Dear Fr Donagh,

I went through your website today looking for any mention of the Rosary but I found nothing.  Can you say something about it or is it oldfashioned in your mind?  I've been saying the Rosary all my life and the day is empty when I don’t say it.  Is this beautiful prayer going to be lost or what’s going to happen…?  Ellen

Dear Ellen,

Thank you for this question.  Being an old-timer, I don’t find the Rosary old-fashioned in the least, and I'm sure it has a future.  Anyway, the things I write about here are usually much older than the Rosary.  Nearly all cradle Catholics can remember their mother’s nightly summons to the Rosary – and trying, as we did, to trick her into skipping a mystery.  We never once succeeded. 

For myself, I've experimented with the form of it, naming lots of mysteries besides the traditional fifteen.  There are hundreds of vivid moments in the gospels that could be matter for the kind of contemplation that the Rosary is.  When I’m very tired, for example, I think of a moment in the life of Jesus when he was exhausted.  First Drowsy mystery of the Rosary:  Jesus falls asleep in the Corner (he used to crash, I believe, at Martha and Mary’s house).  And so on….  On the statue of Our Lady in the grotto at Lourdes there is a rosary with an indeterminate number of decades: at any rate it has more than the usual five.  The rosary is an orderly meditation on the mysteries, but it is not an attempt to prune them back.  There are more joyful, more sorrowful, and more glorious mysteries in this life of ours than we can yet imagine. 

Do you use the Luminous Mysteries – or the Mysteries of Light, as they are also called?  They were added to the traditional fifteen by Pope John Paul II in 2002.  It was time for an adjustment: the fifteen, when you think about them, concentrate on the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life, but they make no reference to anything in between.  The Luminous mysteries fill in that empty space:  1. The Baptism of the Lord.  2. The Wedding in Cana.  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom.  4. The Transfiguration.  5. The Institution of the Eucharist. 

The landscape (so to speak) of all the Christian mysteries is the insight that we are Christ’s Body.  “Christ is the head of the body, the Church,” wrote St Paul (Colossians 1:18).  “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it,” (1 Corinthians 12:27).   There are many similar passages in his letters.  This means that the suffering of Christ is the suffering of the whole Church, and vice versa.  Likewise the joyful and the glorious events of his life.  So, for example, when you pray the first sorrowful mystery - the Agony in the Garden - you are present in spirit not only to the suffering of Jesus, but also to the suffering of the whole Church, the Body of Christ, Head and members.  All the fears and anxieties of people everywhere – in war zones, in hospitals, in troubled marriages… - are part of your prayer.  Likewise with all the other mysteries.  We are not alone when we pray; we are one with Christ and therefore with everyone.  No, the Rosary will never be out of date. 

Which element do you concentrate on as you pray the Rosary: the words of the Our Father and Hail Mary, or the gospel scene?  It is hard if not impossible to concentrate on two things at the same time and in the same way.  Think instead of the words of the Hail Mary as a kind of atmospheric music.  The droning sound of them puts you in a particular mental state – or spiritual state, I should say.  They put you in the presence of Mary, as together you contemplate the mystery; it is like being link-arms with her. 

There are several things I like about the Rosary.  It is not sentimental: it doesn’t stoke up feelings just for their own sake.  It keeps us close (especially now) to the full range of the Christian mysteries.  It is not moralistic like many prayers you find in devotional books; it just places us in the presence of the mysteries, in Mary’s company, and leaves us there.  It is not self-regarding (a groove that prayer can easily slide into); it looks away from the self; there is nothing in it for the ego.  It is not an invitation to the rational mind to stage one of its performances; it draws us instead into a much quieter place, a place of contemplation. 

I hope these thoughts give you some kind of assurance, Ellen, that (as Meister Eckhart put it), “with God, nothing can ever be lost.”



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