dimanche 7 octobre 2012

Le TRÈS SAINT ROSAIRE



Le Très Saint Rosaire

En action de grâces de la décisive victoire remportée à Lépante par la flotte chrétienne sur la flotte turque, le premier dimanche d'octobre 1571, le saint Pape Pie V institua une fête annuelle sous le titre de Sainte Marie de la Victoire; mais peu après, le Pape Grégoire XII changea le nom de cette fête en celui de Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire.

Le Rosaire avait été institué par saint Dominique au commencement du XIIIe siècle. Par le zèle des Papes, et aussi par les fruits abondants qu'il produisait dans l'Église, il devenait de plus en plus populaire. Au XVe siècle, le bienheureux Alain de La Roche, Dominicain, fut suscité par Marie pour raviver cette dévotion si excellente.

Plus tard, dans les premières années du XVIIIe siècle, parut un homme extraordinaire appelé à bon droit le Dominique des temps modernes, et qui fut le grand propagateur, l'apôtre de la dévotion au saint Rosaire; c'est saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. Depuis saint Dominique, il n'y a pas eu d'homme plus zélé que ce grand missionnaire pour l'établissement de la confrérie du Rosaire: il l'érigeait dans tous les lieux où elle ne l'était pas; c'est le moyen qu'il jugeait le plus puissant pour établir le règne de Dieu dans les âmes. Il composa lui-même une méthode de réciter le Rosaire, qui est restée la meilleure entre toutes, la plus facile à retenir, la plus instructive et la plus pieuse. L'Apôtre de l'Ouest récitait tous les jours son Rosaire en entier, suivant sa méthode, et le faisait de même réciter publiquement tous les jours dans ses missions, et il a fait un point de règle à ses disciples de suivre son exemple.

Par son Rosaire quotidien, Montfort convertissait les plus grands pécheurs et les faisait persévérer dans la grâce et la ferveur de leur conversion; il pouvait dire: "Personne ne m'a résisté une fois que j'ai pu lui mettre la main au collet avec mon Rosaire!" Il avait mille industries pour propager et faire aimer le Rosaire: là, c'étaient quinze bannières représentant les quinze mystères du Rosaire; ailleurs, d'immenses Rosaires qu'on récitait en marchant, dans les églises ou autour des églises, à la manière du chemin de la Croix. Il exaltait le Rosaire dans ses cantiques; un tonnerre de voix répondait à la sienne, et tous les échos répétaient, de colline en colline, les gloires de cette dévotion bénie.

Son oeuvre a continué après lui; c'est le Rosaire à la main que la Vendée, en 1793, a défendu ses foyers et ses autels; c'est aussi le Rosaire ou le chapelet à la main que les populations chrétiennes paraissent dans toutes les cérémonies religieuses.

Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l'année, Tours, Mame, 1950

SOURCE : http://magnificat.ca/cal/fr/saints/le_tres_saint_rosaire.html



La fête du Rosaire est célébrée le premier dimanche d'octobre. Elle fut, dans le principe, une simple fête de confrérie. Mais, en 1571, le septième jour d'octobre, qui était le premier dimanche de ce mois, une grâce extraordinaire accordée au peuple chrétien tout entier, vint donner à cette fête un grand éclat. En effet, ce fut le jour où don Juan d'Autriche remporta sur les Turcs la célèbre victoire de Lépante, et sauva ainsi la chrétienté du plus imminent danger.

Le même jour et à l'heure même du combat, les confréries du Rosaire faisaient à Rome des processions solennelles pour demander la victoire sur les infidèles. Le saint pape Pie V, divinement averti de la victoire des chrétiens, la regarda comme une grâce accordée par Marie, à cause des prières ferventes qui lui étaient adressées.

Pour reconaître ce bienfait, il prescrivit une fête spéciale en l'honneur de la sainte Vierge. On inséra donc, par son ordre, cette mention dans le martyrologe, à la date du 7 octobre : " Mémoire de sainte Marie de la Victoire, que le souverain pontife Pie V ordonna de renouveler chaque année, à cause de l'insigne victoire navale remportée ce jour-là par les chrétiens sur les Turcs, grâce au secours de la Mère de Dieu. "

Dans l'origine cette fête porta donc le nom de Notre-Dame de la Victoire.

Grégoire XIII renouvela en 1573 l'ordonnance de son saint prédécesseur, et ajouta que désormais la fête aurait lieu le premier dimanche d'octobre, dans toutes les églises où se trouvait un autel ou une chapelle sous l'invocation de Notre-Dame du Saint-Rosaire, et qu'elle porterait ce même nom. La fête était élevée en même temps au rite double majeur.

Un siècle plus tard, en 1671, Clément X étendit cette fête à toute l'Espagne, sans condition, sur l'instante prière de la reine Marie-Anne. Cette faveur s'étendit peu à peu à d'autres contrées et enfin le pape Clément XI, en 1716, ordonna qu'elle fût célébrée par toute la chrétienté, en mémoire de la victoire obtenue en 1715 par Charles VI sur les Turcs, en Hongrie. Comme pour la victoire de Lépante, les confréries du Rosaire faisaient au moment du combat, des processions solennelles, pour obtenir le secours divin par l'intercession de Marie. Clément XI, en étendant la fête du Saint-Rosaire à toute l'Église, voulait, dit-il, enflammer le coeur des fidèles, et les encourager à rendre hommage à la Vierge glorieuse qui ne laisse jamais l'Église sans secours, au milieu des dangers.

Jusqu'au temps de Benoît XIII, les leçons du second nocturne étaient un sermon de S. Augustin, sans rapport direct avec la fête du Saint-Rosaire, Benoît XIII, d'après l'avis de la Congrégation des rites, le fit remplacer par une notice assez étendue sur la dévotion du Rosaire, son origine, son histoire et celle de l'institution de la fête. Il était réservé au grand et saint pontife Léon XIII de revêtir la dévotion au saint Rosaire et la fête d'un nouvel éclat.

Le 11 septembre 1887 parut un décret de la Congrégation des rites qui, après avoir rappelé que nous pouvons tout espérer de la protection de Marie, si nous sommes fidèles à lui adresser pieusement les saintes invocations du Rosaire, se continue ainsi :

"Notre très Saint-Père. tout heureux de cet empressement unanime, renouvelle ses instances auprès de tous les Pasteurs de l'Église et de tous les fidèles du monde, et les exorte à redoubler de ferveur et de confiance filiale en persévérant dans ces saints exercices, et à supplier la très auguste Reine de la paix, d'user de son crédit auprès de Dieu, pour détourner l'horrible tempête des temps présents, par la ruine de l'empire de Satan et la défaite des ennemis de la religion, et pour rendre la calme si désiré à la barque mystique de Pierre, ballotée par les flots. C'est pourquoi tout ce qui a été décrété, accordé et ordonné les années précédentes, et dernièrement par le décret de la Sacrée Congrégation des rites, prescrivant de consacrer le mois d'octobre à la céleste Reine du Rosaire, de nouveau il le décrète, l'accorde et l'ordonne.

La fête de la solennité du Saint-Rosaire est déjà en honneur chez les peuples chrétiens, et l'objet d'un culte tout particulier, qui se rapporte à tous les mystères de la vie, de la passion, de la gloire de N.-S. Jésus-Christ, notre rédempteur, et de son Immaculée Mère. Afin donc de favoriser cette dévotion qui va toujours croissant, afin aussi d'ajouter aux honneurs publics rendus à Marie, Sa Sainteté Léon XIII, par un privilège dont jouissent déjà plusieurs églises particulières, ordonne de célébrer désormais dans toute l'Église, sous le rite de seconde classe, ladite solennité et l'office de Notre-Dame du Rosaire fixé au premier dimanche d'octobre, en sorte que cette fête ne puisse être transférée à un autre jour, si ce n'est en cas d'occurence d'un office de rite supérieur ; sauf les rubriques et nonobstant toute disposition contraire."

Ce n'était pas assez pour le zèle et la dévotion de Léon XIII envers Notre-Dame du Saint-Rosaire. L'année suivante, la Sacrée Congrégation des rites rendit un nouveau décret inspiré par la gravité des circonstances. Ce décret rappelle ce que le Souverain Pontife régnant a déjà fait en l'honneur de Notre-Dame du Saint-Rosaire, exorte tous les chrétiens à se conformer pieusement aux ordonnances du Saint-Père, et donne un nouvel office et une nouvelle messe revus et approuvés par Léon XIII lui-même pour cette solennité.

SOURCE : http://pages.total.net/~jmarient/erger/pagetest/psaume.htm


LETTRE APOSTOLIQUE



ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE



DU PAPE



JEAN-PAUL II



À L'ÉPISCOPAT, AU CLERGÉ



ET AUX FIDÈLES



SUR LE ROSAIRE


INTRODUCTION

1. Le Rosaire de la Vierge Marie, qui s'est développé progressivement au coursdu deuxième millénaire sous l'inspiration de l'Esprit de Dieu, est une prière aimée de nombreux saints et encouragée par le Magistère. Dans sa simplicité et dans sa profondeur, il reste, même dans le troisième millénaire commençant, une prière d'une grande signification, destinée à porter des fruits de sainteté. Elle se situe bien dans la ligne spirituelle d'un christianisme qui, après deux mille ans, n'a rien perdu de la fraîcheur des origines et qui se sent poussé par l'Esprit de Dieu à « avancer au large » (Duc in altum!) pour redire, et même pour “crier” au monde, que le Christ est Seigneur et Sauveur, qu'il est « le chemin, la vérité et la vie » (Jn 14, 6), qu'il est « la fin de l'histoire humaine, le point vers lequel convergent les désirs de l'histoire et de la civilisation ».1

En effet, tout en ayant une caractéristique mariale, le Rosaire est une prière dont le centre est christologique. Dans la sobriété de ses éléments, il concentre en lui la profondeur de tout le message évangélique, dont il est presque un résumé.2 En lui résonne à nouveau la prière de Marie, son Magnificat permanent pour l'œuvre de l'Incarnation rédemptrice qui a commencé dans son sein virginal. Avec lui, le peuple chrétien se met à l'école de Marie, pour se laisser introduire dans la contemplation de la beauté du visage du Christ et dans l'expérience de la profondeur de son amour. Par le Rosaire, le croyant puise d'abondantes grâces, les recevant presque des mains mêmes de la Mère du Rédempteur.

Les Pontifes romains et le Rosaire

2. Beaucoup de mes prédécesseurs ont accordé une grande importance à cette prière. À ce sujet, des mérites particuliers reviennent à Léon XIII qui, le 1erseptembre 1883, promulgua l'encyclique Supremi apostolatus officio,3 paroles fortes par lesquelles il inaugurait une série de nombreuses autres interventions concernant cette prière, qu'il présente comme un instrument spirituel efficace face aux maux de la société. Parmi les Papes les plus récents qui, dans la période conciliaire, se sont illustrés dans la promotion du Rosaire, je désire rappeler le bienheureux Jean XXIII4 et surtout Paul VI qui, dans l'exhortation apostolique Marialis cultus, souligna, en harmonie avec l'inspiration du Concile Vatican II, le caractère évangélique du Rosaire et son orientation christologique.

Puis, moi-même, je n'ai négligé aucune occasion pour exhorter à la récitation fréquente du Rosaire. Depuis mes plus jeunes années, cette prière a eu une place importante dans ma vie spirituelle. Mon récent voyage en Pologne me l'a rappelé avec force, et surtout la visite au sanctuaire de Kalwaria. Le Rosaire m'a accompagné dans les temps de joie et dans les temps d'épreuve. Je lui ai confié de nombreuses préoccupations. En lui, j'ai toujours trouvé le réconfort. Il y a vingt-quatre ans, le 29 octobre 1978, deux semaines à peine après mon élection au Siège de Pierre, laissant entrevoir quelque chose de mon âme, je m'exprimais ainsi: « Le Rosaire est ma prière préférée. C'est une prière merveilleuse. Merveilleuse de simplicité et de profondeur. [...] On peut dire que le Rosaire est, d'une certaine manière, une prière-commentaire du dernier chapitre de la Constitution Lumen gentium du deuxième Concile du Vatican, chapitre qui traite de l'admirable présence de la Mère de Dieu dans le mystère du Christ et de l'Église. En effet, sur l'arrière-fond des Ave Maria défilent les principaux épisodes de la vie de Jésus Christ. Réunis en mystères joyeux, douloureux et glorieux, ils (1961), pp.641-647: La Documentation catholique 58 (1961), col. 1265-1271.nous mettent en communion vivante avec Jésus à travers le cœur de sa Mère, pourrions-nous dire. En même temps, nous pouvons rassembler dans ces dizaines du Rosaire tous les événements de notre vie individuelle ou familiale, de la vie de notre pays, de l'Église, de l'humanité, c'est-à-dire nos événements personnels ou ceux de notre prochain, et en particulier de ceux qui nous sont les plus proches, qui nous tiennent le plus à cœur. C'est ainsi que la simple prière du Rosaire s'écoule au rythme de la vie humaine ».5

Par ces paroles, chers frères et sœurs, je mettais dans le rythme quotidien du Rosaire ma première année de Pontificat. Aujourd'hui, au début de ma vingt-cinquième année de service comme Successeur de Pierre, je désire faire de même. Que de grâces n'ai-je pas reçues de la Vierge Sainte à travers le rosaire au cours de ces années: Magnificat anima mea Dominum! Je désire faire monter mon action de grâce vers le Seigneur avec les paroles de sa très sainte Mère, sous la protection de laquelle j'ai placé mon ministère pétrinien: Totus tuus!

Octobre 2002 - octobre 2003: Année du Rosaire

3. C'est pourquoi, faisant suite à la réflexion proposée dans la Lettre apostolique Novo millennio ineunte, dans laquelle, après l'expérience jubilaire, j'ai invité le Peuple de Dieu à « repartir du Christ »,6 j'ai senti la nécessité de développer une réflexion sur le Rosaire, presque comme un couronnement marial de cette lettre apostolique, pour exhorter à la contemplation du visage du Christ en compagnie de sa très sainte Mère et à son école. En effet, réciter le Rosaire n'est rien d'autre que contempler avec Marie le visage du Christ. Pour donner un plus grand relief à cette invitation, profitant de l'occasion du tout proche cent vingtième anniversaire de l'encyclique de Léon XIII déjà mentionnée, je désire que, tout au long de l'année, cette prière soit proposée et mise en valeur de manière particulière dans les différentes communautés chrétiennes. Je proclame donc l'année qui va d'octobre de cette année à octobre 2003 Année du Rosaire.

Je confie cette directive pastorale à l'initiative des différentes communautés ecclésiales. Ce faisant, je n'entends pas alourdir, mais plutôt unir et consolider les projets pastoraux des Églises particulières. Je suis certain que cette directive sera accueillie avec générosité et empressement. S'il est redécouvert dans sa pleine signification, le Rosaire conduit au cœur même de la vie chrétienne, et offre une occasion spirituelle et pédagogique ordinaire mais féconde pour la contemplation personnelle, la formation du Peuple de Dieu et la nouvelle évangélisation. Il me plaît de le redire aussi à l'occasion du souvenir joyeux d'un autre événement: le quarantième anniversaire de l'ouverture du Concile œcuménique Vatican II (11 octobre 1962), cette « grande grâce » offerte par l'Esprit de Dieu à l'Église de notre temps.7

Objections au Rosaire

4. L'opportunité d'une telle initiative découle de diverses considérations. La première concerne l'urgence de faire face à une certaine crise de cette prière qui, dans le contexte historique et théologique actuel, risque d'être à tort amoindrie dans sa valeur et ainsi rarement proposée aux nouvelles générations. D'aucuns pensent que le caractère central de la liturgie, à juste titre souligné par le Concile œcuménique Vatican II, a eu comme conséquence nécessaire une diminution de l'importance du Rosaire. En réalité, comme le précisait PaulVI, cette prière non seulement ne s'oppose pas à la liturgie, mais en constitue un support, puisqu'elle l'introduit bien et s'en fait l'écho, invitant à la vivre avec une plénitude de participation intérieure, afin d'en recueillir des fruits pour la vie quotidienne.

D'autres craignent peut-être qu'elle puisse apparaître peu œcuménique en raison de son caractère nettement marial. En réalité, elle se situedans la plus pure perspective d'un culte à la Mère de Dieu, comme le Concile VaticanII l'a défini: un culte orienté vers le centre christologique de la foi chrétienne, de sorte que, « à travers l'honneur rendu à sa Mère, le Fils [...] soit connu, aimé, glorifié ».8 S'il est redécouvert de manière appropriée, le Rosaire constitue une aide, mais certainement pas un obstacle à l'œcuménisme.

La voie de la contemplation

5. Cependant, la raison la plus importante de redécouvrir avec force la pratique du Rosaire est le fait que ce dernier constitue un moyen très valable pour favoriser chez les fidèles l'engagement de contemplation du mystère chrétien que j'ai proposé dans la lettre apostolique Novo millennio ineunte comme une authentique “pédagogie de la sainteté”: « Il faut un christianisme qui se distingue avant tout dans l'art de la prière ».9 Alors que dans la culture contemporaine, même au milieu de nombreuses contradictions, affleure une nouvelle exigence de spiritualité, suscitée aussi par les influences d'autres religions, il est plus que jamais urgent que nos communautés chrétiennes deviennent « d'authentiques écoles de prière ».10

Le Rosaire se situe dans la meilleure et dans la plus pure tradition de la contemplation chrétienne. Développé en Occident, il est une prière typiquement méditative et il correspond, en un sens, à la « prière du cœur » ou à la « prière de Jésus », qui a germé sur l'humus de l'Orient chrétien.

Prière pour la paix et pour la famille

6. Certaines circonstances historiques ont contribué à une meilleure actualisation du renouveau du Rosaire. La première d'entre elles est l'urgence d'implorer de Dieu le don de la paix. Le Rosaire a été à plusieurs reprises proposé par mes Prédécesseurs et par moi-même comme prière pour la paix. Au début d'un millénaire, qui a commencé avec les scènes horribles de l'attentat du 11 septembre 2001 et qui enregistre chaque jour dans de nombreuses parties du monde de nouvelles situations de sang et de violence, redécouvrir le Rosaire signifie s'immerger dans la contemplation du mystère de Celui « qui est notre paix », ayant fait « de deux peuples un seul, détruisant la barrière qui les séparait, c'est-à- dire la haine » (Ep 2, 14). On ne peut donc réciter le Rosaire sans se sentir entraîné dans un engagement précis de service de la paix, avec une attention particulière envers la terre de Jésus, encore si éprouvée, et particulièrement chère au cœur des chrétiens.

De manière analogue, il est urgent de s'engager et de prier pour une autre situation critique de notre époque, celle de la famille, cellule de la société, toujours plus attaquée par des forces destructrices, au niveau idéologique et pratique, qui font craindre pour l'avenir de cette institution fondamentale et irremplaçable, et, avec elle, pour le devenir de la société entière. Dans le cadre plus large de la pastorale familiale, le renouveau du Rosaire dans les familles chrétiennes se propose comme une aide efficace pour endiguer les effets dévastateurs de la crise actuelle.

« Voici ta mère! » (Jn 19, 27)

7. De nombreux signes montrent ce que la Vierge Sainte veut encore réaliser aujourd'hui, précisément à travers cette prière; cette mère attentive à laquelle, dans la personne du disciple bien-aimé, le Rédempteur confia au moment de sa mort tous les fils de l'Église: « Femme, voici ton Fils » (Jn 19,26). Au cours du dix-neuvième et du vingtième siècles, les diverses circonstances au cours desquelles la Mère du Christ a fait en quelque sorte sentir sa présence et entendre sa voix pour exhorter le Peuple de Dieu à cette forme d'oraison contemplative sont connues. En raison de la nette influence qu'elles conservent dans la vie des chrétiens et à cause de leur reconnaissance importante de la part de l'Église, je désire rappeler en particulier les apparitions de Lourdes et de Fatima,11 dont les sanctuaires respectifs constituent le but de nombreux pèlerins à la recherche de réconfort et d'espérance.

Sur les pas des témoins

8. Il serait impossible de citer la nuée innombrable de saints qui ont trouvé dans le Rosaire une authentique voie de sanctification. Il suffira de rappeler saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, auteur d'une œuvre précieuse sur le Rosaire,12 et plus près de nous, Padre Pio de Pietrelcina, qui j'ai eu récemment la joie de canoniser. Le bienheureux Bartolo Longo eut un charisme spécial, celui de véritable apôtre du Rosaire. Son chemin de sainteté s'appuie sur une inspiration entendue au plus profond de son cœur: « Qui propage le Rosaire est sauvé! ».13 À partir de là, il s'est senti appelé à construire à Pompéi un sanctuaire dédié à la Vierge du Saint Rosaire près des ruines de l'antique cité tout juste pénétrée par l'annonce évangélique avant d'être ensevelie en 79 par l'éruption du Vésuve et de renaître de ses cendres des siècles plus tard, comme témoignage des lumières et des ombres de la civilisation classique.

Par son œuvre entière, en particulier par les « Quinze Samedis », Bartolo Longo développa l'âme christologique et contemplative du Rosaire; il trouva pour cela un encouragement particulier et un soutien chez Léon XIII, le « Pape du Rosaire ».



CHAPITRE I

CONTEMPLER LE CHRIST AVEC MARIE

Un visage resplendissant comme le soleil

9. « Et il fut transfiguré devant eux: son visage devint brillant comme le soleil » (Mt 17, 2). L'épisode évangélique de la transfiguration du Christ, dans lequel les trois Apôtres Pierre, Jacques et Jean apparaissent comme ravis par la beauté du Rédempteur, peut être considéré comme icône de la contemplation chrétienne. Fixer les yeux sur le visage du Christ, en reconnaître le mystère dans le chemin ordinaire et douloureux de son humanité, jusqu'à en percevoir la splendeur divine définitivement manifestée dans le Ressuscité glorifié à la droite du Père, tel est le devoir de tout disciple du Christ; c'est donc aussi notre devoir. En contemplant ce visage, nous nous préparons à accueillir le mystère de la vie trinitaire, pour faire l'expérience toujours nouvelle de l'amour du Père et pour jouir de la joie de l'Esprit Saint. Se réalise ainsi pour nous la parole de saint Paul: « Nous reflétons tous la gloire du Seigneur, et nous sommes transfigurés en son image, avec une gloire de plus en plus grande, par l'action du Seigneur qui est Esprit » (2 Co 3, 18).

Marie modèle de contemplation

10. La contemplation du Christ trouve en Marie son modèle indépassable. Le visage du Fils lui appartient à un titre spécial. C'est dans son sein qu'il s'est formé, prenant aussi d'elle une ressemblance humaine qui évoque une intimité spirituelle assurément encore plus grande. Personne ne s'est adonné à la contemplation du visage du Christ avec autant d'assiduité que Marie. Déjà à l'Annonciation, lorsqu'elle conçoit du Saint-Esprit, les yeux de son cœur se concentrent en quelque sorte sur Lui; au cours des mois qui suivent, elle commence à ressentir sa présence et à en pressentir la physionomie. Lorsque enfin elle lui donne naissance à Bethléem, ses yeux de chair se portent aussi tendrement sur le visage de son Fils tandis qu'elle l'enveloppe de langes et le couche dans une crèche (cf. Lc 2, 7).

