Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 20, 2003
Contemplate the face of Christ
Meditation on the rosary clarifies our soul's true path
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of the mystery: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14).
Pope John Paul recently acknowledged that his favourite prayer, the rosary, has accompanied him in moments of joy and difficulty. To it, he has entrusted a number of his concerns, and in it he has always found comfort. Beginning his 25th year of his service as the successor of Peter, he has proclaimed the year from October 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the Rosary.
His proclamation affords us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of this tool for enhancing our spiritual life.
Though clearly Marian in character, this prayer 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. It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the rosary, the Christian people sit at the school of Mary and are led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love" (RVM, 1).
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 that they will be heard for their many words" (Matthew 6:7).
By its nature the rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of Mary.
The very repetition involved is somewhat similar to a mantra which can work a slow but deep transformation of our hearts.
Although not writing specifically about the rosary, G.K. Chesterton suggested that repetition is a characteristic of the vitality of children, who like the same stories, with the same words, time and time again, not because they are bored and unimaginative but because they delight in life.
Chesterton wrote: "Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead, for grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
"But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says to every morning 'Do it again' to the sun, and every evening 'Do it again' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we.
The repetition in nature may not be mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore (Orthodoxy, p.92).
This practice of piety easily harmonizes with the liturgy. Like the liturgy, it draws its inspiration from Sacred Scripture.
Although existing on essentially different planes of reality, both have as their objects the same salvific events of Christ as their object. The liturgy, which is the activity of Christ and the Church, by way of effective signs and symbols, presents anew the great mysteries of our redemption.
The rosary, by means of devout contemplation, recalls these same mysteries to the mind of the person praying and stimulates the will to draw from them the norms of living.
Although praying the rosary is a wonderful preparation for the celebration of the liturgy, to recite the rosary during the celebration itself is a mistake (cf. Marialis Cultus, 48).
In order to bring out fully the Christological depths of the rosary, Pope John Paul has suggested an addition to our traditional pattern of the recitation of the rosary to include the "luminous" mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.
These mysteries of light include: (1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding feast 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.
Where might the "mysteries of light" be inserted?
Without intending to limit rightful personal freedom and community prayer, the holy father suggests Thursdays.
His proposed re-alignment would then be: Joyful Mysteries - Monday and Saturday; Sorrowful Mysteries - Tuesday and Friday; Glorious Mysteries - Wednesday and Sunday; and Luminous Mysteries - Thursday.
What is really important is that the rosary should always be seen and experienced as a path of contemplation.
Contemplating Christ through the various stages of his life, leads us to come face-to-face with our own identity. Contemplating Christ's birth, we learn of the sanctity of life; seeing the household of Nazareth, we learn the original truth of the family according to God's plan; listening to the master in the mysteries of his public ministry, we find the light that leads us to enter the kingdom of God; and following him on the way to Calvary, we learn the meaning of salvific suffering.
Finally, contemplating Christ and his Blessed Mother in glory, we see the goal towards which we are called, if we allow ourselves to be healed by the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, it becomes natural for us to bring to such prayer all the problems, anxieties, labours and endeavours which make up our lives. "Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you" (Psalm 55:23).
Contemplating Christ through the various stages of his life, leads us to come face-to-face with our own identity.
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