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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary

Today is October 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The feast dates back to the sixteenth century and was originally called Our Lady of Victory.  It was born when Pope Pius V asked all of Europe to pray the Rosary because the Turkish navy was launching an attack in an attempt to conquer Europe.  The outnumbered Christians won the Battle of Lepanto, the Turks were turned back, and Europe was safe.  We have commemorated this event for over 400 years.
          Today is a good day to express gratitude for all of Our Lady’s intercession and in particular the power and value of the rosary.  For me it is a good opportunity to reflect on the way I pray the rosary.
          I teach in a Catholic school and I teach the rosary.  I recently had a conversation with Mormon missionaries who took exception to the rosary as vain repetition and in explaining why their understanding was flawed I had to explain the proper way to pray the rosary and its purpose.
          Yet, the truth is, I don’t always pray it well.  My devotion to the rosary started many years ago and I try to pray it daily.  But sometimes it can become just one more chore to check off my list.  I may pray it in the car, which I don’t think is all bad.  Otherwise I’d probably be listening to sports radio, which isn’t bad either, but is not likely to be too edifying.
          The problem is, the great value of the rosary is as a meditation.  In Scripture, Jesus condemns what the missionaries called vain repetition when he warned us not to be like the pagans who think God will hear them because of their saying many words in prayer.  We are not trying to impress God when we say the rosary, or win favors.  When we pray the rosary we meditate on the Gospel, we focus on important events in the lives of Jesus and Mary with the hope of increasing our understanding and ultimately our love.
          All repetition in prayer is not condemned in Scripture.  In fact, in the Book of Revelation we see the angels using repetitive prayer.  The value of repeating the holy words of the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be during the rosary is that they calm our soul.  They help take us away from the internal distractions that are such an impediment to prayer so that we can focus on the meditations at the heart of the rosary.
          Pope Paul VI said that praying the rosary without meditating on the Mysteries is like a body without a soul.  I know the car is not the best place for me to pray the rosary.  I can’t really focus on the Ascension of the Lord while I’m changing lanes or waiting for the light to turn green.
          I pray the rosary best when I can stop doing other things, quiet down and focus.  Then the rosary has power and then it can never become vain repetition.
          I doubt I will never pray the rosary in the car again or in other less than ideal circumstances.  As I said, I don’t think that is totally without value.  But on this feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, let us thank God for the gift of this wonderful prayer, an opportunity to calm down and contemplate in our fast-paced world, and let us try, as much as we can, to truly pray the rosary rather than just say the rosary.