THE ROSARY IN AFRICA
by Damazio Ngoma O.P.
THE PRAYER OF THE HOLY ROSARY IS KEY TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE IN THE LIVES OF CHRISTIANS IN THE CHURCH IN AFRICA
In this article, we are to explore and discuss the power of the Holy Rosary particularly in the context of the theological dynamism of the local Church inAfrica. Since the commencement of the Second Vatican Council in 1963 up to the inauguration of the famous African Synod of Bishops which took place in Rome in 1994, the Church in Africa has undergone a great deal of change. Inculturation is one of the theological dynamisms that have taken the liturgical worship to a higher level. The article will therefore explore how the devotion to the Holy Rosary and witness of the Christians is basic to this development. The call to holiness through the devotion to the Holy Rosary is the hope of the local Church inAfrica. It is one of the vehicles through which the local Church could inculturate the Christian mysteries into people’s lives.
In this article, the first part will explore the Holy Rosary in relation to the liturgy, the communal and pastoral nature of the Rosary. In the second part, the article will examine the current situation of the Church inAfrica. In this context, the pastoral challenges facing the Church will be given priority. The point in this regard is to focus on how the prayer of the Holy Rosary is so central to the local Church and human transformation. In this process, the article will take this task by looking at the theological dynamism in the local Church inAfrica. Consideration will be given to the following theological trends namely: Incarnation, Inculturation and the mask that the Church inAfricais a family of God. Having explored the current situation of the Church in Africa via the theological trends, the article will conclude the debate by looking at how the Holy Rosary remains central and is the hope of the local Church inAfrica.
THE HOLY ROSARY
The prayers of the Holy Rosary are basically centred on the intercessions of Mary the mother of Jesus our saviour. She intercedes for us. She prays a major role in this regard. From the biblical perspective, Mary occupied several important salvific events. We have the Old Testament prophecies which point to Mary and Jesus Christ being referred to as “the woman and her seed” Genesis 3:15, the Annunciation where Mary gave her formal assent to the will of God saying “behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.” Luke 1:37-38. Finally, in the Magnificat, we see Mary praising God for the graces and blessings she had received. The Gospel of Luke gives a strong testimony to this fact. In this regard, there are two important things that are so crucial namely: Mary saying her “yes” to the will of God and her “Magnificat” in which she praised God for all that she had received. These two elements made Mary unique to the whole human and Christian family. When Christians recite and devote their lives to the Holy Rosary, they are actually re-enacting what Mary did: saying “yes” to the will of God. The power of the Holy Rosary resides in the positive and affirmative action of the will of God through Mary’s intercessions.
It is in this regard that the Holy Rosary is so important in the liturgy. The liturgy is the forum where Christians witness their Christian faith through their liturgical worship. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy affirmed the above position. It is through the liturgical worship that the Christians express their “yes” to the will of God. Mary the mother of the Church intercedes for us all so that in whatsoever happens, the will of God may be done. In the recent years, there have been various issues that demanded the Church to reform the liturgy. It is within this context that the Church always discerns the will of God. Mary the mother of the Church, through the Holy Rosary, will help Christians to be able to live and witness their faith in the liturgical worship. Today, the devotion and prayers of the Rosary has assumed the communal nature. Christians from various entities meet regularly to recite the prayers of the Rosary. There are international Rosary confraternities aimed at giving praise and honour to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to secure her patronage for mutual spiritual benefits. To this effect, such confraternities have helped build up their family relationships, Small Christian Communities, out-stations, parishes and dioceses. On the pastoral level, the confraternities have played a vital role in the transformation of many Christians. The confraternities have been key to challenge certain dehumanising ideologies and trends that are unchristian. They have also played a major role in the promotion of virtues in the society at large. The call to holiness is mandatory to all Christians and it is within the realm of the promoters of the Holy Rosary to help Christians attain this objective through the recitation of the Holy Rosary.
