Friday, November 15, 2002

How to do it better

This post started life with the title Better Bead Wrangling, but I thought better of it. This is the fourth of what will probably be five posts on the new apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae :

After I get the last post done, I plan to combine these into one piece accessible from the navigation menu.

In the third chapter of this letter, John Paul II turns to "The Rosary, a way of assimilating the mystery" -- to the method of the Rosary itself. This method uses repetitive prayers which in pattern and content can bring us into a proper psychological state for contemplation:

We should not be surprised that our relationship with Christ makes use of a method. God communicates himself to us respecting our human nature and its vital rhythms. Hence, while Christian spirituality is familiar with the most sublime forms of mystical silence in which images, words and gestures are all, so to
speak, superseded by an intense and ineffable union with God, it normally engages the whole person in all his complex psychological, physical and relational reality.

This is seen in both liturgical and non-liturgical prayer, where all the dimensions of a person are involved by various means. In the case of the Rosary, a variety of means can be combined with repetition to assist with spiritual concentration, similar to a number of popular methods known in orther religions. The difference is that the Rosary is structured to fulfill uniquely Christian requirements:
In effect, the Rosary is simply a method of contemplation. As a method, it serves as a means to an end and cannot become an end in itself. All the same, as the fruit of centuries of experience, this method should not be undervalued. In its favour one could cite the experience of countless Saints. This is not to say, however, that the method cannot be improved. Such is the intent of the addition of the new series of mysteria lucis to the overall cycle of mysteries and of the few suggestions which I am proposing in this Letter regarding its manner of recitation. These suggestions, while respecting the well-established structure of this prayer, are intended to help the faithful to understand it in the richness of its symbolism and in harmony with the demands of daily life. Otherwise there is a risk that the Rosary would not only fail to produce the intended spiritual effects, but even that the beads, with which it is usually said, could come to be regarded as some kind of amulet or magic object, thereby radically distorting their meaning and function.
Suggestions on method

The Holy Father has concrete suggestions on a more conteplative praying of the Rosary -- methods that may not be new to you.

Each mystery should be announced, as a way of making that episode in salvation history more concrete, to provide a focus for attention to assist contemplation. This could include meditating on an icon appropriate to the particular mystery, or using methods similar to those suggested by St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises.
To deepen this meditation, and to give it a proper foundation, the announcement should be followed by the proclamation of an appropriate biblical passage. In certain situations, this can include a brief commentary. In letting God speak to us in this way, we also break up the reperition in a way that can prevent boredom.
Finally, after announcement and proclamation of the work, is silence. In my experience this is the one suggestion least followed currently -- we are all in too much of a hurry to "get it done". This pause gives us time to concentrate on the mystery, and to enter into meditation on it.

The prayers

Focusing on the mystery, we raise our minds up to God in the Our Father as Jesus in each mystery leads us to the Father. He makes us his brothers and sisters, as we are of each other, making the Rosary a communal, an ecclesial experience, even when one prays by oneself. This prayer lays the foundation for the meditation that will unfold.

The ten Hail Marys are the main part of the Rosary, a prayer both supremely Marian and but also Christ centered. We start each prayer joining in praise and wonder over the great miracle of the Incarnation, in God's tremendous intervention. After acknowledging Mary's unique position, the Theotokos, we appeal to her and ask her intercession both in our lives and in the hour of our deaths.

The "hinge" of this prayer is the name of Jesus. That name provides the "center of gravity" for meditation:
Sometimes, in hurried recitation, this centre of gravity can be overlooked, and with it the connection to the mystery of Christ being contemplated. Yet it is precisely the emphasis given to the name of Jesus and to his mystery that is the sign of a meaningful and fruitful recitation of the Rosary.
John Paul II points out (as Paul IV did) that the custom in some places to addition of a clause referring to the mystery being contemplated (especially in public recitation) reinforces the Christological nature of this prayer and aids concentration of meditation.
The meditation on each mystery is summed up in the "Gloria", where we end up in praise, worship and thanksgiving to the Trinity, the proper end of all contemplation. This should not be a perfunctory conclusion, and can be sung, especially in public recitation.


Much of the rest of the form of the Rosary does vary from place to place. The opening and closing prayers for the entire Rosary, as well as any concluding prayer after each Gloria can take on a legitimate variety of forms. What makes any of these practices legitimate is that they properly prepare the mind for and sustain the mind in contemplation. This includes starting with either the Apostles Creed or the opening of Psalm 70, and ending with the Salve Regiina or the Litany of Loreto. It can include prayers specific to each mystery after the Gloria. Once again, John Paul is making suggestions not commands.

A suggestion that has received a lot of attention is the scheme for distributing the sets mysteries over the week.
day of weekexistingsuggested
ThursdayJoyfulMysteries of Light
Sundaydepends on seasonGlorious
I wonder if this is going to turn out to be a work in progress -- I have not talked with anyone who is wildly happy with this schedule, but we will see.
Overall, the aim is to make the Rosary a more contemplative form of prayer. None of the practices is new by itself, but the stress on aquieter and more meditative approach is welcome

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