaries," and the "insidious terrorism capable of striking at any time anywhere," as well as "the unresolved problem of the Middle East," the Pope today exclaimed: "No to war! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity."
On the contrary, "international law, honest dialogue, solidarity between states, the noble exercise of diplomacy: These are the methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences. I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons and of the all-too-numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity."
Adamantly, he continued teaching, and exhorting the ambassadors:
And what are we to say of the threat of war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. . . . The solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution. (Zenit, Vatican City, January 13, 2003; State of the World, According to John Paul II.
As part of this address, John Paul cried out: "No to Death! No to Selfishness! No to War!" It is in light of these words to the ambassadors of the world community that his words in the Apostolic Letter on the Rosary must be read and taken to heart: "Consequently, one cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace, especially in the land of Jesus, still so sorely afflicted and so close to the heart of every Christian." (p. 12, #6) This theme is returned to again and again in the letter, calling everyone who prays the Rosary to engage in the active work of justice, care for the poor, dialogue, nonviolent conflict negotiation, demand for universal law, and resistance to the idea of the use of weapons and military force as inevitable or even to be considered, except as an extreme possibility after every other option has been exhausted. As he addresses all believers at the end of the letter, he writes specifically of becoming peacemakers as a necessity for all who believe the Word of God and pray the Rosary.
From the Hardcover edition.