À partir de ce moment-là, son regard, toujours riche d'un étonnement d'adoration, ne se détachera plus de Lui. Ce sera parfois un regard interrogatif, comme dans l'épisode de sa perte au temple: « Mon enfant, pourquoi nous as-tu fait cela? » (Lc 2, 48); ce sera dans tous les cas un regard pénétrant, capable de lire dans l'intimité de Jésus, jusqu'à en percevoir les sentiments cachés et à en deviner les choix, comme à Cana (cf.Jn 2, 5); en d'autres occasions, ce sera un regard douloureux, surtout au pied de la croix, où il s'agira encore, d'une certaine manière, du regard d'une “femme qui accouche”, puisque Marie ne se limitera pas à partager la passion et la mort du Fils unique, mais qu'elle accueillera dans le disciple bien-aimé un nouveau fils qui lui sera confié (cf. Jn 19, 26-27); au matin de Pâques, ce sera un regard radieux en raison de la joie de la résurrection et, enfin, un regard ardent lié à l'effusion de l'Esprit au jour de la Pentecôte (cf.Ac 1, 14).

Les souvenirs de Marie

11. Marie vit en gardant les yeux fixés sur le Christ, et chacune de ses paroles devient pour elle un trésor: « Elle retenait tous ces événements et les méditait dans son cœur » (Lc 2, 19; cf. 2, 51). Les souvenirs de Jésus, imprimés dans son esprit, l'ont accompagnée en toute circonstance, l'amenant à parcourir à nouveau, en pensée, les différents moments de sa vie aux côtés de son Fils. Ce sont ces souvenirs qui, en un sens, ont constitué le “rosaire” qu'elle a constamment récité au long des jours de sa vie terrestre.

Et maintenant encore, parmi les chants de joie de la Jérusalem céleste, les motifs de son action de grâce et de sa louange demeurent inchangés. Ce sont eux qui inspirent son attention maternelle envers l'Église en pèlerinage, dans laquelle elle continue à développer la trame de son “récit” d'évangélisatrice. Marie propose sans cesse aux croyants les “mystères” de son Fils, avec le désir qu'ils soient contemplés, afin qu'ils puissent libérer toute leur force salvifique. Lorsqu'elle récite le Rosaire, la ommunauté chrétienne se met en syntonie avec le souvenir et avec le regard de Marie.

Le Rosaire, prière contemplative

12. C'est précisément à partir de l'expérience de Marie que le Rosaire est une prière nettement contemplative. Privé de cette dimension, il en serait dénaturé, comme le soulignait Paul VI: « Sans la contemplation, le Rosaire est un corps sans âme, et sa récitation court le danger de devenir une répétition mécanique de formules et d'agir à l'encontre de l'avertissement de Jésus: “Quand vous priez, ne rabâchez pas comme les païens; ils s'imaginent qu'en parlant beaucoup, ils se feront mieux écouter” (Mt 6, 7). Par nature, la récitation du Rosaire exige que le rythme soit calme et que l'on prenne son temps, afin que la personne qui s'y livre puisse mieux méditer les mystères de la vie du Seigneur, vus à travers le cœur de Celle qui fut la plus proche du Seigneur, et qu'ainsi s'en dégagent les insondables richesses ».14

Il convient de nous arrêter sur la pensée profonde de Paul VI, pour faire apparaître certaines dimensions du Rosaire qui en définissent mieux le caractère propre de contemplation christologique.

Se souvenir du Christ avec Marie

13. La contemplation de Marie est avant tout le fait de se souvenir. Il faut cependant entendre ces paroles dans le sens biblique de la mémoire (zakar), qui rend présentes les œuvres accomplies par Dieu dans l'histoire du salut. La Bible est le récit d'événements salvifiques, qui trouvent leur sommet dans le Christ lui-même. Ces événements ne sont pas seulement un “hier”; ils sont aussi l'aujourd'hui du salut. Cette actualisation se réalise en particulier dans la liturgie: ce que Dieu a accompli il y a des siècles ne concerne pas seulement les témoins directs des événements, mais rejoint par son don de grâce l'homme de tous les temps. Cela vaut aussi d'une certaine manière pour toute autre approche de dévotion concernant ces événements: « en faire mémoire » dans une attitude de foi et d'amour signifie s'ouvrir à la grâce que le Christ nous a obtenue par ses mystères de vie, de mort et de résurrection.

C'est pourquoi, tandis qu'il faut rappeler avec le Concile Vatican II que la liturgie, qui constitue la réalisation de la charge sacerdotale du Christ et le culte public, est « le sommet vers lequel tend l'action de l'Église et en même temps la source d'où découle toute sa force »,15 il convient aussi de rappeler que la vie spirituelle « n'est pas enfermée dans les limites de la participation à la seule sainte Liturgie. Le chrétien, appelé à prier en commun, doit néanmoins aussientrer dans sa chambre pour prier son Père dans le secret (cf. Mt 6, 6) et doit même, selon l'enseignement de l'Apôtre, prier sans relâche (cf. 1 Th 5, 17) ».16 Avec sa spécificité, le Rosaire se situe dans ce panorama multicolore de la prière “incessante” et, si la liturgie, action du Christ et de l'Église, est l'action salvifique par excellence, le Rosaire, en tant que méditation sur le Christ avec Marie, est une contemplation salutaire. Nous plonger en effet, de mystère en mystère, dans la vie du Rédempteur, fait en sorte que ce que le Christ a réalisé et ce que la liturgie actualise soient profondément assimilés et modèlent notre existence.

Par Marie, apprendre le Christ

14. Le Christ est le Maître par excellence, le révélateur et la révélation. Il ne s'agit pas seulement d'apprendre ce qu'il nous a enseigné, mais “d'apprendre à le connaître Lui”. Et quel maître, en ce domaine, serait plus expert que Marie? S'il est vrai que, du point de vue divin, l'Esprit est le Maître intérieur qui nous conduit à la vérité tout entière sur le Christ (cf Jn 14, 26; 15, 26; 16, 13), parmi les êtres humains, personne mieux qu'elle ne connaît le Christ; nul autre que sa Mère ne peut nous faire entrer dans une profonde connaissance de son mystère.

Le premier des “signes” accomplis par Jésus – la transformation de l'eau en vin aux noces de Cana – nous montre justement Marie en saqualité de maître, alors qu'elle invite les servants à suivre les instructions du Christ (cf. Jn2, 5). Et nous pouvons penser qu'elle a rempli cette fonction auprès des disciples après l'Ascension de Jésus, quand elle demeura avec eux dans l'attente de l'Esprit Saint et qu'elle leur apporta le réconfort dans leur première mission. Cheminer avec Marie à travers les scènes du Rosaire, c'est comme se mettre à “l'école” de Marie pour lire le Christ, pour en pénétrer les secrets, pour en comprendre le message.

L'école de Marie est une école tout particulièrement efficace si l'on considère que Marie l'accomplit en nous obtenant l'abondance des dons de l'Esprit Saint, en nous offrant aussi l'exemple du « pèlerinage dans la foi »17 dont elle est un maître incomparable. Face à chaque mystère de son Fils, elle nous invite, comme elle le fit à l'Annonciation, à poser humblement les questions qui ouvrent sur la lumière, pour finir toujours par l'obéissance de la foi: « Je suis la servante du Seigneur; que tout se passe pour moi selon ta parole! » (Lc 1, 38).

Se conformer au Christ avec Marie

15. La spiritualité chrétienne a pour caractéristique fondamentale l'engagement du disciple à “se conformer” toujours plus pleinement à son Maître (cf. Rm 8, 29; Ph 3, 10.21). Par l'effusion de l'Esprit reçu au Baptême, le croyant est greffé, comme un sarment, sur la vigne qu'est le Christ (cf. Jn 15, 5), il est constitué membre de son Corps mystique (cf. 1Co 12, 12; Rm 12, 5). Mais à cette unité initiale doit correspondre un cheminement de ressemblance croissante avec lui qui oriente toujours plus le comportement du disciple dans le sens de la “logique” du Christ: « Ayez entre vous les dispositions que l'on doit avoir dans le Christ Jésus » (Ph 2, 5). Selon les paroles de l'Apôtre, il faut « se revêtir du Seigneur Jésus Christ » (cf. Rm 13, 14; Ga 3, 27).

Dans le parcours spirituel du Rosaire, fondé sur la contemplation incessante – en compagnie de Marie – du visage du Christ, on est appelé à poursuivre un tel idéal exigeant de se conformer à Lui grâce à une fréquentation que nous pourrions dire “amicale”. Elle nous fait entrer de manière naturelle dans la vie du Christ et pour ainsi dire “respirer” ses sentiments. Le bienheureux Bartolo Longo dit à ce propos: « De même que deux amis qui se retrouvent souvent ensemble finissent par se ressembler même dans la manière de vivre, de même, nous aussi, en parlant familièrement avec Jésus et avec la Vierge, par la méditation des Mystères du Rosaire, et en formant ensemble une même vie par la Communion, nous pouvons devenir, autant que notre bassesse le permet, semblables à eux et apprendre par leurs exemples sublimes à vivre de manière humble, pauvre, cachée, patiente et parfaite ».18

Grâce à ce processus de configuration au Christ, par le Rosaire, nous nous confions tout particulièrement à l'action maternelle de la Vierge Sainte. Tout en faisant partie de l'Église comme membre qui « tient la place la plus élevée et en même temps la plus proche de nous » ,19 elle, qui est la mère du Christ, est en même temps la “Mère de l'Église”. Et comme telle, elle “engendre” continuellement des fils pour le Corps mystique de son Fils. Elle le fait par son intercession, en implorant pour eux l'effusion inépuisable de l'Esprit. Elle est l'icône parfaite de la maternité de l'Église.

Mystiquement, le Rosaire nous transporte auprès de Marie, dans la maison de Nazareth, où elle est occupée à accompagner la croissance humaine du Christ. Par ce biais, elle peut nous éduquer et nous modeler avec la même sollicitude, jusqu'à ce que le Christ soit « formé » pleinement en nous (cf. Ga 4,19). Cette action de Marie, totalement enracinée dans celle du Christ et dans une radicale subordination à elle, « n'empêche en aucune manière l'union immédiate des croyants avec le Christ, au contraire elle la favorise ».20 Tel est le lumineux principe exprimé parle Concile VaticanII, dont j'ai si fortement fait l'expérience dans ma vie, au point d'en faire le noyau de ma devise épiscopale “Totus tuus”.21 Comme on le sait, il s'agit d'une devise inspirée par la doctrine de saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, qui expliquait ainsi le rôle de Marie pour chacun de nous dans le processus de configuration au Christ: « Toute notre perfection consistant à être conformes, unis et consacrés à Jésus Christ, la plus parfaite de toutes les dévotions est sans difficulté celle qui nous conforme, unit et consacre le plus parfaitement à Jésus Christ. Or, Marie étant de toutes les créatures la plus conforme à Jésus Christ, il s'ensuit que, de toutes les dévotions, celle qui consacre et conforme le plus une âme à Notre-Seigneur est la dévotion à la Très Sainte Vierge, sa sainte Mère, et que plus une âme sera consacrée à Marie, plus elle le sera à Jésus Christ ».22 Jamais comme dans le Rosaire, le chemin du Christ et celui de Marie n'apparaissent aussi étroitement unis. Marie ne vit que dans le Christ et en fonction du Christ!

Supplier le Christ avec Marie

16. Le Christ nous a invités à nous tourner vers Dieu avec confiance et persévérance pour être exaucés: « Demandez et l'on vous donnera; cherchez et vous trouverez; frappez et l'on vous ouvrira » (Mt 7,7). Le fondement de cette efficacité de la prière, c'est la bonté du Père, mais aussi la médiation du Christ lui-même auprès de Lui (cf. 1Jn 2,1) et l'action de l'Esprit Saint, qui « intercède pour nous » selon le dessein de Dieu (cf. Rm 8, 26-27). Car nous-mêmes, « nous ne savons pas prier comme il faut » (Rm 8, 26) et parfois nous ne sommes pas exaucés parce que « nous prions mal » (cf. Jc 4, 2-3).

Par son intercession maternelle, Marie intervient pour soutenir la prière que le Christ et l'Esprit font jaillir de notre cœur. « La prière de l'Église est comme portée par la prière de Marie ».23 En effet, si Jésus, l'unique Médiateur, est la Voie de notre prière, Marie, qui est pure transparence du Christ, nous montre la voie, et « c'est à partir de cette coopération singulière de Marie à l'action de l'Esprit Saint que les Églises ont développé la prière à la sainte Mère de Dieu, en la centrant sur la Personne du Christ manifestée dans ses mystères ».24Aux noces de Cana, l'Évangile montre précisément l'efficacité de l'intercession de Marie qui se fait auprès de Jésus le porte-parole des besoins de l'humanité: « Ils n'ont plus de vin » (Jn 2,3).

Le Rosaire est à la fois méditation et supplication. L'imploration insistante de la Mère deDieu s'appuie sur la certitude confiante que son intercession maternelle est toute puissante sur le cœur de son Fils. Elle est « toute puissante par grâce », comme disait, dans une formule dont il faut bien comprendre l'audace, le bienheureux Bartolo Longo dans la Supplique à la Vierge.25 C'est une certitude qui, partant de l'Évangile, n'a cessé de se renforcer à travers l'expérience du peuple chrétien. Le grand poète Dante s'en fait magnifiquement l'interprète quand il chante, en suivant saint Bernard: « Dame, tu es si grande et de valeur si haute / que qui veut une grâce et à toi ne vient pas / il veut que son désir vole sans ailes ».26 Dans le Rosaire, tandis que nous la supplions, Marie, Sanctuaire de l'Esprit Saint (cf.Lc 1, 35), se tient pour nous devant le Père, qui l'a comblée de grâce, et devant le Fils, qu'elle a mis au monde, priant avec nous et pour nous.

Annoncer le Christ avec Marie

17. Le Rosaire est aussi un parcours d'annonce et d'approfondissement, au long duquel le mystère du Christ est constamment représenté aux divers niveaux de l'expérience chrétienne. Il s'agit d'une présentation orante et contemplative, qui vise à façonner le disciple selon le cœur du Christ. Si, dans la récitation du Rosaire, tous les éléments permettant une bonne méditation sont en effet mis en valeur de manière appropriée, il y a la possibilité, spécialement dans la célébration communautaire en paroisse ou dans les sanctuaires, d'une catéchèse significative que les Pasteurs doivent savoir exploiter. De cette manière aussi, la Vierge du Rosaire continue son œuvre d'annonce du Christ. L'histoire du Rosaire montre comment cette prière a été utilisée, spécialement par les Dominicains, dans un moment difficile pour l'Église à cause de la diffusion de l'hérésie. Aujourd'hui, nous nous trouvons face à de nouveaux défis. Pourquoi ne pas reprendre en main le chapelet avec la même foi que nos prédécesseurs? Le Rosaire conserve toute sa force et reste un moyen indispensable dans le bagage pastoral de tout bon évangélisateur.


CHAPITRE II

MYSTÈRES DU CHRIST –

MYSTÈRES DE SA MÈRE

Le Rosaire, « résumé de l'Évangile »

18. Pour être introduit dans la contemplation du visage du Christ, il faut écouter, dans l'Esprit, la voix du Père, car « nul ne connaît le Fils si ce n'est le Père » (Mt 11, 27). Près de Césarée de Philippe, à l'occasion de la profession de foi de Pierre, Jésus précisera l'origine de cette intuition si lumineuse concernant son identité: « Ce n'est pas la chair et le sang qui t'ont révélé cela, mais mon Père qui est aux cieux » (Mt 16, 17). La révélation d'en haut est donc nécessaire. Mais pour l'accueillir, il est indispensable de se mettre à l'écoute: « Seule l'expérience du silence et de la prière offre le cadre approprié dans lequel la connaissance la plus vraie, la plus fidèle et la plus cohérente de ce mystère peut mûrir et se développer ».27

Le Rosaire est l'un des parcours traditionnels de la prière chrétienne qui s'attache à la contemplation du visage du Christ. Le Pape Paul VI le décrivait ainsi: « Prière évangélique centrée sur le mystère de l'Incarnation rédemptrice, le Rosaire a donc une orientation nettement christologique. En effet, son élément le plus caractéristique – la répétition litanique de l'Ave Maria – devient lui aussi une louange incessante du Christ, objet ultime de l'annonce de l'Ange et de la salutation de la mère du Baptiste: “Le fruit de tes entrailles est béni” (Lc1, 42). Nous dirons même plus: la répétition de l'Ave Maria constitue la trame sur laquelle se développe la contemplation des mystères: le Jésus de chaque Ave Maria est celui même que la succession des mystères nous propose tour à tour Fils de Dieu et de la Vierge ».28

Une intégration appropriée

19. Parmi tous les mystères de la vie du Christ, le Rosaire, tel qu'il s'est forgé dans la pratique la plus courante approuvée par l'autorité ecclésiale, n'en retient que quelques-uns. Ce choix s'est imposé à cause de la trame originaire de cette prière, qui s'organisa à partir du nombre 150, correspondant à celui des Psaumes.

Afin de donner une consistance nettement plus christologique au Rosaire, il me semble toutefois qu'un ajout serait opportun; tout en le laissant à la libre appréciation des personnes et des communautés, cela pourrait permettre de prendre en compte également les mystères de la vie publique du Christ entre le Baptême et la Passion. Car c'est dans l'espace de ces mystères que nous contemplons des aspects importants de la personne du Christ en tant que révélateur définitif de Dieu. Proclamé Fils bien-aimé du Père lors du Baptême dans le Jourdain, il est Celui qui annonce la venue du Royaume, en témoigne par ses œuvres, en proclame les exigences. C'est tout au long des années de sa vie publique que le mystère du Christ se révèle à un titre spécial comme mystère de lumière: « Tant que je suis dans le monde, je suis la lumière du monde » (Jn9,5).

Pour que l'on puisse dire de manière complète que le Rosaire est un “résumé de l'Évangile”, il convient donc que, après avoir rappelé l'incarnation et la vie cachée du Christ (mystères joyeux), et avant de s'arrêter sur les souffrances de la passion (mystères douloureux), puis sur le triomphe de la résurrection (mystères glorieux), la méditation se tourne aussi vers quelques moments particulièrement significatifs de la vie publique (mystères lumineux). Cet ajout de nouveaux mystères, sans léser aucun aspect essentiel de l'assise traditionnelle de cette prière, a pour but de la placer dans la spiritualité chrétienne, avec une attention renouvelée, comme une authentique introduction aux profondeurs du Cœur du Christ, abîme de joie et de lumière, de douleur et de gloire.

Mystères joyeux

20. Le premier cycle, celui des “mystères joyeux”, est effectivement caractérisé par la joie qui rayonne de l'événement de l'Incarnation Cela est évident dès l'Annonciation où le salut de l'Ange Gabriel à la Vierge de Nazareth rappelle l'invitation à la joie messianique: « Réjouis-toi, Marie ». Toute l'histoire du salut, bien plus en un sens, l'histoire même du monde, aboutit à cette annonce. En effet, si le dessein du Père est de récapituler toutes choses dans le Christ (cf. Ep 1,10), c'est l'univers entier qui, d'une certaine manière, est touché par la faveur divine avec laquelle le Père se penche sur Marie pour qu'elle devienne la Mère de son Fils. À son tour, toute l'humanité se trouve comme contenue dans le fiat par lequel elle correspond avec promptitude à la volonté de Dieu.

C'est une note d'exultation qui marque la scène de la rencontre avec Élisabeth, où la voix de Marie et la présence du Christ en son sein font que Jean « tressaille d'allégresse » (cf. Lc1,44). Une atmosphère de liesse baigne la scène de Bethléem, où la naissance de l'Enfant divin, le Sauveur du monde, est chantée par les anges et annoncée aux bergers justement comme « une grande joie » (Lc 2, 10).

Mais, les deux derniers mystères, qui conservent toutefois cette note de joie, anticipent les signes du drame. En effet, la présentation au temple, tout en exprimant la joie de la consécration et en plongeant le vieillard Syméon dans l'extase, souligne aussi la prophétie du « signe en butte à la contradiction » que sera l'Enfant pour Israël et de l'épée qui transpercera l'âme de sa Mère (cf. Lc2, 34-35). L'épisode de Jésus au temple, lorsqu'il eut douze ans, est lui aussi tout à la fois joyeux et dramatique. Il se dévoile là dans sa divine sagesse tandis qu'il écoute et interroge; et il se présente essentiellement comme celui qui “enseigne”. La révélation de son mystère de Fils tout entier consacré aux choses du Père est une annonce de la radicalité évangélique qui remet en cause les liens même les plus chers à l'homme face aux exigences absolues du Royaume. Joseph et Marie eux-mêmes, émus et angoissés, « ne comprirent pas » ses paroles (Lc2,50).

Méditer les mystères “joyeux” veut donc dire entrer dans les motivations ultimes et dans la signification profonde de la joie chrétienne. Cela revient à fixer les yeux sur la dimension concrète du mystère de l'Incarnation et sur une annonce encore obscure et voilée du mystère de la souffrance salvifique. Marie nous conduit à la connaissance du secret de la joie chrétienne, en nous rappelant que le christianisme est avant tout euangelion, “bonne nouvelle”, dont le centre, plus encore le contenu lui-même, réside dans la personne du Christ, le Verbe fait chair, l'unique Sauveur du monde.

Mystères lumineux

21. Passant de l'enfance de Jésus et de la vie à Nazareth à sa vie publique, nous sommes amenés à contempler ces mystères que l'on peut appeler, à un titre spécial, “mystères de lumière”. En réalité, c'est tout le mystère du Christ qui est lumière. Il est la « lumière du monde » (Jn 8,12). Mais cette dimension est particulièrement visible durant les années de sa vie publique, lorsqu'il annonce l'Évangile du Royaume. Si l'on veut indiquer à la communauté chrétienne cinq moments significatifs – mystères “lumineux” – de cette période de la vie du Christ, il me semble que l'on peut les mettre ainsi en évidence: 1. au moment de son Baptême au Jourdain, 2. dans son auto-révélation aux noces de Cana, 3. dans l'annonce du Royaume de Dieu avec l'invitation à la conversion, 4. dans sa Transfiguration et enfin 5. dans l'institution de l'Eucharistie, expression sacramentelle du mystère pascal.

Chacun de ces mystères est une révélation du Royaume désormais présent dans la personne de Jésus.

