More than a century ago a university student, who thought he knew everything, boarded a train in France and sat next to an older man who seemed to be a peasant of comfortable means. He looked to be simple yet well off. The student noticed that the older gentleman was slipping beads through his fingers. He was praying the rosary. So the student inquired, “Sir, do you still believe in such outdated things?” “Yes, I do. Don’t you?” said the older man. The student laughed and admitted, “I don’t believe in such silly things. Take my advice. Throw that rosary out the window and learn what science has to say about it.” “Science, what do you mean by science? Perhaps you can explain it to me.” The older man asked speaking very humbly and looking as if he was about to cry. The university student noticed that the man was deeply moved and to avoid hurting his feelings any further, he said, “Please give me your address and I’ll send you some literature to explain the whole thing to you.” The man fumbled into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a card. On reading the card, the student lowered his head in shame and was speechless. The card read: “Louis Pasteur, Director of the Institute of Scientific Research, Paris.” The deluded student had encountered his country’s leading chemist and the man who would give the world the scientific process that would bear his name – pasteurization. Louis Pasteur was a man of science but he was also a man of faith. The two are not mutually exclusive. Faith and science are not mutually exclusive, truth is truth. Whether from faith or science truth never contradicts.
The rosary is an ancient prayer, it’s simple and yet very profound. Pope St. `John Paul II said it was his favorite prayer and he called it a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. Pope Leo XIII proposed the rosary as an effective spiritual weapon against the evils afflicting society. Pope Paul VI called the rosary a Gospel prayer centered on the mystery of Jesus’ saving incarnation. To pray the rosary is to contemplate the face of Christ with his mother Mary.
The whole month of October is dedicated to the rosary and today October 7th is normally the Feast day of our Lady of the Rosary. This feast day was established in 1573 by Pope St. Pius V. The purpose was to thank God for victory over the invading Turkish army at Lepanto a naval victory off the coast of Greece. And this victory was attributed to praying the rosary.
The development of the rosary has a long history. It was first, a practice of praying 150 Our Fathers. While the monks were in the chapel praying all 150 psalms the working brothers out in the fields would pray the Our Father 150 times keeping track with knotted cords of string. Later there was a similar practice of praying 150 Hail Mary’s. Soon a mystery of Jesus’ life was attached to each Hail Mary. The Dominicans did much to shape the rosary we pray today. They used it to teach and convert those who had left the faith mainly those who denied the humanity of Christ. In the 16th century the rosary had developed to its present form with the 5 joyful, 5 sorrowful, and 5 glorious mysteries. In 2003 Pope St. John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries, mysteries focusing on the public life of Christ.
To pray the rosary is to contemplate the face of Christ. And this is the task of every Christian, to look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily joys and sufferings of his human life, and then to grasp the divine splendor of the Risen Lord seated in the glory of heaven at the right hand of the Father. Pope St. John Paul II said that in contemplating Christ’s face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul’s words from 2Cor3:18 can 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.”
I urge everyone to pray the rosary. Carry it with you at all times. Dig out that First Communion Rosary and carry it with you. If you have a spare few minutes pray a decade. Get a booklet on meditations for the various mysteries; they are a great aid in our contemplation. Or as St Ignatius of Loyola would advise; place yourself into each of the mysteries. For example at the nativity ask yourself, what do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I feel? Or at the Crucifixion; what do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I feel?
Come early to Mass to pray the rosary. Pray the rosary during the week. Pray it with the whole family. As a kid my family would pray the rosary together. And those are some of my fondest memories. Probably what you’d expect a priest to say, although there were times that I’d get annoyed with my brother Matt. He’d kneel too close to me and he’d blow his hot breath all over my face. I just wanted to pound him. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just get the family together to pray. Those memories of Matt just make me smile now and they make me love him even more.
The rosary is a treasure to be rediscovered. It creates an atmosphere in which to contemplate the mysteries of God. We sense that Jesus and Mary are with us in all the joys and sorrows of our life. And it builds hope in us that God will bring us to share in His glory. Use the rosary to grow closer to our Lord.
May we be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley