The Holy Rosary: A Prayer for All Times

by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.

Our title for this conference is, “The Rosary: A Prayer for All Times.” I would like to add a subtitle, so that the full title will read: “The Rosary: A Prayer for All Times - The Indispensable Prayer for Our Times."

There are so many wonderful things we can say about the Rosary that I thought we should focus on what I sincerely believe. The Rosary is necessary in order to obtain from God the miraculous graces that the world so desperately needs in our day.

The moment we say the modern world needs miraculous graces we imply that these graces are indeed to be obtained from God; but they must come through the intercession of the Mother of God.
Here is the logic I wish to follow in speaking to you. It comes in a series of five questions:

  • Why was the Feast of the Holy Rosary instituted?
  • Why is it so important to stress Mary’s Divine Maternity in our day?
  • How is Mary the Mother of Divine Grace?
  • How is Mary the Mother of Miracles?
  • How is the Rosary such an effective form of the apostolate?

 

Origin of The Feast of The Holy Rosary

The Feast of the Holy Rosary was instituted by the Dominican Pope St. Pius V. As a member of the Order of Preachers, he had inherited a great devotion to the Holy Rosary from St. Dominic. He knew that it was devotion to the Rosary that saved the Church in Western Europe in the thirteenth century from the plague of Albigensianism. This was the heresy that claimed a good god created a world of the spirit, and an evil god the material world, including the human body, which is under the control of the wicked deity. Albigensianism was overcome, in large measure, by the preaching of the Dominicans and their promotion of the Rosary.

St. Pius V saw that the Muslims were bent on taking over the Western world. So he urged the faithful to beg Our Lady of the Rosary to spare Christian Europe from being overtaken by Islam.

In 1571, the Christian forces won the historic battle of Lepanto against the overwhelming Muslim navies. The Holy Father saw this as a miraculous intervention by the Blessed Virgin. He therefore instituted the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary.

In order to appreciate the significance of the Battle of Lepanto, we must realize why the Muslims wanted to take over Europe.

They saw Europe as a stronghold of Christianity. They saw Europe as a stronghold of idolatry. They saw Europe as an enemy that must be conquered as the will of Allah. They saw Europe as an enemy, which their sacred Koran told them to either convert from its idolatry or destroy. They saw Europe as a grand opportunity to convert people to Islam and therefore away from the idolatry of Christianity.

Why did (and do) Muslims think that Christians were (and are) idolaters? Because Christians believe that Mary is not only the Mother of Jesus, but the Mother of God. Muslims do not believe that the Son of Mary is the Son of God. Because, in Islam, Isa (Jesus) is the Ibn Mariam (Son of Mary) but is not the Ibn Allah (Son of God).

It was the Christians’ faith in Mary as the Mother of God, expressed by their ardent recitation of the Rosary, which saved Christian Europe from being taken over by the non-Christian Muslims.

 

Why Stress Mary’s Divine Maternity Today?

There is an urgent reason for stressing the Divine Maternity of Our Lady today. It is a widespread undermining of this cardinal truth of our faith in nominally Catholic circles of the twentieth century. The movie “The Last Temptation” was a blasphemous portrayal of Christ as a sinner. This movie was warmly endorsed and had not a few Catholic supporters, including a professedly Catholic scripture scholar whom I had as a teacher.

On a wider scale, the teaching of sex education in many Catholic schools today presents Christ, in so many words, as “a human person,” who had the same fallen human nature as our own.”

It is therefore imperative that, in today’s confused world, we emphasize, underline, underscore, focus on, stress, concentrate on Mary as the Mother of God. I do not hesitate saying that recitation of the Rosary is an outstanding sign of our profession of faith in Our Lady’s Divine Motherhood.

Remember, too, why we Catholics have two parts to what we now call the “Hail Mary.” The second part is really the “Holy Mary,” which was officially added to the “Hail Mary” by the Church. Why? Precisely in order to profess our Catholic Faith in Mary as the Mother of God, which was being undermined by the founders of Protestantism in the sixteenth century.

