Light and Life – Nov.-Dec. 2019, Vol 72, No 6 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
[Fr. Joseph Mary Sergott, OP, was born and raised in the Detroit area, and worked for five years in the aerospace industry at Hughes Aircraft in Southern California. In 1988, he entered the Western Province of the Dominican Order. He was ordained a priest in 1996. He serves as Director of the Rosary Center and Promoter of the Rosary Confraternity for the Western Province. He also serves as the prior of the Dominican Community at Holy Rosary in Portland, OR. Prior to his present assignment, Fr. Joseph served as Socius and Vicar to the Provincial of the Western Province, pastor at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage and St. Thomas More Newman Center in Eugene, OR, respectively, and as a parochial vicar at Holy Rosary Church in Antioch, CA and the Newman Center at UCSD in San Diego.]
There is a reason that the Rosary has been around for centuries—the Rosary Confraternity is itself over 500 years old. Throughout the long history of the Church, many dominant structures of society have come and gone. Entire countries and great empires, like the Roman Empire, have ceased to exist. Even within the Church, religious orders that once had profound influence have since died out. Many movements that people thought would last forever have passed into obscurity and powerful individuals who had tremendous impact on the world have been forgotten.
Why would a simple, ordinary prayer like the Rosary continue to flourish and inspire devotion for over 800 years? What is it about this “commoner’s prayer” that has captured the hearts of the faithful and endured throughout the centuries?
The Heart of the Catholic Faith
One reason is that meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary goes to the heart of the Catholic faith. Many people, including some theologians, overlook this fact. While the Rosary will never be on the same level of importance as the Mass, it is firmly rooted in the very cornerstone, the essential foundation of the Catholic faith, the Mystery of mysteries as it were: the Rosary contemplates the story of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
In ancient Israel, it was understood that there were mysteries and secrets about God’s plan for man’s salvation. So, the people looked to the prophets to reveal God’s plan.1 As the Prophet Amos says, “Indeed, the Lord God does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) So, all the prophets foretold the coming of the Christ, God’s anointed One. St. Paul, in all of his writings, affirms that Jesus Christ is in fact the fulfillment of all these centuries-old secrets and mysteries: “I wish their hearts to be strengthened and themselves to be closely united in love, enriched with full assurance by their knowledge of the mystery of God—namely Christ—in whom every treasure of wisdom and knowledge is hidden.” (Colossians 2:2)
Consequently, in Jesus Christ, we see three essential things: 1) as God’s Son, he came to establish God’s kingdom on earth and to reveal finally the divine secrets of God in their fullness concerning the salvation of the world; 2) in him, the revelation of God’s plan is fulfilled; 3) as a result, the mysteries of the kingdom of God are present on earth in his very person. Therefore, when we pray the Rosary, we contemplate the divine secrets revealed in the person of Jesus through each mystery of his life on earth. The key is that the mysteries of God regarding our salvation are no longer meant to be secrets! The Messianic secret has been revealed, and in order to come to understand the mysteries surrounding the life of Christ, we need to delve deeper into these sacred events.2
For example, we ponder Jesus’ divine origin and his Incarnation in the Joyful Mysteries; his mission from the Father and his Messianic plan to redeem the world in the Luminous Mysteries; his human suffering and sacrifice in his Passion and Death in the Sorrowful Mysteries, and his Resurrection and Ascension in the Glorious Mysteries, which include his ultimate victory over sin, evil and even death itself. Thus, at its heart, the Rosary tells the story of how God redeemed the human race in the person of Jesus.
Based upon Sacred Scripture
As the Old Testament heralded the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Testament is the Living Word that reveals him in his fullness as the Savior of the world. Many people who look upon the Rosary as only a devotional prayer don’t take into account that it is almost entirely based on Sacred Scripture. 18 of the 20 mysteries come directly from the Bible. Only the last two mysteries, the Assumption of Mary and her Coronation in heaven, come from Sacred Tradition, with the Assumption being a formal dogma of the Catholic faith. There may be no better way to enter into the mysteries of the lives of Jesus Christ and His Mother than by praying the Rosary and pondering the Sacred Scripture contained within it, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Thus, those who struggle with praying the Rosary may benefit from reading a correlating scripture passage as they begin each mystery.
We Meditate with Mary
The Rosary was given to us by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The life and message of Our Blessed Mother are forever linked to that of Jesus Christ. The Second Person of the Trinity chose to be born of her and willed to give her a vital and essential place in salvation history. She is the loving and obedient handmaid of the Lord. She lives for him and brings to him the souls he redeemed at so dear a price.
When we address the “Hail Mary” to her, asking her to pray for us, she hastens to shine her light on the path that leads us to her Son. Those who pray the Rosary embark on this road which leads to eternal life. Many saints attest to her faithfulness in accompanying those who journey toward heaven and to the hope she inspires that they will one day reach their goal. It is no coincidence that the mysteries of the life of Jesus are intertwined with his Mother.
One of the most famous paintings in the world is Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. In that masterpiece, one finds a section where two souls are hoisted up to heaven as they cling to a rosary, symbolic of its power to “lift” us up to heaven.
God’s Invitation and Our Response
If you reflect long enough upon the 20 mysteries of the Rosary, you will notice that they each beckon us to draw nearer to the Lord, to seek greater insight and knowledge about him, to come to grasp how much he loves us, and to leave our passive way of life to follow him. We can use the Rosary incorrectly and “remain on the sidelines” as we pray, as if watching a movie; or, we can reach back to the Lord in our prayer, uniting our own hearts with his. Christian prayer is about approaching God and seeking union with him. As you pray each mystery of the Rosary, actively listen for the invitation that Our Lord and his Mother extend to you.
In each mystery, we can ponder, “How does this particular mystery provide an opportunity for me to respond to the grace of the Lord?” After all, grace is … the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God … partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.3
The Rosary is for Sinners
Finally, when praying through the mysteries, the latent invitation that can be found in each mystery is the call for the sinner to approach the Lord. When we are burdened by our sins, we can turn to the Blessed Virgin and her Rosary to seek guidance and even consolation. Many people today are burdened by the weight of their own sins. Some even fall into despair. Others are enslaved by addictions and see no way out. The Rosary is the prayer for sinners. It reminds us that God became one of us to save us from our sins. When we realize that we cannot save ourselves, meditating on the Rosary can give us confidence and consolation that it is Christ who is our hope and salvation. Our Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus, St. Paul says that he would rather “boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
When we find ourselves in the depths of sin, the temptation is usually to abandon prayer, often because we are ashamed to turn back to God in our present state of sin. But the words of St. Paul are a reminder that seeking God’s forgiveness is part of our Christian journey. Further, meditating upon the mysteries of Christ’s life in the Rosary will remind us of how much he loves sinners and gave his life for them. With this knowledge, we can have the courage to approach him, especially knowing that he approached us first.
In summary, as we pray the mysteries of the Rosary and dwell on how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation as foretold by the prophets, let us remember that prayer is communion with God; it is the lifting of our hearts, minds and souls to God. Further, Mary accompanies us every time we begin this prayer; she joins us, intercedes for us, and shows us the way. She also consoles us and lifts our spirits. Perhaps one essential consequence of praying the Rosary that we may not have realized is that the intimacy we gain with the Blessed Mother over time becomes intimacy with Jesus. Intimacy with Our Mother begets intimacy with her Child. A commoner’s prayer indeed.
1 Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, St. Paul Books & Media: Boston, MA. p. 374
2 Ibid., p. 375
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church #1996