Sing of Mary, 3: Living the Rosary
The Rosary is a mainstay of Catholic devotion, typically regarded as the most powerful form of prayer after the Mass. Most of us carry a Rosary with us in purse or pocket, and certainly many who read these words have already made it a part of their daily prayers. When in distress, Catholics cling to the Rosary as to a lifeline. I can remember periods of difficulty in my own life when I have fallen asleep saying the Rosary and continued it during each interval of wakefulness during the night.
This long-standing devotion was frequently tied to the Psalter, as religious communities used fifteen-decade rosaries to progress meditatively over the 150 psalms. It is also a prayer deeply rooted in Christian piety, in that Mary is our exemplar for treasuring in our hearts the events which mark the action of God in our lives (cf. Lk 2:19). And of course the prayers of the Rosary are deeply Scriptural. The Our Father that begins each decade was taught to us by Our Lord Himself; the Glory Be which ends each decade is an application of Old Testament prayers glorifying God to the full Revelation of the Trinity which we received through Christ.
And the Hail Mary—the staple of the Rosary—is divided into two parts, the first of which consists of the greeting of the Angel to Mary at the Annunciation and the greeting of Elizabeth to Mary at the Visitation (Lk 1:21,42). The second part simply requests Mary’s prayers for us at all times—the prayers of the one who was the daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, and the mother of the Son of God.
My first Sing of Mary essay was an introduction to the riches of Mary as recognized in the Catholic tradition. I wrote it on January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, in 2010. The second (Sing of Mary, 2: A True Song of the Undeserving Poor) was a reflection on how grace works in both Mary and ourselves. That one was written on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in 2013 (November 21st).
Today, of course, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th) in 2015. It seems appropriate on this occasion to continue the series.
Mary in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary
All twenty of the mysteries of the Rosary (as officially promulgated by the Church, though there is no harm in those authors who have written reflections and prayers for the Rosary based on other mysteries) can easily be related to Mary. But just over half of them are devoted either to moments in Mary’s life or moments in Christ’s life in which Mary directly participated. There is spiritual profit in reviewing these mysteries.
All five of the Joyful Mysteries are directly applicable, and it is actually the first of these which connects us to today’s feast. In the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38), the Archangel Gabriel addresses Mary as “full of grace”, meaning that, unlike the rest of us, she had no need of Baptism to be cleansed from Original Sin and reconciled with God. She did need Redemption through Our Lord and Savior, of course, but this redemption was effected in her preservatively. In anticipation of the merits of Christ’s death, the Holy Spirit conceived Mary free from that alienation from God which we call Original Sin. (It is helpful to recall here that God is outside time.)
In the Visitation, Mary demonstrates that charitable self-giving which was the very trademark of the working of grace within her. But her visit to Elizabeth also confirms the presence of the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary at the incarnation. Elizabeth proclaims:
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. [Lk 1:42-45]
The third Joyful Mystery is, of course, the first Christmas, the Nativity, when Mary’s total cooperation with grace brings the Savior into the world. So many wondrous things occur at this time that even Mary could not immediately take in their full significance. So she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19)—just as we should do.
At the Presentation, the sufferings Mary and Joseph had already experienced in the events leading up to the birth of Christ were linked to her profound participation in the sufferings of her Son, and given another hint of their redemptive meaning. It was Simeon who prophesied: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35). Simeon’s life was fulfilled, for, as he said in prayer to God, “mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Lk 2:30).
The Joyful Mysteries conclude with the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, another foreshadowing of Mary’s (and, indeed, Joseph’s) participation in Christ’s sufferings. For his parents sought Him in worry and distress, as was only natural, but Our Lord still had lessons to teach: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49). Again, Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51).
Mary in Other Rosary Mysteries
As Our Lord grew and prepared for His public ministry, it was Mary who initiated it at the wedding feast at Cana, by urging Him to perform His first public miracle. The bride and groom had run out of wine for their guests. This is commemorated in the second Luminous Mystery, The Miracle at Cana. Our Lord seems reluctant to set out on this public path, which would lead to His death: “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). Nonetheless, in perfect trust, Mary turns to the servants and says: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5), and He turns water into wine. St. John comments: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory”—at the behest of His mother.
Next in chronological order we come to the Sorrowful Mysteries. We can certainly imagine that she who stood at the foot of the cross would have followed her Son along the road to Calvary. A tradition preserved in the Stations of the Cross captures their meeting on this via dolorosa. It is therefore part of the fourth Sorrowful Mystery, The Carrying of the Cross. The sword foretold by Simeon was even now piercing Mary’s heart!
And of course she was present at the Crucifixion, and even helped take the body down from the Cross and prepare it for the tomb, as also commemorated in the Stations of the Cross. We can imagine the scene as Our Lord was dying:
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. [Jn 19:25-27]
Here we have that decisive moment when Our Lord gave His mother to all of us, and to the Church.
In the end, of course, Mary too came to the glory of Heaven. She who was already full of grace received the Holy Spirit anew along with the apostles on Pentecost, as commemorated in the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the third of the Glorious Mysteries. There could be none more suited than the one whom Wordsworth called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast” to strengthen the apostles through the long days in the upper room and on into the early years of the Church. And who better to understand the Church as at once the body and the spouse of Christ than she who was so perfectly united to both her Son and the Holy Spirit?
Now, since death and corruption are the wages of sin, and Mary was sinless like her Son, her Assumption body and soul into Heaven is treasured in the fourth Glorious Mystery. For Mary, then, it was also as David had foreseen of Christ: “For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption” (cf. Acts 2:27). There is a feast in the Eastern Church of the “dormition” of Mary, her “falling asleep”, prior to her Assumption. We do not know for sure exactly how this transpired, but it was demanded by both the love of the Father and the incomparable consistency of His salvific plan.
In the final mystery of the Rosary, the fifth Glorious Mystery, we have the Coronation of Mary Queen of Heaven. This is hardly fanciful, not for the daughter of the Father, the spouse of the Spirit, and the mother of the Son and King. We have a number of strong hints of this in Scripture, from the references to the king’s daughter in Psalm 45 to the Woman clothed with the sun and crowned with the stars in the Book of Revelation (12:1)—not to mention the Song of Songs.
A Catholic will never tire of reflecting on Mary, of connecting her intimately with the mission of her Son, of seeking her assistance, of learning from her virtues, of understanding ever more in her what it means to be beautiful. Indeed, the Catholic life ought to be guided to God by the purest and simplest of thoughts, which also contains the greatest mystery:
Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Previous in series: Sing of Mary, 2: A True Song of the Undeserving Poor
Next in series: Sing of Mary, 4: Everything you wanted to know about the Mother of God
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