Le Baptême au Jourdain est avant tout un mystère de lumière. En ce lieu, alors que le Christ descend dans les eaux du fleuve comme l'innocent qui se fait “péché” pour nous (cf. 2 Co 5, 21), les cieux s'ouvrent, la voix du Père le proclame son Fils bien-aimé (cf. Mt 3, 17 par), tandis que l'Esprit descend sur Lui pour l'investir de la mission qui l'attend. Le début des signes à Cana est un mystère de lumière (cf. Jn2, 1-12), au moment où le Christ, changeant l'eau en vin, ouvre le cœur des disciples à la foi grâce à l'intervention de Marie, la première des croyantes. C'est aussi un mystère de lumière que la prédication par laquelle Jésus annonce l'avènement du Royaume de Dieu et invite à la conversion (cf. Mc 1,15), remettant les péchés de ceux qui s'approchent de Lui avec une foi humble (cf. Mc 2, 3- 13; Lc 7, 47-48); ce ministère de miséricorde qu'il a commencé, il le poursuivra jusqu'à la fin des temps, principalement à travers le sacrement de la Réconciliation, confié à son Église (cf. Jn 20, 22-23). La Transfiguration est le mystère de lumière par excellence. Selon la tradition, elle survint sur le Mont Thabor. La gloire de la divinité resplendit sur le visage du Christ, tandis que, aux Apôtres en extase, le Père le donne à reconnaître pour qu'ils “l'écoutent” (cf. Lc 9,35 par) et qu'ils se préparent à vivre avec Lui le moment douloureux de la Passion, afin de parvenir avec Lui à la joie de la Résurrection et à une vie transfigurée par l'Esprit Saint. Enfin, c'est un mystère de lumière que l'institution de l'Eucharistie dans laquelle le Christ se fait nourriture par son Corps et par son Sang sous les signes du pain et du vin, donnant “jusqu'au bout” le témoignage de son amour pour l'humanité (Jn 13,1), pour le salut de laquelle il s'offrira en sacrifice.

Dans ces mystères, à l'exception de Cana, Marie n'est présente qu'en arrière-fond. Les Évangiles ne font que quelques brèves allusions à sa présence occasionnelle à un moment ou à un autre de la prédication de Jésus (cf. Mc3,31-35; Jn2,12), et ils ne disent rien à propos de son éventuelle présence au Cénacle au moment de l'institution de l'Eucharistie. Mais la fonction qu'elle remplit à Cana accompagne, d'une certaine manière, tout le parcours du Christ. La révélation qui, au moment du Baptême au Jourdain, est donnée directement par le Père et dont le Baptiste se fait l'écho, est sur ses lèvres à Cana et devient la grande recommandation que la Mère adresse à l'Église de tous les temps: « Faites tout ce qu'il vous dira » (Jn 2, 5). C'est une ecommandation qui nous fait entrer dans les paroles et dans les signes du Christ durant sa vie publique, constituant le fond marial de tous les “mystères de lumière”.

Mystères douloureux

22. Les Évangiles donnent une grande importance aux mystères douloureux du Christ. Depuis toujours la piété chrétienne, spécialement pendant le Carême à travers la pratique du chemin de Croix, s'est arrêtée sur chaque moment de la Passion, comprenant que là se trouve le point culminant de la révélation de l'amour et que là aussi se trouve la source de notre salut. Le Rosaire choisit certains moments de la Passion, incitant la personne qui prie à les fixer avec le regard du cœur et à les revivre. Le parcours de la méditation s'ouvre sur Gethsémani, où le Christ vit un moment particulièrement angoissant, confronté à la volonté du Père face à laquelle la faiblesse de la chair serait tentée de se rebeller. À ce moment-là, le Christ se tient dans le lieu de toutes les tentations de l'humanité et face à tous les péchés de l'humanité pour dire au Père: « Que ce ne soit pas ma volonté qui se fasse, mais la tienne! » (Lc 22, 42 par). Son “oui” efface le “non” de nos premiers parents au jardin d'Eden. Et ce qu'il doit lui en coûter d'adhérer à la volonté du Père apparaît dans les mystères suivants, la flagellation, le couronnement d'épines, la montée au Calvaire, la mort en croix, par lesquels il est plongé dans la plus grande abjection: Ecce homo!

Dans cette abjection se révèle non seulement l'amour de Dieu mais le sens même de l'homme. Ecce homo: qui veut connaître l'homme doit savoir en reconnaître le sens, l'origine et l'accomplissement dans le Christ, Dieu qui s'abaisse par amour « jusqu'à la mort, et à la mort sur une croix » (Ph2,8). Les mystères douloureux conduisent le croyant à revivre la mort de Jésus en se mettant au pied de la croix, près de Marie, pour pénétrer avec elle dans les profondeurs de l'amour de Dieu pour l'homme et pour en sentir toute la force régénératrice.

Mystères glorieux

23. « La contemplation du visage du Christ ne peut s'arrêter à son image de crucifié. Il est le Ressuscité! ».29 Depuis toujours le Rosaire exprime cette conscience de la foi, invitant le croyant à aller au-delà de l'obscurité de la Passion, pour fixer son regard sur la gloire du Christ dans la Résurrection et dans l'Ascension. En contemplant le Ressuscité, le chrétien redécouvre les raisons de sa propre foi (cf. 1Co 15,14), et il revit la joie non seulement de ceux à qui le Christ s'est manifesté – les Apôtres, Marie-Madeleine, les disciples d'Emmaüs –, mais aussi la joie de Marie, qui a dû faire une expérience non moins intense de la vie nouvelle de son Fils glorifié. À cette gloire qui, par l'Ascension, place le Christ à la droite du Père, elle sera elle-même associée par l'Assomption, anticipant, par un privilège très spécial, la destinée réservée à tous les justes par la résurrection de la chair. Enfin, couronnée de gloire – comme on le voit dans le dernier mystèreglorieux –, elle brille comme Reine desAnges et des Saints, anticipation et sommet de la condition eschatologique de l'Église.

Dans le troisième mystère glorieux, le Rosaire place au centre de ce parcours glorieux du Fils et de sa Mère la Pentecôte, qui montre le visage de l'Église comme famille unie à Marie, ravivée par l'effusion puissante de l'Esprit et prête pour la mission évangélisatrice. La contemplation de ce mystère, comme des autres mystères glorieux, doit inciter les croyants à prendre une conscience toujours plus vive de leur existence nouvelle dans le Christ, dans la réalité de l'Église, existence dont la scène de la Pentecôte constitue la grande “icône”. Les mystères glorieux nourrissent ainsi chez les croyants l'espérance de la fin eschatologique vers laquelle ils sont en marche comme membres du peuple de Dieu qui chemine à travers l'histoire. Ceci ne peut pas ne pas les pousser à témoigner avec courage de cette « joyeuse annonce » qui donne sens à toute leur existence.

Des mystères au Mystère: le chemin de Marie

24. Ces cycles de méditation proposés par le Saint Rosaire ne sont certes pas exhaustifs, mais ils rappellent l'essentiel, donnant à l'esprit le goût d'une connaissance du Christ qui puise continuellement à la source pure du texte évangélique. Chaque trait singulier de la vie du Christ, tel qu'il est raconté par les Évangélistes, brille de ce Mystère qui surpasse toute connaissance (cf. Ep 3, 19). C'est le mystère du Verbe fait chair, en qui, « dans son propre corps, habite la plénitude de la divinité » (cf. Col 2, 9). C'est pourquoi le Catéchisme de l'Église catholique insiste tant sur les mystères du Christ, rappelant que « toute la vie de Jésus est signe de son mystère ».30 Le « duc in altum » de l'Église dans le troisième millénaire se mesure à la capacité des chrétiens de « pénétrer le mystère de Dieu, dans lequel se trouvent, cachés, tous les trésors de la sagesse et de la connaissance » (Col 2, 2-3). C'est à chaque baptisé que s'adresse le souhait ardent de la lettre aux Éphésiens: « Que le Christ habite en vos cœurs par la foi; restez enracinés dans l'amour, établis dans l'amour. Ainsi [...] vous connaîtrez l'amour du Christ qui surpasse toute connaissance. Alors vous serez comblés jusqu'à entrer dans la plénitude de Dieu » (3, 17-19).

Le Rosaire se met au service de cet idéal, livrant le “secret” qui permet de s'ouvrir plus facilement à une connaissance du Christ qui est profonde et qui engage. Nous pourrions l'appeler le chemin de Marie. C'est le chemin de l'exemple de la Vierge de Nazareth, femme de foi, de silence et d'écoute. C'est en même temps le chemin d'une dévotion mariale, animée de la conscience du rapport indissoluble qui lie le Christ à sa très sainte Mère: les mystères du Christ sont aussi, dans un sens, les mystères de sa Mère, même quand elle n'y est pas directement impliquée, par le fait même qu'elle vit de Lui et par Lui. Faisant nôtres dans l'Ave Maria les paroles de l'Ange Gabriel et de sainte Élisabeth, nous nous sentons toujours poussés à chercher d'une manière nouvelle en Marie, entre ses bras et dans son cœur, le « fruit béni de ses entrailles » (cf.Lc 1, 42).

Mystère du Christ, “mystère” de l'homme

25. Dans mon témoignage de 1978, évoqué ci-dessus, sur le Rosaire, ma prière préférée, j'exprimais une idée sur laquelle je voudrais revenir. Je disais alors que « la prière toute simple du Rosaire s'écoule au rythme de la vie humaine ».31

À la lumière des réflexions faites jusqu'ici sur les mystères du Christ, il n'est pas difficile d'approfondir l'implication anthropologique du Rosaire, une implication plus radicale qu'il n'y paraît à première vue. Celui qui se met à contempler le Christ en faisant mémoire des étapes de sa vie ne peut pas ne pas découvrir aussi en Lui la vérité sur l'homme. C'est la grande affirmation du Concile Vatican II, dont j'ai si souvent fait l'objet de mon magistère, depuis l'encyclique Redemptor hominis: « En réalité, le mystère de l'homme ne s'éclaire vraiment que dans le mystère du Verbe incarné ».32 Le Rosaire aide à s'ouvrir à cette lumière. En suivant le chemin du Christ, en qui le chemin de l'homme est « récapitulé »,33 dévoilé et racheté, le croyant se place face à l'image de l'homme véritable. En contemplant sa naissance, il découvre le caractère sacré de la vie; en regardant la maison de Nazareth, il apprend la vérité fondatrice de la famille selon le dessein de Dieu; en écoutant le Maître dans les mystères de sa vie publique, il atteint la lumière qui permet d'entrer dans le Royaume de Dieu et, en le suivant sur le chemin du Calvaire, il apprend le sens de la souffrance salvifique. Enfin, en contemplant le Christ et sa Mère dans la gloire, il voit le but auquel chacun de nous est appelé, à condition de se laisser guérir et transfigurer par l'Esprit Saint.

On peut dire ainsi que chaque mystère du Rosaire, bien médité, éclaire le mystère de l'homme.

En même temps, il devient naturel d'apporter à cette rencontre avec la sainte humanité du Rédempteur les nombreux problèmes, préoccupations, labeurs et projets qui marquent notre vie. « Décharge ton fardeau sur le Seigneur: il prendra soin de toi » (Ps 55 [54], 23). Méditer le Rosaire consiste à confier nos fardeaux aux cœurs miséricordieux du Christ et de sa Mère. À vingt-cinq ans de distance, repensant aux épreuves qui ne m'ont pas manqué même dans l'exercice de mon ministère pétrinien, j'éprouve le besoin de redire, à la manière d'une chaleureuse invitation adressée à tous pour qu'ils en fassent l'expérience personnelle: oui, vraiment le Rosaire « donne le rythme de la vie humaine », pour l'harmoniser avec le rythme de la vie divine, dans la joyeuse communion de la Sainte Trinité, destinée et aspiration ultime de notre existence.



CHAPITRE III

« POUR MOI, VIVRE C'EST LE CHRIST »

Le Rosaire, chemin d'assimilation du mystère

26. La méditation des mystères du Christ est proposée dans le Rosaire avec une méthode caractéristique, capable par nature de favoriser leur assimilation. C'est une méthode fondée sur la répétition. Cela vaut avant tout pour l'Ave Maria, répété dix fois à chaque mystère. Si l'on s'en tient à cette répétition d'une manière superficielle, on pourrait être tenté de ne voir dans le Rosaire qu'une pratique aride et ennuyeuse. Au contraire, on peut considérer le chapelet tout autrement, si on le regarde comme l'expression de cet amour qui ne se lasse pas de se tourner vers la personne aimée par des effusions qui, même si elles sont toujours semblables dans leur manifestation, sont toujours neuves par le sentiment qui les anime.

Dans le Christ, Dieu a vraiment assumé un « cœur de chair ». Il n'a pas seulement un cœur divin, riche en miséricorde et en pardon, mais il a aussi un cœur humain, capable de toutes les vibrations de l'affection. Si nous avions besoin d'un témoignage évangélique à ce propos, il ne serait pas difficile de le trouver dans le dialogue émouvant du Christ avec Pierre, après la Résurrection: « Simon, fils de Jean, m'aimes-tu? » Par trois fois la question est posée, par trois fois la réponse est donnée: « Seigneur, tu sais bien que je t'aime » (cf. Jn 21, 15-17). Au-delà de la signification spécifique de ce passage si important pour la mission de Pierre, la beauté de cette triple répétition n'échappe à personne: par elle, la demande insistante et la réponse correspondante s'expriment en des termes bien connus de l'expérience universelle de l'amour humain. Pour comprendre le Rosaire, il faut entrer dans la dynamique psychologique propre à l'amour.

Une chose est claire: si la répétition de l'Ave Maria s'adresse directement à Marie, en définitive, avec elle et par elle, c'est à Jésus que s'adresse l'acte d'amour. La répétition se nourrit du désir d'être toujours plus pleinement conformé au Christ, c'est là le vrai “programme” de la vie chrétienne. Saint Paul a énoncé ce programme avec des paroles pleines de feu: « Pour moi, vivre c'est le Christ, et mourir est un avantage » (Ph 1, 21). Et encore: « Ce n'est plus moi qui vis, mais le Christ qui vit en moi » (Ga 2, 20). Le Rosaire nous aide à grandir dans cette conformation jusqu'à parvenir à la sainteté.

Une méthode valable...

27. Que la relation au Christ puisse profiter également du soutien d'une méthode ne doit pas étonner. Dieu se communique à l'homme en respectant la façon d'être de notre nature et ses rythmes vitaux. C'est pourquoi la spiritualité chrétienne, tout en connaissant les formes les plus sublimes du silence mystique dans lequel toutes les images, toutes les paroles et tous les gestes sont comme dépassés par l'intensité d'une union ineffable de l'homme avec Dieu, est normalement marquée par l'engagement total de la personne, dans sa complexe réalité psychologique, physique et relationnelle.

Ceci apparaît de façon évidente dans la liturgie. Les sacrements et les sacramentaux sont structurés par une série de rites qui font appel aux diverses dimensions de la personne. La prière non liturgique exprime également la même exigence. Cela est corroboré par le fait qu'en Orient la prière la plus caractéristique de la méditation christologique, celle qui est centrée sur les paroles: « Jésus, Christ, Fils de Dieu, Seigneur, aie pitié de moi pécheur »,34 est traditionnellement liée au rythme de la respiration qui, tout en favorisant la persévérance dans l'invocation, assure presque une densité physique au désir que le Christ devienne la respiration, l'âme et le “tout” de la vie.

... qui peut toutefois être améliorée

28. Dans la Lettre apostolique Novo millennio ineunte, j'ai rappelé qu'il y a également aujourd'hui en Occident une exigence renouvelée de méditation qui trouve parfois dans les autres religions des modalités plus attractives.35 Il existe des chrétiens qui, parce qu'ils connaissent peu la tradition contemplative chrétienne, se laissent séduire par ces propositions. Néanmoins, même si elles ont des éléments positifs et parfois compatibles avec l'expérience chrétienne, elles cachent souvent un soubassement idéologique inacceptable. Même dans ces expériences, on note une méthodologie très en vogue qui, pour parvenir à une haute concentration spirituelle, se prévaut de techniques répétitives et symboliques, à caractère psychologique et physique. Le Rosaire se situe dans le cadre universel de la phénoménologie religieuse, mais il se définit par des caractéristiques propres qui répondent aux exigences typiques de la spécificité chrétienne.

En effet, ce n'est pas seulement une méthode de contemplation. En tant que méthode, le chapelet doit être utilisé en relation avec sa finalité propre et il ne peut pas devenir une fin en soi. Cependant, parce qu'elle est le fruit d'une expérience séculaire, la méthode elle-même ne doit pas être sous-estimée. L'expérience d'innombrables saints milite en sa faveur, ce qui n'empêche pas cependant qu'elle puisse être améliorée. C'est précisément à cette fin que vise l'intégration, dans le cycle des mystères, de la nouvelle série de mysteria lucis, ainsi que de certaines suggestions relatives à la récitation du Rosaire que propose la présente Lettre. Par ces mystères, tout en respectant lastructure largement établie de cette prière, je voudrais aider les fidèles à la comprendre dans ses aspects symboliques, en harmonie avec les exigences de la vie quotidienne. Sans cela, on court le risque que non seulement le Rosaire ne produise pas les effets spirituels escomptés, mais que même le chapelet, avec lequel on a coutume de le réciter, finisse par être perçu comme une amulette ou un objet magique, en faisant un contresens radical sur son sens et sur sa fonction.

L'énonciation du mystère

29. Énoncer le mystère, et peut-être même pouvoir regarder en même temps une image qui le représente, c'est comme camper un décor sur lequel se concentre l'attention. Les paroles guident l'imagination et l'esprit vers cet épisode déterminé ou ce moment de la vie du Christ. Dans la spiritualité qui s'est développée dans l'Église, que ce soit la vénération des icônes, les nombreuses dévotions riches d'éléments sensibles ou encore la méthode elle-même proposée par saint Ignace de Loyola dans les Exercices spirituels, toutes ont eu recours à l'élément visuel et à l'imagination (la compositio loci), le considérant d'une grande aide pour favoriser la concentration de l'esprit sur le mystère. Il s'agit d'ailleurs d'une méthodologie qui correspond à la logique même de l'Incarnation: en Jésus, Dieu a voulu prendre des traits humains. C'est à travers sa réalité corporelle que nous sommes conduits à entrer en contact avec son mystère divin.

À cette exigence concrète répond aussi l'énonciation des différents mystères du Rosaire. Ils ne remplacent certainement pas l'Évangile et ils n'en rappellent même pas toutes les pages. Le Rosaire ne remplace pas non plus la lectio divina, mais il la présuppose et il la promeut. Et si les mystères contemplés dans le Rosaire, y compris le complément des mysteria lucis, se limitent aux lignes maîtresses de la vie du Christ, grâce à eux l'esprit peut facilement embrasser le reste de l'Évangile, surtout quand le Rosaire est récité dans des moments particuliers de recueillement prolongé.

L'écoute de la Parole de Dieu

30. Pour donner un fondement biblique et une profondeur plus grande à la méditation, il est utile que l'énoncé du mystère soit suivi de la proclamation d'un passage biblique correspondant qui, en fonction des circonstances, peut être plus ou moins important. Les autres paroles en effet n'atteignent jamais l'efficacité particulière de la parole inspirée. Cette dernière doit être écoutée avec la certitude qu'elle est Parole de Dieu, prononcée pour aujourd'hui et « pour moi ».

Ainsi écoutée, elle entre dans la méthodologie de répétition du Rosaire, sans susciter l'ennui qui serait produit par le simple rappel d'une information déjà bien connue. Non, il ne s'agit pas de faire revenir à sa mémoire une information, mais de laisser “parler” Dieu. Dans certaines occasions solennelles et communautaires, cette parole peut être illustrée de manière heureuse par un bref commentaire.

Le silence

31. L'écoute et la méditation se nourrissent du silence. Après l'énonciation du mystère et la proclamation de la Parole, il est opportun de s'arrêter pendant un temps significatif pour fixer le regard sur le mystère médité, avant de commencer la prière vocale. La redécouverte de la valeur du silence est un des secrets de la pratique de la contemplation et de la méditation. Dans une société hautement marquée par la technologie et les médias, il reste aussi que le silence devient toujours plus difficile. De même que dans la liturgie sont recommandés des moments de silence, de même, après l'écoute de la Parole de Dieu, une brève pause est opportune dans la récitation du Rosaire, tandis que l'esprit se fixe sur le contenu d'un mystère déterminé.

Le « Notre Père »

32. Après l'écoute de la Parole et la focalisation sur le mystère, il est naturel que l'esprit s'élève vers le Père. En chacun de ses mystères, Jésus nous conduit toujours au Père, auquel il s'adresse continuellement, parce qu'il repose en son “sein” (cf. Jn1,18). Il veut nous introduire dans l'intimité du Père, pour que nous disions comme Lui: « Abba, Père » (Rm 8,15; Ga 4,6). C'est en rapport avec le Père qu'il fait de nous ses frères et qu'il nous fait frères les uns des autres, en nous communiquant l'Esprit qui est tout à la fois son Esprit et l'Esprit du Père.

Le « Notre Père », placé pratiquement comme au fondement de la méditation christologique et mariale qui se développe à travers la répétition de l'Ave Maria, fait de la méditation du mystère, même accomplie dans la solitude, une expérience ecclésiale.

Les dix « Ave Maria »

33. C'est tout à la fois l'élément le plus consistant du Rosaire et celui qui en fait une prière mariale par excellence. Mais précisément à la lumière d'une bonne compréhension de l'Ave Maria, on perçoit avec clarté que le caractère marial, non seulement ne s'oppose pas au caractère christologique, mais au contraire le souligne et le met en relief. En effet, la première partie de l'Ave Maria, tirée des paroles adressées à Marie par l'Ange Gabriel et par sainte Élisabeth, est une contemplation d'adoration du mystère qui s'accomplit dans la Vierge de Nazareth. Ces paroles expriment, pour ainsi dire, l'admiration du ciel et de la terre, et font, en un sens, affleurer l'émerveillement de Dieu contemplant son chef d'œuvre – l'incarnation du Fils dans le sein virginal de Marie –, dans la ligne du regard joyeux de la Genèse (cf. Gn1,31), de l'originel « pathos avec lequel Dieu, à l'aube de la création, a regardé l'œuvre de ses mains ».36 Dans le Rosaire, le caractère répétitif de l'Ave Marie nous fait participer à l'enchantement de Dieu: c'est la jubilation, l'étonnement, la reconnaissance du plus grand miracle de l'histoire. Il s'agit de l'accomplissement de la prophétie de Marie: « Désormais tous les âges me diront bienheureuse » (Lc1,48).

Le centre de gravité de l'Ave Maria, qui est presque comme une charnière entre la première et la seconde partie, est le nom de Jésus. Parfois, lors d'une récitation faite trop à la hâte, ce centre de gravité disparaît, et avec lui le lien au mystère du Christ qu'on est en train de contempler. Mais c'est justement par l'accent qu'on donne au nom de Jésus et à son mystère que l'on distingue une récitation du Rosaire significative et fructueuse. Dans l'exhortation apostolique Marialis cultus, Paul VI rappelait déjà l'usage pratiqué dans certaines régions de donner du relief au nom du Christ, en ajoutant une clausule évocatrice du mystère que l'on est en train de méditer.37 C'est une pratique louable, spécialement dans la récitation publique. Elle exprime avec force la foi christologique appliquée à divers moments de la vie du Rédempteur. Il s'agit d'une profession de foi et, en même temps, d'une aide pour demeurer vigilant dans la méditation, qui permet de vivre la fonction d'assimilation, inhérente à la répétition de l'Ave Maria, en regard du mystère du Christ. Répéter le nom de Jésus – l'unique nom par lequel il nous est donné d'espérer le salut (cf. Ac 4,12) –, étroitement lié à celui de sa Très Sainte Mère, et en la laissant presque elle-même nous le suggérer, constitue un chemin d'assimilation, qui vise à nous faire entrer toujours plus profondément dans la vie du Christ.

