I recently read Pope Saint John Paul II’s apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (“On the Most Holy Rosary”), promulgated in 2002, and thought I would offer something of a summary of it here. The Rosary might be one of the most misunderstood prayers that Catholics use – and that includes a lot of Catholics! I wrote about my own struggles with the Rosary here. You can read more about what an apostolic letter is (and how it differs from an encyclical) at this link.
This is the fourth in a series of posts, which I am breaking down along the lines of the letter:
- Chapter I: Contemplating with Mary
- Chapter II: Mysteries of Christ – Mysteries of His Mother
- Chapter III: “For Me, to Live is Christ”
Please feel free to share your experiences praying the Rosary in the comments below.
“Blessed Rosary of Mary, Sweet Chain Linking Us to God”
Pope John Paul II says that the Rosary is a rich prayer, yet it is simple enough to be a popular devotion loved by people of all ages and states in life. It can be a prayer that leads to deep contemplation, if that suits the person praying. The Church sees it as a powerful prayer, and the pope tells us:
“The Church has always attributed particular efficacy to this prayer, entrusting to the Rosary, to its choral recitation and to is constant practice, the most difficult problems. At times when Christianity itself seemed under threat, its deliverance was attributed to the power of this prayer, and Our Lady of the Rosary was acclaimed as the one whose intercession brought salvation.
“Today I willingly entrust to the power of this prayer … the cause of peace in the world and the cause of the family.”
This reminded me of the Battle of Lepanto, which was memorialized by G.K. Chesterton in his beautiful poem.
And yet the Rosary is a prayer for peace, not for war. It focuses on “contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace”. John Paul II says that because of its meditative character, the Rosary brings us to a place of peace and quiet, disposing those who pray it to receiving and spreading the true peace found in Christ alone.
And the peacefulness that praying the Rosary brings also brings with it Christian charity. “When prayed well in a truly meditative way, the Rosary leads to an encounter with Christ in his mysteries and so cannot fail to draw attention to the face of Christ in others, especially in the most afflicted.” When we encounter the Babe in the Manger, how can we not wish to promote a Culture of Life? When we contemplate the Beatitudes during the Luminous Mysteries, how can we not yearn to live them more fully? When we meditate on the Passion of our Lord, how can we not feel the desire to be like Simon of Cyrene for our brothers and sisters in this world? And when we look to the Risen Christ and His Blessed Mother, how can we not wish to make the world more conformed to God’s plan? “In a word,” the pope tells us, “by focusing our eyes on Christ, the Rosary also makes us peacemakers in the world.”
The Family: Parents…
Yes, the Rosary is a great prayer for peace, but it is also a prayer “of and for the family.” There was a time when Catholic families regularly prayed the Rosary together, and this is a practice that could use some revival. In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, John Paul II encouraged a wider use of the Liturgy of the Hours among the laity, whether it was in the regular parish life or in smaller Christian groups. He goes on to encourage the same revival of the Rosary, saying that the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary complement each other.
The Rosary can be a way for families to grow closer, for “the family that prays together stays together.” When families look Jesus in the eye, they learn to do the same for their family members. When family members learn to love Jesus better, they learn to love each other better, as well. “The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre”.
The pope laments how difficult it is for parents to follow their children’s lives as they grow up. So many things pull us apart as families: technology, activities, and the general nature of our hurried world. Parental anxiety can be high when they see all of the unpredictability of their children’s lives, as well:
“The most diverse messages and the most unpredictable experiences rapidly make their way into the lives of children and adolescents, and parents can become quite anxious about the dangers their children face. At times parents suffer acute disappointment at the failure of their children to resist the seductions of the drug culture, the lure of an unbridled hedonism, the temptation to violence, and the manifold expressions of meaninglessness and despair.”
All of this puts a kind of distance between generations that can be gapped by focusing together on God. The Rosary is a tool to help families do this. Praying the Rosary for our children and, more importantly, with our children can help them learn to pause in their day to pray. The pope admits this is not a way to fix everything, but it is a powerful spiritual aid which we should not underestimate. And praying the Rosary with young children is not something that is impossible, because we can use different sorts of visual aids to help them understand it better. As they grow, praying the Rosary becomes easier. Even teens can be introduced to the Rosary and wind up surprising adults with how much they love it.
The Rosary, a Treasure to be Rediscovered
In this last portion of the letter, Pope John Paul II gives a call to action, beginning with bishops, priests, and deacons, as well as those who work in pastoral ministries within parishes. He calls for a promotion of the Rosary among the faithful.
He then calls on theologians to help demonstrate that the Rosary is, indeed, Scripturally-based.
The pope then calls on consecrated men and women to “contemplate the face of Christ at the school of Mary.”
Finally, he calls on people of every state of life, and especially to Christian families, to take up the Rosary and to “rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives.”
The losing paragraph of the letter is a beautiful appeal to the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for him and for the intentions in the letter. I’ll close by quoting it in full.
“May this appeal of mine not go unheard! At the start of the twenty-fifth year of my Pontificate, I entrust this Apostolic Letter to the loving hands of the Virgin Mary, prostrating myself in spirit before her image in the splendid Shrine built for her by Blessed Bartolo Longo, the apostle of the Rosary. I willingly make my own the touching words with which he concluded his well-known Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary: ‘O Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of Hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we will never abandon you. You will be our comfort in the hour of death: yours our final kiss as life ebbs away. And the last word from our lips will be your sweet name, O Queen of the Rosary of Pompei, O dearest Mother, O Refuge of Sinners, O Sovereign Consoler of the Afflicted. May you be everywhere blessed, today and always, on earth and in heaven’.”
Do you pray the Rosary as a family? How do you do this if you have young children? Is it more difficult to pray with teens? How do you make time in your schedule to pray together as a family, even if it’s not the Rosary?
©2017 Christine Johnson