One Sunday morning, as I was finalizing the content to share for youth catechesis, I felt the Lord telling me to share about his mother. Though initially reluctant to change the topic I had planned, I eventually gave in and shared about how Mary is the new Eve and the new ark of the covenant ahead of the feast of the Assumption. After some trying sessions with this batch of youth, I was feeling challenged to the point of questioning if it was really God’s plan for me to continue taking classes. But after sharing about Mother Mary that day, I found a turnaround in interest in the kid’s attitude to the classes and even my own enthusiasm to teach grew leaps and bounds.
Coming from a traditional Catholic family, the practice of daily rosary was inculcated into us as kids. However, learning about its origin and power years later has forever changed what this powerful prayer means to me. Imagine a time when most people alive would have never read a complete book and most learnings were by oral tradition, passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. In the 12th to 13th century A.D, faith was still shared by hearing and listening to the oral word proclaimed in church. Simple peasants would listen to the melodious chorus of monks singing the ~150 psalms of scripture and be drawn to this form of prayer and wanted to share in it. Since these Psalms were a lot for the unlearned peasants, the Rosary with 3 mysteries of 50 Hail Mary’s each totalling 150i became the accessible prayer to all, learned and unlearned alike. For this reason, the first traditional rosaries had 150 beads.
According to tradition, our Lady gave the rosary as she appeared to St. Dominic, founder of the order of preachers called Dominicans. St. Dominic, a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi, had been battling heresy and his labours were met with little success. But in this battle, he found the rosary a powerful weapon to fight the Albigensian heresy, which, among other things, denied the divinity of Christ. One day, St. Dominic prayed to our lady that she would force the devils who possessed a man to reveal the truth about devotion to her. The devils were forced by Our Lady to reveal:
“Nobody who perseveres in saying the Rosary will be damned because she obtains for her servants the grace of true contrition for their sins and by means of this they obtain God’s forgiveness and mercy.”ii
The Hail Mary, the central prayer of the rosary is focussed on both Christ and scripture. It starts with the greeting of the archangel Gabriel in Luke 1:28
“Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you”
and continues with the words of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth
“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” – Luke 1:42.
The Hail Mary is followed by the Holy Mary, Mother of God (Theotokos in Greek), which historically was an affirmation of the Divinity of Christ as being fully human and fully Divine – the mystery of the Incarnation. This was defined and affirmed at the first Council of Nicaea, which was the very first Ecumenical Council of the Church. Denying Mary’s title as Mother of God is akin to denying the Divinity of Christ, the central tenet of our Christian faith. The words “Thy womb, Jesus” and “Holy Mary, Mother of God” come right at the middle of the Hail Mary and anchor it in Christ our Lord, God and Saviour. Furthermore, the Rosary was a vehicle to help those of our ancestors of simple faith to meditate on the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Christ, through the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries which form the core of the Gospels. In 2002, Pope John Paul II in a letter to Catholics, introduced the 5 Luminous Mysteries or the Mysteries of Light of the Rosary which focus on the public life of Christ and so even more deeply imbue it in the light of the Gospels.iii This understanding encourages us to meditate on these same Gospel events when praying the Rosary.
The word Rosary means “crown of roses” or “garland of roses”, and each bead of the Rosary is like placing a Rose at the feet of our Blessed Mother Mary. She is the woman who fulfils the prophecy in Genesis 3:15 of crushing the head of Satan. In Jewish tradition, the mother of the king was the queen and Solomon’s mother Bathsheba intercedes on behalf of a citizen, Adonijah in 1 Kings 2:17-19 and Solomon says to her “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” It should not surprise us, therefore, that in the same tradition, Mary the mother of Jesus is the Queen of heaven and our powerful Mediatrix who intercedes on our behalf to Christ our Lord and King, who will not refuse her. Let us, therefore, have no hesitation and take our needs and those of our families, communities and our world to our Blessed Mother through the rosary trusting in her powerful intercession that they may be granted according to God’s holy will.