Little, however, was said about the rest of the document, which is just as fascinating. In Rosarium Virginis Mariae (RVM), Pope John Paul II shares his heart with the world and offers a powerful, personal reflection on the importance of the Rosary in his own life. He reminds us that simply reciting the Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes of the Rosary is not an end in itself but a means to a deeper purpose: the contemplation of Christ's life.
Yet for many devotees of the Rosary, meditating on the mysteries can be quite challenging. Despite our best intentions, our minds somehow end up on other random thoughts: problems at work, things people said to us throughout the day, the movie we saw last night. At the end of the Rosary we may feel as if we just rattled off a bunch of prayers while our hearts remained far from the mysteries of Christ.
The Holy Father offers several practical suggestions to help us enter more profoundly into the mysteries so that the Rosary can serve as an even greater source of guidance for our daily lives. Let's consider a few of those insights.
For Pope John Paul II, the crucial moment of the Rosary comes before we pray a single Our Father, Hail Mary, or Glory Be. He recommends that at the start of each decade we pause in silence to prepare our minds to reflect on the particular mystery from Christ's life.
This is an important first step, for our preparation can set the tone for the entire decade. It can help determine whether the following 10 Hail Marys will be a dry, mechanical repetition of formulas or a pathway to communion with Christ.
After announcing the mystery
at the beginning of each decade, the Pope encourages us to use our imaginations
"to open up a scenario on which to focus our attention" (RVM, no. 29). One way
of concentrating our attention may be to look at an icon that portrays the mystery.
Another approach the Pope suggests is the Ignatian method of prayer. St. Ignatius
of Loyola recommended that Christians use their minds and imaginations to place
themselves reflectively in the scene that is being contemplated. This Ignatian
method of visualizing biblical scenes also invites us to use our senses during
our contemplation. We can imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of each scene
as if we were there with Jesus, Mary, and the apostles.
Listen to God's Word
Another way to prepare for our reflection on the mysteries is to read from Sacred Scripture at the beginning of each decade. Depending on the circumstances, such a reading could be long (e.g., reading the entire account of the Annunciation) or short (reading only a few lines from the scene).
The Pope says this "is not [simply] a matter of recalling
more information [for our meditation] but of allowing God to speak" to our hearts
in a unique way. "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'" (RVM, no. 30).
The "Our Father" A Family Prayer
After focusing on the mystery, we begin our vocal prayers by lifting our minds to God the Father. The Pope says when we recite the "Our Father," we express two amazing truths about the Christian life.
First, because of our union with Christ, we truly can call God Abba — a term of intimate affection that Jewish children use to address their dads (cf. RVM, no. 32). Despite our own weaknesses and repeated failings, God has forgiven our sins, and we can approach Him with confidence. We can call Him, "Abba." By starting each decade of the Rosary with this prayer, we begin our reflection on the life of Jesus, joined with the gaze from His own Father in heaven.
Second, the "Our Father" expresses
our unity with all other Christians. Jesus does not tell us to call God simply
"My Father" but "Our Father." This subtle first word of the
Lord's Prayer reminds us that Christianity is not a religion of my own isolated,
private relationship with God. In reconciling us to God, Christ reconciles us
to each other. We become united under one Heavenly Father, Our Father.
Therefore, the "Our Father" is truly a prayer of the whole Family of God, expressing
our unity with all our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world and
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Pope John Paul II highlights the profound communal nature of this prayer in the Rosary. He explains that the "Our Father" recited at the start of each decade "makes meditation upon the mystery, even when carried out in solitude, an ecclesial experience" (RVM, no. 32) — an experience of the whole Church.
In this sense we can say that we never pray the Rosary in isolation. Whether we are praying it at home, in a car, on a business trip, in the hospital, or in a nursing home, the "Our Fathers" interspersed throughout the Rosary underscore the fact that we pray in union with our friends, our family, our fellow Christians here on earth, and even the saints in heaven.
In fact, when we pray the Rosary, it is as if we are gathered in Our Father's arms with all our brothers and sisters throughout the ages to look at "pictures" from the life of our eldest brother, Jesus. In this spiritual family album we remember and celebrate the key moments of Christ's life — the announcement of His birth in Nazareth, His being born in Bethlehem, His ministry in Galilee, His death and Resurrection in Jerusalem, and His Ascension into heaven. Over and over again, these images of salvation pass before the eyes of our souls as we pray and ponder with His mother, Mary.
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The "Hail Mary": Contemplating Christ with Mary
John Paul II emphasizes that the Hail Mary truly is a Christ-centered prayer.
In the first part, we repeat Gabriel and Elizabeth's joyful response to God becoming man in Mary. In awe over the mystery of Christ about to take place in her womb, Gabriel greets Mary in the Annunciation saying, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." Similarly, Elizabeth in the Visitation scene recognizes that Mary carries the God-man, and says to her, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Therefore, in each Hail Mary we participate in the awe-filled wonder over Jesus while reflecting on the mysteries of salvation in each decade.
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The Center of Gravity
Pope John Paul II also reminds us that the "center of gravity" for the Hail Mary is Christ's holy name: "And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus."
He encourages us not to recite the Hail Mary too quickly, but to reverence the name of Jesus each time it is spoken in this prayer: "Sometimes, in a hurried recitation, this center 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" (RVM, no. 33).
The Pope offers one suggestion for giving special attention to Christ's name in the Rosary. After saying Jesus' name in each Hail Mary, we can add a clause related to the mystery being contemplated. For example, in the First Sorrowful Mystery (the Agony in the Garden), one could say, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, agonizing in the garden." In the Fifth Glorious Mystery (the Crowning of Mary), one could pray, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, who crowned you as queen of heaven and earth."
Pope John Paul II says that the Rosary, which was spread by St. Louis de Montfort and others, "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" (RVM, no. 33).
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Pray for Us Sinners
In the last part of this prayer we ask Mary to intercede for us as we ponder the mysteries of Christ. As Pope John Paul II explains, contemplation is simply looking upon the face of Jesus. Since no one has devoted himself to this loving task more than Christ's mother, it makes sense that Christians would want to gaze upon the face of Jesus in union with her.
The Holy Father says, "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" (RVM, no. 10, emphasis added).
That's why it's fitting to ask for Our Lady's intercession as we reflect on Christ's birth, life, death, and Resurrection in the Rosary. "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" (RVM, no. 13). She can draw us more deeply into Christ through her loving prayers for us — both "now" as we pray the Rosary and "at the hour of our death."
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The "Glory Be": The Height of Contemplation
While the "Glory Be" comes at the end of each decade, it is much more than a closing prayer. Pope John Paul II says it is meant to express the peak of our contemplation: "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 [the Transfiguration], a foretaste of the contemplation yet to come: 'It is good for us to be here!'" (Lk. 9:33; RVM, no. 34).
In other words, when we attentively ponder the mysteries of salvation in the Rosary, we cannot help but cry out in praise and thanksgiving, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!" That is why Pope John Paul II says the "Glory Be" should be given due importance in the Rosary. He even suggests that when the Rosary is recited publicly, this prayer of praise could be sung.
This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine and the author, Edward Sri.
Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Copyright © 2003 LayWitness