C'est de la relation très spécifique avec le Christ, qui fait de Marie la Mère de Dieu, la Theotòkos, que découle ensuite la force de la supplication avec laquelle nous nous adressons à elle dans la seconde partie de la prière, confiant notre vie et l'heure de notre mort à sa maternelle intercession.

Le « Gloria »

34. La doxologie trinitaire est le point d'arrivée de la contemplation chrétienne. Le Christ est en effet le chemin qui conduit au Père dans l'Esprit. Si nous parcourons en profondeur ce chemin, nous nous retrouvons sans cesse devant le mystère des trois Personnes divines à louer, à adorer et à remercier. Il est important que le Gloria, sommet de la contemplation, soit bien mis en relief dans le Rosaire. Lors de la récitation publique, il pourrait être chanté, pour mettre en évidence de manière opportune cette perspective qui structure et qualifie toute prière chrétienne.

Dans la mesure où la méditation du mystère a été attentive, profonde, ravivée – d'Ave en Ave – par l'amour pour le Christ et pour Marie, la glorification trinitaire après chaque dizaine, loin de se réduire à une rapide conclusion, acquiert une juste tonalité contemplative, comme pour élever l'esprit jusqu'au Paradis et nous faire revivre, d'une certaine manière, l'expérience du Thabor, anticipation de la contemplation future: « Il est heureux que nous soyons ici ! » (Lc9,33).

L'oraison jaculatoire finale

35. Dans la pratique courante du Rosaire, la doxologie trinitaire est suivie d'une oraison jaculatoire, qui varie suivant les circonstances. Sans rien enlever à la valeur de telles invocations, il semble opportun de noter que la contemplation des mystères sera plus féconde si on prend soin de faire en sorte que chaque mystère s'achève par une prière destinée à obtenir les fruits spécifiques de la méditation de ce mystère. Le Rosaire pourra ainsi manifester avec une plus grande efficacité son lien avec la vie chrétienne. Cela est suggéré par une belle oraison liturgique, qui nous invite à demander de pouvoir parvenir, par la méditation des mystères du Rosaire, à « imiter ce qu'ils contiennent et à obtenir ce qu'ils promettent ».38

Une telle prière finale pourra s'inspirer d'une légitime variété, comme cela se fait déjà. En outre, le Rosaire acquiert alors une expression plus adaptée aux différentes traditions spirituelles et aux diverses communautés chrétiennes. Dans cette perspective, il est souhaitable que se répandent, avec le discernement pastoral requis, les propositions les plus significatives, par exemple celles qui sont utilisées dans les centres et sanctuaires mariaux particulièrement attentifs à la pratique du Rosaire, si bien que le peuple de Dieu puisse bénéficier de toutes ses richesses spirituelles authentiques, en y puisant une nourriture pour sa contemplation.

Le chapelet

36. Le chapelet est l'instrument traditionnel pour la récitation du Rosaire. Une pratique par trop superficielle conduit à le considérer souvent comme un simple instrument servant à compter la succession des Je vous salue Marie. Mais il veut aussi exprimer un symbolisme qui peut donner un sens nouveau à la contemplation.

À ce sujet, il faut avant tout noter que le chapelet converge vers le Crucifié, qui ouvre ainsi et conclut le chemin même de la prière. La vie et la prière des croyants sont centrées sur le Christ. Tout part de Lui; tout tend vers Lui; et par Lui, tout, dans l'Esprit Saint, parvient au Père.

En tant qu'instrument servant à compter, qui scande la progression de la prière, le chapelet évoque le chemin incessant de la contemplation et de la perfection chrétiennes. Le bienheureux Bartolo Longo voyait aussi le chapelet comme une « chaîne » qui nous relie à Dieu. Une chaîne, certes, mais une douce chaîne; car tel est toujours la relation avec Dieu qui est Père. Une chaîne “filiale”, qui nous accorde à Marie, la « servante du Seigneur » (Lc 1, 38) et, en définitive, au Christ lui-même qui, tout en étant Dieu, s'est fait « serviteur » par amour pour nous (Ph2,7).

Il est beau également d'étendre la signification symbolique du chapelet à nos relations réciproques; par lui nous est rappelé le lien de communion et de fraternité qui nous unit tous dans le Christ.

Début et fin

37. Dans la pratique courante, les manières d'introduire le Rosaire sont variées, selon les différents contextes ecclésiaux. Dans certaines régions, on commence habituellement par l'invocation du Psaume 69[70]: « Dieu, viens à mon aide; Seigneur, à notre secours », comme pour nourrir chez la personne qui prie l'humble conscience de sa propre indigence; dans d'autres lieux, au contraire, le Rosaire débute par la récitation du Credo, comme pour mettre la profession de foi au point de départ du chemin de contemplation que l'on entreprend. Dans la mesure où elles disposent bien l'esprit à la contemplation, ces formes et d'autres semblables sont des usages également légitimes. La récitation se conclut par la prière aux intentions du Pape, afin d'élargir le regard de celui qui prie aux vastes horizons des nécessités ecclésiales. C'est justement pour encourager cette ouverture ecclésiale du Rosaire que l'Église a voulu l'enrichir d'indulgences à l'intention de ceux qui le récitent avec les dispositions requises.

En effet, s'il est ainsi vécu, le Rosaire devient vraiment un parcours spirituel, dans lequel Marie se fait mère, guide, maître, et elle soutient le fidèle par sa puissante intercession. Comment s'étonner du besoin ressenti par l'âme, à la fin de cette prière dans laquelle elle a fait l'expérience intime de la maternité de Marie, d'entonner une louange à la Vierge Marie, que ce soit la splendide prière du Salve Regina ou celle des Litanies de Lorette ? C'est le couronnement d'un chemin intérieur, qui a conduit le fidèle à un contact vivant avec le mystère du Christ et de sa Mère très sainte.

La répartition dans le temps

38. Le Rosaire peut être récité intégralement chaque jour, et nombreux sont ceux qui le font de manière louable. Il parvient ainsi à remplir de prière les journées de nombreux contemplatifs, ou à tenir compagnie aux malades et aux personnes âgées, qui disposent de beaucoup de temps. Mais il est évident – et ceci vaut d'autant plus si on ajoute le nouveau cycle des mysteria lucis – que beaucoup ne pourront en réciter qu'une partie, selon un certain ordre hebdomadaire. Cette répartition hebdomadaire finit par donner aux différentes journées de la semaine une certaine « couleur » spirituelle, comme le fait de manière analogue la liturgie avec les diverses étapes de l'année liturgique.

Selon l'usage courant, le lundi et le jeudi sont consacrés aux « mystères joyeux », le mardi et le vendredi aux « mystères douloureux », le mercredi, le samedi et le dimanche aux « mystères glorieux ». Où insérer les « mystères lumineux »? Considérant que les mystères glorieux sont proposés deux jours de suite, le samedi et le dimanche, et que le samedi est traditionnellement un jour à fort caractère marial, on peut conseiller de déplacer au samedi la deuxième méditation hebdomadaire des mystères joyeux, dans lesquels la présence de Marie est davantage accentuée. Ainsi, le jeudi reste opportunément libre pour la méditation des mystères lumineux.

Cette indication n'entend pas toutefois limiter une certaine liberté dans la méditation personnelle et communautaire, en fonction des exigences spirituelles et pastorales, et surtout des fêtes liturgiques qui peuvent susciter d'heureuses adaptations. L'important est de considérer et d'expérimenter toujours davantage le Rosaire comme un itinéraire de contemplation. Par lui, en complément de ce qui se réalise dans la liturgie, la semaine du chrétien, enracinée dans le dimanche, jour de la résurrection, devient un chemin à travers les mystères de la vie du Christ, qui se manifeste dans la vie de ses disciples comme le Seigneur du temps et de l'histoire.


CONCLUSION

« Rosaire béni de Marie, douce chaîne qui nous relie à Dieu »

39.Ce qui a été dit jusqu'ici exprime amplement la richesse de cette prière traditionnelle, qui a la simplicité d'une prière populaire, mais aussi la profondeur théologique d'une prière adaptée à ceux qui perçoivent l'exigence d'une contemplation plus mûre.

L'Église a toujours reconnu à cette prière une efficacité particulière, lui confiant les causes les plus difficiles dans sa récitation communautaire et dans sa pratique constante. En des moments où la chrétienté elle-même était menacée, ce fut à la force de cette prière qu'on attribua l'éloignement du danger, et la Vierge du Rosaire fut saluée comme propitiatrice du salut.

Aujourd'hui, comme j'y ai fait allusion au début, je recommande volontiers à l'efficacité de cette prière la cause de la paix dans le monde et celle de la famille.

La paix

40. Les difficultés que la perspective mondiale fait apparaître en ce début de nouveau millénaire nous conduisent à penser que seule une intervention d'en haut, capable d'orienter les cœurs de ceux qui vivent des situations conflictuelles et de ceux qui régissent le sort des Nations, peut faire espérer un avenir moins sombre.

Le Rosaire est une prière orientée par nature vers la paix, du fait même qu'elle est contemplation du Christ, Prince de la paix et « notre paix » (Ep 2,14). Celui qui assimile le mystère du Christ – et le Rosaire vise précisément à cela – apprend le secret de la paix et en fait un projet de vie. En outre, en vertu de son caractère méditatif, dans la tranquille succession des Ave Maria, le Rosaire exerce sur celui qui prie une action pacificatrice qui le dispose à recevoir cette paix véritable, qui est un don spécial du Ressuscité (cf.Jn 14,27; 20,21), et à en faire l'expérience au fond de son être, en vue de la répandre autour de lui.

Le Rosaire est aussi une prière de paix en raison des fruits de charité qu'il produit. S'il est bien récité comme une vraie prière méditative, le Rosaire, en favorisant la rencontre avec le Christ dans ses mystères, ne peut pas ne pas indiquer aussi le visage du Christ dans les frères, en particulier dans les plus souffrants. Comment pourrait-on fixer, dans les mystères joyeux, le mystère de l'Enfant né à Bethléem sans éprouver le désir d'accueillir, de défendre et de promouvoir la vie, en se chargeant de la souffrance des enfants de toutes les parties du monde? Comment, dans les mystères lumineux, pourrait-on suivre les pas du Christ qui révèle le Père sans s'engager à témoigner de ses « béatitudes » dans la vie de chaque jour? Et comment contempler le Christ chargé de la Croix et crucifié sans ressentir le besoin de se faire le « Cyrénéen » de tout frère brisé par la souffrance ou écrasé par le désespoir? Enfin, comment pourrait-on fixer les yeux sur la gloire du Christ ressuscité et sur Marie couronnée Reine sans éprouver le désir de rendre ce monde plus beau, plus juste et plus proche du dessein de Dieu?

En réalité, tandis qu'il nous conduit à fixer les yeux sur le Christ, le Rosaire nous rend aussi bâtisseurs de la paix dans le monde. Par sa caractéristique de supplication communautaire et insistante, pour répondre à l'invitation du Christ « à toujours prier sans se décourager » (Lc 18, 1), il nous permet d'espérer que, même aujourd'hui, une “bataille” aussi difficile que celle de la paix pourra être gagnée. Loin d'être une fuite des problèmes du monde, le Rosaire nous pousse à les regarder avec un œil responsable et généreux, et il nous obtient la force de les affronter avec la certitude de l'aide de Dieu et avec la ferme intention de témoigner en toutes circonstances de « l'amour, lui qui fait l'unité dans la perfection » (Col 3,14).

La famille: les parents...

41. Prière pour la paix, le Rosaire est aussi, depuis toujours, la prière de la famille et pour la famille. Il fut un temps où cette prière était particulièrement chère aux familles chrétiennes et en favorisait certainement la communion. Il ne faut pas perdre ce précieux héritage. Il faut se remettre à prier en famille et à prier pour les familles, en utilisant encore cette forme de prière.

Si, dans la Lettre apostolique Novo millennio ineunte, j'ai encouragé même les laïcs à célébrer la Liturgie des Heures dans la vie ordinaire des communautés paroissiales et des divers groupes chrétiens,39je désire faire la même chose pour le Rosaire. Il s'agit de deux voies de la contemplation chrétienne qui ne s'opposent pas, mais se complètent. Je demande donc à ceux qui se consacrent à la pastorale des familles de suggérer avec conviction la récitation du Rosaire.

La famille qui est unie dans la prière demeure unie. Par tradition ancienne, le saint Rosaire se prête tout spécialement à être une prière dans laquelle la famille se retrouve. Les membres de celle-ci, en jetant véritablement un regard sur Jésus, acquièrent aussi une nouvelle capacité de se regarder en face, pour communiquer, pour vivre la solidarité, pour se pardonner mutuellement, pour repartir avec un pacte d'amour renouvelé par l'Esprit de Dieu.

De nombreux problèmes des familles contemporaines, particulièrement dans les sociétés économiquement évoluées, dépendent du fait qu'il devient toujours plus difficile de communiquer. On ne parvient pas à rester ensemble, et les rares moments passés en commun sont absorbés par les images de la télévision. Recommencer à réciter le Rosaire en famille signifie introduire dans la vie quotidienne des images bien différentes, celles du mystère qui sauve: l'image du Rédempteur, l'image de sa Mère très sainte. La famille qui récite le Rosaire reproduit un peu le climat de la maison de Nazareth: on place Jésus au centre, on partage avec lui les joies et les souffrances, on remet entre ses mains les besoins et les projets, on reçoit de lui espérance et force pour le chemin.

... et les enfants

42. Il est beau et fécond également de confier à cette prière le chemin de croissance des enfants. Le Rosaire n'est-il pas l'itinéraire de la vie du Christ, de sa conception à sa mort, jusqu'à sa résurrection et à sa glorification? Il devient aujourd'hui toujours plus ardu pour les parents de suivre leurs enfants dans les diverses étapes de leur vie. Dans notre société de technologie avancée, des médias et de la mondialisation, tout est devenu si rapide, et la distance culturelle entre les générations se fait toujours plus grande. Les messages les plus divers et les expériences les plus imprévisibles envahissent la vie des enfants et des adolescents, et pour les parents il devient parfois angoissant de faire face aux risques qu'ils courent. Il n'est pas rare qu'ils soient conduits à faire l'expérience de déceptions cuisantes, en constatant les échecs de leurs enfants face à la séduction de la drogue, aux attraits d'un hédonisme effréné, aux tentations de la violence, aux expressions les plus variées du non-sens et du désespoir.

Prier le Rosaire pour ses enfants, et mieux encore avec ses enfants, en les éduquant depuis leur plus jeune âge à ce moment quotidien de « pause priante » de la famille, n'est certes pas la solution de tous les problèmes, mais elle constitue une aide spirituelle à ne pas sous-estimer. On peut objecter que le Rosaire apparaît comme une prière peu adaptée au goût des adolescents et des jeunes d'aujourd'hui. Mais l'objection vient peut-être d'une façon de le réciter souvent peu appliquée. Du reste, étant sauve sa structure fondamentale, rien n'empêche, pour les enfants et les adolescents, que la récitation du Rosaire –que ce soit en famille ou en groupes – s'enrichisse de possibles aménagements symboliques et concrets, qui en favorisent la compréhension et la mise en valeur. Pourquoi ne pas l'essayer? Une pastorale des jeunes qui n'est pas défaitiste, mais passionnée et créative – les Journées mondiales de la Jeunesse m'en ont donné la mesure! – est capable de faire, avec l'aide de Dieu, des choses vraiment significatives. Si le Rosaire est bien présenté, je suis sûr que les jeunes eux- mêmes seront capables de surprendre encore une fois les adultes, en faisant leur cette prière et en la récitant avec l'enthousiasme caractéristique de leur âge.

Le Rosaire, un trésor à redécouvrir

43. Chers frères et sœurs! Une prière aussi facile, et en même temps aussi riche, mérite vraiment d'être redécouverte par la communauté chrétienne. Faisons-le surtout cette année, en accueillant cette proposition comme un affermissement de la ligne tracée dans la Lettre apostolique Novo millennio ineunte, dont de nombreuses Églises particulières se sont inspirées dans leurs projets pastoraux pour planifier leurs engagements dans un proche avenir.

Je m'adresse à vous en particulier, chers Frères dans l'épiscopat, prêtres et diacres, et aussi à vous, agents pastoraux engagés dans divers ministères, pour que, en faisant l'expérience personnelle de la beauté du Rosaire, vous en deveniez des promoteurs actifs.

Je m'en remets aussi à vous, théologiens, afin qu'en menant une réflexion à la fois rigoureuse et sage, enracinée dans la Parole de Dieu et attentive au vécu du peuple chrétien, vous fassiez découvrir les fondements bibliques, les richesses spirituelles et la valeur pastorale de cette prière traditionnelle.

Je compte sur vous, les consacrés, hommes et femmes, appelés à un titre particulier à contempler le visage du Christ à l'école de Marie.

Je me tourne vers vous, frères et sœurs de toute condition, vers vous, familles chrétiennes, vers vous, malades et personnes âgées, vers vous les jeunes: reprenez avec confiance le chapelet entre vos mains, le redécouvrant à la lumière de l'Écriture, en harmonie avec la liturgie, dans le cadre de votre vie quotidienne.

Que mon appel ne reste pas lettre morte! Au début de la vingt-cinquième année de mon Pontificat, je remets cette Lettre apostolique entre les mains sages de la Vierge Marie, m'inclinant spirituellement devant son image dans le splendide sanctuaire qui lui a été édifié par le bienheureux Bartolo Longo, apôtre du Rosaire. Je fais volontiers miennes les paroles touchantes par lesquelles il termine la célèbre Supplique à la Reine du Saint Rosaire: « Ô Rosaire béni par Marie, douce chaîne qui nous relie à Dieu, lien d'amour qui nous unit aux Anges, tour de sagesse face aux assauts de l'enfer, havre de sécurité dans le naufrage commun, nous ne te lâcherons plus. Tu seras notre réconfort à l'heure de l'agonie. À toi, le dernier baiser de la vie qui s'éteint. Et le dernier accent sur nos lèvres sera ton nom suave, ô Reine du Rosaire de Pompéi, ô notre Mère très chère, ô refuge des pécheurs, ô souveraine Consolatrice des affligés. Sois bénie en tout lieu, aujourd'hui et toujours, sur la terre et dans le ciel ».

Du Vatican, le 16 octobre 2002, début de la vingt-cinquième année de mon Pontificat.

JOHN PAUL II

________________________________________

1 Conc. œcum. Vat. II, Const. past. sur l'Église dans le monde de ce temps Gaudium et spes, n.45.

2 Paul VI, Exhort. apost. Marialis cultus (2 février 1974), n.42: AAS 66 (1974), p.153: La Documentation catholique 71 (1974), p.314.

3 Cf. Acta Leonis XIII, 3 (1884), pp.280-289.

4 En particulier, il est bon de noter sa Lettre apostolique sur le Rosaire: Il religioso convegno (29 septembre 1961): AAS 53

5 Angelus: Insegnamenti(1978), pp.75-76: La Documentation catholique 75 (1978), p.958.

6 AAS93 (2001), p.285: La Documentation catholique 98 (2001), p.78.

7 Au cours des années de préparation du Concile, JeanXXIII n'avait pas manqué d'inviter la communauté chrétienne à la récitation du Rosaire pour la réussite de cet événement ecclésial: cf. Lettre au Cardinal Vicaire de Rome, 28 septembre 1960: AAS 52 (1960), pp.814-817: La Documentation catholique 57 (1960), col. 1249-1252.

8 Const. dogm. sur l'Église Lumen gentium, n.66.

9 Lettre apost. Novo millennio ineunte, n.32: AAS 93 (2001), p.288: La Documentation catholique 98 (2001), p.79.

10 Ibid., n.33: l.c., p.289: La Documentation catholique 98 (2001), p.80.

11 Comme on le sait, il faut rappeler que les révélations privées ne sont pas de la même nature que la révélation publique, qui constitue une norme pour toute l'Église. Il est du devoir du Magistère de discerner et de reconnaître, pour la piété des fidèles, l'authenticité et la valeur des révélations privées.

12 Le secret admirable du très saint Rosaire pour se convertir et se sauver: S. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, Œuvres complètes, Paris (1966), pp.263-389.

13 Histoire du Sanctuaire de Pompéi, Pompéi (1990), p.59.

14 Exhort. apost. Marialis cultus (2 février 1974), n.47: AAS 66 (1974), p.156: La Documentation catholique 71 (1974), p.315.

15 Constitution sur la Liturgie Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.10.

16 Ibid., n.12.

17 Conc. œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogm. sur l'Église Lumen gentium, n.58.

18 Les quinze samedis du Saint Rosaire, 27.

19 Conc. œcum. Vat. II, Const. dogmatique sur l'Église Lumen gentium,n.53.

20 Ibid., n.60.

21 Cf. Premier radiomessage Urbi et Orbi (17 octobre 1978): AAS 70 (1978), p.927: La Documentation catholique 75 (1978), p.905.

22 Traité de la vraie dévotion à Marie, n.120, Paris (1966), pp.562-563.

23 Catéchisme de l'Église catholique, n.2679.

24 Ibid., n.2675.

25 La Supplique à la Reine du Rosaire, qui se récite de manière solennelle deux fois l'an, en mai et en octobre, fut composée par le bienheureux Bartolo Longo en 1883, comme une adhésion à l'invitation lancée par le Pape Léon XIII aux catholiques dans sa première encyclique sur le Rosaire, en vue d'un engagement spirituel qui puisse affronter les maux de la société.

26 La Divine Comédie, Le Paradis, C. XXXIII, 13-15, Paris (1996), p.457.

27 Jean-Paul II, Lettre apost. Novo millennio ineunte (6 janvier 2001) n.20: AAS 93 (2001), p.279: La Documentation catholique 98 (2001), p.75.

28 Exhort. apost. Marialis cultus (2 février 1974), n.46: AAS 66 (1974), p.155: La Documentation catholique 71 (1974), p.315.

29 Jean-Paul II, Lettre apostolique Novo millennio ineunte (6 janvier 2001), n.28: AAS 93 (2001), p.284: La Documentation catholique 98 (2001), p.77.

30 N. 515.

31 Angelus du 29 octobre 1978: Insegnamenti I (1978), p.76: La Documentation catholique 75 (1978), p.958.

32 Conc. œcum. Vat. II, Const. past. sur l'Église dans le monde de ce temps Gaudium et spes, n.22.

33 S. Irénée de Lyon, Adversus hæreses, III, 18, 1: PG VII, 932: Paris (1974), pp.343-345.

34 Catéchisme de l'Église catholique, n.2616.

35 Cf. n.33: AAS 93 (2001), p.289: La Documentation catholique 98 (2001), pp.77-78.

36 Jean-Paul II, Lettre aux artistes (4 avril 1999), n.1: AAS 91 (1999), p.1155: La Documentation catholique 96 (1999), p.451.

37 Cf. n.46: AAS 66 (1974), p.155: La Documentation catholique 71 (1974), p.315. Cet usage a été récemment recommandé par la Congrégation pour le Culte divin et la Discipline des Sacrements dans le Directoire sur la piété populaire et la liturgie. Principes et orientations (17 décembre 2001), n.201, Cité du Vatican (2002), p.165.

