By Damazio Ngoma O.P.
In this reflection, I will be exploring with you people of God, certain elements of the most Holy Rosary. There are at present, several Religious Congregations world-wide that have taken their names after the Holy Rosary. Vividly, many Religious Congregations and Orders in the Catholic Church have incorporated the Holy Rosary as part of their official religious habits. The Dominican Order of Preachers are an example in this regard. On a day to day basis, there are also millions of people: Catholics and non-Catholics who opt to wear the Holy Rosary as part of their ordinary daily routine code of dress. Rosaries worn are of different colours, sizes, blessed and unblessed. I am of the opinion that people have their own understanding of the Holy Rosary and therefore they might at the same time have their own personal reasons for wearing and having a devotion to the Holy Rosary. Bearing this in mind, it is my humble duty to share with the people of God the value of the Holy Rosary particularly in the economy of human salvation.
I am not surely an expert in this field rather in respect to my ministry entrusted to me by the Dominican Order of Preachers which is to be the promoter of the Holy Rosary; I feel privileged and honoured to share with wider community certain aspects of the Holy Rosary as understood in the Catholic Church. There are several ways of doing this gracious ministry. I have all the reasons to thank the Southern Cross News-Letter to be one of the means to reach out to many Christians at a wider scenario.
In this reflection, I will simply try to define the Holy Rosary, look at the prayers which are recited in the Holy Rosary, the mysteries and the ontological nature of the prayers of the Holy Rosary. These reflections will follow each other according to the space given in the series of the Southern Cross’ publication of the News-Letter. There are a series of areas that have been put in place which might inform the people of God on certain contemporary issues regarding the Holy Rosary.
The Holy Rosary
Pope Paul VI in his encyclical letter entitled “Marialis Cultus” (1974), article 44, defined the Holy Rosary as a gospel prayer. He understood the Holy Rosary as an orderly and gradual unfolding of the gospel message based on the life-story of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in this sense that the Holy Rosary reflects the very way in which the Word of God mercifully enters into human affairs and brings about our salvation. This is very biblical in the sense that we see the unveiling of the whole mystery of the Incarnation. John in his gospel said: “In the beginning was the word, the word was with God and the word was God. Through him all things came into being……..” John 1: 1-18.
The Rosary is holy in the sense that it is a medium through which God unveils the mysteries of his existence in our lives. Whenever we recite the Holy Rosary, we are simply living out the mysteries of God’s existence. We are actually witnessing to the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ who is God. This is our Christian belief emanating from our Baptism. The Holy Rosary is one of the para-liturgies and falling under the realm of Sacramentals. Through it, Christians receive graces and meet God on a personal basis. The Church promulgated the Holy Rosary at the Council of Trent for the Christians to be able to live-out the Christian mysteries on a day to day basis. It is therefore one of the Sacramentals that unite Christians with God at a personal level. Finally, the Rosaries that we use as Catholic Christians are normally blessed in the Church by the priests or deacons and therefore it is also in this regard that they are holy. Through the Holy Rosary, our Mother Mary who is also the mother of God and the Church, intercede for us. She therefore plays a vital role in our Christian life so that we can enter into the gracious band of the chosen people of God and attain salvation.
The Mysteries of the Holy Rosary
The word ‘mystery’ is a religious phenomenon which implies a hidden reality, a truth that cannot be discovered except through revelation. It exceeds human comprehension. Ref: New Catholic Encyclopaedia, p. 151, Vol. X. It is therefore a phenomenon which consists the knowledge of God arrived at through the embracing of God’s graces.
In the case of the Holy Rosary, we are actually looking at how the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven became phenomenological tools that lead us to attain salvation. The mysteries on the life and death of Jesus Christ are expressed and lived according to the liturgical celebrations which are compiled in accordance to the life- pattern of Jesus Christ. The mysteries are beyond human understanding hence they require a mature faith in order to be fully meaningful to someone. This is the point where I always ask: When we put on the Holy Rosary or recite the Holy Rosary, do we really know what we are actually doing? Is it a mere empty-catholic practice or there is something serious about it? This is a question which may be we still need to re-consider.
