The Holy Rosary: School of the Marian Catechist Apostolate
by His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, D.D., J.C.D.
The Marian Catechist Apostolate, securely grounded in the papal magisterium, is well prepared for the call of Pope John Paul II to carry out the New Evangelization of our society and culture. With our Holy Father, our beloved founder, Father John A. Hardon, S.J., understood that, if our world is to be saved, which is indeed the mission of the Church, the faith must be taught and lived with the enthusiasm and the energy of the first Christians. Father Hardon wrote in the “Introduction” to the Marian Catechist Manual:
We live in the most highly educated nation in world history. But, except for a small remnant, most Americans are abysmally ignorant of God’s law and His promises. … The Marian Catechist Apostolate is organized and ready to train thousands countrywide. Its sights are set on restoring, revitalizing, reforming and converting millions … The early Christians succeeded; the Marian Catechist can, too! (pp. xv-xvii)
Father Hardon’s words remind us of the reflection of our Holy Father upon the secularization of society and culture. The truth is that a great part of so-called Christian nations, in the words of our Holy Father, live as if God did not exist. The secularism and materialism which has so infected the life of society has also entered into the life of the Church.
The New Evangelization
In his Apostolic Letter “At the Close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000,” Novo Millennio Ineunte, our Holy Father sets forth the work of the New Evangelization to respond to the loss of faith and the failure to practice the Catholic faith in our time. In response to the great spiritual crisis of our time, the Holy Father proposes simply that we contemplate the Face of Christ Who alone can lead us to salvation. He cautions us against the temptation to seek some new program for the living of our Christian faith, and urges us to turn once again to Christ, in order to know God’s will in our lives and to do faithfully and generously all that God asks of us. He urges us to contemplate the Face of Christ, alive for us in the Church, in her living Tradition.
The Holy Father reminds us that our question today must be the question asked by those who heard Saint Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost: “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37) The Holy Father responds:
We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!
It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new program.” The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium. (29b-c)
The Holy Father goes on to indicate that the New Evangelization will be accomplished, first of all, through the holiness of life of the Church’s members. He reminds us that “since Baptism is true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity.” (31a) In short, the Holy Father reminds us of the Gospel imperative, given to us by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) He states emphatically: “The time has come to repropose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.” (31b) Our Holy Father describes the New Evangelization, in short, as “starting afresh with Christ.” (29)
Primacy of the Spiritual Life
In developing the Marian Catechist Apostolate, Father Hardon insisted that what is primary for the catechist is his or her own knowledge and love of Christ and that, therefore, the first preparation for the catechetical apostolate is a sound and strong spiritual life. Father Hardon sets forth the “key work” of the members of the Marian Catechist Apostolate: “to make God known through Christ so that knowing God, people might love Him, and loving Him might serve Him, and serving Him might save their souls.” (Marian Catechist Manual, p. 10) Father Hardon recalls the fundamental teaching of Pope John Paul II regarding catechesis, namely that Christ is the “primary and essential object of catechesis.” (Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, No. 5) He concludes: “Marian Catechists are to be living witnesses to their faith in Christ and thus become channels of believing grace to other people.” (Marian Catechist Manual, p. 12)
It is clear that Father Hardon saw, with our Holy Father and under the direction of our Holy Father, the urgent need of the New Evangelization. He also saw the way of the New Evangelization which is new faith in Christ and new commitment to live in Christ always and in all things. I mean “new” in the sense that Christ is our all, that we belong completely to Christ, that Christ is King of our lives, purifying and guiding everything we think and say and do. The Marian Catechist Apostolate responds to the call of the Holy Father by forming its members in an ever deeper relationship with Christ through study, prayer and apostolic service. In a true sense, the Marian Catechist Apostolate undertakes the program which our Holy Father proposes for the accomplishment of the New Evangelization: living completely in and for Christ.
The Rosary in the Spiritual Life
Having set forth the program of the New Evangelization in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, our Holy Father gave us, at the beginning of the twenty-fifth year of his service as Vicar of Christ, the Apostolic Letter “On the Most Holy Rosary,” Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the Marian complement to Novo Millennio Ineunte. He describes the Apostolic Letter as “an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother.” (No. 3) In fact, to highlight the importance of praying the Holy Rosary in carrying out the New Evangelization and to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Letter on the Most Holy Rosary Supremi Apostolatus Officio, Pope John Paul II set aside an entire year, from October of 2002 to October of 2003, as the Year of the Rosary.
Calling to mind the central place of prayer in the program of the New Evangelization, the Holy Father also reminds us that the “Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation.” 5 Praying the Rosary, we sit at the feet of Mary, in order to gaze with her upon the Face of Christ and become ever more Christlike. Our Holy Father points out that the Rosary, while Marian in character, “is at heart a Christocentric prayer.” (1b) In other words, although the prayer consists of a repetition of the Hail Mary, it centers on the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation, the mystery of the coming of God the Son in our human flesh in order to free us from sin and everlasting death. Pope Paul VI rightly called the Rosary a compendium of the Gospel, for the mysteries of the Rosary recall the essential moments of our Redemption. With Mary, we reflect upon the events of the Redemptive Incarnation and, thereby, look upon the face of Christ, as she did from the moment of His Birth to His appearance to her after His Resurrection.
