Sing of Mary, 6: Mary’s song is…not about Mary
On this day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I am reminded once again of how much I rely on Mary to help me through the trials of life, and in particular how much I rely on the Rosary as a staple of my daily prayer. It is also, of course, particularly enjoyable to meditate on the the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary on this Solemnity, which is devoted to the same salvific event.
The great trouble, of course, is that it is so easy to say the Rosary without much awareness of what we are doing. I am perfectly capable of ripping through the Rosary with my fingers while I am thinking of something else entirely. Still, all is not lost. Such lapses may help a little to keep me grounded; they are a way of bringing whatever is on my mind to prayer; and when I recognize my incessant failure in concentration, my recognition does nag me to refresh my resolve from one transitory moment to the next. This, I think, is a lifelong battle, but it is obviously far better to try to remain recollected—sufficiently recollected, at least, to keep a few heavenly images and human intentions clearly in mind in the midst of this (often relaxing) gentle rhythm of prayer.
At the same time, even the relaxing rhythm has some value. In my experience, it is easy for stray thoughts to overlay that rhythm, but it is not so easy to disrupt it through any formal assent to temptation, through any conscious decision to sin. In spiritual distress, moreover, it is quite possible to pray the Rosary in a more furious mode, and such a recitation will usually enable us to stave off particularly difficult temptations. Our minds, our imaginations may be in flames, but the rhythm of the Rosary is more safely grounded in the spiritual rhythms of the Mother of God, who is always seeking to strengthen our relationship to her Divine Son.
Some argue that the Rosary is a series of vain repetitions, and it can certainly seem like that at times, especially if we are more or less pressured into “saying it” when we are not in the mood to pray, or at least not in the mood to pray in a group. On the other hand, if we totally enjoy saying the Rosary at every opportunity, we may simply be pleasing ourselves. There ought, I think, to be at least a small element of sacrifice in a devotion that asks you to repeat the Hail Mary 53 times. If not, I would suggest that our very enjoyment constitutes a call to practice also some other form of prayer and penance. Luxurious pious feelings are no proof of spiritual growth, nor are they a necessary accompaniment to holiness.
Of course, multiple forms of prayer are always to be recommended. But when we are properly disposed to overcome at least a certain habitual degree of natural reluctance, the Rosary becomes a spiritual discipline, and so comes fully into its own. Our very reluctance tremendously increases its value.
A Vocation of Humility
It is important, I think, to temper even the most balanced Marian piety with a recognition that the Rosary, though focused on her intercession, is not primarily about Mary. Some of her special mysteries are, of course, commemorated here. In the Joyful Mysteries, which appear to be the most Marian, we have the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation and the Finding in the Temple. Yet as intimately as Mary is involved in all of these mysteries, they all point primarily to Christ. Even in the least obvious case, the Visitation, John the Baptist leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb because he senses the presence of Christ in Mary’s.
The Sorrowful Mysteries, with their painfully stark clarity, are clearly focused on Christ. The Luminous Mysteries, though far more gently, are similarly focused, though Mary is an active agent in the second. And the Glorious Mysteries, which focus primarily on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, emphasize Mary’s brilliant and genuinely exhaustive dependence on these three, in her Assumption and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven. Indeed, when we have identified Mary as the human daughter of the Father, the human spouse of the Holy Spirit, and the human mother of the Son, we have identified her as filled with grace for the most self-effacing purpose imaginable. I mean the purpose of fulfilling God’s salvific will not just for herself, but for our personal benefit, regardless of the cost.
It is for this reason, perhaps, that the Rosary is a prayer of humility. As we contemplate its mysteries and multiply our requests, we must surely ask the same question of ourselves as St. Paul asked of the Corinthians: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7). Our loving Father works always through this law of the gift. His gifts are always for others. And the gifts we receive are always for others as well. Christ is of course the Father’s supreme gift and so His supreme sacrifice. Every gift Mary received demanded an assent to sacrificial love. Every gift we receive makes the same demand.
John the Baptist learned this by his prophetic experience: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). St. Paul learned it the hard way, through the painful trials of ministry: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
But Mary knew this even more perfectly, from her girlhood, through God’s special gift:
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.
Previous in series: Sing of Mary, 5: The Assumption is the Crown
All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!