According to the Church’s teaching, the Holy Rosary constitutes the following mysteries:
(a) The Joyful Mysteries.
In these mysteries, the word joyful already indicates something good. We always feel joy when we have achieved something in life. In the case of the joyful mysteries, the joy comes due to the event of the incarnation: God becoming man and entering into human history. The good news is that salvation is accessible to humanity through Jesus Christ who came as a saviour of the world. His name Emmanuel meaning: God is with us. This is great news for us and enough reason to be joyful hence joyful mysteries. Through the joyful mysteries, we are actually entering into the ultimate causes and the deepest meaning of Christian joy. This is what Pope John Paul II said in one of his messages to the entire Church inRomeduring his pontificate. As Christians too, we have enough reasons to be joyful for the so many graces we have received.
(b) The Mystery of Light.
John 8: 12, Christ is the light of the world. He comes to us in several ways in order to give us light in our Christian life. This light is directly emanating from the day to day public life of Jesus. As human, Jesus encountered several experiences and his response and guidance to life issues become the Christians’ basic criteria. He is the yard-stick on which we gauge our actions. So, he is our light.
Today, the people of God are being challenged by so many contemporary issues that sometimes put them in a situation of dilemma without knowing what to do and sometimes even to question God’s providence and love. These are the moments that we need Jesus as our light to give us guidance and direction.
(c) The Sorrowful Mysteries.
The situation of sorrow is not new to almost all us human beings. Day unto day, we find ourselves and other people being laid to rest, others getting divorced, others living in a situation of poverty beyond their potential, others living a life of despair, hateful, others being killed with no proper reason at all, others live a life where they struggle to survive: sicknesses of different types especially those that carry no medical remedy, death of the innocents through abortions, blindness, physically challenged in various forms, others crying, screaming for help and others cursing. In all these sad life experiences, they bring about an atmosphere of sorrow. It is unfortunate that most of us especially here inAfrica, we have grown up our entire life in such dehumanising situations which bring us sorrow.
It is in this context that the sorrowful mysteries assist us all believers to focus on the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. This is the only physical expression of God’s love for us all. When we suffer unjustly, God suffers with us and accompanies us hence our suffering leads us to be in union with our God the Father.
Today in other parts of the world, people are being hanged as capital punishment. Our belovedDurbanlady who got killed inChinathrough lethal injection is one example. Many people are being denied of their very right to live. Jesus Christ was scourged, crucified and he died on the cross for us all. He took away all our sins. It is in this regard that through the sorrowful mysteries, we have no right whatsoever to impose capital punishment on anybody. Christ already sufficed for all our sins. Therefore having this in mind, restorative justice is answer instead of capital punishment. Life lost ought to be restored.
(d) The Glorious Mysteries.
In these mysteries, we reflect on the glorious events in the life of Jesus Christ. Christ rose from the dead which became good news of relief for the Apostles and all the followers of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15; 14; Christians discovered the reason for their faith in Jesus Christ. In our life experiences, there are moments too when life seem to stop being meaningful and we start despairing. All over a sudden, something happens and life becomes something worthy living again.
The glorious mysteries remind us of such a shift in human life. There are moments when things seem not to work. This is the right moment to turn to the glorious mysteries. There are religious tools to change our lives. How wonderful it is to regain confidence in life.
The Prayers recited in the Holy Rosary:
(a) The Lord’s Prayer.
This is the prayer that Jesus Christ taught his disciples. The first part of his prayer talks about God the father, God’s kingdom, God’s will, God’s providence and God’s forgiveness. The second part deals with the human person. It has elements of the human’s quest for forgiveness, nourishment, guidance and deliverance. It is by its very nature expressing the human person encountering his creator who is in heaven. It is packed with theological themes. In this sense, we meet God our father who is ready to provide for us all our needs when we recite this prayer. It is therefore, a nice prayer to start with knowing that whatever we are asking will be provided. It is such a wonderful prayer.
(b) The Apostles Creed.