38 « Concede, quæsumus, ut hæc mysteria sacratissimo beatæ Mariæ Virginis Rosario recolentes, et imitemur quod continent, et quod promittunt assequamur »: Missale Romanum (1960), In festo B.M. Virginis a Rosario.

39 Cf. n.34: AAS 93 (2001), p.290: La Documentation catholique 98 (2001), p.80.

Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana

SOURCE : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae_fr.html



Our Lady of the Rosary

Apart from the signal defeat of the Albigensian heretics at the battle of Muret in 1213 which legend has attributed to the recitation of the Rosary by St. Dominic, it is believed that Heaven has on many occasions rewarded the faith of those who had recourse to this devotion in times of special danger.

More particularly, the naval victory of Lepanto gained by Don John of Austria over the Turkish fleet on the first Sunday of October in 1571 responded wonderfully to the processions made at Rome on that same day by the members of the Rosary confraternity.

St. Pius V thereupon ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made upon that day, and at the request of the Dominican Order, Gregory XIII in 1573 allowed this feast to be kept in all churches which possessed an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary. In 1671 the observance of this festival was extended by Clement X to the whole of Spain, and somewhat later Clement XI after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on 6 August, 1716 (the feast of our Lady of the Snows), at Peterwardein in Hungary, commanded the feast of the Rosary to be celebrated by the universal Church. 

A set of “proper” lessons in the second nocturn were conceded by Benedict XIII. Leo XIII has since raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class and has added to the Litany of Loreto the invocation “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary”. On this feast, in every church in which the Rosary confraternity has been duly erected, a plenary indulgence toties quoties is granted upon certain conditions to all who visit therein the Rosary chapel or statue of Our Lady.

SOURCE : http://www.ucatholic.com/saints/lady-of-the-rosary/



APOSTOLIC LETTER

ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE

OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II
TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY
AND FAITHFUL
ON THE MOST HOLY ROSARY 


INTRODUCTION 

1. The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), “the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn”.(1)

The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.(2) It is an echo of the prayerof Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer. 

The Popes and the Rosary

2. Numerous predecessors of mine attributed great importance to this prayer. Worthy of special note in this regard is Pope Leo XIII who on 1 September 1883 promulgated the Encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio,(3) a document of great worth, the first of his many statements about this prayer, in which he proposed the Rosary as an effective spiritual weapon against the evils afflicting society. Among the more recent Popes who, from the time of the Second Vatican Council, have distinguished themselves in promoting the Rosary I would mention Blessed John XXIII(4) and above all Pope Paul VI, who in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus emphasized, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, the Rosary's evangelical character and its Christocentric inspiration. I myself have often encouraged the frequent recitation of the Rosary. From my youthful years this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life. I was powerfully reminded of this during my recent visit to Poland, and in particular at the Shrine of Kalwaria. The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago, on 29 October 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I frankly admitted: “The Rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer! Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth. [...]. It can be said that the Rosary is, in some sense, a prayer-commentary on the final chapter of the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium, a chapter which discusses the wondrous presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church. Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through – we might say – the heart of his Mother. At the same time our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind. Our personal concerns and those of our neighbour, especially those who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life”.(5)

With these words, dear brothers and sisters, I set the first year of my Pontificate within the daily rhythm of the Rosary. Today, as I begin the twenty-fifth year of my service as the Successor of Peter, I wish to do the same. How many graces have I received in these years from the Blessed Virgin through the Rosary: Magnificat anima mea 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!

October 2002 – October 2003: The Year of the Rosary

3. Therefore, in continuity with my reflection in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which, after the experience of the Jubilee, I invited the people of God to “start afresh from Christ”,(6) I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary, as a kind of Marian complement to that Letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ. As a way of highlighting this invitation, prompted by the forthcoming 120th anniversary of the aforementioned Encyclical of Leo XIII, I desire that during the course of this year the Rosary should be especially emphasized and promoted in the various Christian communities. I therefore proclaim the year from October 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the Rosary. 

I leave this pastoral proposal to the initiative of each ecclesial community. It is not my intention to encumber but rather to complete and consolidate pastoral programmes of the Particular Churches. I am confident that the proposal will find a ready and generous reception. The Rosary, reclaimed in its full meaning, goes to the very heart of Christian life; it offers a familiar yet fruitful spiritual and educational opportunity for personal contemplation, the formation of the People of God, and the new evangelization. I am pleased to reaffirm this also in the joyful remembrance of another anniversary: the fortieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on October 11, 1962, the “great grace” disposed by the Spirit of God for the Church in our time.(7)

Objections to the Rosary

4. The timeliness of this proposal is evident from a number of considerations. First, the urgent need to counter a certain crisis of the Rosary, which in the present historical and theological context can risk being wrongly devalued, and therefore no longer taught to the younger generation. There are some who think that the centrality of the Liturgy, rightly stressed by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, necessarily entails giving lesser importance to the Rosary. Yet, as Pope Paul VI made clear, not only does this prayer not conflict with the Liturgy, it sustains it, since it serves as an excellent introduction and a faithful echo of the Liturgy, enabling people to participate fully and interiorly in it and to reap its fruits in their daily lives. 

Perhaps too, there are some who fear that the Rosary is somehow unecumenical because of its distinctly Marian character. Yet the Rosary clearly belongs to the kind of veneration of the Mother of God described by the Council: a devotion directed to the Christological centre of the Christian faith, in such a way that “when the Mother is honoured, the Son ... is duly known, loved and glorified”.(8) If properly revitalized, the Rosary is an aid and certainly not a hindrance to ecumenism!

A path of contemplation

5. But the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine “training in holiness”: “What is needed is a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer”.(9) Inasmuch as contemporary culture, even amid so many indications to the contrary, has witnessed the flowering of a new call for spirituality, due also to the influence of other religions, it is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become “genuine schools of prayer”.(10)

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.

Prayer for peace and for the family

6. A number of historical circumstances also make a revival of the Rosary quite timely. First of all, the need to implore from God the gift of peace. The Rosary has many times been proposed by my predecessors and myself as a prayer for peace. At the start of a millennium which began with the terrifying attacks of 11 September 2001, a millennium which witnesses every day innumerous parts of the world fresh scenes of bloodshed and violence, to rediscover the Rosary means to immerse oneself in contemplation of the mystery of Christ who “is our peace”, since he made “the two of us one, and broke down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). 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. 

A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age.

“Behold, your Mother!” (Jn 19:27)

7. Many signs indicate that still today the Blessed Virgin desires to exercise through this same prayer that maternal concern to which the dying Redeemer entrusted, in the person of the beloved disciple, all the sons and daughters of the Church: “Woman, behold your son!” (Jn19:26). Well-known are the occasions in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries on which the Mother of Christ made her presence felt and her voice heard, in order to exhort the People of God to this form of contemplative prayer. I would mention in particular, on account of their great influence on the lives of Christians and the authoritative recognition they have received from the Church, the apparitions of Lourdes and of Fatima;(11) these shrines continue to be visited by great numbers of pilgrims seeking comfort and hope.

Following the witnesses

8. It would be impossible to name all the many Saints who discovered in the Rosary a genuine path to growth in holiness. We need but mention Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, the author of an excellent work on the Rosary,(12) and, closer to ourselves, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, whom I recently had the joy of canonizing. As a true apostle of the Rosary, Blessed Bartolo Longo had a special charism. His path to holiness rested on an inspiration heard in the depths of his heart: “Whoever spreads the Rosary is saved!”.(13) As a result, he felt called to build a Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Pompei, against the background of the ruins of the ancient city, which scarcely heard the proclamation of Christ before being buried in 79 A.D. during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, only to emerge centuries later from its ashes as a witness to the lights and shadows of classical civilization. By his whole life's work and especially by the practice of the “Fifteen Saturdays”, Bartolo Longo promoted the Christocentric and contemplative heart of the Rosary, and received great encouragement and support from Leo XIII, the “Pope of the Rosary”.


CHAPTER I

CONTEMPLATING CHRIST WITH MARY

A face radiant as the sun

9. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun” (Mt 17:2). The Gospel scene of Christ's transfiguration, in which the three Apostles Peter, James and John appear entranced by the beauty of the Redeemer, can be seen as an icon of Christian contemplation. To look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of his human life, and then to grasp the divine splendour definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In contemplating Christ's face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing ever anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul's words can then be applied to us: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2Cor 3:18).

Mary, model of contemplation

10. The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7).

Thereafter Mary's gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of a mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).

Mary's memories

11. Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son's side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.

Even now, amid the joyful songs of the heavenly Jerusalem, the reasons for her thanksgiving and praise remain unchanged. They inspire her maternal concern for the pilgrim Church, in which she continues to relate her personal account of the Gospel. Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.

The Rosary, a contemplative prayer

12. 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' (Mt 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”.(14)

It is worth pausing to consider this profound insight of Paul VI, in order to bring out certain aspects of the Rosary which show that it is really a form of Christocentric contemplation.

Remembering Christ with Mary

13. Mary's contemplation is above all a remembering. We need to understand this word in the biblical sense of remembrance (zakar) as a making present of the works brought about by God in the history of salvation. The Bible is an account of saving events culminating in Christ himself. These events not only belong to “yesterday”; they are also part of the “today” of salvation. This making present comes about above all in the Liturgy: what God accomplished centuries ago did not only affect the direct witnesses of those events; it continues to affect people in every age with its gift of grace. To some extent this is also true of every other devout approach to those events: to “remember” them in a spirit of faith and love is to be open to the grace which Christ won for us by the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection. 

Consequently, while it must be reaffirmed with the Second Vatican Council that the Liturgy, as the exercise of the priestly office of Christ and an act of public worship, is “the summit to which the activity of the Church is directed and the font from which all its power flows”,(15) it is also necessary to recall that the spiritual life “is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. Christians, while they are called to prayer in common, must also go to their own rooms to pray to their Father in secret (cf. Mt 6:6); indeed, according to the teaching of the Apostle, they must pray without ceasing (cf.1Thes 5:17)”.(16) The Rosary, in its own particular way, is part of this varied panorama of “ceaseless” prayer. If the Liturgy, as the activity of Christ and the Church, is a saving action par excellence, the Rosary too, as a “meditation” with Mary on Christ, is a salutary contemplation. By immersing us in the mysteries of the Redeemer's life, it ensures that what he has done and what the liturgy makes present is profoundly assimilated and shapes our existence.

Learning Christ from Mary

14. Christ is the supreme Teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not just a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him”. In this regard could we have any better teacher than Mary? From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). But 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.

The first of the “signs” worked by Jesus – the changing of water into wine at the marriage in Cana – clearly presents Mary in the guise of a teacher, as she urges the servants to do what Jesus commands (cf. Jn 2:5). We can imagine that she would have done likewise for the disciples after Jesus' Ascension, when she joined them in awaiting the Holy Spirit and supported them in their first mission. Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to “read” Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message.

This school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that she teaches by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as she offers us the incomparable example of her own “pilgrimage of faith”.(17) As we contemplate each mystery of her Son's life, she invites us to do as she did at the Annunciation: to ask humbly the questions which open us to the light, in order to end with the obedience of faith: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Being conformed to Christ with Mary

15. Christian spirituality is distinguished by the disciple's commitment to become conformed ever more fully to his Master (cf. Rom 8:29; Phil 3:10,12). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Baptism grafts the believer like a branch onto the vine which is Christ (cf. Jn 15:5) and makes him a member of Christ's mystical Body (cf.1Cor 12:12; Rom 12:5). This initial unity, however, calls for a growing assimilation which will increasingly shape the conduct of the disciple in accordance with the “mind” of Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). In the words of the Apostle, we are called “to put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27).

In the spiritual journey of the Rosary, based on the constant contemplation – in Mary's company – of the face of Christ, this demanding ideal of being conformed to him is pursued through an association which could be described in terms of friendship. We are thereby enabled to enter naturally into Christ's life and as it were to share his deepest feelings. In this regard Blessed Bartolo Longo has written: “Just as two friends, frequently in each other's company, tend to develop similar habits, so too, by holding familiar converse with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection”.(18)

In this process of being conformed to Christ in the Rosary, we entrust ourselves in a special way to the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin. She who is both the Mother of Christ and a member of the Church, indeed her “pre-eminent and altogether singular member”,(19) is at the same time the “Mother of the Church”. As such, she continually brings to birth children for the mystical Body of her Son. She does so through her intercession, imploring upon them the inexhaustible outpouring of the Spirit. Mary is the perfect icon of the motherhood of the Church.

The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is “fully formed” in us (cf. Gal 4:19). This role of Mary, totally grounded in that of Christ and radically subordinated to it, “in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power”.(20) 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.(21) The motto is of course inspired by the teaching of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, who explained in the following words Mary's role in the process of our configuration to Christ: “Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ”.(22) Never as in the Rosary do the life of Jesus and that of Mary appear so deeply joined. Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ!

Praying to Christ with Mary

16. Jesus invited us to turn to God with insistence and the confidence that we will be heard: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). The basis for this power of prayer is the goodness of the Father, but also the mediation of Christ himself (cf. 1Jn 2:1) and the working of the Holy Spirit who “intercedes for us” according to the will of God (cf. Rom 8:26-27). For “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26), and at times we are not heard “because we ask wrongly” (cf. Jas 4:2-3).

In support of the prayer which Christ and the Spirit cause to rise in our hearts, Mary intervenes with her maternal intercession. “The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary”.(23) If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and most transparent reflection, shows us the Way. “Beginning with Mary's unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their prayer to the Holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries”.(24) At the wedding of Cana the Gospel clearly shows the power of Mary's intercession as she makes known to Jesus the needs of others: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). 

The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. Insistent prayer to the Mother of God is based on confidence that her maternal intercession can obtain all things from the heart of her Son. She is “all-powerful by grace”, to use the bold expression, which needs to be properly understood, of Blessed Bartolo Longo in his Supplication to Our Lady.(25) This is a conviction which, beginning with the Gospel, has grown ever more firm in the experience of the Christian people. The supreme poet Dante expresses it marvellously in the lines sung by Saint 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”.(26) When in the Rosary we plead with Mary, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35), she intercedes for us before the Father who filled her with grace and before the Son born of her womb, praying with us and for us.

Proclaiming Christ with Mary

17. 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. When the recitation of the Rosary combines all the elements needed for an effective meditation, especially in its communal celebration in parishes and shrines, it can present a significant catechetical opportunity which pastors should use to advantage. In this way too Our Lady of the Rosary continues her work of proclaiming Christ. The history of the Rosary shows how this prayer was used in particular by the Dominicans at a difficult time for the Church due to the spread of heresy. Today we are facing new challenges. Why should we not once more have recourse to the Rosary, with the same faith as those who have gone before us? The Rosary retains all its power and continues to be a valuable pastoral resource for every good evangelizer.



CHAPTER II

MYSTERIES OF CHRIST –


MYSTERIES OF HIS MOTHER



The Rosary, “a compendium of the Gospel”

18. The only way to approach the contemplation of Christ's face is by listening in the Spirit to the Father's voice, since “no one knows the Son except the Father” (Mt 11:27). In the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus responded to Peter's confession of faith by indicating the source of that clear intuition of his identity: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17). What is needed, then, is a revelation from above. In order to receive that revelation, attentive listening is indispensable: “Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery”.(27)

The Rosary is one of the traditional paths of Christian prayer directed to the contemplation of Christ's face. Pope Paul VI described it in these words: “As a Gospel prayer, centred 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 of 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)

A proposed addition to the traditional pattern

19. Of the many mysteries of Christ's life, only a few are indicated by the Rosary in the form that has become generally established with the seal of the Church's approval. The selection was determined by the origin of the prayer, which was based on the number 150, the number of the Psalms in the Psalter.
I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion. In the course of those mysteries we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God. Declared the beloved Son of the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ is the one who announces the coming of the Kingdom, bears witness to it in his works and proclaims its demands. It is during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5).

Consequently, for the Rosary to become more fully a “compendium of the Gospel”, it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and the hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection (the glorious mysteries), a meditation on certain particularly significant moments in his public ministry (the mysteries of light). This addition of these new mysteries, without prejudice to any essential aspect of the prayer's traditional format, is meant to give it fresh life and to enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary's place within Christian spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory.

The Joyful Mysteries

20. The first five decades, the “joyful mysteries”, are marked by the joy radiating from the event of the Incarnation. This is clear from the very first mystery, the Annunciation, where Gabriel's greeting to the Virgin of Nazareth is linked to an invitation to messianic joy: “Rejoice, Mary”. The whole of salvation history, in some sense the entire history of the world, has led up to this greeting. If it is the Father's plan to unite all things in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10), then the whole of the universe is in some way touched by the divine favour with which the Father looks upon Mary and makes her the Mother of his Son. The whole of humanity, in turn, is embraced by the fiat with which she readily agrees to the will of God.

Exultation is the keynote of the encounter with Elizabeth, where the sound of Mary's voice and the presence of Christ in her womb cause John to “leap for joy” (cf. Lk 1:44). Gladness also fills the scene in Bethlehem, when the birth of the divine Child, the Saviour of the world, is announced by the song of the angels and proclaimed to the shepherds as “news of great joy” (Lk 2:10).

The final two mysteries, while preserving this climate of joy, already point to the drama yet to come. The Presentation in the Temple not only expresses the joy of the Child's consecration and the ecstasy of the aged Simeon; it also records the prophecy that Christ will be a “sign of contradiction” for Israel and that a sword will pierce his mother's heart (cf Lk 2:34-35). Joy mixed with drama marks the fifth mystery, the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. Here he appears in his divine wisdom as he listens and raises questions, already in effect one who “teaches”. The revelation of his mystery as the Son wholly dedicated to his Father's affairs proclaims the radical nature of the Gospel, in which even the closest of human relationships are challenged by the absolute demands of the Kingdom. Mary and Joseph, fearful and anxious, “did not understand” his words (Lk 2:50).

To meditate upon the “joyful” mysteries, then, is to enter into the ultimate causes and the deepest meaning of Christian joy. It is to focus on the realism of the mystery of the Incarnation and on the obscure foreshadowing of the mystery of the saving Passion. Mary leads us to discover the secret of Christian joy, reminding us that Christianity is, first and foremost, euangelion, “good news”, which has as its heart and its whole content the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the one Saviour of the world.

The Mysteries of Light

21. Moving on from the infancy and the hidden life in Nazareth to the public life of Jesus, our contemplation brings us to those mysteries which may be called in a special way “mysteries of light”. Certainly the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light. He is the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12). Yet this truth 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.

Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus. The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became “sin” for our sake (cf. 2Cor 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Mt 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1- 12), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers. Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mk 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk 7:47- 48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. Jn 20:22-23). The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to “listen to him” (cf. Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit. A final mystery of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies “to the end” his love for humanity (Jn 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.

In these mysteries, apart from the miracle at 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. Mk 3:31-5; 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” (Jn 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”.

The Sorrowful Mysteries

22. The Gospels give great prominence to the sorrowful mysteries of Christ. From the beginning Christian piety, especially during the Lenten devotion of the Way of the Cross, has focused on the individual moments of the Passion, realizing that here is found the culmination of the revelation of God's love and the source of our salvation. The Rosary selects certain moments from the Passion, inviting the faithful to contemplate them in their hearts and to relive them. The sequence of meditations begins with Gethsemane, where Christ experiences a moment of great anguish before the will of the Father, against which the weakness of the flesh would be tempted to rebel. There Jesus encounters all the temptations and confronts all the sins of humanity, in order to say to the Father: “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42 and parallels). This “Yes” of Christ reverses the “No” of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. And the cost of this faithfulness to the Father's will is made clear in the following mysteries; by his scourging, his crowning with thorns, his carrying the Cross and his death on the Cross, the Lord is cast into the most abject suffering: Ecce homo!

This abject suffering reveals not only the love of God but also the meaning of man himself.

Ecce homo: the meaning, origin and fulfilment of man is to be found in Christ, the God who humbles himself out of love “even unto death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). The sorrowful mysteries help the believer to relive the death of Jesus, to stand at the foot of the Cross beside Mary, to enter with her into the depths of God's love for man and to experience all its life-giving power.

The Glorious Mysteries

23. “The contemplation of Christ's face cannot stop at the image of the Crucified One. He is the Risen One!”(29) The Rosary has always expressed this knowledge born of faith and invited the believer to pass beyond the darkness of the Passion in order to gaze upon Christ's glory in the Resurrection and Ascension. Contemplating the Risen One, Christians rediscover the reasons for their own faith (cf. 1Cor 15:14) and relive the joy not only of those to whom Christ appeared – the Apostles, Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus – but also the joy of Mary, who must have had an equally intense experience of the new life of her glorified Son. In the Ascension, Christ was raised in glory to the right hand of the Father, while Mary herself would be raised to that same glory in the Assumption, enjoying beforehand, by a unique privilege, the destiny reserved for all the just at the resurrection of the dead. Crowned in glory – as she appears in the last glorious mystery – Mary shines forth as Queen of the Angels and Saints, the anticipation and the supreme realization of the eschatological state of the Church.

At the centre of this unfolding sequence of the glory of the Son and the Mother, the Rosary sets before us the third glorious mystery, Pentecost, which reveals the face of the Church as a family gathered together with Mary, enlivened by the powerful outpouring of the Spirit and ready for the mission of evangelization. The contemplation of this scene, like that of the other glorious mysteries, ought to lead the faithful to an ever greater appreciation of their new life in Christ, lived in the heart of the Church, a life of which the scene of Pentecost itself is the great “icon”. The glorious mysteries thus lead the faithful to greater hope for the eschatological goal towards which they journey as members of the pilgrim People of God in history. This can only impel them to bear courageous witness to that “good news” which gives meaning to their entire existence.

From “mysteries” to the “Mystery”: Mary's way

24. The cycles of meditation proposed by the Holy Rosary are by no means exhaustive, but they do bring to mind what is essential and they awaken in the soul a thirst for a knowledge of Christ continually nourished by the pure source of the Gospel. Every individual event in the life of Christ, as narrated by the Evangelists, is resplendent with the Mystery that surpasses all understanding (cf. Eph 3:19): the Mystery of the Word made flesh, in whom “all the fullness of God dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). For this reason the Catechism of the Catholic Church places great emphasis on the mysteries of Christ, pointing out that “everything in the life of Jesus is a sign of his Mystery”.(30) The “duc in altum” of the Church of the third millennium will be determined by the ability of Christians to enter into the “perfect knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). The Letter to the Ephesians makes this heartfelt prayer for all the baptized: “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power... to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:17-19). 

The Rosary is at the service of this ideal; it offers the “secret” which leads easily to a profound and inward knowledge of Christ. We might call it Mary's way. It is the way of the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, a woman of faith, of silence, of attentive listening. It is also the way of a Marian devotion inspired by knowledge of the inseparable bond between Christ and his Blessed Mother: 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. By making our own the words of the Angel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth contained in the Hail Mary, we find ourselves constantly drawn to seek out afresh in Mary, in her arms and in her heart, the “blessed fruit of her womb” (cf Lk 1:42). 

