Writing to the entire Church at the close of the Jubilee Year in 2000, Pope John Paul II took some time to remind us of the call of the Second Vatican Council that all of us are called to holiness – he wrote that it was necessary to rediscover the full practical significance of this call. He said the Council Fathers wanted “to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church” (‘Novo Millennio Ineunte‘, para.30). He added that “The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual.”
Going on to speak specifically about prayer, the Holy Father noted that our training in holiness “calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer.”
Just two years later, in his Apostolic Letter ‘Rosarium Virginia Mariae’, Pope John Paul offered us a very specific means of distinguishing ourselves in this art of prayer – he placed before us the ancient devotion of the holy Rosary.
Opening his beautiful letter, the Holy Father said the Rosary “has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.” He summarised the reason for writing his letter with these words –
“..the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine ‘training in holiness’..”
A great deal has been written by the Popes, the Saints and many others across the centuries which elaborate on all the points made by John Paul in his various letters when it comes to the prayer of the Rosary. For our purposes here, it suffices to focus on just one point, already touched on and absolutely crucial – that the Rosary is something of a concentrated version of the Gospel, which is the very Mystery of Christ.
In praying the Rosary, we focus on those central mysteries from the life, Passion, death and resurrection of Christ, accompanied throughout our prayer by His own Mother. In praying the Rosary, we are in the company of Mary – and She is leading us unerringly toward Her Son, as no-one else can. We see the tableaux of the Mysteries through Her eyes; we feel their joy, light, sorrow and glory along with Her. And in all this, we enter into the depths of Her Immaculate Heart, learning there to love the Lord as She does. Walking in the garden of that motherly Heart, we are imbued with something of It’s heavenly fragrance, which remains with us long after our prayer is completed.
John Paul tells us clearly that “it would be impossible to name all the many Saints who discovered in the Rosary a genuine path to growth in holiness”. As Pope Francis would remind us later on, in his ‘Call To Holiness In Today’s World’, “saints” does not just mean those whom the Church has canonised and set before us as luminous examples, for we are all called to the same holiness; John Paul is offering us a path to follow which will lead us to authentic sanctity, through the prayerful recitation of the Rosary.
To pray the Rosary is not difficult – it simply requires the will to do so, devoting to it the necessary time. To pray the Rosary well takes a little practice and perseverance; we need to find a style or method of praying it which appeals to us and which we can then make our own. There many such styles and methods.
Perhaps one of the simplest methods is just to sit with the Gospels as we pray the Rosary, following the Scriptural texts of the particular Mysteries we are praying. The ‘skill’ (for want of a better word) here is to learn where to place our mental focus. The temptation for many is to think exclusively about the words we are praying – the Our Father, Hail Mary and Gloria, together with the little Fatima prayer. But if we do only this, we never really see the depths of meditation and contemplation which are so abundant in the prayer of the Rosary.
To go that little bit further, we need to place our focus not on the words we are praying vocally, but on the written Word we are casting our eyes upon. It is a little like a song, comprised of both words and music. In the Rosary, the vocal prayers are the ‘words’ but the meditation on the Mysteries are the real ‘music’ of the prayer. We needn’t worry about the words of the prayers – we know these intimately well and so they do not require our concentration or attention. Instead, we need to learn to lose ourselves in the Mystery itself, recounted to us is the Gospel accounts.
This particular method, you might call it a ‘Scriptural Rosary’, is profound in it’s potential for depth and true meditation. It just needs a little practice.