“The words are a kind of melody which soothes the ear and isolates us from the noise of the world.”
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The Rosary: A School of Contemplation
The Mother of the Saviour
and Our Interior Life
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP
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From among the many customary devotions to Our Lady, such as the Angelus, the Office of the Blessed Virgin, the Rosary, we shall speak especially of the last in so far as it prepares us for and leads us up to contemplation of the great mysteries of salvation. After Holy Mass it is one of the most beautiful and efficacious forms of prayer, on condition of understanding it and living it.
It sometimes happens that its recitation – reduced to that of five mysteries – becomes a matter of routine. The mind, not being really gripped by the things of God, finds itself a prey to distractions. Sometimes the prayer is said hurriedly and soullessly. Sometimes it is said for the purpose of obtaining temporal favours, desired out of all relation to spiritual gain. When a person says the Rosary in such a way, he may well ask himself in what way his prayer is like that of which Pope Leo XIII spoke in his encyclicals on the Rosary, and about which Pius XI wrote one of his last apostolic letters.
It is true that to pray well it is sufficient to think in a general way of God and of the graces for which one asks. But to make the most out of our five mysteries, we should remember that they constitute but a third of the whole Rosary, and that they should be accompanied by meditation – which can be very simple – on the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, which recall the whole life of Jesus and Mary and their glory in Heaven.
The Three Great Mysteries of Salvation
The fifteen mysteries of the Rosary thus divided into three groups are but different aspects of the three great mysteries of our salvation: the Incarnation, the Redemption, Eternal Life.
The mystery of the Incarnation is recalled by the joys of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of the Saviour, His Presentation in the Temple and His finding among the doctors.
The mystery of the Redemption is recalled by the different stages of the Passion: the Agony in the garden, the Scourging, the Crowning with thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, the Crucifixion.
The mystery of eternal life is recalled by the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Assumption of Our Lady and her crowning as Queen of Heaven.
Thus, the Rosary is a Credo: not an abstract one, but one concretised in the life of Jesus who came down to us from the Father and who ascended to bring us back with Himself to the Father. It is the whole of Christian dogma in all its splendour and elevation, brought to us that we may fill our minds with it, that we may relish it and nourish our souls with it.
This makes the Rosary a true school of contemplation. It raises us gradually above vocal prayer and even above reasoned out or discursive meditation. Early theologians have compared the movement of the soul in contemplation to the spiral in which certain birds – the swallow, for example – move when they wish to attain to a great height. The Joyful Mysteries lead to the Passion, and the Passion to the door of Heaven.
The Rosary well understood is, therefore, a very elevated form of prayer which makes the whole of dogma accessible to all.
Practical and Contemplative
The Rosary is also a very practical form of prayer for it recalls all Christian morality and spirituality by presenting them from the sublime point of view of their realisation in Jesus and Mary. The mysteries of the Rosary should be reproduced in our lives. Each of them is a lesson in some virtue – particularly in the virtues of humility, trust, patience and charity.
There are three stages in our progress towards God. The first is to have knowledge of the final end, whence comes the desire of salvation and the joy to which that desire gives rise. This stage is symbolised in the joyful mysteries which contain the good news of the Incarnation of the Son of God who opens to us the way of salvation. The next stage is to adopt the means – often painful to nature – to be delivered from sin and to merit Heaven. This is the stage of the sorrowful mysteries. The final stage is that of rest in the possession of eternal life. It is the stage of Heaven, of which the glorious mysteries allow us some anticipated glimpse.
The Rosary is therefore most practical. It takes us from the midst of our too human interests and joys and makes us think of those which centre on the coming of the Saviour. It takes us from our meaningless fears, from the sufferings we bear so badly, and reminds us of how much Jesus has suffered for love of us and teaches us to follow Him by bearing the cross which divine providence has sent us to purify us. It takes us finally from our earthly hopes and ambitions and makes us think of the true object of Christian hope – eternal life and the graces necessary to arrive there.
The Rosary is more than a prayer of petition. It is a prayer of adoration inspired by the thought of the Incarnate God, a prayer of reparation in memory of the Passion of Our Saviour, a prayer of thanksgiving that the glorious mysteries continue to reproduce themselves in the uninterrupted entry of the elect into glory.
A more simple and still more elevated way of reciting the Rosary is, while saying it, to keep the eyes of faith fixed on the living Jesus who is always making intercession for us and who is acting upon us in accordance with the mysteries of His childhood, or His Passion, or His glory. He comes to us to make us like Himself. Let us fix our gaze on Jesus who is looking at us. His look is more than kind and understanding: it is the look of God, a look which purifies, which sanctifies, which gives peace. It is the look of our Judge and still more the look of our Saviour, our Friend, the Spouse of our souls.
A Rosary said in this way, in solitude and silence, is a most fruitful intercourse with Jesus. It is a conversation with Mary too which leads to intimacy with her Son.
We sometimes read in the lives of the saints that Our Blessed Lord reproduced in them first His childhood, then His hidden life, then His apostolic life, and finally His Passion, before allowing them to share in His glory. He comes to us in a similar way in the Rosary and, well said, it is a prayer which gradually takes the form of an intimate conversation with Jesus and Mary. It is easy to see how saintly souls have found in it a school of contemplation.
Repetition and Contemplation
It has sometimes been objected that one cannot reflect on the words and the mysteries at the same time. An answer that is often given is that it is not necessary to reflect on the words if one is meditating on or looking spiritually at one of the mysteries. The words are a kind of melody which soothes the ear and isolates us from the noise of the world around us, the fingers being occupied meanwhile in allowing one bead after another to slip through. Thus, the imagination is kept tranquil and the mind and the will are set free to be united to God.
It has also been objected that the monotony of the many repetitions in the Rosary leads necessarily to routine. This objection is valid only if the Rosary is said badly. If well said, it familiarises us with the different mysteries of salvation and recalls what these mysteries should produce in our joys, our sorrows, and our hopes. Any prayer can become a matter of routine – even the Ordinary of the Mass.
The reason is not that the prayers are imperfect, but that we do not say them as we should – with faith, confidence and love.
The spirit of the Rosary as St Dominic conceived it
To understand the Rosary better it is well to recall how St Dominic conceived it under the inspiration of Our Lady at a time when southern France was ravaged by the Albigensian heresy – a heresy which denied the infinite goodness and omnipotence of God by admitting a principle of evil which was often victorious. Not only did Albigensianism attack Christian morality, but it was opposed to dogma as well – to the great mysteries of creation, the redemptive incarnation, the descent of the Holy Ghost,’ the eternal life to which we are called.
It was at that moment that Our Blessed Lady made known to St Dominic a kind of preaching till then unknown, which she said would be one of the most powerful weapons against future errors and in future difficulties. Under her inspiration, St Dominic went into the villages of the heretics, gathered the people, and preached to them the mysteries of salvation – the Incarnation, the Redemption, Eternal Life. As Mary had taught him to do, he distinguished the different kinds of mysteries, and after each short instruction he had ten Hail Marys recited – somewhat as might happen even today at a Holy Hour.
And what the word of the preacher was unable to do, the sweet prayer of the Hail Mary did for hearts. As Mary had promised, it proved to be a most fruitful form of preaching.
If we live by the prayer of which St Dominic’s preaching is the example our joys, our sorrows, and our hopes will be purified, elevated and spiritualised. We shall see that Jesus, Our Saviour and Our Model, wishes to make us like Himself, first communicating to us something of His infant and hidden life, then something of His sorrows, and finally making us partakers of His glorious life for all eternity.
“Do you pray to Our Lady as you should, as befits her?” from Georges Bernanos, 1937
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