Mystery of Christ, mystery of man

25. In my testimony of 1978 mentioned above, where I described the Rosary as my favourite prayer, I used an idea to which I would like to return. I said then that “the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life”.(31)

In the light of what has been said so far on the mysteries of Christ, it is not difficult to go deeper into this anthropological significance of the Rosary, which is far deeper than may appear at first sight. Anyone who contemplates Christ through the various stages of his life cannot fail to perceive in him the truth about man. This is the great affirmation of the Second Vatican Council which I have so often discussed in my own teaching since the Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis: “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man is seen in its true light”.(32) The Rosary helps to open up the way to this light. Following in the path of Christ, in whom man's path is “recapitulated”,(33) revealed and redeemed, believers come face to face with the image of the true man. 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. 

At the same time, it becomes natural to bring to this encounter with the sacred humanity of the Redeemer all the problems, anxieties, labours and endeavours which go to make up our lives. “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Ps 55:23). To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and his Mother. Twenty-five years later, thinking back over the difficulties which have also been part of my exercise of the Petrine ministry, I feel the need to say once more, as a warm invitation to everyone to experience it personally: the Rosary does indeed “mark the rhythm of human life”, bringing it into harmony with the “rhythm” of God's own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life's destiny and deepest longing. 



CHAPTER III

“FOR ME, TO LIVE IS CHRIST”

The Rosary, a way of assimilating the mystery

26. Meditation on the mysteries of Christ is proposed in the Rosary by means of a method designed to assist in their assimilation. It is a method based on repetition. This applies above all to the Hail Mary, repeated ten times in each mystery. If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is quite another thing, however, when the Rosary is thought of as an outpouring of that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them.

In Christ, God has truly assumed a “heart of flesh”. Not only does God have a divine heart, rich in mercy and in forgiveness, but also a human heart, capable of all the stirrings of affection. If we needed evidence for this from the Gospel, we could easily find it in the touching dialogue between Christ and Peter after the Resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times this question is put to Peter, and three times he gives the reply: “Lord, you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:15-17). Over and above the specific meaning of this passage, so important for Peter's mission, none can fail to recognize the beauty of this triple repetition, in which the insistent request and the corresponding reply are expressed in terms familiar from the universal experience of human love. To understand the Rosary, one has to enter into the psychological dynamic proper to love.

One thing is clear: although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her and through her. The repetition is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ, the true programme of the Christian life. Saint Paul expressed this project with words of fire: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). And again: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). The Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness.

A valid method...

27. We should not be surprised that our relationship with Christ makes use of a method. God communicates himself to us respecting our human nature and its vital rhythms. Hence, while Christian spirituality is familiar with the most sublime forms of mystical silence in which images, words and gestures are all, so to speak, superseded by an intense and ineffable union with God, it normally engages the whole person in all his complex psychological, physical and relational reality.

This becomes apparent in the Liturgy. Sacraments and sacramentals are structured as a series of rites which bring into play all the dimensions of the person. The same applies to non-liturgical prayer. This is confirmed by the fact that, in the East, the most characteristic prayer of Christological meditation, centred on the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”(34) is traditionally linked to the rhythm of breathing; while this practice favours perseverance in the prayer, it also in some way embodies the desire for Christ to become the breath, the soul and the “all” of one's life.

... which can nevertheless be improved

28. I mentioned in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte that the West is now experiencing a renewed demand for meditation, which at times leads to a keen interest in aspects of other religions.(35) Some Christians, limited in their knowledge of the Christian contemplative tradition, are attracted by those forms of prayer. While the latter contain many elements which are positive and at times compatible with Christian experience, they are often based on ultimately unacceptable premises. Much in vogue among these approaches are methods aimed at attaining a high level of spiritual concentration by using techniques of a psychophysical, repetitive and symbolic nature. The Rosary is situated within this broad gamut of religious phenomena, but it is distinguished by characteristics of its own which correspond to specifically Christian requirements.

In effect, the Rosary is simply a method of contemplation. As a method, it serves as a means to an end and cannot become an end in itself. All the same, as the fruit of centuries of experience, this method should not be undervalued. In its favour one could cite the experience of countless Saints. This is not to say, however, that the method cannot be improved. Such is the intent of the addition of the new series of mysteria lucis to the overall cycle of mysteries and of the few suggestions which I am proposing in this Letter regarding its manner of recitation. These suggestions, while respecting the well-established structure of this prayer, are intended to help the faithful to understand it in the richness of its symbolism and in harmony with the demands of daily life. Otherwise there is a risk that the Rosary would not only fail to produce the intended spiritual effects, but even that the beads, with which it is usually said, could come to be regarded as some kind of amulet or magic object, thereby radically distorting their meaning and function.

Announcing each mystery

29. Announcing each mystery, and perhaps even using a suitable icon to portray it, is as it were to open up a scenario on which to focus our attention. The words direct the imagination and the mind towards a particular episode or moment in the life of Christ. In the Church's traditional spirituality, the veneration of icons and the many devotions appealing to the senses, as well as the method of prayer proposed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises, make use of visual and imaginative elements (the compositio loci), judged to be of great help in concentrating the mind on the particular mystery. This is a methodology, moreover, which corresponds to the inner logic of the Incarnation: in Jesus, God wanted to take on human features. It is through his bodily reality that we are led into contact with the mystery of his divinity.

This need for concreteness finds further expression in the announcement of the various mysteries of the Rosary. Obviously these mysteries neither replace the Gospel nor exhaust its content. The Rosary, therefore, is no substitute for lectio divina; on the contrary, it presupposes and promotes it. Yet, even though the mysteries contemplated in the Rosary, even with the addition of the mysteria lucis, do no more than outline the fundamental elements of the life of Christ, they easily draw the mind to a more expansive reflection on the rest of the Gospel, especially when the Rosary is prayed in a setting of prolonged recollection.

Listening to the word of God

30. In order to supply a Biblical foundation and greater depth to our meditation, it is helpful to follow the announcement of the mystery with the proclamation of a related Biblical passage, long or short, depending on the circumstances. No other words can ever match the efficacy of the inspired word. As we listen, we are certain that this is the word of God, spoken for today and spoken “for me”.

If received in this way, the word of God can become part of the Rosary's methodology of repetition without giving rise to the ennui derived from the simple recollection of something already well known. It is not a matter of recalling information but of allowing God to speak. In certain solemn communal celebrations, this word can be appropriately illustrated by a brief commentary.

Silence

31. Listening and meditation are nourished by silence. After the announcement of the mystery and the proclamation of the word, it is fitting to pause and focus one's attention for a suitable period of time on the mystery concerned, before moving into vocal prayer. A discovery of the importance of silence is one of the secrets of practicing contemplation and meditation. One drawback of a society dominated by technology and the mass media is the fact that silence becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. Just as moments of silence are recommended in the Liturgy, so too in the recitation of the Rosary it is fitting to pause briefly after listening to the word of God, while the mind focuses on the content of a particular mystery.

The “Our Father”

32. After listening to the word and focusing on the mystery, it is natural for the mind to be lifted up towards the Father. In each of his mysteries, Jesus always leads us to the Father, for as he rests in the Father's bosom (cf. Jn 1:18) he is continually turned towards him. He wants us to share in his intimacy with the Father, so that we can say with him: “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). By virtue of his relationship to the Father he makes us brothers and sisters of himself and of one another, communicating to us the Spirit which is both his and the Father's. Acting as a kind of foundation for the Christological and Marian meditation which unfolds in the repetition of the Hail Mary, the Our Father makes meditation upon the mystery, even when carried out in solitude, an ecclesial experience.

The ten “Hail Marys”

33. This is the most substantial element in the Rosary and also the one which makes it a Marian prayer par excellence. Yet when the Hail Mary is properly understood, we come to see clearly that its Marian character is not opposed to its Christological character, but that it actually emphasizes and increases it. The first part of the Hail Mary, drawn from the words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel and by Saint Elizabeth, is a contemplation in adoration of the mystery accomplished in the Virgin of Nazareth. These words express, so to speak, the wonder of heaven and earth; they could be said to give us a glimpse of God's own wonderment as he contemplates his “masterpiece” – the Incarnation of the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary. If we recall how, in the Book of Genesis, God “saw all that he had made” (Gen 1:31), we can find here an echo of that “pathos with which God, at the dawn of creation, looked upon the work of his hands”.(36) The repetition of the Hail Mary in the Rosary gives us a share in God's own wonder and pleasure: in jubilant amazement we acknowledge the greatest miracle of history. Mary's prophecy here finds its fulfilment: “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). 

The centre of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins its two parts, is the name of Jesus. Sometimes, in hurried recitation, this centre of gravity can be overlooked, and with it the connection to the mystery of Christ being contemplated. Yet it is precisely the emphasis given to the name of Jesus and to his mystery that is the sign of a meaningful and fruitful recitation of the Rosary. Pope Paul VI drew attention, in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, to the custom in certain regions of highlighting the name of Christ by the addition of a clause referring to the mystery being contemplated.(37) This is a praiseworthy custom, especially during public recitation. It gives forceful expression to our faith in Christ, directed to the different moments of the Redeemer's life. It is at once a profession of faith and an aid in concentrating our meditation, since it facilitates the process of assimilation to the mystery of Christ inherent in the repetition of the Hail Mary. When we repeat the name of Jesus – the only name given to us by which we may hope for salvation (cf. Acts 4:12) – in close association with the name of his Blessed Mother, almost as if it were done at her suggestion, we set out on a path of assimilation meant to help us enter more deeply into the life of Christ. 

From Mary's uniquely privileged relationship with Christ, which makes her the Mother of God, Theotókos, derives the forcefulness of the appeal we make to her in the second half of the prayer, as we entrust to her maternal intercession our lives and the hour of our death.

The “Gloria”

34. Trinitarian doxology is the goal of all Christian contemplation. For Christ is the way that leads us to the Father in the Spirit. If we travel this way to the end, we repeatedly encounter the mystery of the three divine Persons, to whom all praise, worship and thanksgiving are due. It is important that the Gloria, the high-point of contemplation, be given due prominence in the Rosary. In public recitation it could be sung, as a way of giving proper emphasis to the essentially Trinitarian structure of all Christian prayer.

To the extent that meditation on the mystery is attentive and profound, and to the extent that it is enlivened – from one Hail Mary to another – by love for Christ and for Mary, the glorification of the Trinity at the end of each decade, far from being a perfunctory conclusion, takes on its proper contemplative tone, raising the mind as it were to the heights of heaven and enabling us in some way to relive the experience of Tabor, a foretaste of the contemplation yet to come: “It is good for us to be here!” (Lk 9:33).

The concluding short prayer

35. In current practice, the Trinitarian doxology is followed by a brief concluding prayer which varies according to local custom. Without in any way diminishing the value of such invocations, it is worthwhile to note that the contemplation of the mysteries could better express their full spiritual fruitfulness if an effort were made to conclude each mystery with a prayer for the fruits specific to that particular mystery. In this way the Rosary would better express its connection with the Christian life. One fine liturgical prayer suggests as much, inviting us to pray that, by meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, we may come to “imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise”.(38)

Such a final prayer could take on a legitimate variety of forms, as indeed it already does. In this way the Rosary can be better adapted to different spiritual traditions and different Christian communities. It is to be hoped, then, that appropriate formulas will be widely circulated, after due pastoral discernment and possibly after experimental use in centres and shrines particularly devoted to the Rosary, so that the People of God may benefit from an abundance of authentic spiritual riches and find nourishment for their personal contemplation.

The Rosary beads

36. The traditional aid used for the recitation of the Rosary is the set of beads. At the most superficial level, the beads often become a simple counting mechanism to mark the succession of Hail Marys. Yet they can also take on a symbolism which can give added depth to contemplation. 

Here the first thing to note is the way the beads converge upon the Crucifix, which both opens and closes the unfolding sequence of prayer. The life and prayer of believers is centred upon Christ. Everything begins from him, everything leads towards him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit, attains to the Father.

As a counting mechanism, marking the progress of the prayer, the beads evoke the unending path of contemplation and of Christian perfection. Blessed Bartolo Longo saw them also as a “chain” which links us to God. A chain, yes, but a sweet chain; for sweet indeed is the bond to God who is also our Father. A “filial” chain which puts us in tune with Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38) and, most of all, with Christ himself, who, though he was in the form of God, made himself a “servant” out of love for us (Phil 2:7).

A fine way to expand the symbolism of the beads is to let them remind us of our many relationships, of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us all in Christ.

The opening and closing

37.At present, in different parts of the Church, there are many ways to introduce the Rosary. In some places, it is customary to begin with the opening words of Psalm 70: “O God, come to my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me”, as if to nourish in those who are praying a humble awareness of their own insufficiency. In other places, the Rosary begins with the recitation of the Creed, as if to make the profession of faith the basis of the contemplative journey about to be undertaken. These and similar customs, to the extent that they prepare the mind for contemplation, are all equally legitimate. The Rosary is then ended with a prayer for the intentions of the Pope, as if to expand the vision of the one praying to embrace all the needs of the Church. It is precisely in order to encourage this ecclesial dimension of the Rosary that the Church has seen fit to grant indulgences to those who recite it with the required dispositions.

If prayed in this way, the Rosary truly becomes a spiritual itinerary in which Mary acts as Mother, Teacher and Guide, sustaining the faithful by her powerful intercession. Is it any wonder, then, that the soul feels the need, after saying this prayer and experiencing so profoundly the motherhood of Mary, to burst forth in praise of the Blessed Virgin, either in that splendid prayer the Salve Regina or in the Litany of Loreto? This is the crowning moment of an inner journey which has brought the faithful into living contact with the mystery of Christ and his Blessed Mother.

Distribution over time 

38. The Rosary can be recited in full every day, and there are those who most laudably do so. In this way it fills with prayer the days of many a contemplative, or keeps company with the sick and the elderly who have abundant time at their disposal. Yet it is clear – and this applies all the more if the new series of mysteria lucis is included – that many people will not be able to recite more than a part of the Rosary, according to a certain weekly pattern. This weekly distribution has the effect of giving the different days of the week a certain spiritual “colour”, by analogy with the way in which the Liturgy colours the different seasons of the liturgical year.

According to current practice, Monday and Thursday are dedicated to the “joyful mysteries”, Tuesday and Friday to the “sorrowful mysteries”, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday to the “glorious mysteries”. Where might the “mysteries of light” be inserted? If we consider that the “glorious mysteries” are said on both Saturday and Sunday, and that Saturday has always had a special Marian flavour, the second weekly meditation on the “joyful mysteries”, mysteries in which Mary's presence is especially pronounced, could be moved to Saturday. Thursday would then be free for meditating on the “mysteries of light”.

This indication is not intended to limit a rightful freedom in personal and community prayer, where account needs to be taken of spiritual and pastoral needs and of the occurrence of particular liturgical celebrations which might call for suitable adaptations. What is really important is that the Rosary should always be seen and experienced as a path of contemplation. In the Rosary, in a way similar to what takes place in the Liturgy, the Christian week, centred on Sunday, the day of Resurrection, becomes a journey through the mysteries of the life of Christ, and he is revealed in the lives of his disciples as the Lord of time and of history.



CONCLUSION

“Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain linking us to God”

39. What has been said so far makes abundantly clear the richness of this traditional prayer, which has the simplicity of a popular devotion but also the theological depth of a prayer suited to those who feel the need for deeper contemplation.

The Church has always attributed particular efficacy to this prayer, entrusting to the Rosary, to its choral recitation and to its 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 – as I mentioned at the beginning – the cause of peace in the world and the cause of the family.

Peace

40. The grave challenges confronting the world at the start of this new Millennium lead us to think that only an intervention from on high, capable of guiding the hearts of those living in situations of conflict and those governing the destinies of nations, can give reason to hope for a brighter future.

The Rosary is by its nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is “our peace” (Eph 2:14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ – and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary – learns the secret of peace and makes it his life's project. Moreover, by virtue of its meditative character, with the tranquil succession of Hail Marys, the Rosary has a peaceful effect on those who pray it, disposing them to receive and experience in their innermost depths, and to spread around them, that true peace which is the special gift of the Risen Lord (cf. Jn 14:27; 20.21).

The Rosary is also a prayer for peace because of the fruits of charity which it produces. 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. How could one possibly contemplate the mystery of the Child of Bethlehem, in the joyful mysteries, without experiencing the desire to welcome, defend and promote life, and to shoulder the burdens of suffering children all over the world? How could one possibly follow in the footsteps of Christ the Revealer, in the mysteries of light, without resolving to bear witness to his “Beatitudes” in daily life? And how could one contemplate Christ carrying the Cross and Christ Crucified, without feeling the need to act as a “Simon of Cyrene” for our brothers and sisters weighed down by grief or crushed by despair? Finally, how could one possibly gaze upon the glory of the Risen Christ or of Mary Queen of Heaven, without yearning to make this world more beautiful, more just, more closely conformed to God's plan?

In a word, by focusing our eyes on Christ, the Rosary also makes us peacemakers in the world. By its nature as an insistent choral petition in harmony with Christ's invitation to “pray ceaselessly” (Lk 18:1), the Rosary allows us to hope that, even today, the difficult “battle” for peace can be won. Far from offering an escape from the problems of the world, the Rosary obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes, and obtains for us the strength to face them with the certainty of God's help and the firm intention of bearing witness in every situation to “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).

The family: parents...

41. As a prayer for peace, the Rosary is also, and always has been, a prayer of and for the family. At one time this prayer was particularly dear to Christian families, and it certainly brought them closer together. It is important not to lose this precious inheritance. We need to return to the practice of family prayer and prayer for families, continuing to use the Rosary.

In my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte I encouraged the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours by the lay faithful in the ordinary life of parish communities and Christian groups;(39) I now wish to do the same for the Rosary. These two paths of Christian contemplation are not mutually exclusive; they complement one another. I would therefore ask those who devote themselves to the pastoral care of families to recommend heartily the recitation of the Rosary.

The family that prays together stays together. The Holy Rosary, by age-old tradition, has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer which brings the family together. Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.

Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. 
... and children
42. It is also beautiful and fruitful to entrust to this prayer the growth and development of children. Does the Rosary not follow the life of Christ, from his conception to his death, and then to his Resurrection and his glory? Parents are finding it ever more difficult to follow the lives of their children as they grow to maturity. In a society of advanced technology, of mass communications and globalization, everything has become hurried, and the cultural distance between generations is growing ever greater. 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.

To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children, training them from their earliest years to experience this daily “pause for prayer” with the family, is admittedly not the solution to every problem, but it is a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated. It could be objected that the Rosary seems hardly suited to the taste of children and young people of today. But perhaps the objection is directed to an impoverished method of praying it. Furthermore, without prejudice to the Rosary's basic structure, there is nothing to stop children and young people from praying it – either within the family or in groups – with appropriate symbolic and practical aids to understanding and appreciation. Why not try it? With God's help, a pastoral approach to youth which is positive, impassioned and creative – as shown by the World Youth Days! – is capable of achieving quite remarkable results. If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group.

The Rosary, a treasure to be rediscovered

43. Dear brothers and sisters! A prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community. Let us do so, especially this year, as a means of confirming the direction outlined in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, from which the pastoral plans of so many particular Churches have drawn inspiration as they look to the immediate future.

I turn particularly to you, my dear Brother Bishops, priests and deacons, and to you, pastoral agents in your different ministries: through your own personal experience of the beauty of the Rosary, may you come to promote it with conviction.

I also place my trust in you, theologians: by your sage and rigorous reflection, rooted in the word of God and sensitive to the lived experience of the Christian people, may you help them to discover the Biblical foundations, the spiritual riches and the pastoral value of this traditional prayer.

I count on you, consecrated men and women, called in a particular way to contemplate the face of Christ at the school of Mary.

I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives.

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”.

From the Vatican, on the 16th day of October in the year 2002, the beginning of the twenty- fifth year of my Pontificate.

JOHN PAUL II


(1) Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 45.

(2) Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (2 February 1974), 42: AAS 66 (1974), 153.
(3) Cf. Acta Leonis XIII, 3 (1884), 280-289. 

(4) Particularly worthy of note is his Apostolic Epistle on the Rosary Il religioso convegno (29 September 1961): AAS 53 (1961), 641-647.

(5) Angelus: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, I (1978): 75-76.

(6) AAS 93 (2001), 285.

(7) During the years of preparation for the Council, Pope John XXIII did not fail to encourage the Christian community to recite the Rosary for the success of this ecclesial event: cf. Letter to the Cardinal Vicar (28 September 1960): AAS 52 (1960), 814-816.

(8) Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 66.

(9) No. 32: AAS 93 (2001), 288.

(10) Ibid., 33: loc. cit., 289.

(11) It is well-known and bears repeating that private revelations are not the same as public revelation, which is binding on the whole Church. It is the task of the Magisterium to discern and recognize the authenticity and value of private revelations for the piety of the faithful.

(12) The Secret of the Rosary.

(13) Blessed Bartolo Longo, Storia del Santuario di Pompei, Pompei, 1990, 59.

(14) Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (2 February 1974), 47: AAS (1974), 156.

(15) Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.

(16) Ibid., 12.

(17) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 58.

(18) I Quindici Sabati del Santissimo Rosario, 27th ed., Pompei, 1916, 27.

(19) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 53.

(20) Ibid., 60.

(21) Cf. First Radio Address Urbi et Orbi (17 October 1978): AAS 70 (1978), 927.

(22) Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(23) Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2679.

(24) Ibid., 2675.

(25) The Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary was composed by Blessed Bartolo Longo in 1883 in response to the appeal of Pope Leo XIII, made in his first Encyclical on the Rosary, for the spiritual commitment of all Catholics in combating social ills. It is solemnly recited twice yearly, in May and October.

(26) Divina Commedia, Paradiso XXXIII, 13-15.

(27) John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 20: AAS 93 (2001), 279.

(28) Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (2 February 1974), 46: AAS 6 (1974), 155.

(29) John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 28: AAS 93 (2001), 284.

(30) No. 515.

(31) Angelus Message of 29 October 1978 : Insegnamenti, I (1978), 76.

(32) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 22.

(33) Cf. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, III, 18, 1: PG 7, 932.

(34) Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2616.

(35) Cf. No. 33: AAS 93 (2001), 289.

(36) John Paul II, Letter to Artists (4 April 1999), 1: AAS 91 (1999), 1155.

(37) Cf. No. 46: AAS 66 (1974), 155. This custom has also been recently praised by the Congregation for Divine Worship and for the Discipline of the Sacraments in its Direttorio su pietà popolare e liturgia. Principi e orientamenti (17 December 2001), 201, Vatican City, 2002, 165.

(38) “...concede, quaesumus, ut haec mysteria sacratissimo beatae Mariae Virginis Rosario recolentes, et imitemur quod continent, et quod promittunt assequamur”. Missale Romanum 1960, in festo B.M. Virginis a Rosario.

(39) Cf. No. 34: AAS 93 (2001), 290.

Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana



The Rosary

In the Western Church

"The Rosary", says the Roman Breviary, "is a certain form of prayer wherein we say fifteen decades or tens of Hail Marys with an Our Father between each ten, while at each of these fifteen decades we recall successively in pious meditation one of the mysteries of our Redemption." The same lesson for the Feast of the Holy Rosary informs us that when the Albigensian heresy was devastating the country of Toulouse, St. Dominic earnestly besought the help of Our Lady and was instructed by her, so tradition asserts, to preach the Rosary among the people as an antidote to heresy and sin. From that time forward this manner of prayer was "most wonderfully published abroad and developed [promulgari augerique coepit] by St. Dominic whom different Supreme Pontiffs have in various past ages of their apostolic letters declared to be the institutor and author of the same devotion." That many popes have so spoken is undoubtedly true, and amongst the rest we have a series of encyclicals, beginning in 1883, issued by Pope Leo XIII, which, while commending this devotion to the faithful in the most earnest terms, assumes the institution of the Rosary by St. Dominic to be a fact historically established. Of the remarkable fruits of this devotion and of the extraordinary favours which have been granted to the world, as is piously believed, through this means, something will be said under the headings FEAST OF THE ROSARY and CONFRATERNITIES OF THE ROSARY. We will confine ourselves here to the controverted question of its history, a matter which both in the middle of the eighteenth century and again in recent years has attracted much attention.

Let us begin with certain facts which will not be contested. It is tolerably obvious that whenever any prayer has to be repeated a large number of times recourse is likely to be had to some mechanical apparatus less troublesome than counting upon the fingers. In almost all countries, then, we meet with something in the nature of prayer-counters or rosary beads. Even in ancient Nineveh a sculpture has been found thus described by Lavard in his "Monuments" (I, plate 7): "Two winged females standing before the sacred tree in the attitude of prayer; they lift the extended right hand and hold in the left a garland or rosary." However this may be, it is certain that among the Mohammedans the Tasbih or bead-string, consisting of 33, 66, or 99 beads, and used for counting devotionally the names of Allah, has been in use for many centuries. Marco Polo, visiting the King of Malabar in the thirteenth century, found to his surprise that that monarch employed a rosary of 104 (? 108) precious stones to count his prayers. St. Francis Xavier and his companions were equally astonished to see that rosaries were universally familiar to the Buddhists of Japan. Among the monks of the Greek Church we hear of the kombologion, or komboschoinion, a cord with a hundred knots used to count genuflexions and signs of the cross. Similarly, beside the mummy of a Christian ascetic, Thaias, of the fourth century, recently disinterred at Antinöe in Egypt, was found a sort of cribbage-board with holes, which has generally been thought to be an apparatus for counting prayers, of which Palladius and other ancient authorities have left us an account. A certain Paul the Hermit, in the fourth century, had imposed upon himself the task of repeating three hundred prayers, according to a set form, every day. To do this, he gathered up three hundred pebbles and threw one away as each prayer was finished (Palladius, Hist. Laus., xx; Butler, II, 63). It is probable that other ascetics who also numbered their prayers by hundreds adopted some similar expedient. (Cf. "Vita S. Godrici", cviii.) Indeed when we find a papal privilege addressed to the monks of St. Apollinaris in Classe requiring them, in gratitude for the pope's benefactions, to say Kyrie eleison three hundred times twice a day (see the privilege of Hadrian I, A.D. 782, in Jaffe-Löwenfeld, n. 2437), one would infer that some counting apparatus must almost necessarily have been used for the purpose.

But there were other prayers to be counted more nearly connected with the Rosary than Kyrie eleisons. At an early date among the monastic orders the practice had established itself not only of offering Masses, but of saying vocal prayers as a suffrage for their deceased brethren. For this purpose the private recitation of the 150 psalms, or of 50 psalms, the third part, was constantly enjoined. Already in A.D. 800 we learn from the compact between St. Gall and Reichenau ("Mon. Germ. Hist.: Confrat.", Piper, 140) that for each deceased brother all the priests should say one Mass and also fifty psalms. A charter in Kemble (Cod. Dipl., I, 290) prescribes that each monk is to sing two fifties (twa fiftig) for the souls of certain benefactors, while each priest is to sing two Masses and each deacon to read two Passions. But as time went on, and the conversi, or lay brothers, most of them quite illiterate, became distinct from the choir monks, it was felt that they also should be required to substitute some simple form of prayer in place of the psalms to which their more educated brethren were bound by rule. Thus we read in the "Ancient Customs of Cluny", collected by Udalrio in 1096, that when the death of any brother at a distance was announced, every priest was to offer Mass, and every non-priest was either to say fifty psalms or to repeat fifty times the Paternoster ("quicunque sacerdos est cantet missam pro eo, et qui non est sacerdos quinquaginta psalmos aut toties orationem dominicam", P.L., CXLIX, 776). Similarly among the Knights Templar, whose rule dates from about 1128, the knights who could not attend choir were required to say the Lord's Prayer 57 times in all and on the death of any of the brethren they had to say the Pater Noster a hundred times a day for a week.

To count these accurately there is every reason to believe that already in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a practice had come in of using pebbles, berries, or discs of bone threaded on a string. It is in any case certain that the Countess Godiva of Coventry (c. 1075) left by will to the statue of Our Lady in a certain monastery "the circlet of precious stones which she had threaded on a cord in order that by fingering them one after another she might count her prayers exactly" (Malmesbury, "Gesta Pont.", Rolls Series 311). Another example seems to occur in the case of St. Rosalia (A.D. 1160), in whose tomb similar strings of beads were discovered. Even more important is the fact that such strings of beads were known throughout the Middle Ages — and in some Continental tongues are known to this day — as "Paternosters". The evidence for this is overwhelming and comes from every part of Europe. Already in the thirteenth century the manufacturers of these articles, who were known as "paternosterers", almost everywhere formed a recognized craft guild of considerable importance. The "Livre des métiers" of Stephen Boyleau, for example, supplies full information regarding the four guilds of patenôtriers in Paris in the year 1268, while Paternoster Row in London still preserves the memory of the street in which their English craft-fellows congregated. Now the obvious inference is that an appliance which was persistently called a "Paternoster", or in Latin fila de paternoster, numeralia de paternoster, and so on, had, at least originally, been designed for counting Our Fathers. This inference, drawn out and illustrated with much learning by Father T. Esser, O.P., in 1897, becomes a practical certainty when we remember that it was only in the middle of the twelfth century that the Hail Mary came at all generally into use as a formula of devotion. It is morally impossible that Lady Godiva's circlet of jewels could have been intended to count Ave Marias. Hence there can be no doubt that the strings of prayerbeads were called "paternosters" because for a long time they were principally employed to number repetitions of the Lord's Prayer.

When, however, the Hail Mary came into use, it appears that from the first the consciousness that it was in its own nature a salutation rather than a prayer induced a fashion of repeating it many times in succession, accompanied by genuflexions or some other external act of reverence. Just as happens nowadays in the firing of salutes, or in the applause given to a public performer, or in the rounds of cheers evoked among school-boys by an arrival or departure, so also then the honour paid by such salutations was measured by numbers and continuance. Further, since the recitation of the Psalms divided into fifties was, as innumerable documents attest, the favourite form of devotion for religious and learned persons, so those who were simple or much occupied loved, by the repetition of fifty, a hundred, or a hundred and fifty were salutations of Our Lady, to feel that they were imitating the practice of God's more exalted servants. In any case it is certain that in the course of the twelfth century and before the birth of St. Dominic, the practice of reciting 50 or 150 Ave Marias had become generally familiar. The most conclusive evidence of this is furnished by the "Mary-legends", or stories of Our Lady, which obtained wide circulation at this epoch. The story of Eulalia, in particular, according to which a client of the Blessed Virgin who had been wont to say a hundred and fifty Aves was bidden by her to say only fifty, but more slowly, has been shown by Mussafia (Marien-legenden, Pts I, ii) to be unquestionably of early date. Not less conclusive is the account given of St. Albert (d. 1140) by his contemporary biographer, who tells us: "A hundred times a day he bent his knees, and fifty times he prostrated himself raising his body again by his fingers and toes, while he repeated at every genuflexion: 'Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb'." This was the whole of the Hail Mary as then said, and the fact of all the words being set down rather implies that the formula had not yet become universally familiar. Not less remarkable is the account of a similar devotional exercise occurring in the Corpus Christi manuscripts of the Ancren Riwle. This text, declared by Kölbing to have been written in the middle of the twelfth century (Englische Studien, 1885, P. 116), can in any case be hardly later than 1200. The passage in question gives directions how fifty Aves are to be said divided into sets of ten, with prostrations and other marks of reverence. (See The Month, July, 1903.) When we find such an exercise recommended to a little group of anchorites in a corner of England, twenty years before any Dominican foundation was made in this country, it seems difficult to resist the conclusion that the custom of reciting fifty or a hundred and fifty Aves had grown familiar, independently of, and earlier than, the preaching of St. Dominic. On the other hand, the practice of meditating on certain definite mysteries, which has been rightly described as the very essence of the Rosary devotion, seems to have only arisen long after the date of St. Dominic's death. It is difficult to prove a negative, but Father T. Esser, O.P., has shown (in the periodical "Der Katholik", of Mainz, Oct., Nov., Dec., 1897) that the introduction of this meditation during the recitation of the Aves was rightly attributed to a certain Carthusian, Dominic the Prussian. It is in any case certain that at the close of the fifteenth century the utmost possible variety of methods of meditating prevailed, and that the fifteen mysteries now generally accepted were not uniformly adhered to even by the Dominicans themselves. (See Schmitz, "Rosenkranzgebet", p. 74; Esser in "Der Katholik for 1904-6.) To sum up, we have positive evidence that both the invention of the beads as a counting apparatus and also the practice of repeating a hundred and fifty Aves cannot be due to St. Dominic, because they are both notably older than his time. Further, we are assured that the meditating upon the mysteries was not introduced until two hundred years after his death. What then, we are compelled to ask, is there left of which St. Dominic may be called the author?

These positive reasons for distrusting the current tradition might in a measure be ignored as archaeological refinements, if there were any satisfactory evidence to show that St. Dominic had identified himself with the pre-existing Rosary and become its apostle. But here we are met with absolute silence. Of the eight or nine early Lives of the saint, not one makes the faintest allusion to the Rosary. The witnesses who gave evidence in the cause of his canonization are equally reticent. In the great collection of documents accumulated by Fathers Balme and Lelaidier, O.P., in their "Cartulaire de St. Dominique" the question is studiously ignored. The early constitutions of the different provinces of the order have been examined, and many of them printed, but no one has found any reference to this devotion. We possess hundreds, even thousands, of manuscripts containing devotional treatises, sermons, chronicles, Saints' lives, etc., written by the Friars Preachers between 1220 and 1450; but no single verifiable passage has yet been produced which speaks of the Rosary as instituted by St. Dominic or which even makes much of the devotion as one specially dear to his children. The charters and other deeds of the Dominican convents for men and women, as M. Jean Guiraud points out with emphasis in his edition of the Cartulaire of La Prouille (I, cccxxviii), are equally silent. Neither do we find any suggestion of a connection between St. Dominic and the Rosary in the paintings and sculptures of these two and a half centuries. Even the tomb of St. Dominic at Bologna and the numberless frescoes by Fra Angelico representing the brethren of his order ignore the Rosary completely.

Impressed by this conspiracy of silence, the Bollandists, on trying to trace to its source the origin of the current tradition, found that all the clues converged upon one point, the preaching of the Dominican Alan de Rupe about the years 1470-75. He it undoubtedly was who first suggested the idea that the devotion of "Our Lady's Psalter" (a hundred and fifty Hail Marys) was instituted or revived by St. Dominic. Alan was a very earnest and devout man, but, as the highest authorities admit, he was full of delusions, and based his revelations on the imaginary testimony of writers that never existed (see Quétif and Echard, "Scriptores O.P.", 1, 849). His preaching, however, was attended with much success. The Rosary Confraternities, organized by him and his colleagues at Douai, Cologne, and elsewhere had great vogue, and led to the printing of many books, all more or less impregnated with the ideas of Alan. Indulgences were granted for the good work that was thus being done and the documents conceding these indulgences accepted and repeated, as was natural in that uncritical age, the historical data which had been inspired by Alan's writings and which were submitted according to the usual practice by the promoters of the confraternities themselves. It was in this way that the tradition of Dominican authorship grew up. The first Bulls speak of this authorship with some reserve: "Prout in historiis legitur" says Leo X in the earliest of all. "Pastoris aeterni" 1520; but many of the later popes were less guarded.

Two considerations strongly support the view of the Rosary tradition just expounded. The first is the gradual surrender of almost every notable piece that has at one time or another been relied upon to vindicate the supposed claims of St. Dominic. Touron and Alban Butler appealed to the Memoirs of a certain Luminosi de Aposa who professed to have heard St. Dominic preach at Bologna, but these Memoirs have long ago been proved to be a forgery. Danzas, Von Löe and others attached much importance to a fresco at Muret; but the fresco is not now in existence, and there is good reason for believing that the rosary once seen in that fresco was painted in at a later date ("The Month" Feb. 1901, p. 179). Mamachi, Esser, Walsh, and Von Löe and others quote some alleged contemporary verses about Dominic in connection with a crown of roses; the original manuscript has disappeared, and it is certain that the writers named have printed Dominicus where Benoist, the only person who has seen the manuscript, read Dominus. The famous will of Anthony Sers, which professed to leave a bequest to the Confraternity of the Rosary at Palencia in 1221, was put forward as a conclusive piece of testimony by Mamachi; but it is now admitted by Dominican authorities to be a forgery ("The Irish Rosary, Jan., 1901, p. 92). Similarly, a supposed reference to the subject by Thomas à Kempis in the "Chronicle of Mount St. Agnes" is a pure blunder ("The Month", Feb., 1901, p. 187). With this may be noted the change in tone observable of late in authoritative works of reference. In the "Kirchliches Handlexikon" of Munich and in the last edition of Herder's "Konversationslexikon" no attempt is made to defend the tradition which connects St. Dominic personally with the origin of the Rosary. Another consideration which cannot be developed is the multitude of conflicting legends concerning the origin of this devotion of "Our Lady's Psalter" which prevailed down to the end of the fifteenth century, as well as the early diversity of practice in the manner of its recitation. These facts agree ill with the supposition that it took its rise in a definite revelation and was jealously watched over from the beginning by one of the most learned and influential of the religious orders. No doubt can exist that the immense diffusion of the Rosary and its confraternities in modern times and the vast influence it has exercised for good are mainly due to the labours and the prayers of the sons of St. Dominic, but the historical evidence serves plainly to show that their interest in the subject was only awakened in the last years of the fifteenth century.

That the Rosary is pre-eminently the prayer of the people adapted alike for the use of simple and learned is proved not only by the long series of papal utterances by which it has been commended to the faithful but by the daily experience of all who are familiar with it. The objection so often made against its "vain repetitions" is felt by none but those who have failed to realize how entirely the spirit of the exercise lies in the meditation upon the fundamental mysteries of our faith. To the initiated the words of the angelical salutation form only a sort of half-conscious accompaniment, a bourdon which we may liken to the "Holy, Holy, Holy" of the heavenly choirs and surely not in itself meaningless. Neither can it be necessary to urge that the freest criticism of the historical origin of the devotion, which involves no point of doctrine, is compatible with a full appreciation of the devotional treasures which this pious exercise brings within the reach of all.

As regards the origin of the name, the word rosarius means a garland or bouquet of roses, and it was not unfrequently used in a figurative sense — e.g. as the title of a book, to denote an anthology or collection of extracts. An early legend which after travelling all over Europe penetrated even to Abyssinia connected this name with a story of Our Lady, who was seen to take rosebuds from the lips of a young monk when he was reciting Hail Marys and to weave them into a garland which she placed upon her head. A German metrical version of this story is still extant dating from the thirteenth century. The name "Our Lady's Psalter" can also be traced back to the same period. Corona or chaplet suggests the same idea as rosarium. The old English name found in Chaucer and elsewhere was a "pair of beads", in which the word bead originally meant prayers.

In the Greek Church, Catholic and schismatic

The custom of reciting prayers upon a string with knots or beads thereon at regular intervals has come down from the early days of Christianity, and is still practised in the Eastern as well as in the Western Church. It seems to have originated among the early monks and hermits who used a piece of heavy cord with knots tied at intervals upon which they recited their shorter prayers. This form of rosary is still used among the monks in the various Greek Churches, although archimandrites and bishops use a very ornamental form of rosary with costly beads. The rosary is conferred upon the Greek monk as a part of his investiture with the mandyas or full monastic habit, as the second step in the monastic life, and is called his "spiritual sword". This Oriental form of rosary is known in the Hellenic Greek Church as kombologion (chaplet), or komboschoinion (string of knots or beads), in the Russian Church as vervitza (string), chotki (chaplet), or liestovka (ladder), and in the Rumanian Church as matanie (reverence). The first use of the rosary in any general way was among the monks of the Orient. Our everyday name of "beads" for it is simply the Old Saxon word bede (a prayer) which has been transferred to the instrument used in reciting the prayer, while the word rosary is an equally modern term. The intercourse of the Western peoples of the Latin Rite with those of the Eastern Rite at the beginning of the Crusades caused the practice of saying prayers upon knots or beads to become widely diffused among the monastic houses of the Latin Church, although the practice had been observed in some instances before that date. On the other hand, the recitation of the Rosary, as practised in the West, has not become general in the Eastern Churches; there it has still retained its original form as a monastic exercise of devotion, and is but little known or used among the laity, while even the secular clergy seldom use it in their devotions. Bishops, however, retain the rosary, as indicating that they have risen from the monastic state, even though they are in the world governing their dioceses.

The rosary used in the present Greek Orthodox Church — whether in Russia or in the East — is quite different in form from that used in the Latin Church. The use of the prayer-knots or prayer-beads originated from the fact that monks, according to the rule of St. Basil, the only monastic rule known to the Greek Rite, were enjoined by their founder to pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 1), and as most of the early monks were laymen, engaged often in various forms of work and in many cases without sufficient education to read the prescribed lessons, psalms, and prayers of the daily office, the rosary was used by them as a means of continually reciting their prayers. At the beginning and at the end of each prayer said by the monk upon each knot or bead he makes the "great reverence" (he megale metanoia), bending down to the ground, so that the recitation of the rosary is often known as a metania. The rosary used among the Greeks of Greece, Turkey, and the East usually consists of one hundred beads without any distinction of great or little ones, while the Old Slavic, or Russian, rosary, generally consists of 103 beads, separated in irregular sections by four large beads, so that the first large bead is followed by 17 small ones, the second large bead by 33 small ones, the third by 40 small ones, and the fourth by 12 small ones, with an additional one added at the end. The two ends of a Russian rosary are often bound together for a short distance, so that the lines of beads run parallel (hence the name ladder used for the rosary), and they finish with a three-cornered ornament often adorned with a tassel or other finial, corresponding to the cross or medal used in a Latin rosary.

The use of the Greek rosary is prescribed in Rule 87 of the "Nomocanon", which reads: "The rosary should have one hundred [the Russian rule says 103] beads; and upon each bead the prescribed prayer should be recited." The usual form of this prayer prescribed for the rosary runs as follows: "O Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Word of the living God, through the intercessions of thy immaculate Mother [tes panachrantou sou Metros] and of all thy Saints, have mercy and save us. If, however, the rosary be said as a penitential exercise, the prayer then is: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. The Russian rosary is divided by the four large beads so as to represent the different parts of the canonical Office which the recitation of the rosary replaces, while the four large beads themselves represent the four Evangelists. In the monasteries of Mount Athos, where the severest rule is observed, from eighty to a hundred rosaries are said daily by each monk. In Russian monasteries the rosary is usually said five times a day, while in the recitation of it the "great reverences" are reduced to ten, the remainder being simply sixty "little reverences" (bowing of the head no further than the waist) and sixty recitations of the penitential form of the prescribed prayer.

Among the Greek Uniats rosary is but little used by the laity. The Basilian monks make use of it in the Eastern style just described and in many cases use it in the Roman fashion in some monasteries. The more active life prescribed for them in following the example of Latin monks leaves less time for the recitation of the rosary according to the Eastern form, whilst the reading and recitation of the Office during the canonical Hours fulfils the original monastic obligation and so does not require the rosary. Latterly the Melchites and the Italo-Greeks have in many places adopted among their laity a form of to the one used among the laity of the Roman Rite, but its use is far from general. The Ruthenian and Rumanian Greek Catholics do not use it among the laity, but reserve it chiefly for the monastic clergy, although lately in some parts of Galicia its lay use has been occasionally introduced and is regarded as a latinizing practice. It may be said that among the Greeks in general the use of the rosary is regarded as a religious exercise peculiar to the monastic life; and wherever among Greek Uniats its lay use has been introduced, it is an imitation of the Roman practice. On this account it has never been popularized among the laity of the peoples, who remain strongly attached to their venerable Eastern Rite.

Thurston, Herbert, and Andrew Shipman. "The Rosary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 1 Oct. 2016 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13184b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler. In gratitude for the Most Holy Rosary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.



Feast of the Holy Rosary

Apart from the signal defeat of the Albigensian heretics at the battle of Muret in 1213 which legend has attributed to the recitation of the Rosary by St. Dominic, it is believed that Heaven has on many occasions rewarded the faith of those who had recourse to this devotion in times of special danger. More particularly, the naval victory of Lepanto gained by Don John of Austria over the Turkish fleet on the first Sunday of October in 1571 responded wonderfully to the processions made at Rome on that same day by the members of the Rosary confraternity. St. Pius V thereupon ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made upon that day, and at the request of the Dominican Order Gregory XIII in 1573 allowed this feast to be kept in all churches which possessed an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary. In 1671 the observance of this festival was extended by Clement X to the whole of Spain, and somewhat later Clement XI after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on 6 August, 1716 (the feast of our Lady of the Snows), at Peterwardein in Hungary, commanded the feast of the Rosary to be celebrated by the universal Church. A set of "proper" lessons in the second nocturn were conceded by Benedict XIII. Leo XIII has since raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class and has added to the Litany of Loreto the invocation "Queen of the Most Holy Rosary". On this feast, in every church in which the Rosary confraternity has been duly erected, a plenary indulgence toties quoties is granted upon certain conditions to all who visit therein the Rosary chapel or statue of Our Lady. This has been called the "Portiuncula" of the Rosary.

Thurston, Herbert. "Feast of the Holy Rosary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 1 Oct. 2016 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13189a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.



October 1

The Festival of the Rosary

[On the First Sunday of October.]  THIS festival 1 was instituted to implore the divine mercy in favour of the church and of all the faithful, and to thank the Almighty for the protection he has afforded them, and for the innumerable benefits he has conferred upon them, particularly for his having delivered Christendom from the arms of the Infidels by the miraculous victory of Lepanto in 1571, 2 through the patronage and intercession of the Mother of God, implored with extraordinary fervour in the devotion of the Rosary. To the same means Pope Clement XI. acknowledged the church to be indebted for the wonderful victory which prince Eugene of Savoy obtained over the Turks near Belgrade in 1716. Upon which account his holiness caused one of the five standards which were taken from the infidels, and which was sent him by the emperor, to be hung up in the Dominicans’ church of the Rosary in Rome. At that time the infidels, with an army of two hundred thousand men, held the Christian army, as it were, besieged near Belgrade, and had a garrison of twenty thousand men in that strong city, then the bulwark of their empire. The isle of Corfu was also beleaguered by an army of forty thousand of the same infidels. The victory of the Christians was followed by the taking of Belgrade, and the deliverance of Corfu, and also the preservation of all Germany and Italy, which were next threatened.

