Monday, October 7, 2013

Our Lady of the Rosary: Engaging God's Word

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."—Colossians 3:16

Although this admonition from Saint Paul is not among the readings that may be used for Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as I reflected on today’s Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, they seemed to reflect Mary’s engagement of God’s Word, both as the Mother of Christ and as a woman of faith.

Recently, Pope Francis reminded us that Mary faced life’s journey with “great realism, humanity, and practicality.” While the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary most often invites reflection on Mary’s contemplative spirit (which Blessed John Paul II highlighted in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in which he introduced the new “LuminousMysteries”), this title of Mary reminds us that she was a woman of active faith, a faith which took her infinitely beyond the boundaries of the small town of Nazareth into the central event of human history—the life, death, and resurrection of the One who was her Son.

Often called “the poor man’s Bible,” the rosary has a rich history that has been explored in any number of books. What we don’t often consider is that this devotion developed over the course of several generations, and the prayer took the form we now recognize only at the end of the sixteenth century. Although we cannot precisely trace the evolution of the rosary itself, the liturgical celebration that is now observed on October 7, formerly called the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary, was introduced in the city of Rome by the Dominican pope Saint Pius V in 1571 as the “Feast of Our Lady of Victory,” to commemorate the Battle of Lepanto. On October 7, 1571, the combined naval forces of a coalition Catholic countries in southern Europe (the “Catholic League”) defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire off the coast of Greece. This battle ended a 33-year long monopoly of the Mediterranean by the aggressive and strongly anti-Christian Turks. A lay organization known as the Confraternity of the Rosary had made it their special task to pray for the victory of the Christian forces. To honor their devotion and the gift of Mary’s intercession, Pope Saint Pius V established the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.

In 1573, to give a more clear focus to the commemoration, Pope Gregory XIII changed the name to the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. Finally, in 1960, the name of the feast was changed to “Our Lady of the Rosary,” and the celebration as we have it today calls for us to “meditate on the mysteries of Christ, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary who was in a special manner associated with the incarnation, passion and glorious resurrection of the Son of God” (from the “historical note” for October 7 in The Divine Office). The history of this memorial, which is among the most colorful of any liturgical celebration in the Church’s cycle of seasons and feasts, demonstrates how the Church both engages the world and how doctrine and devotion can develop over time. In this case, the focus of this celebration has shifted from being a triumphalistic celebration to a very intentional reflection on Mary’s dynamic faith and the mysteries of redemption embodied in the rosary.
Mary’s faith enabled her to take an active role in the working of Providence. Saint Augustine has reminded us that this is Mary’s glory: “Yes, of course, holy Mary did the will of the Father. And therefore it means more for Mary to have been a disciple of Christ than to have been the mother of Christ. It means more for her, an altogether greater blessing, to have been Christ’s disciple than to have been Christ’s mother… She kept truth safe in her mind even better than she kept flesh safe in her womb. Christ is truth, Christ is flesh; Christ as truth was in Mary’s mind, Christ as flesh in Mary’s womb” (from Sermon 72).

Mary stands before us as an icon of discipleship and a model of the Church at prayer. Even as she reflected on all that happened to her, keeping “all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), she did not stand idly by as a passive observer of all that was going on around her. No, she manifested a faith that constantly took her outside of herself and her own comfort or preference. From the fiat of the Annunciation, to her hasty visit to Elizabeth, to her intercession at the Wedding of Cana, and to being strong enough to stand beneath the cross of her dying Son, she listened to God, reflected, and acted.

How often in our own lives, or in the life of our Church, do we take the role of a mere observer? Do we risk putting into action what we know to be true, taking the risk of listening attentively to what is being asked of us, no matter how unwelcome or inconvenient the call may be? Do we reach out in haste to one who needs us, without counting the cost? And do we engage the world in the spirit of the Gospel, speaking for those who have no voice and who are deprived of what is rightfully theirs?

The Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary is so much more than just an “idea feast” or remnant of a “safer,” more pious past. This celebration and title of Our Lady remind us that faith must be dynamic, taking us out of ourselves and the comfort and safety of the lives we have created onto a path of grateful, loyal, and self-giving discipleship.

A Prayer of Pope Francis +
Mary, woman of listening, open our ears; grant us to know how to listen to the word of your Son Jesus among the thousands of words of this world; grant that we may listen to the reality in which we live, to every person we encounter, especially those who are poor, in need, in hardship.

Mary, woman of decision, illuminate our mind and our heart, so that we may obey, unhesitating, the word of your Son Jesus; give us the courage to decide, not to let ourselves be dragged along, letting others direct our life.

Mary, woman of action, obtain that our hands and feet move “with haste” toward others, to bring them the charity and love of your Son Jesus, to bring the light of the Gospel to the world, as you did. Amen.

(offered during a rosary service celebrated on May 31, 2013)



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