Mother Of Divine Grace

We are so accustomed to addressing Our Lady as Mother of Divine Grace that we are liable not to realize how literally Mary is the Mother of God’s Grace.

The Blessed Virgin is the Mother of Divine Grace because she is the Mother of God, who is the Author of grace. Except for Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, the grace that was lost by the fall of Adam and Eve would not have been restored to the human race. Our Lady’s fiat mihi (be it done to me) at the Annunciation began the restoration of God’s grace to the human family.

The moment Our Lady conceived her Divine Son in her womb, we may say, was the beginning of the Holy Eucharist. We now have the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament only because Christ’s Mother gave Him the Flesh and Blood that He offers on the altar at Mass, that we receive at Holy Communion, that we adore in the Blessed Sacrament. In the words of St. Augustine, “The Flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary.” Since the Holy Eucharist is our principal source of grace here on earth, we must thank Our Lady for making the Eucharist possible.

We are asking, “How is Mary the Mother of Divine Grace?” She intercedes for us to obtain the graces that we need. Her powerful intercession is proportionate to her holiness, and there is no human person more holy than Mary.

But all this grace, made available through the Mother of God, depends on our invoking her aid. That is why the Rosary is such a powerful channel of grace to those who recite it with faith in the Divinity of Mary’s Son. Fifty-three times in every (five decade) Rosary we ask her, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” We invoke Our Lady so that she may intercede for us. Her power of intercession, the Saints do not hesitate to say, partakes of infinity.

Mother of Miracles

It was through Mary’s intercession that Christ worked His first miracle at Cana. As you recall, Jesus told His Mother that His time for working miracles had not yet come. But no matter, His Mother asked Him, and she was so sure He would grant her request, that she simply told the servants to, “Do whatever He tells you to.” They obeyed when Jesus told them to fill the huge jars with water. And as the poet tells us, the water recognized its Maker and blushed. It was because the Mother of the Maker of heaven and earth had asked her Son to work the miracle. She interceded and He exercised His omnipotence.

Over the centuries, most of the Church’s shrines where miracles have been performed, have been shrines of Our Lady.

The logic behind this phenomenon is clear. No one is closer to Jesus Christ than His Mother. No one has more influence with Christ than His Mother. Christ wants us, He tells us to expect miracles.

But these miracles will be worked only if we believe. Believe in what? Believe that Jesus Christ is God. Believe in what? Believe that Mary is the Mother of God.

As we read in the Gospels, Christ is said to have been unable to work miracles in certain parts of Palestine. This is an incredible statement. The Almighty could not exercise His omnipotence!

Why not? He was, by His own choice, restrained from exercising His Divine power over the world He created because some people did not believe in His Divinity.

What a lesson to all of us. Our Lord promised that His followers would work miracles in His Name. But He made this promise conditional. The condition was that those who call themselves Christians believe, and He meant believe, that He, the Jesus of Nazareth who was the Son of Mary, was the Creator of heaven and earth and therefore the Son of the living God.

The Apostolate of The Rosary

What do we mean by the apostolate? The apostolate is the work of an apostle, not only of the first followers of Christ but of all the faithful who carry on the original mission entrusted by the Savior to “make disciples of all nations.” A good description of the apostolate is to be a channel of grace to others.

So we ask, “How is the Rosary a channel of grace?” By now we have the testimony of at least forty Popes who over the centuries have recommended, even urged, the people to propagate the recitation of the Rosary as a powerful channel of grace to the world. Our Baptism and Confirmation give us both the right and the duty to engage in what we are calling the apostolate of the Rosary.

Conversion of Sinners. Ours is an age of massive apostasy. Whole nations once Christian have abandoned, not only their union with the Vicar of Christ but their faith in Christ as the Incarnate God. In fact, not a few have abandoned even their faith in a personal God. Thus the underlying theme of Pope John Paul’s encyclical “Splendor of the Truth” is a plea to return in humble obedience and acknowledge our dependence on the Lord. Entire nations have lapsed into secularism, godless individualism, and practical atheism.