THE CHURCH IN AFRICA TODAY
The current situation in various African countries reflects the reality of fear and hope. There has been a lot of technological and scientific progress in various areas of human life. On the other hand, the African continent has been afflicted by various issues that really hinder integral human development. Academic scholars in the name of Professor Laurenti Magesa, a Moral Theologian in his article: “The 1994 African Synod: Five Years Later: What is the Situation in Africa?”, he cited some of the African woes as follows: incurable diseases that cost the lives of millions of people, hunger that is still dehumanising so many people particularly in the rural areas, economic crisis which has affected many African countries due to lack of good governance, political crisis due to poor regimes in various countries, human rights abuses at various levels, wars and crime that is still affecting millions of Africans and so many other relevant issues. The Church in Africa exists in the midst of such a situation. The current situation jeopardises the progress in the area of evangelisation. Largely, such issues affecting the African person are part of the pastoral challenges facing the Church. There are also internal issues that challenge the Church. In one of the Synod documents: “The Church in Africa”, A Post – Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, affirmed that Christians in most sectors are still living double standards of lives. This is quite a big challenge facing the Church inAfrica. The Synod Bishops of Africa entrusted the continent to Christ the Lord convinced that he alone through his Gospel and his Church could saveAfrica from its difficulties and heal its many ills. In view of the African bishop’s position entrusting the continent into Jesus Christ’s care, what is the role of the Rosary confraternities and how then can the Holy Rosary assist Christians in the face of such challenges?
THE THEOLOGICAL DYNAMISM
Having explored the current situation in Africathe article will consider certain theological trends that are central to the transformation of the human person per se. The first theological trend is the doctrine of the incarnation: God becoming man, taking on the human form and God entering into human history. The Christmas celebration marking the birth of Jesus Christ illustrates and brings to fulfilment the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This was realised through Mary who said “yes” to the will of God. In this respect, Mary manifested her role in the economy of human salvation. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church stated this teaching clearly. She became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ was born fully human and fully divine, one with God, one who was, is, and will be God. The Theological Encyclopaedia edited by Karl Rahner a Jesuit scholar testifies to the above fact. When God became man, he entered into human history and underwent human experience. This is the similar experience that challenges the Church inAfrica today. In all this reality, it is in doing the will of God as Mary did that all such heavy burdens will be enlightened. With St. Ambrose, the Second Vatican Council affirmed that Mary is a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. Mary brings to fulfilment the mystery of the incarnation and to this effect, she acts as a bridge between God and the human family when he comes to us through her. This is a dynamic salvific movement when God enters into earthly life and experiences what we do experience on a day to day basis. When Jesus came here on earth, he underwent a heavier yoke. He fulfilled the will of God the father by accepting a shameful death on the cross.
The other trend is Inculturation. Theologically, inculturation deals with the incarnate Word of God becoming fresh in our lives. E.T. Charles in his doctoral thesis entitled: “From Adaptation to Incarnation: A Study of the Theology of Inculturation in the Teaching of the African Catholic Bishops (1969-1994) and its Implications for interreligious Dialogue and Human Promotion in Rome in 1996 stated that the Word of God comes to us as Africans, within the context of unique African cultural background, purifies us and finally leads us to eternal salvation. Inculturation then becomes a living witness of Jesus’s incarnation in our own unique way. Mary still becomes the channel through which all this reality could be fulfilled in us. This can only be materialised through the life of holiness. One way to holiness is through the life of sacraments, devotion to the Holy Rosary, good prayer-life, public and private liturgical worship and so many other means designed by the Christian faithful. The devotion to the Holy Rosary is one of the most important Para-liturgies in the Catholic Church which helps Christians to reach holiness. Then, how does God’s Word get inculturated into our lives? How does Mary play her role in the inculturation of the word of God into our lives? Mary’s role continues in the life of the Church, leading people to holiness without obscuring or diminution of the unique mediation of Jesus Christ. Richard P. McBrien in his book which he edited entitled “Catholicism” further highlighted the point that the Church does not hesitate to profess the subordinate role of Mary. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Number 50 states that Mary and other saints have been transformed and have become effective images of Christ. Further to this affirmation, the Constitution clearly and strongly warns us followers of the devotion to the Holy Rosary that it is always the inner transforming presence of God that ultimately counts. Our Mother Mary simply intercedes for us. She does not have the power to influence God that she is the object of veneration and devotion rather it is because the grace of God has triumphed in her. The Holy Rosary then becomes an object of devotion in the sense that it helps Christians to access God’s graces and blessings. For the above theological argument, read the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church for further knowledge and understanding of the point. Finally the Dogmatic Constitution affirmed that the devotion to Mary and the Holy Rosary inclusive, expresses three fundamental principles of Catholic Theology namely: the principle of mediation, the principle of sacramentality and the principle of communion. Therefore through the prayer of the Holy Rosary, Christians get united with her, the Church, Jesus Christ and God our loving Father.