Our Holy Father has helped us to contemplate more fully the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ by giving us an additional five mysteries, the Mysteries of Light or Luminous Mysteries. By the addition of the five Mysteries of Light, the Rosary becomes a more complete reflection of the Gospel, a fuller and richer contemplation of the Face of Christ, our Savior.
As our Holy Father rightly observes, Mary, in a certain sense, looked mystically upon the Face of Christ from the moment of His conception in her womb. Before she could see Him, Mary began to devote her attention exclusively to Christ. The Holy Father observes: “No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary.” (10) From the moment that her eyes looked upon Christ for the first time at His Birth, she never ceased to look upon Him. She was indeed His first and best disciple.
Our Holy Father points out that Mary prayed a kind of Rosary from the time of the Incarnation. She was constantly reflecting upon the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation in the events of the life of her Son, God the Son, our Redeemer. The Rosary is our way of staying at Mary’s side and gazing upon her Son in the events by which the mystery of God’s love for us in Him unfolded.
Pope John Paul II calls praying the Rosary sitting at the School of Mary, for when we pray the Rosary, our Blessed Mother herself, as she always does, leads us to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. With Mary, we come to know God’s immeasurable love for us in His Son and her Son. Our Holy Father recalls for us words which he spoke in a Sunday Angelus Address on October 29, 1978, shortly after his election to the See of Peter. Describing the Rosary as his favorite prayer, Pope John Paul II underlined both the simplicity and the great depth of the prayer: simple in its form but profound in its matter. He reminds us:
“Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through — we might say — the heart of his Mother.” (2a)
Looking upon the Face of Christ, at the School of Mary, we hear His invitation to unite our hearts to His Sacred Heart, to unite our lives to His, and, with Mary, we give our fiat to our vocation and mission in Christ, which is daily conversion of life and the transformation of our world into a civilization of divine love.
The Rosary in the Marian Catechist Apostolate
Because the Marian Catechist Apostolate is so completely inserted into the work of the New Evangelization, the praying of the Holy Rosary has a central place in the Apostolate. Simply put, through the Rosary, the Marian catechist contemplates the Face of Christ, so that he or she may bring Christ to others through the apostolate of catechesis. At the same time, contemplating the Face of Christ, with Mary, through prayerful meditation upon the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, the Marian catechist understands the integrity of the faith which he or she is called to hand on. The twofold purpose of the Marian Catechist Apostolate, as set forth by Father Hardon, underlines the central place of Marian devotion in the life of the Marian Catechist and its fruitfulness for the handing-on of the faith. Father Hardon writes:
The purpose of the Marian Catechists is twofold:
- To cultivate a deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a special loyalty to the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome.
- To teach the Catholic religion, personally and through the media of social communication, especially to Catholic families throughout the world. (Marian Catechist Manual, p. 1)
Among the spiritual practices of Marian catechists, the Rosary fittingly comes immediately after participation in the Holy Mass. Through the daily praying of the Holy Rosary, the Marian catechist continues to look upon the Face of Christ contemplated most fully in the Eucharistic mystery.
Through participation in the Holy Eucharist and worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the daily praying of the Holy Rosary, Marian catechists remain at the feet of Mary, at her school, coming to know Christ more deeply, in order to serve Him more faithfully. Through the Holy Rosary, Marian catechists reflect upon the mysteries of the faith, into which they introduce those whom they catechize.
In their devotion to the Holy Rosary, Marian catechists imitate the saints for whom the Rosary was an altogether special means of growing in holiness of life. Our Holy Father mentions, in particular, Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort who wrote The Secret of the Rosary. It is from the words of the total consecration to Mary, proposed by Saint Louis de Montfort that our Holy Father took the motto for his episcopacy and pontificate, Totus Tuus. Our Holy Father refers, too, to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina’s devotion to the Holy Rosary. He also reminds us of Blessed Bartolo Longo, who worked with Pope Leo XIII at the end of the 19th century, for the building of the Church of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary at Pompei in Italy.
The motto of the Marian Catechist Apostolate is the words of our Blessed Mother to the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” (Jn 2:5) Marian Catechists seek nothing more than to grow in their knowledge, love and service of Christ, so that others will indeed also come to know Him deeply and to do faithfully what He teaches us in the Church.
As International Director of the Marian Catechist Apostolate, I pray that all Marian Catechists will grow especially in their devotion to the praying of the Holy Rosary. May they contemplate the Face of Christ through the Holy Rosary and share generously with others, especially the uncatechized, the fruits of their contemplation.
Originally published in The Tilma, Summer 2003