Only a flood of miraculous graces can restore Christianity and, within Christianity sound Catholicism. How are these miracles of moral conversion to be performed? How to obtain the graces that millions need to return to God? The verdict of history is, through the Rosary of the Mother of God.

Among the Bishops of Rome, Pope Benedict XV is outstanding for advocating the apostolate of the Rosary. He says that, “The Rosary is the perfect prayer.” It recognizes Mary as the Mother of God who wants nothing more than for those who have strayed from her Son to return to His embrace. The Rosary invokes Mary as the Mediatrix of all graces, including the graces of conversion.

It was not coincidental that when Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, she was fingering the beads of the Rosary and invited Bernadette to join her. The year was 1858, when France and other countries of Western Europe had become victims of the anti-Christian virus of the French Revolution.

It is also not coincidental that the Basilica at Lourdes is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. The countless miracles of healing that have taken place at Lourdes in the past century and a half are only external witnesses to the deeper wonders of spiritual healing through the recitation of Mary’s Rosary.

The same is true of Our Lady’s message at Fátima. During her apparitions to the three peasant children, she told them to tell the faithful to do penance and pray the Rosary. Otherwise the world would be chastised for its sins. She also told the children that when we recite the Rosary, we should add between the decades what has now become a standard practice in the Catholic Church. We are to pray, “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell, and bring all souls to heaven, especially those who most need Your Mercy.”

Sanctification of Believers. The apostolate of the Rosary is also directed to the sanctification of the mass of believing Christians.

If there is one truth of faith taught by the Second Vatican Council it is the fact that we are called not only to salvation, by escaping hell, but to sanctification by our imitation of Jesus Christ.

The Rosary, we are told by the Church is an extraordinary means of changing tepid Christians into ardent followers of Christ. Why? Because the foundation of holiness is the practice of mental prayer, and the foundation of mental prayer is meditation on the truths of our faith.

The fifteen mysteries* of the Rosary are the cardinal mysteries of Christianity. Prayerful reflection on these mysteries is at once a deepening of the faith and a profession of the faith. There is no more effective practice in the Catholic Church for achieving this deepening and profession of the Christian faith than the frequent recitation of the Rosary.

If we ask how the Rosary is such a potent conduit of sanctity, the answer is that the three* sets of mysteries of the Rosary are the expression of our three greatest needs.

We need to grow in gratitude for all the blessings the Lord has given us through the Incarnation of His Divine Son. The Joyful Mysteries provide us with the grounds for our deepest gratitude to the loving God.

We need to grow in patience to accept the trials and sufferings, which the Lord sends us in this valley of tears. The Sorrowful Mysteries give us the strongest motivation in the world for patiently enduring pain. God became man so that He might endure pain out of love for us. Should we not be willing to suffer out of love for Him?

We need hope as we see one creature after another disappointing us here on earth. The Glorious Mysteries are the horizon on which we can meditate and strengthen our hope of rising from the dead, of joining Our Lord and His Mother, in body and soul, in that heavenly kingdom for which we were made.

All of this, and infinitely more, are locked up in the promise of Divine blessings through the prayerful recitation of the Rosary.

One final word. All that I have said was not only an exhortation to say the Rosary. Absolutely not! I am pleading with you to become apostles of the Rosary. Promote the Rosary. Urge the Rosary. Teach the Rosary. Shall I say, advertise the Rosary. It is through the Rosary that we can bring countless souls back to Christ from whom they have strayed. It is through the Rosary that we can make them lovers of Christ through the mediation of His Mother, the Mother of Miracles since the marriage feast at Cana even to the dawn of eternity.

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* Father Hardon wrote and gave this conference before His Holiness, John Paul II, issued the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae that added five more mysteries (the Luminous Mysteries) to the Rosary.

© Copyright 2003 Inter Mirifica. Used with permission.
Previously published in The Tilma, Summer 2003