In this season of the Church calendar the Rosary should loom large for every Catholic. Nativity imagery will abound at all churches depicting the birth of Christ in the manger. But the importance of Mary within the story of the incarnation of Christ is something that is deeply important which is, of course, captured through the Rosary (as well as in Nativity imagery).
That Mary is included in the Creed is no little coincidence. Neither is it that all the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary are directly related with Mary in some fashion. From time to time even the professors at Yale stumble upon a kernel of truth. One of my very Protestant professors once lamented in class that by “getting rid of Mary” Protestants have been in search for a female model of faith ever since and have yet to find one. How true!
Prayer is one of the core essences of Christian life. The Mass is really a long and joyful prayer, and Catholics, most of all, should be aware of this fact. It is not just communion with God—although it most certainly is that—it is also a participatory prayer of praise. But in our age of disorder, the “dictatorship of noise,” and consumerist ethos, as David Bentley Hart once said, “prayer is the one thing you should not do in a truly good consumerist culture.” Prayer, after all, is a call to order. It is a call to dialogue. It is a call to the transcendent—to fix oneself, and one’s mind, to things other the hectic fury of day-to-day life.
To be made for joy and praise is to recognize where that joy emanates from, and where one’s right praise (orthodoxy) should be directed. “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph… And he came to her and said, ‘Hail O favored one, the Lord is with you.’” And how did the blessed Mother respond to the news? “May it be done unto me according to thy word!” Truly a woman of faith for any Catholic to emulate.
The Rosary, with all of its parts, captures the very spirit of the Catholic faith through the Apostle’s Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Fatima Prayer, notwithstanding to call to mediate on the various mysteries of the day. Prayer is not just a call to order in a chaotic and disorderly world, it is a call to participate with God. And who better to be at the center as a model of participation than Mary herself? She was a vessel chosen by God to be sure, but her immediate compliance to God’s will stands in stark contrast to so many of the other great Biblical figures.
Solomon ignores the prescriptions established as part of the covenant for the monarchy, building foreign temples and worshiping Astarte instead. David should have answered God’s call to campaign but instead choose to stay at home and had Uriah killed so as to satisfy his temporary and carnal lusts. Jonah flees from God until he can flee no more, only then embracing his role as prophet after he could not run from God. Mary, on the other hand, is without blemish. From first annunciation to her presence at the Crucifixion and the Empty Tomb, to her eventual assumption, Mary was always with Jesus. That is also our calling too.
How much time do Catholics spend in prayer? Prayer is a great gift that one should find joy in. The cultivation of virtue—which is the outcome of habit (habitus)—requires striving. It requires time. It demands that we set aside time for God in the midst of our daily lives. To have an active prayer life is the result of the habit of prayer.
To this end the Rosary embodies the call to a virtuous prayer life better than most prayers because of the time it takes to pray the Rosary. Time is the one thing we can never get enough of according to some people. And the more time spent reading, praying, or contemplating God, the less time one is “making something of themselves” in the material world. For all the wonders that God has done for us it would be fitting of our appreciation and understanding of God’s wonders and love to devote time to him throughout the day. From small things greater things come.
A friend of mine, who has joined the RCIA, was somewhat taken aback when the Dominican priest he met bluntly said that if he did not have an active prayer life he shouldn’t be in his office (and at the same time he conferred to me that it was refreshing to have the priest say this to him). When we pray we should pray to love Christ more and to know Christ better. Furthermore, through prayer we may hopefully grow in our faith and find joy in the embodiment of our faith. The greatest of saints had the most active and ardent of devotional lives. But prayer can be daunting and even intimidating at times (if not simply too “time consuming”). It is in that daunting and intimidated state that Mary always lights a special path for us.
Mary could have been overwhelmed and intimated by the news Gabriel bestowed upon her. She could have felt unworthy to bear the Son of Redemption. But rather than running from God she whole-heartedly embraced God. “May it be done unto me according to thy word.”
It goes without saying that we should be engaged in prayer daily. It goes without saying that in this season of the Church we should be ever more cognizant of joyful prayer. And given the joyful mysteries, the great joy of the Christian life found in the coming of Our Lord in the flesh, we should meditate on the mysteries by asking Our Lady to help discover the joy she had—a joy that is available to all of us; the joy that brings our restless heart to serenity. Hail, holy Queen, indeed.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is “The Annunciation” painted by Fra Angelico in 1437-46.