The Rosary is a practice of devotion, in which, by fifteen Our Fathers, and one hundred and fifty Hail Marys, the faithful are taught to honour our divine Redeemer in the fifteen principal mysteries of his sacred life, and of his holy Mother. It is therefore an abridgment of the gospel, a history of the life, sufferings, and triumphant victory of Jesus Christ, and an exposition of what he did in the flesh, which he assumed for our salvation. It ought certainly to be the principal object of the devotion of every Christian always to bear in mind these holy mysteries, to return to God a perpetual homage of love, praise, and thanksgiving for them, to implore his mercy through them, to make them the subject of his assiduous meditation, and to mould his affections, regulate his life, and form his spirit by the holy impressions which they make on his soul. The Rosary 3 is a method of doing this, most easy in itself, and adapted to the slowest or meanest capacity; and, at the same time, most sublime and faithful in the exercise of all the highest acts of prayer, contemplation, and all interior virtues. These are admirably comprised in the divine prayer which our Lord himself vouchsafed to teach us, which pious persons who penetrate the spirit of each word in those holy petitions, can never be weary in repeating, but must recite every time with new fervour, and with more ardent sentiments of love and piety. To obtain mercy and all graces, no prayer certainly can be offered to God more efficacious or pleasing than that which was indited, and is put into our hearts and mouths by his divine Son, our blessed Redeemer himself. Neither can any acts of humility, compunction, love, or praise be thought of more sublime. All other good prayers are but paraphrases or expositions of this. It is more especially agreeable and honourable to God, and beneficial to us, when it is offered in honour of the most holy mysteries of our redemption, to pay the homage of our love and thanksgiving for them, and to implore God’s tender mercy, love, and compassion by the same. To honour explicitly each mystery, some express it in the prayer, as adding to the name Jesus in the Hail Mary, who was born, crucified, &c. for us: but this is better done by representing to God in our minds, the mysteries implied in those words. Thus, in repeating Our Father, &c. we bear in mind, by whose decree his eternal Son was born in a stable, or sweat blood in his agony, &c.: at Hallowed be thy name, we add in thought, particularly for his Son’s nativity, crucifixion, &c.

The Angelical Salutation is often repeated in the Rosary, because, as it contains a form of praise for the Incarnation, it best suits a devotion instituted to honour the principal parts of that great mystery. Though it be addressed to the Mother of God, with an invocation of her intercession, it is chiefly a praise and thanksgiving to the Son, for the divine mercy in each part of that wonderful mystery. The Holy Ghost is the principal author of this holy prayer, which the archangel Gabriel, the ambassador of the Blessed Trinity in the most wonderful of all mysteries, began; St. Elizabeth, another organ of the Holy Ghost, continued, and the Church finished. The first and second part consist of the sacred praises which were bestowed on the Blessed Virgin by the archangel Gabriel, 4 and by St. Elizabeth inspired by the Holy Ghost. 5 The last part was added by the church, and contains a petition of her intercession, styling her Mother of God, with the general council of Ephesus against the blasphemies of Nestorius.

We add to the angel’s salutation the name of this holy Virgin, this being a name of veneration and sweetness to every devout Christian. The word Miriam or Mary is expounded by St. Jerom, from different etymologies, to signify, in Hebrew, a Star of the sea, or Bitter sea, and in Chaldaic, Lady. 6 Both the names Lady and Sea-star admirably agree to her who is the glorious queen of heaven, and our star and patroness in the stormy sea of this world. Other Hebrew women had borne this name, as the sister of Moses; but in them it was only a shadow; in the Mother of God it expressed the sublime dignity of her sacred person. We are not to pass over as insignificant those words of the evangelist: And the name of the virgin was Mary. 7 For her very name is not without a mystery, and ought to be to us most amiable, sweet, and awful. “Of such virtue and excellency is this name, that the heavens exult, the earth rejoices, and the angels sound forth hymns of praise when Mary is named,” says St. Bernard. 8 That devout client of Mary and holy father observes, 9 that she is truly the star which arose from Jacob, and which being placed above this wide tempestuous sea, shines forth by the merits and example of her life. “O you,” goes on that devout father, “who find yourself tossed in the tempests of this world, turn not your eyes from the brightness of this star, if ye would not be overwhelmed by storms. If the winds of temptations rise; if you fall among the rocks of tribulations, look up at the star, call on Mary. If you are tossed by the waves of pride, ambition, detraction, jealousy, or envy, look up at the star, call on Mary. If anger, covetousness, or lust beat on the vessel of your soul, look up on Mary. If you begin to sink in the gulf of melancholy and despair, think on Mary. In dangers, in distresses, in perplexities, think on Mary, call on Mary; let her not depart from your mouth; let her not depart from your hearts, and that you may obtain the suffrage of her prayers, never depart from the example of her conversation. Whilst you follow her, you never go astray; whilst you implore her aid, you never sink in despair; when you think on her, you never wander; under her patronage, you never fall; under her protection, you need not fear; she being your guide, you are not wearied.” Such are the sentiments of confidence, devotion, and respect with which the name of Mary ought always to inspire us. Out of veneration it has been sometimes an established custom in certain places that no women should take the name of Mary. When Alphonsus VI., king of Castile, was about taking a young Moor to wife, he made it a condition that she should not, at her baptism, take that name. Among the articles of marriage stipulated between Mary of Nevers and Uladislas, king of Poland, one was, that laying aside the name of Mary, she should be called Aloysia. From the time that Casimir I., king of Poland, upon marrying Mary, daughter of the duke of Russia, obliged her to change that name, it became a custom in Poland that no woman should bear the name of Mary: 10 though this is now changed, and on the other hand, many adopt it with humility, put of devotion to this powerful advocate and patroness.

Next to this holy name, the words of the salutation come to be considered. Hail is a word of salutation, congratulation, and joy. The archangel addressed it with profound reverence and awe to this incomparable and glorious virgin. It was anciently an extraordinary thing if an angel appeared to one of the patriarchs and prophets, and then he was received with great veneration and honour, being by nature and grace exalted above them; but when the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary, he was struck at her exalted dignity and pre-eminence, and approached and saluted her with admiration and respect. He was accustomed to the lustre of the highest heavenly spirits; but was amazed and dazzled at the dignity and spiritual glory of her whom he came to salute Mother of God, whilst the attention of the whole heavenly court was with ravishment fixed upon her. With what humility ought we, worms of the earth and base sinners, to address her in the same salutation! The devout Thomas à Kempis gives of it the following paraphrase: 11 “With awe, reverence, devotion, and humble confidence do I suppliantly approach you, bearing in my mouth the salutation of the angel, humbly to offer you. I joyfully present it to you, with my head bowed out of reverence to your sacred person, and with my arms expanded through excessive affection of devotion; and I beg the same may be repeated by all the heavenly spirits for me a hundred thousand times, and much oftener; for I know not what I can bring more worthy your transcendent greatness, or more sweet to us who recite it. Let the pious lover of your holy Name listen and attend. The heavens rejoice, and all the earth ought to stand amazed, when I say, Hail Mary. Satan and hell tremble when I repeat, Hail Mary. Sorrow is banished, and a new joy fills my soul, when I say, Hail Mary. My languid affection is strengthened in God, and my soul is refreshed when I repeat, Hail Mary. So great is the sweetness of this blessed salutation, that it is not to be expressed in words, but remains deeper in the heart than can be fathomed. Wherefore I again most humbly bend my knees to you, O most holy virgin, and say, Hail Mary, full of grace.—O, that to satisfy my desire of honouring and saluting you with all the powers of my soul, all my members were converted into tongues and into voices of fire, that I might glorify you, O Mother of God, without ceasing! And now prostrate in your presence, invited by sincere devotion of heart, and all inflamed with veneration for your sweet name, I represent to you the joy of that salutation when the Archangel Gabriel, sent by God, entered your secret closet, and honoured you with a salutation unheard-of from the beginning of the world, saying, Hail, full of grace, our Lord is with you: which I desire to repeat, were it possible, with a mouth pure as gold, and with a burning affection; and I desire that all creatures now say with me, Hail,” &c.

In the like sentiments of profound respect and congratulation with the angel, we style her, Full of grace. Though she is descended of the royal blood of David, her illustrious preeminence is not derived from her birth, or any other temporal advantages; but from that prerogative in which alone true excellency consists, the grace of God, in which she surpasses all other mere creatures. To others, God deals out portions of his grace according to an inferior measure; but Mary was to be prepared to become mother of the author of grace. To her, therefore, God gave every grace and every virtue in an eminent degree of excellency and perfection. Mary “was filled with the ocean of the Holy Ghost poured upon her,” says venerable Bede. 12 It was just, that the nearer she approached to the fountain of grace, the more abundantly she should be enriched by it; and, as God was pleased to make choice of her for his Mother, nothing less than a super-eminent portion of grace could suit her transcendent dignity. The church therefore applies to her that of the Canticles: Thou art all fair, and there is no spot in thee. 13 In those words, Our Lord is with thee, we repeat with the angel another eulogium, consequent of the former. God, by his immensity or omnipotence is with all creatures, because in him all things have their being. He is much more intimately with all his just, inasmuch as he dwells in them by his grace, and manifests in them the most gracious effects of his goodness and power; but the Blessed Virgin being full of grace, and most agreeable in his eyes above all other mere creatures; having also the closest union with Christ as his Mother, and burning with more than seraphic charity, she is his most beloved tabernacle, and he favours her with the special effects of his extraordinary presence, displaying in her his boundless munificence, power, and love.

The following praise was given to her in the same words, both by the Archangel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth, Blessed art thou amongst women. Mary is truly called blessed above all other women, she having been herself always preserved from the least stain of sin, and having been the happy instrument of God in converting the maledictions laid on all mankind into blessings. When Judith had delivered Bethulia from temporal destruction, Ozias, the prince of the people, said to her: Blessed art thou, O daughter, above all women upon the face of the earth. 14 And The people all blessed her with one voice, saying: Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people.” 15 How much more emphatically shall we from our hearts pronounce her blessed above all women, who brought forth Him who is the author of all manner of spiritual and eternal blessings to us! She most justly said of herself, in the deepest sense of gratitude to the divine goodness, Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 16 By bestowing these praises on Mary we offer principally to God a profound homage of praise for the great mystery of the Incarnation. The pious woman mentioned in the gospel, who, upon hearing the divine doctrine of our Redeemer, cried out with admiration, Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and blessed are the breasts which gave thee suck, 17 meant chiefly to commend the Son. In like manner the praises we address to Mary in the angelical salutation are reflected in the first place on her divine Son, from whom, and by whom alone she is entitled to them; for it is for his gifts and graces, and for his sake, that we praise and honour her. On which account this prayer is chiefly an excellent doxology for the great mystery of the Incarnation. Whence, having styled the Mother blessed above all women, we pronounce the Son infinitely more blessed, saying, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. He is the source and author of all her graces and blessings; she derives them only from him; and to him we refer whatever we admire and praise in her. Therefore, in an infinitely higher sense of praise, love, and honour, and in a manner infinitely superior to her, we call him blessed for ever by God, angels, and men; by God, as his well-beloved Son, and in his divinity, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father; by the angels, as the author of their being, grace, and glory, inasmuch as he is their God; and in his Incarnation, as the repairer of their losses by men, as their Redeemer. We, considering attentively the infinite evils from which he has delivered us, the pains and labours which he sustained for us, the ransom which he has paid with his precious blood to redeem us, the everlasting and infinite advantages which he has purchased for us, with the boundless felicity of heaven, the excess of his goodness, love, and mercy, and his infinite majesty and perfections; we, I say, bearing all this in mind, ought, in a spirit of love and praise, ever to call her Blessed through whom we receive this so great a Saviour; but him infinitely more blessed both for his own adorable sanctity, and for all the graces of which he is the source to us.

The most holy and glorious name of Jesus which is added to this doxology, is a name of unspeakable sweetness and grace; a name most comfortable and delightful to every loving soul, terrible to the wicked spirits, and adorable with respect to all creatures; so that at its very sound every knee, in heaven, earth, and hell shall bend, and every creature be filled with religious awe, and profound veneration and respect. The last part of this prayer is a supplication. The prayer of the blessed spirits in heaven consists chiefly in acts of adoration, love, praise, thanksgiving, and the like. We, in this vale of tears and miseries, join sighs even to our hymns of praise and adoration. So extreme are our spiritual miseries and wants that we never present ourselves in prayer before Almighty God, but we make it one part of our addresses to implore his mercy and graces with the greatest earnestness possible, and the deepest sense of our wants. It is in this sincere feeling of our sinful necessities, and the most humble and earnest cry of our heart that the fervour and very soul of our prayer consists. God knows, and with infinite tenderness compassionates the depth of our wounds, and the whole extent of our numberless and boundless spiritual miseries. But our insensibility under them provokes his just indignation. He will have us sincerely to feel and to acknowledge the weight of our evils; our extreme spiritual poverty and total insufficiency, the baseness of our guilt, the rigour of his judgments, the frightful torments of an unhappy eternity which we deserve for our sins, and the dangers from ourselves and the invisible enemies with which we are surrounded. He requires that we confess the abyss of miseries in which we are sunk, and out of it raise our voice to him with tears and groans, owning our total dependance on his mercy and infinite goodness. If a beggar ask an alms of us, his wants make him eloquent; he sums them all up to move us to compassion; sickness, pains, hunger, anguish of mind, distress of a whole family, and whatever else can set off his miseries in the most moving manner. In like manner when we pray, we must feel and lay open before our heavenly Father our deep wounds, our universal indigence, inability, and weakness, and, with all possible earnestness, implore his merciful succour. We must beg that God himself will be pleased to form in our hearts such continued sincere desires, that he inspire us with so deep a sense of all our miseries, and teach us to display them before him in such a manner as will most powerfully move him to pity and relieve us. We have recourse to the angels and saints to beg their joint intercession for us. For this we address ourselves in the first place to the Blessed Virgin, as the refuge of the afflicted and sinners. In this prayer we repeat her holy name to excite ourselves to reverence and devotion. By calling her Mother of God, we express her most exalted dignity, and stir up our confidence in her patronage; for what cannot she obtain for us of a God, who was pleased himself to be born of her! We at the same time remember, that she is also spiritually our mother; for, by adoption, we are brothers and co-heirs of Christ. She is to us a mother of more than paternal tenderness; incomparably more sensible of our miseries, and more ready to procure us all mercy and assistance than carnal mothers can be, as in charity she surpasses all other mere creatures. But to call her Mother, and to deserve her compassion, we must sincerely renounce and put an end to our disorders, by which we have too often trampled upon the blood of her Son.

These words, Holy Mary, Mother of God, are a kind of preface to our petition, in which we humbly entreat her to pray for us. We do not ask her to give us grace; we know this to to be the most precious gift of God, who alone can bestow it on us. We only desire her to ask it for us of her Son, and to join her powerful intercession with our unworthy prayers. We mention our quality of sinners, to humble ourselves in the deepest sentiments of compunction, and to excite her compassion by laying our extreme miseries and necessities before her, which this epithet of sinners expresses beyond what any created understanding can fathom. Mary, from her fuller and more distinct knowledge of the evil of sin, and the spiritual miseries of a soul infected with it, forms a much more distinct and perfect idea of the abyss of our evils than we can possibly do, and in proportion to them, and to the measure of her charity, is moved to compassionate us under them. But we must mention our sins with sincere sentiments of contrition and regret; for the will which still adheres to sin provokes indignation, not compassion, in God, and in all the saints who love sovereignly his sanctity and justice. How dare impenitent sinners present themselves before God with their hands yet stained, as it were, with the adorable blood of his Son, which they have spilt, and which they still continue, in the language of St. Paul, to trample upon? We must, therefore, mention our guilt with the most profound sentiments of confusion and compunction. In proportion to their sincerity and fervour we shall excite the pity and mercy of God, and the tender compassion of his Mother. Mary, having borne in her womb the Author of grace and mercy, has put on the bowels of the most tender compassion for sinners. By this mention of our quality of sinners, we sufficiently express what it is that we beg of God; namely, the grace of a perfect repentance, the remission of all our sins, and strength to resist all temptations to sin. We ask also for all graces and virtues, especially that of divine charity. All this is sufficiently understood by the very nature of our request, without being expressed; for what else ought we to ask of God, through the intercession of her who is the mother of the Author of grace? We beg this abundance of all graces, both at present, because we stand in need of it every moment of our lives; and for the hour of our death, that great and most dreadful moment, which must be a principal object in all our prayers. The whole life of a Christian ought to be nothing else but a constant preparation for that tremendous hour, which will decide our eternal lot, and in which the devil will assail us with the utmost effort of his fury; and our own weakness in mind and body, the lively remembrance of our past sins, and other alarming circumstances and difficulties, will make us stand in need of the strongest assistance of divine grace, and the special patronage of her who is the protectress of all in distress, particularly of her devout clients in their last and most dangerous conflict. Amen, or So be it, expresses an earnest repetition of our supplication and praise. As the heart, in the ardour of its affections, easily goes far beyond what words can express, so neither is it confined by them in the extent and variety of its acts. In one word it often comprises the most perfect acts of faith, hope, charity, adoration, praise, and other such virtues. Thus, by Amen, it with ardour repeats all the petitions and acts of the Lord’s Prayer and Angelical Salutation. Some devout persons have made this short but energetical and comprehensive word one of their most frequent aspirations to God, during the course of the day; meaning by it to assent, confirm, and repeat, with all possible ardour and humility, all the hymns and most perfect acts of profound adoration, humility, love, praise, zeal, thanksgiving, oblation of themselves, total resignation, confidence in God, and all other virtues, which all the heavenly spirits offer to God, with all their power and strength, and with the utmost purity of affection, without intermission, to eternity. In these acts we join by the word Amen, and desire to repeat them all with infinite fervour, were it possible, for ever; and with them we join the most sincere sentiments and acts of compunction, and a particular humility, condemning ourselves as infinitely unworthy to join the heavenly choirs, or faithful servants of God, in offering him a tribute of praise; most unworthy even to pronounce his most holy name, or mention any of his adorable perfections, which defiled lips and faint divided affections rather profane and depreciate than praise and honour.

Note 1. In thanksgiving for the great victory gained at Lepanto, on the 7th of October, the first Sunday of the month, in 1571, St. Pius V. instituted an annual commemoration under the title of St. Mary de Victoriâ. Gregory XIII. in 1573, changed this title into that of the Rosary, and granted an office of the same to all churches, in which there was an altar bearing the title of our Lady of the Rosary. Clement X. extended this festival to all churches subject to the Spanish monarchy. The army of the Emperor Charles VI. having defeated the Turks near Temeswar, on the feast of our Lady at Nives, in 1716, and those infidels having raised the siege of Corcyra the same year on the octave of the Assumption, Clement XII. made the office of this festival general.

  As for the use of beads, the ancient anchorets and others frequently counted the number of their prayers by little stones, grains, or other such marks; as is clear from Palladius’s Lausaic History, from Sozomen, &c. (See Benedict XIV. de Canoniz. par. 2, c. 10, n. 11.) Those who could neither read nor recite the Psalter by heart, supplied this by a frequent repetition of the Lord’s Prayer; and the many illiterate persons performed, at all the canonical hours of prayer, regular devotions, corresponding to those of the Psalter recited by the clergy and many others. When the number of Our Fathers was told by studs fastened on the belts which people then wore, these prayers were reckoned by so many belts. See the council of Cealchyth in 816. (Conc. t. 7, p. 1489.) The ordinary use of the angelical salutation in this manner was not so ancient. (See Mabillon, sæc. 5, Ben. n. 127. Theophilus Raynaudi, t. 7, in Dypticis Marianis, p. 231.) Erimannus, in the twelfth age, mentions a lady who recited every day sixty angelical salutations. (l. de restaurat. S. Martini Tornac. ap. Dacher. Spicileg. t. 12, p. 414.) B. Alanus de Rupe recommends the Hail Mary, and calls it an ancient devotion. See Trithemius, de Script. et Sixtus Sinens. Bibl. Sanct. v. Alanus, et Benedict XIV. de Canoniz. l. 4, par. 2. c. 10, n. 11.


  St. Albert of Crespin, and Peter the Hermit are mentioned long before St. Dominic, to have taught those among the laity who could not read the Psalter, to say a certain number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys in lieu of each canonical hour of the Church-office; but the method of reciting fifteen decades or tens of the angelical salutation, with one Our Father before each decade, in honour of the principal mysteries of the Incarnation, including two peculiar to the Blessed Virgin, is ascribed to St. Dominic. The Bollandists dispute problematically whether this saint instituted, or only propagated the practice of the Rosary, in order to restore the assiduous use of prayer, and to stir up the devotion of the people to the mystery of the Incarnation, which was then impiously blasphemed in Languedoc by the Albigenses and other heretics; but that St. Dominic was the first institutor of this devotion, called the Rosary, is affirmed by several popes in a great number of bulls and briefs, and is proved by the constant tradition of that Order, and by several other convincing proofs, produced by F. Echard. (Bibl. Script. Ord. Prædic. t. 1, p. 352, t. 2, p. 271.) See also Malvenda, (Annal. Ord. Prædic.) Justinus Miecoviensis, (De Litaniis B. M. Virg.) Monelia, (Diss. de Origine Rosarii. Romæ, an. 1725,) and principally Benedict XIV. (De Festo Rosarii, l. 2, c. 10; Op. t. 12, p. 523,) who nevertheless observes that the works of Luminosi of Aposa, Austin Anelli, and Galvini Bragia are certainly adulterated, though Touron lays great stress upon their testimonies, Vie de S. Domin. c. 14,) misled by the authority of the author of a dissertation on this subject, printed at Ferraria in 1735, under the title of Vindiciæ, by Alex. Machiar. It is a just remark of Spinelli, (l. de Maria Deiparâ, c. 39, n. 5,) that this repetition of one hundred and fifty angelical salutations was instituted by St. Dominic, in imitation of the hundred and fifty Psalms; on which account the Rosary has been often called the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin. [back]

Note 2. See the life of St. Pius V. vol. v. p. 70. [back]

Note 3. See the life of St. Dominic, vol. 8, p. 57. [back]

Note 4. Luke i. 28. [back]

Note 5. Ib. i. 42. [back]

Note 6. S. Hieron. l. de Nomin. Hebraic. ed. Ben. t. 2, p. 62. [back]

Note 7. Luke i. [back]

Note 8. Hom. 2, super Missus est. [back]

Note 9. Ibid. [back]

Note 10. See Theoph. Raynand, in Dypticis Marianis, Op. t. 7, punct. 2, n. 12, and Benedict XIV. l. De Festis, Sect. De Festo nominis Mariæ, Op t. 10, p. 519. [back]

Note 11. Sol. c. 23. [back]

Note 12. In Matt. c. 1. [back]

Note 13. Cant. iv. 7. See St. Thomas, Expositio Salut. Angelicæ inter opusc. [back]

Note 14. Judith xiii. 23. [back]

Note 15. Ib. xv. 10. [back]

Note 16. Luke i. 48. [back]

Note 17. Luke xi. 27. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.