This is the prayer that is fully packed with our Christian beliefs and doctrine of the Church as it has been handed down to us right from the Apostles. In this prayer, we actually witness our Christian belief in God the father, Jesus Christ our saviour, his virgin birth, his crucifixion, his death on the cross and his ascension into heaven. We also proclaim the belief in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection and life after death. The Apostle’s Creed reminds us of what we have embraced as Christians and finally what we believe in as Catholics. The prayer is very central as far as church doctrine and Christian beliefs are concerned. Let us then be proud of who we are as Catholics. I would call this prayer as A Catholic-Prayer Anthem.
(c) The Hail Mary.
Mary as mother of Jesus, she played an important role in the earthly life of Jesus. She was with him up to the last hour of his life here on earth.
We believe in Mary the mother of Jesus playing the role of mediator ship. This is the role that is in contention with other Christian faiths as they do not acknowledge the mediator ship of Mary.
(d) Glory be to the Father.
This is basically the human response to the mystery of the Holy Trinity which is in eternal. It is one way of rendering to God his own nature.
The Value of the Holy Rosary.
Many people have adopted the Holy Rosary. They have good reasons for their choice of this devotion to the Holy Rosary. Historically, there are instances where the Holy Rosary is reported to have played a major role in the lives of millions of people world-wide i.e. believers and non-believers. The Church at large has always encouraged the faithful to pay attention to the Holy Rosary. Obviously, there are plenty of benefits that one can graciously obtain. The most important of all the benefits is the knowledge of God, Jesus Christ, the Church and above all is the attainment of ones’ salvation. This is so central to the Holy Rosary. There are also plenty of individual benefits that can be achieved. There are historical records which indicate and witness to the various personal benefits from the recitation of the Holy Rosary. On the other hand, there are also records indicating that the devotion to the Holy Rosary is appreciated and lived by Christians of other faiths. They have to realise in their own lives how important the Holy Rosary is and they have taken up the devotion for their own good.
Some people have expressed themselves how they have managed to conquer the power of the devil in their lives through the prayers of the Holy Rosary. It is therefore an important Sacramental that can assist us to over-come certain hard life experiences. At the same time, people of other Christian faiths have no problems with the Holy Rosary. They too acknowledge the power that comes with the devotion to the Holy Rosary. But on the other hand, the Holy Rosary has also been a tool that has caused division in the Christian family. How is this possible? The issue at hand is that most people of other faiths do not acknowledge the mediator ship of Mary the mother of Jesus in the whole economy of human salvation. John A. Hardon a Jesuit scholar in one his treatises retorted this by saying that actually Mary the mother of Jesus is coming to be more and more honoured in the Christian churches of every tradition. Despite this development, Hardon noted that there is one problem which tend to divide people of the same Christian faith based on the Marian devotion on the Rosary. He talked about Catholics who are imprudently pushed and moved by their devotion to the Holy Rosary beyond the limit of sound Church doctrine and tradition when he said:
“Let the faithful remember that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection nor in a certain vain credulity but proceeds from the true faith by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God and we are moved to a filial love towards our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues.” Ref. John A. Hardon, The Catholic Catechism,New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc., 1977. P. 171.
This is the mentality that brings about division. Our devotions to the Holy Rosary ought not to be done at the detriment of alienating our Christian brothers and sisters rather this ought to be a tool for our union as Christians. In any public or private endeavours, let us avoid going to the extremes because in most cases when we go to the extremes we are abound to be caught up in such alienative components of the anti-social strategies.
The Second Vatican Council encourages all followers of the Marian devotion to the Holy Rosary not to be less devoted but rather to grow in a devotion that is strong in its foundations and truly attractive to all who love Christ. Hardon gave this as his final remark quoting the document of the Second Vatican Council.
Personally, I concur with him and the teaching of the Church expressed in the document of the Second Vatican Council. We need to embrace the devotion to the Holy Rosary with humility without losing its credibility.
The final point is that when we recite the Holy Rosary, the ontological nature of our prayers ought to be meditative in character. Let us give space to God and his son Jesus our saviour to talk to us. This is a special moment given to us so that God may find room and come to us. Therefore, let give God the chance. Let God come and talk to us through the Holy Rosary. This is basically the nature of the Holy Rosary. Our Mother Mary will intercede for us so that this union may come true. Let this be our prayer today. Mary the mother of God pray for us sinners now and up the hour of our death! Amen.