I love to tell my father’s favourite story from his boyhood parish, about a conversation he overheard after Sunday Mass. An elderly parishioner known for her strong opinions was telling the pastor how much she’d enjoyed his homily.
“Thank-you, Mrs. O’Sullivan,” he replied, “but to tell the truth I always feel a bit guilty when I don’t preach on the Gospel.”
“Father,” she said, “when you preach on the Gospel I turns off me hearing aid.”
Last Sunday, I did preach on the Gospel although October 7 was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the patroness of our archdiocese. But today I have allowed myself to touch only lightly on the readings so that I can speak about the Rosary.
There are three reasons for this. The simplest is that thanks to generous donors—from a parish where I’d served before I came here—there’s now a very beautiful statute of Our Lady enshrined in a lovely grotto in front of the church, a serene place to pray the Rosary when the weather permits.
Another reason is that October has traditionally been the “month of the Rosary,” when this wonderful devotion is promoted.
But the main reason is this—‘pray the Rosary’ is an answer to one of the most common questions any of us asks: What can I do?
What can I do about my children? What can I do about my failing health? What can I do about problems in my marriage? What can I do about world crises? What can I do about the scandals in the Church?
What can I do? There’s no one in church today who doesn’t ask that question, some of the time, and some of us ask it all of the time.
In our first reading today, the author prayed, and received understanding: “I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”
Back in 2010, Pope Benedict praised and taught Lectio Divina—the prayerful reading of the Word of God, which the second reading reminds us “is living and active.” Certainly this is a form of prayer recommended to all, not just those who’ve studied Scripture.
Recent years have also seen the increasing popularity of methods of prayer associated with Saint Ignatius and the Jesuits. We’ve had talks on both Lectio Divina and Ignatian prayer here in our parish.
But the fact is that the Rosary remains the most popular and accessible way of praying in our Catholic tradition. The Rosary is making a comeback after a period when it was considered old-fashioned. The late Cardinal Edouard Gagnon told the story of saying his Rosary while he waited in his doctor’s office—this was in the early 1980s—when a fellow patient leaned over to him and said with some excitement “it’s still allowed to pray the Rosary?”
It’s hard to say why the Rosary was eclipsed after Vatican II. Pope Paul VI, who was canonized today together with the modern martyr St. Oscar Romero, wrote a beautiful document on devotion to Mary that included high praise for the Rosary, but it did not seem to have attracted a great deal of attention.
St. John Paul’s apostolic letter on the Rosary had more impact, in part because it presented the new “luminous” mysteries, the mysteries of light.
In any case, it’s fair to say that the eclipse is over and that a renewed awareness of the Rosary can be seen throughout the Church and certainly in our own parish. A group prays it daily after Mass, while our Friday morning men’s group says the Rosary together at the godly hour of 6 a.m. every week. Young adults are particularly attracted to this prayer, and a number of Rosary groups have sprung up in response.
Already classes from St. Anthony’s School have visited the new grotto to say a decade of the Rosary together.
At the same time, the Rosary is an ideal prayer for the individual, because reflection on the individual mysteries can make it true mental prayer in which deep contemplation takes place. There’s nothing wrong with the Rosary as vocal prayer, but it’s meditation on the mysteries that is most likely to lead to the understanding and wisdom that today’s first reading speaks about.
The Rosary is, of course, a scriptural prayer. Almost all of the 20 mysteries come straight from the Bible; only the Assumption and Coronation are not recounted in Scripture, and even they are richly supported by biblical texts. Within the Rosary are the treasures of the Gospel, fully living and active in the souls of those who pray it devoutly.
I’ve already mentioned how the Rosary is a big part of the common prayer life of our parish. It is also of great value in the family.
From my own experience, I would have to say that the family Rosary is not exactly a profound contemplative prayer—at least not in a family of five. When we tried to say the Rosary together in October or May, I found it an ideal opportunity to annoy my sister, and sometimes all the children would become infected by that contagious kind of laughter that only gets worse when you try to suppress it.
Still, the effort to pray has results regardless. It tells children that prayer matters, not only to them as individuals but as members of a family.
And it can lead to powerful opportunities to witness to the faith. Before he met my mother, my Dad dated a girl whose father owned a very successful General Motors dealership—so successful, in fact, that the president of GM came to have dinner at their house.
It was a large Catholic family, and all the children gathered around the table with the important guest. When dessert was finished, their father turned to the CEO and said “And now we will pray the Rosary, as we do this after every meal.”
When Dad told me this story, I was deeply impressed and said “that man was an amazing person.”
“Yes,” he said, “but you still wouldn’t want to buy a car from him.”
Nobody’s perfect! And what I like about the Rosary is that there’s no pressure to pray it perfectly. When I pray with Scripture, or one of the meditations of St. Ignatius, I tend to evaluate my prayer—to ask whether I prayed well or poorly, depending on my level of attention or devotion.
I don’t do that with the Rosary. Fast or slow, focused or distracted, when I have prayed those five Our Fathers, 50 Hail Marys, and five Glory Be to the Fathers, I’m done. I’m happy. I’ve prayed.
Finally, the Rosary is a wonderful way to pray for the Church, now more than ever. On September 29, the Holy Father invited Catholics around the world to pray the Holy Rosary every day in October, asking Mary and Saint Michael the Archangel to protect the Church from the devil.
Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the Pope’s request until he renewed his invitation last Sunday, so I couldn’t promote this earlier. But we can respond now, and pray a Rosary for the Church each of the remaining days of October.
“What can we do?” about the pain so many are suffering in the Church today, about the pain of victims? We can pray. We can join ourselves to Christ in the garden, to Mary at the Cross, to the apostles in the Upper Room, and to the joyful disciples on Easter. Our rosaries can be the chain of prayer linking us intimately to those redeeming mysteries of pain, of sorrow, and of hope.