CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Praying the rosary requires 'a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace,' says Blessed John Paul II.
Such a beautiful, simple prayer is the rosary. Prayed by small children and great saints, it leads us to see Jesus through the eyes of his mother.
In our fast-paced, noisy world, it may be difficult to make sense of this prayer. Why the constant repetition of the Ave Maria? Isn't once, twice at most, enough? Why can't we move on to something new and different? Why can't we spice up this centuries-old prayer with a little variety?
The rosary, however, is not about the latest new thing. It is about getting to know Jesus. Newness of life is not to be found by skimming along the surface, touching first one thing and then another. It is found by entering more and more deeply into the one thing that matters - the Son of God who became human and brings salvation.
October is the month of the rosary and we should pray the rosary this month more than any other. Partly it is tradition; partly it is joining one's heart with hearts all over the world that are focused on Jesus through the rosary more intensely this month.
The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Oct. 7, stems from a great naval battle in 1571 in which the Christian League of nations in southern Europe defeated the Ottoman Turks. The victory was attributed to Mary's intercession because of many who prayed the rosary for that intention. Two years later, Pope Pius V established the feast day.
How odd that a prayer that we now say for peace was honoured by the Church because of its connection with war! Yet, life is a spiritual battle, not a peace achieved without turmoil. Today, the rosary is often prayed for an end to war, the New Evangelization and an end to abortion, all of them spiritual battles.
CNS PHOTO | COURTESY OF J. PAUL GETTY MUSEUM
This icon of Mary and the Christ Child from about 1250 titled Virgin Hodegetria, meaning "the virgin who shows the way," shows Mary contemplating the face of her son.
So too is the inner peace that is part of praying the rosary. Blessed John Paul II wrote in his 2002 apostolic letter The Rosary of the Virgin Mary that praying the beads requires "a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace." It is not something to be rushed through. We are to treasure every word, contemplate Christ with adoration and wonder.
This too is a battle. We may want to race through all those Hail Marys or may become distracted from focusing on the prayer. The achievement of true contemplation is the most difficult battle to win.
Yet, that is what the rosary is about - "to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ," as the great pope wrote.
We contemplate Christ through those 20 "mysteries" - joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. Through the rosary, we travel through the Gospel and beyond, beginning with Christ's conception at the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel.
We contemplate the time of Mary's pregnancy, the birth of Jesus and the saviour's youth in those joyful mysteries. The luminous mysteries take us through his public ministry from his baptism in the Jordan to his institution of the Eucharist.
Then we enter into the sorrow of Jesus' passion. We see his agony in the garden, his torture, his humiliation, his carrying of the cross, his crucifixion. The sorrowful mysteries are God's love outpoured in Jesus' journey through injustice, powerlessness and death.
Finally, Christ's resurrection into glory and the fruits of that resurrection through the gift of the Holy Spirit and Mary's sharing in her son's triumph complete the journey of the rosary.
Those Hail Marys are addressed to Jesus' mother, but our love should be directed to Christ himself.
This is not a mind game, an imaginary trip with Jesus. Through the rosary, if attentive, we can come to share his feelings as Mary shared them. We begin, as St. Paul wrote, to acquire the mind of Christ and "to put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2.5; Romans 13.14).
The rosary itself is not the goal; a life shared with Jesus is our ultimate aim. Pope John Paul, who the Church will soon declare a saint, called the rosary "my favourite prayer." It was also the favourite prayer of legions of other saints.
The rosary is a simple prayer, and today we too often seek complexity and revel in our busy-ness. We ought to let the rosary challenge us to live differently. It is, as Pope John Paul said, "a treasury to be rediscovered."