What joy for a mother to receive a flower form her little child! Her joy would surely be greater if her little one did not just offer her one rose, but a beautiful bouquet. What joy would be hers if, on a very special day all her children were to decorate the house with more than 175 thousand flowers?
This is what the Rosary is like, this offering that we Catholics give daily to the Virgin Mary, to praise her and to confide to her intercession all our necessities, while meditating on the life of Jesus under Her guidance and as She did. Moreover, when we esteem someone and want heaven to favor them, we put them in our intentions for many Rosaries, and we offer them a spiritual bouquet, as a sign of our affection in the Lord.
When Francis assumed the pontificate, he received, as is to be expected, messages of congratulation from all over the Catholic world. A group, attending to the constant request of the Bishop of Rome to pray for him, sent him a spiritual treasure of 3,525 Rosaries. However, he didn’t seem to like it much… When this became known, it caused perplexity… and not without good reason, – for the fact of diminishing the significance of this devout practice makes us stop to think…. What degree of importance does Pope Francis attach to a prayer that he himself has recommended on several occasions? Does he consider praying the Rosary to be a valuable help on the supernatural level, as Catholic doctrine shows?
We know of the privileges, and above all, of the efficacy linked to this practice for centuries. The repetition of the Hail Mary, the basis of the Rosary, promotes a greater understanding of the mysteries of the life of Christ in our souls as we pray. The Church does not see in this repetition a pre-Conciliar custom, but rather, considers it an immortal and fervent manifestation of love.
To those who think that praying many Rosaries is an exaggeration, and that diminishing its frequency is in order, we recall the saying of Lacordaire: ‘Love has but one word, and, in saying that forever, it is never repeated.’
Enter in the various parts of our study
II – The Popes praise and encourage the constancy of the faithful in the recitation of the Rosary
III – Devotions inspired by God are never out-of-date
I – Pray without ceasing: a characteristic of souls pleasing to God
Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, ‘There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’’ The Lord said, ‘Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’ (Lk 18: 1-8)
And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. ‘And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?’ (Lk 11:5-13)
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1Thess 5:16-18)
How many times and with how much fervor the prayers of the Rosary be said, so much more sure will be the protection of the Virgin in favor of the Christian people. (Pius IX. Decree Proditum est, February 8, 1875)
Gregory [Saint Gregory Nazianzus] teaches us first and foremost the importance and necessity of prayer. He says: ‘It is necessary to remember God more often than one breathes’ (Orationes 27, 4), because prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with our thirst. God is thirsting for us to thirst for him (cf. Orationes 40, 27). In prayer, we must turn our hearts to God, to consign ourselves to him as an offering to be purified and transformed. In prayer we see all things in the light of Christ, we let our masks fall and immerse ourselves in the truth and in listening to God, feeding the fire of love. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, August 22, 2007)
That for which I want to give you courage and enthusiasm in this: keep visiting this Shrine. Even more do I want to say this to all of you, but especially to the young people (for it is the young who are particularly fond of this place): keep praying; we ‘ought always to pray and not lose heart’ (Lk 18:1), as Jesus taught. Pray, and through prayer shape your lives. (John Paul II. Address, Marian Shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Poland, no. 3, June 7, 1979)
We are reunited today also, as every Sunday, for the prayer in common of the Angelus. The reading of today’s Liturgy inspires us to reflect on prayer. ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Lk 11:1) one of the disciples says to Christ in the Gospel. And he answers, giving the example of a man, certainly a persistent man, who, being in need, knocks at the door of a friend of his, no less than at midnight. But he receives what he asked for. Jesus, therefore, encourages us to have a similar attitude in prayer: the attitude of ardent perseverance. He says: ‘Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you’ (Lk 11:9). […] There is an enormous need for prayer, for the great and insistent prayer of the Church; there is need of fervent, humble and persevering prayer. Prayer is the first front where, in our world, good and evil clash. (John Paul II. Angelus, no. 1:3, July 27, 1980)
The neglect of some of these rules [fidelity to prayer] may often be the reason why certain churchmen are caught up in the whirl of external affairs, gradually lose their feeling for sacred things and finally fall into serious difficulties when they are shorn of all spiritual protection and enticed by the attractions of this earthly life. […] To use the words of Saint Pius X: ‘We are sure of this much… that a priest must be deeply devoted to the practice of prayer if he is to live up to his rank and fulfill his duties properly… For a priest must be much more careful than others to obey the command of Christ: You must always pray. Paul was only reaffirming this when he advised, as he did so often: Be constant in prayer, ever on the watch to give thanks; pray without ceasing’ (Haerent animo). And We are more than happy to adopt as Our own the words that Our immediate predecessor, Pius XII, offered priests as their password at the very beginning of his pontificate: ‘Pray, more and more, and pray more intensely’ (Discourse of June 24, 1939). (John XXIII. Encyclical Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, no. 43-44, August 1, 1980)