Finally, the Synod Fathers of the Church defined the Church in Africa as a family of God. In a family, from the African perspective, all is done at a community level. Each member of the family has a role to play. It is in this context that the family becomes the primary confraternity of the Christian brotherhood. It is there that Christians develop their devotion to the Holy Rosary. Playing of the Holy Rosary in a confraternity set-up is not therefore artificial to African communities. Christians experience the love of God through the graces they receive when they recite the prayers of the Holy Rosary. This trend then is vital to the formation of Holy Rosary Confraternity in a particular entity.
In conclusion to the above debate, the three theological trends namely: the Incarnation, Inculturation and the Church in Africa understood as a family of God, constitute a theological dynamism through which Christians receive graces effected from the devotion and recitation of the prayers of the Holy Rosary. There is a movement which starts from the understanding of the Christian doctrine as expressed by the Church’s Magisterium to the actual life as lived by the Christians themselves, re-enacted through the recitation of the Christian mysteries into their daily lives as believers. The theological dynamism intrinsically takes shape and gets realised when Christians enter into the prayers of the Holy Rosary. In Africa, such an expression is manifested in the sacramental worship of the liturgies and Para liturgies.
THE HOLY ROSARY: THE HOPE OF AFRICA
In view of the above debate and discussion, the article discerned that prayer plays a major role in the life of the Christian. In this context, the article acknowledged the prayers of the Holy Rosary as means and hope for the future of the Christian family in Africa and beyond. This affirmation does not at any cost limit or reduce the mediatorship of Jesus Christ. We still need to profess that Jesus Christ is Lord and saviour.
The article also acknowledged and affirmed the power of the prayers of the Holy Rosary as means to holiness and eternal life. The Holy Rosary confraternity is probably one of the largest confraternity within the Catholic Church. It is through such confraternities that Christians will help one another to reach the life of holiness. The Prayers of the Holy Rosary is therefore one of such forums through which Christians could receive God’s graces and blessings. This can be done in private, family set-up, Small Christian Communities and even at the Parish level.
In respect to the divine call to holiness and eternal salvation, it is our task as promoters of the Holy Rosary to witness and encourage all Christians world-wide and particularly in our existing ecclesiastical entities to remain vigilant in the recitation of the Holy Rosary. The purpose behind this act is to deepen our Christian Faith and become authentic witnesses of the Risen Lord through the intercessions of Mary the mother of the Church. When we encourage Christians to take an active role in the recitation of the Holy Rosary in Africa, what we actually mean is to appreciate more and more the Christological Mysteries that brought us our salvation. The role of Mary is simply to intercede for us to the Jesus Christ her son and God the Father.
The hope of the future of the African continent remains to be entrusted to the patronage of Mary to intercede for us as Africans so that the merciful God may be on our side. One of the missions of the Church in Africa is to effect God’s graces among all the Christians through prayer. The Holy Rosary will help us achieve this golden goal in Africa. It is in this context that we believe that real transformation in Africa could be effected. Therefore, the Holy Rosary as the prayer of the Church is key to bring about real change in Africa simply because it is a visible channel through which we receive God’s graces and we get united with our saviour Jesus Christ.
Br. Damazio Mubelu Ngoma OP.