October - Month of the Holy Rosary
The Roman Breviary, from which the lesson above is taken, goes on to describe the origin of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary -- in thanksgiving for the victory of the Catholic naval forces over those of the Moslems who had been raiding the ships and towns of Mediterranean Europe, plundering, enslaving and hoping to bring about the rejection of the Faith by their victims (October 7, 1571) -- in thanksgiving for the deliverance of Vienna from the Moslems by the Polish General, John Sobieski (September 12, 1683) -- in gratitude for the victories gained by Prince Eugene of Peterwardein in Hungary and the Balkans, beginning on the feast of Our Lady of the Snows (August 5, 1716).2
If this brief history sounds a bit militaristic, it is only because our Lady has chosen to intervene in the history of Christendom at those times when the Faith (as well as the physical security) of her children was threatened by the powerful forces of the Infidel. There are times when civilized men must take up arms to defend the truths of holy religion, to preserve the holy places of Christendom, and to protect the borders of their homelands. On the occasions mentioned, and on many others, Christians have been blessed with the protection of the holy Mother of God. The struggle of Christendom against hostile unbelievers is, after all, a struggle against the enemies of her Son Jesus Christ.
Prominent in all of these accounts is the devotion of the persecuted Catholics to prayer by means of the Holy Rosary. The Rosary is by no means reserved to lay people -- it is difficult to imagine a priest or religious who does not relish its meditations -- but it is eminently suitable to those who must make their way in the world, while remaining faithful children of Jesus and Mary.
The preeminent prayer of Christians is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Ideally, we would all start each day with this renewal of our Lord's Sacrifice on the Cross. The Mass is the most ideal way in which we can bring our personal prayers before the throne of God, while simultaneously participating in the worship offered to God by the Mystical Body of Christ, the Catholic Church. Again, ideally, although even less likely in practice, we would all continue this private and public worship with the Church in the Divine Office -- the weekly recitation of the one hundred-fifty Psalms of David, each embellished with the "Glory be," and framed by a number of antiphons, hymns, lessons, and prayers of the day.
The ideal, of course, is not always possible, even for the devout. Many men and women find themselves in daily occupations which make it impossible to attend Mass more than a few days a week, and little or no time for the hour or so required to read the Divine Office each day. This is not just a modern problem. If anything, we have much more leisure time than our forebears who had to dig in the earth to grow their food, wash their clothes on the rocks in the creek, cook everything from scratch, care for their precious animals, and chop wood to keep from freezing at night. They had to walk to church or go on horseback. They couldn't down-load the Mass or the Psalms from the Internet, and might not have been able to read them if they could. In answer to this difficulty we and our forebears have been given the chaplet of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Rosary.
Those who are too young or too old to read the text of the Mass and join in their proper prayers with the priest can meditate on the same mysteries of salvation in the Rosary. The Joyful mysteries can be thought of as the prayers of preparation at the foot of the altar, and the proclamation of the Gospel news that Jesus Christ has become man and was born into the world to redeem us. The Sorrowful mysteries are like the Canon and the Communion, relating the circumstances of the Holy Sacrifice on the Cross, which the Mass makes present in time and place. The Glorious mysteries are a sublime thanksgiving for the graces of Holy Communion and Holy Mass. Just like the Mass, which should never be hurried through, the Rosary should be said with sufficient time and reflection on the mysteries. A good plan is to arrive in time to say five decades with the other parishioners, reserving the second and third set of mediations for the Mass itself -- always pausing to listen to the scripture readings and the sermon if they are given.
Today, most of us have a missal or another simple text of the Mass, which will enable us to take a more direct part in the Church's public worship. For us, the Rosary may serve to fulfill the other part of the Church's worship in the Divine Office. Not surprisingly, the Rosary has a strong resemblance to the Office: "O God come to my assistance," the Apostles Creed, and the prepatory prayers give way to the recitation of the "Hail Marys." The 150 "Hail Marys" represent the 150 Psalms of David. The recitation of five decades at a time corresponds to the five Psalms that make up Lauds in the morning and the five that make up Vespers in the evening. Just as in the Office to terminate each Psalm, we recite the "Glory be" at the end of each decade. The mysteries mentioned before each decade are like the antiphons before the Psalms, setting the tone for meditation on each one. Like the Office, the Rosary closes with the "Hail, Holy Queen -- Salve Regina," a collect, and "May the souls of the faithful departed...." Both end the day with the plea, "May the divine assistance be always with us...."
The Rosary, then, is the ideal prayer for people who must be about the business of protecting Christendom from the infidels, growing its crops and tending its flocks, and washing its clothes at the creek. It works equally well to redeem that time spent in rush hour traffic, sitting at airports, and standing on line at the grocery store. It is not too complex to share with the children or with the old folks -- nor is it too simple for great preachers and scholars like Saints Dominic and Thomas Aquinas, and Dr. Louis Pasteur, or for Leo XIII and Pius X -- nor is it too mundane for holy ones like Padre Pio or Mother Theresa.
Even for those of us who celebrate the Mass and pray the Office, there must still be time for the Rosary. For to ignore the Rosary is to ignore the mysteries of our salvation, and to ignore the very Mother of God.