The subtlety of the human intelligence fails now to grasp the high designs of Providence; but the time will come when, through the goodness of God, causes and effects will be made clear, and the marvelous power and utility of prayer will be shown forth. Then it will be seen how many in the midst of a corrupt age have kept themselves pure and inviolate from all concupiscence of the flesh and the spirit, working out their sanctification in the fear of God ( 2Cor 7:1); how others, when exposed to the danger of temptation, have without delay restrained themselves gaining new strength for virtue from the peril itself; how others, having fallen, have been seized with the ardent desire to be restored to the embraces of a compassionate God. Therefore, with these reflections before them, We beseech all again and again not to yield to the deceits of the old enemy, nor for any cause whatsoever to cease from the duty of prayer. Let their prayers be persevering, let them pray without intermission. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Octobri Mense, no. 10, September 22, 1891)
Therefore the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, combining in a convenient and practical form an unexcelled form of prayer, an instrument well adapted to preserve the faith and an illustrious example of perfect virtue, should be often in the hands of the true Christian and be devoutly recited and meditated upon. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Magna Dei Matris, no. 29, September 8, 1892)
We must keep repeating, Lord help me; Lord, assist me; keep Thy hand upon me; leave me not; have pity upon me! Is there anything easier than to say, Lord, help me, assist me! The Psalmist says, ‘With me is prayer to the God of my life’ (Ps 41: 9). On which the gloss is as follows: ‘A man may say, I cannot fast, I cannot give alms; but if he is told to pray, he cannot say this.’ Because there is nothing easier than to pray. But we must never cease praying; we must [so to speak] continually do violence to God, that He may assist us always – a violence which is delightful and dear to Him. ‘This violence is grateful to God,’ says Tertullian; and Saint Jerome says that the more persevering and importunate our prayers are, so much the more are they acceptable to God: ‘Prayer, as long as it is importunate, is more acceptable.’ […] Let us, then, never neglect to beg God to give us this grace, and this spirit of continual prayer; because if we pray always, we shall certainly obtain from God perseverance and every other gift which we desire, since His promise of hearing whoever prays to Him cannot fail. ‘For we are saved by hope’ (Rom 8:24). With this hope of always praying, we may reckon ourselves saved. (Saint Alphonsus de Liguori. The Complete Ascetical Works, Vol. III, The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, Part I, Ch. 3, no. 4)
Let those men of zeal, who think by their preaching and exterior works to convert the world, consider that they would be much more edifying to the Church, and more pleasing unto God–setting aside the good example they would give if they would spend at least one half their time in prayer. […] Certainly they would do more, and with less trouble, by one single good work than by a thousand: because of the merit of their prayer, and the spiritual strength it supplies. To act otherwise is to beat the air, to do little more than nothing, sometimes nothing and occasionally even mischief. (Saint John of Cross. The Spiritual Canticle, Ch.28, no. 3)
Now we have here another kind of command given us, that at all times, not only in the day, but at night too, prayers should be offered up. For it follows, ‘And shall go into him at midnight’. As David did when he said, ‘At midnight I will rise and give thanks to you’ (Ps 118:62). For he had no fear of awakening them from sleep, whom he knew to be ever watching. For if David who was occupied also in the necessary affairs of a kingdom was so holy, that seven times in the day he gave praise to God, what ought we to do who ought so much the more to pray, as we more frequently sin, through the weakness of our mind and body? (Saint Ambrose, cited by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea, Lk 11, lect. 2: 11:5–8)
He who has redeemed you, has shown you what He would have you do. He would have you be instant in prayer, He would have you ponder in your heart the blessings you are praying for, He would have you ask and receive what His goodness is longing to impart. He never refuses His blessings to them that pray, but rather stirs men up by His mercy not to faint in praying. Gladly accept the Lord’s encouragement: be willing to do what He commands, not to do what He forbids. Lastly, consider what a blessed privilege is granted you, to talk with God in your prayers, and make known to Him all your wants, while He though not in words, yet by His mercy, answers you, for He despises not petitions, He tires not but when you are silent. (Saint John Chrysostom, cited by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea, Lk 18:1–8)
II – The Popes praise and encourage the constancy of the faithful in the recitation of the Rosary
In our time we are taken up with so many activities and duties, worries and problems: we often tend to fill all of the spaces of the day, without leaving a moment to pause and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life, contact with God.
Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our busy day, moments for silent recollection, to meditate on what the Lord wants to teach us. […] To meditate, therefore, means to create within us a situation of recollection, of inner silence, in order to reflect upon and assimilate the mysteries of our faith and what God is working within us; and not merely on the things that come and go. We may undertake this “rumination” in various ways: for example, by taking a brief passage of Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles or the Letters of the Apostles. […] The Holy Rosary is also a prayer of meditation: in repeating the Hail Mary we are asked to think about and reflect on the Mystery which we have just proclaimed. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, August 17, 2011)
The Rosary is a school of contemplation and silence. At first glance, it could seem a prayer that accumulates words, therefore difficult to reconcile with the silence that is rightly recommended for meditation and contemplation. In fact, this cadent repetition of the Hail Mary does not disturb inner silence but indeed both demands and nourishes it. (Benedict XVI. Meditation, Pontifical Shrine of Pompeii, October 19, 2008)
Moreover, by virtue of its meditative character, with the tranquil succession of Hail Marys, the Rosary has a peaceful effect on those who pray it, disposing them to receive and experience in their innermost depths, and to spread around them, that true peace which is the special gift of the Risen Lord (cf. Jn 14:27; 20.21). (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 40, October 16, 2002)
We wish now, venerable Brothers, to dwell for a moment on the renewal of the pious practice which has been called ‘the compendium of the entire Gospel’ (Pius XII, Letter to the Archbishop of Manila Philippinas Insulas), p. 419): the Rosary. To this our predecessors have devoted close attention and care. On many occasions they have recommended its frequent recitation, encouraged its diffusion, explained its nature, recognized its suitability for fostering contemplative prayer-prayer of both praise and petition-and recalled its intrinsic effectiveness for promoting Christian life and apostolic commitment. We, too, from the first general audience of our pontificate on July 13, 1963, have shown our great esteem for the pious practice of the Rosary (Discourse to the participants in the III Dominican International Rosary Congress). Since that time we have underlined its value on many different occasions, some ordinary, some grave. Thus, at a moment of anguish and uncertainty, we published the Letter Christi Matri (September 15, 1966), in order to obtain prayers to Our Lady of the Rosary and to implore from God the supreme benefit of peace. We renewed this appeal in our Apostolic Exhortation Recurrens mensis October (October 7 1969), in which we also commemorated the fourth centenary of the Apostolic Letter Consueverunt Romani pontifices of our predecessor Saint Pius V, who in that document explained and in a certain sense established the traditional form of the Rosary. (Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, no. 42, February 2, 1974)
We now desire, as a continuation of the thought of our predecessors, to recommend strongly the recitation of the family Rosary. The Second Vatican Council has pointed out how the family, the primary and vital cell of society, ‘shows itself to be the domestic sanctuary of the Church through the mutual affection of its members and the common prayer they offer to God’ (Decree on the Lay Apostolate Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11). The Christian family is thus seen to be a domestic Church’ (Lumen Gentium, 11) if its members, each according to his proper place and tasks, all together promote justice, practice works of mercy, devote themselves to helping their brethren, take part in the apostolate of the wider local community and play their part in its liturgical worship(Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11). This will be all the more true if together they offer up prayers to God. If this element of common prayer were missing, the family would lack its very character as a domestic Church. Thus there must logically follow a concrete effort to reinstate communal prayer in family life if there is to be a restoration of the theological concept of the family as the domestic Church. (Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, no. 52, February 2, 1974)
Among the pleasant recollections of Our younger days are the Encyclicals which Pope Leo XIII used to write to the whole Catholic world as the month of October drew near, in order to urge the faithful to devout recitation of Mary’s rosary during that month in particular (cf. Supremi Apostolatus, Superiore anno, Quamquam pluries, Octobri mense, Magnae Dei Matris, Laetitiae sanctae, lucunda semper, Adiutricem populi, Fidentem piumque, Augustissimae Virginis, Diuturni temporis). These Encyclicals had varied contents, but they were all very wise, vibrant with fresh inspiration, and directly relevant to the practice of the Christian life. In strong and persuasive terms they exhorted Catholics to pray to God in a spirit of faith through the intercession of Mary, His Virgin Mother, by reciting the holy rosary. For the rosary is a very commendable form of prayer and meditation. In saying it we weave a mystic garland of Ave Maria’s, Pater Noster’s, and Gloria Patri’s. And as we recite these vocal prayers, we meditate upon the principal mysteries of our religion; the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Redemption of the human race are proposed, one event after another, for our consideration. These pleasant memories of Our younger days have not faded or vanished as the years of Our life have passed. On the contrary, We want to declare in complete frankness and simplicity that the years have made Mary’s rosary all the dearer to Us. We never fail to recite it each day in its entirety and We intend to recite it with particular devotion during the coming month. (John XXIII. Encyclical Grata Recordatio, no. 1-3, September 26, 1959)
