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Our Lady of the Rosary
(feast first instituted by Pope St Pius V in 1572 under the title of “Our Lady of Victory”)
I received a visit today from your guardian angel, who informed me that lately you have “opted out” of your commitment to pray the rosary (or at least a decade of it) every day. I do so dislike being the heavy hand among you and your cousins, but if not I, then who? Therefore, I feel obliged to remind you that there are only three possible reasons for a Christian not to make use of this simple and most effective aid to prayer: ignorance, pride, or laziness. I already know which reason applies to you, but lest I shame you too much, I will address each separately (though briefly – a new warden has taken charge of this prison, and he is eager to interrogate me afresh in just a few minutes).
Ignorance of what the rosary is and what it’s for can turn people off. True, “prayer beads” of various forms have appeared through the ages in many non-Christian religions, but so has ritual sacrifice. Just as pagan rituals do not invalidate the sacrifice of the Mass, so pagan prayer beads do not invalidate the rosary. Indeed, the universality of the phenomenon indicates its appropriateness for human nature (we are not angels, so we need aids to prayer). The origin of the Christian rosary in particular is a hotly disputed topic. Eastern Christians long had strings of beads to help them pray, but these are unrelated to the rosary itself, which developed in the west. Some scholars point to the tradition of lay brothers and lay people reciting 150 Our Fathers or Hail Marys as a way to join their souls to the monks in the nearby monastery who prayed all 150 psalms every day or week. Some claim that St Dominic received the whole plan of the rosary from Mary herself in a vision. In any case, the remote origins of the rosary as it is now organized remain clouded. We know for sure that the Dominicans utilized and popularized the current form of reciting the rosary in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Regardless of its origins, its nature and fruitfulness stand firm. Each decade (an Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and a Glory Be) brings us into extended contact with one of the key mysteries of our Lord’s earthly life. As we contemplate those mysteries, which are inexhaustible fountains of wisdom and spiritual nourishment, the words of the familiar prayers act as a kind of spiritual tour guide, helping us to stay on track. The simple but profound structure encloses all the wealth of Christian theology, making it easily accessible to souls who have not had the benefit of formal instruction, to people who are ill or otherwise incapacitated, and to the most learned and holy men and women the world has ever known. When it comes to the value of praying the rosary, the “proof is in the pudding,” as the saying goes – it has helped countless thousands come closer to Christ (and it also aided the defense of Christendom against the Muslim Turkish invasion at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, thus the date of this feast). Of course, it doesn’t do any good at all automatically; we need to put our hearts into it, to explore its recesses and plunge into its depths.
Knowing that the rosary is a tested aid for prayer (which numerous popes have recommended to the faithful, by the way), why wouldn’t we make use of it? If we think ourselves “above” such simple modes of prayer, we will disdain it. But we really can’t be “above” it without being “above” the need to get to know Jesus Christ, since that’s what the rosary is all about. Sometimes we offer other excuses, like not having time, or being bored by it. A decade of the rosary takes two or three minutes to pray. You can pray it while walking to class, while waiting for class to begin, while waiting for the subway… “Not enough time” for the rosary really means “too lazy” for the rosary. Bored? Well, sometimes the spiritual life demands self-discipline and work. If God sees fit to give you spiritual candy when you pray, enjoy it; but if he sees fit to give you oatmeal, trust his choice of menu. Many times the boredom we experience in prayer is our own fault. If we put our whole heart and mind and imagination into our prayer (all our prayer, not just the rosary), what appeared to be “spiritual dryness” may actually be exposed as “routine” – another product of spiritual laziness.
My dear niece, I hope you didn’t really need this little review session. But if you did, well, there it is. If you’re still not convinced, let me put it this way: you shouldn’t neglect your Mother. I must be off.