Foundations: The Most Holy Rosary
The aim of this introductory post on the Holy Rosary is to illustrate the importance of praying the Rosary as a way to intercede on behalf of others. The fruits of the Rosary are many. One of the great things God gives to us through the Rosary is a powerful means to intercede for the needs for others in an affective way. For instruction on how to pray the Rosary, see How to Pray the Rosary.
The Rosary requires two actions from the person praying – meditation and recitation. Therefore, there are two parts to the Rosary – the Mysteries of the birth, life, passion, and resurrection Jesus; and the prayers that are recited, mentally in solitude or vocally when in community. This distinction is obvious to the person who has prayed the Rosary for any amount of time. What is not so obvious, however, is the essential link of these two aspects of the Rosary to the power of the Rosary as a means of intercessory prayer.
In Psalm 106:23, Moses is described as standing “in the breach” between God and idolatrous Israel who were worshipping the golden calf instead of the One, True God (Exodus 32:1-14). Moses interceded on behalf of Israel to withhold God’s wrath from destroying His chosen people. Intercession can best be understood as standing in the breach between someone in need and God’s merciful love. When we intercede, we make another’s suffering our own and their need our need. By standing at interface of humanity’s maximum effort and our utter helplessness, we become vessels of God’s grace – the entry-point for His love and mercy to be poured out on humanity.
Israel deserved death for their sin of idolatry. Moses’ appeal was for God to remember His covenant He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 32:13). In focusing his intercessory appeal on God’s own goodness and glory, God relented from showing His wrath and destroying Israel, despite what they deserved.
When we offer the Rosary as intercession for the needs of others, we offer something far better than Moses was able to offer. Rather than offering the promise given in God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we offer the fulfillment of that promise obtained in Jesus Christ. Moses appealed God to recall His former works, just as we too appeal Him to remember in detail the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Sin caused suffering and death. People generally ask for intercession when they are suffering some spiritual or physical pain or illness, when they are burdened by a particular sin, or if they have some material need caused by injustice in the world. Jesus assumed every aspect of our humanity except sin in the Incarnation so that the debt of sin could be paid in full. By assuming our human nature into his divine person, Jesus understands our needs and deepest anguish from the inside out, and he has complete authority over those needs and anguish. The entire movement of the Paschal Mystery of Salvation is reflected in the Rosary and is made available to us.
There is great power in offering the Mysteries of the Rosary as intercession because our prayer and someone’s need become aligned to the life of Christ through the Mystery being offered. God can work in overt and magnificent ways as He did in parting the Red Sea or raising Lazarus from the dead. More often though, He works miracles in the specific, intimate and ordinary moments of our lives. The Rosary focuses and concentrates these moments just as a magnifying glass gathers light, condensing it into a small point of heat and light. Our scattered needs, desires, and longings are collected through the course of praying the Rosary and presented to God in a formal act of praise and worship to Him. By praying continually through the events of the life of Christ, we gain intimate access to the healing balm of the Father’s love for us.
The prayers recited in the Rosary, like the Mysteries that are meditated upon, offer powerful intercession. There is certainly a time and a place for praying words from the heart. Just as important, is to pray in the language of the entire body of Christ, the Church. Reciting the prayers common to the whole Church unites our prayer with that of all the faithful souls on earth and in heaven. The Holy Spirit has fashioned the Rosary and Our Blessed Mother has given it to us as a unified way to pray with the whole Church and draw near to the life of her son.
The Rosary begins simply, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” to place our entire praying of the Rosary into the Trinitarian Mystery of God.
The Apostles Creed is recited at the beginning of the Rosary to anchor it in truth. By stating, “I believe in God…” as the first prayer of the Rosary, we make a statement of faith – a faith that has the power to save, heal infirmities, cast out demons, and reconcile humanity with God. The rest of the Apostles Creed recalls in one concise statement the entire movement of salvation and our eschatological hope. This prayer, rather than being an arbitrary formality, lays the foundation for the rest of the Rosary.
The prayers recited repeatedly throughout the Rosary are the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Fatima Prayer. Each of these provides a key spiritual nutrient. Together, they make a complete prayer, a whole and pleasing offering to God.
The Our Father, simply put, is how Jesus told us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). It is a guide for our proper relationship with the Father, and is a model for how we should live our life.
The Hail Mary is broken up into two halves. The first half of the prayer quotes the Angel Gabriel in the Annunciation and Elizabeth in the Visitation as each greeted Mary. The second half of the prayer asks Mary, the Mother of God, to intercede for us now and at the hour of our death. Both halves are linked together by the name of Jesus, who holds all things together and by whose name every knee on heaven and earth and under the earth must bend and obey.
The Glory Be is a Trinitarian prayer that gives all the glory to God found in heaven and on earth for all of time and eternity.
The Fatima Prayer implores God’s mercy upon a sinful humanity in need of His love and forgiveness. It is a relatively new addition to the Rosary, but one that is needed now more than ever.
The Rosary is closed by reciting the Hail Holy Queen. Mary represents the final condition for all of us through grace. She was the first to say, “Yes,” to God and so bear Christ within her. She was the first to suffer the crucifixion and death of Jesus. She was also the first of humanity to be crowned with the glory that is the inheritance of all of us by grace. Closing the Rosary by invoking her royal intercession connects us with the royal destiny awaiting all of us through faith in her son Jesus.
Praying the Rosary involves every part of a person. It is spiritual and bodily. It is meditative and vocal. It sings the praises of God while silently contemplating His love for us. Repetitive work like washing dishes or painting a house have a strange ability to release the mind to think and ponder by occupying the body with a simple task. Similarly, the repetitive praying of each prayer of each decade of the Rosary releases our spirit to dwell in the Mystery of God. When we arrive near to God’s heart, we can present to him all of our cares, wants, needs, and dreams as a child speaking to his loving Father!