The recitation of identical formulas repeated so many times, rather than rendering the prayer sterile and boring, has on the contrary the admirable quality of infusing confidence in him who prays and brings to bear a gentle compulsion on the motherly Heart of Mary. (Pius XII. Encyclical Ingruentium malorum, September 15, 1951)
This practice of piety, Venerable Brethren, admirably diffused by Saint Dominic, not without the heavenly suggestion and inspiration of the Virgin Mother of God, is without doubt easy for all, even for the ignorant and the simple. But those wander from the path of truth who consider this devotion merely an annoying formula repeated with monotonous singsong intonation, and refuse it as good only for children and silly women! In this regard, it is to be noted that both piety and love, though always renewing the same words, do not always repeat the same thing but always express something new issuing from the intimate sentiment of devotion. (Pius XI. Encyclical Ingravescentibus malis, no.12 -13, September 29, 1937)
[The Rosary,] that prayer which, being both vocal and mental, in the contemplation especially of the mysteries of religion, while the Lord’s Prayer is fifteen times repeated together with as many decades of the Hail Mary, is most adapted to fostering widely piety and every virtue. […] Accordingly the Church, which is wont to salute her ‘the Mother of Grace and the Mother of Mercy’, has so found her always, but especially in answer to the Rosary. Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs have let pass no occasion of commending the Rosary and have enriched it with Apostolic Indulgences. (Benedict XV. Encyclical Fausto appetente, June 29, 1921)
III – Devotions inspired by God are never out-of-date
I wish also at this time to recall to you an important truth affirmed by the Second Vatican Council, namely: ‘The spiritual life, nevertheless, is not confined to participation in the liturgy’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 12). And so I also encourage you in the other exercises of devotion that you have lovingly preserved for centuries, especially those in regard to the Blessed Sacrament. These acts of piety honour God and are useful for our Christian lives; they give joy to our hearts, and help us to appreciate more the liturgical worship of the Church. (John Paul II. Homily, Apostolic Journey to Ireland, no. 7, September 29, 1979)
The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to ‘set out into the deep’ (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), ‘the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn’(Gaudium et Spes, 45). (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 1, October 16, 2002)
For, to be brief, by repeating the same prayers [of the Rosary] we strenuously implore from Our Heavenly Father the Kingdom of His grace and glory; we again and again beseech the Virgin Mother to aid us sinners by her prayers, both during our whole life and especially at that last moment which is the stepping-stone to eternity. The formula of the Rosary, too, is excellently adapted to prayer in common, so that it has been styled, not without reason, ‘The Psalter of Mary’. And that old custom of our forefathers ought to be preserved or else restored, according to which Christian families, whether in town or country, were religiously wont at close of day, when their labours were at an end, to assemble before a figure of Our Lady and alternately recite the Rosary. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Fidentem piumque, September 20, 1896)
This most Holy Synod deliberately teaches this Catholic doctrine and at the same time admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered, and the practices and exercises of piety, recommended by the magisterium of the Church toward her in the course of centuries be made of great moment (Conc. Nicea II; Conc. Trent, sess. 2). (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 67, November 21, 1964)
In this regard, we are not unaware that some educators of youth – frightened by the current depravation of customs by which so many youth throw themselves into extreme ruin with incredible detriment to souls – with the aim of distancing from civil society so grave and disastrous an evil, are occupied in inventing new systems of education. But, We wish to make these people understand that no benefit for society will be obtained by putting aside those methods and those disciplines that, received for the sources of Christian wisdom and consecrated by the vast experience of the centuries, Aloysius Gonzaga personally experienced as most efficacious in himself: lively faith, the fleeing from near occasions of sin, moderation and the fight against the passions, a vigorous devotion to God and the Most Holy Virgin, and finally, a life that is as often as possible comforted and strengthened by the celestial banquet. (Pius XI. Apostolic Letter Singulari illud, June 13, 1926)
Nor do We merely desire that Catholics should shrink from the errors of Modernism, but also from the tendencies or what is called the spirit of Modernism. Those who are infected by that spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savours of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: ‘Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.’ In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: ‘Old things, but in a new way.’ (Benedict XV. Encyclical Beatissimi Apostolorum, no. 25, November 1, 1914)