Photo: Felix Carroll
by Dan Valenti
The harvest month of October has a Marian connotation that rivals the spring month of May. Prominent among the tributes to Mary this month is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
As befitting the growing importance of the Rosary, it is honored as a feast on Oct. 7 and is a focus of devotion throughout the entire tenth month of the year.
The Rosary as a way of counting repeated "Aves" can be traced back many centuries and the addition of the mysteries for meditation during the repetition of the "Aves" to around the 14th century.*
It is true that the Rosary as known before the addition of the Luminous mysteries received the endorsement of many Popes and has been beloved by Catholics as early as the 13th century, since the Blessed Mother is believed to have instructed St. Dominic around 1208 to use the Rosary to help counter the Albigensian heresy.
In the years that followed, the prayer became popular, especially in times of danger or trouble. In the 19th century, the devotions to Our Lady of Pompeii helped to spread the popularity and influence of the Rosary.
The repetition of the "Our Father," "Hail Mary," and "Glory Be" is conducive to meditation, as several Popes have pointed out, especially Pope Leo XIII. The restatement of the prayers locks one into fixed language, having the effect of freeing the conscious mind so that the recitation may come more from the heart and not the head. This meditative principle of repetition is common in Christian contemplation.
During the apparitions at Fatima, Mary placed singular emphasis on the importance of the Rosary to bring the world to conversion. Most notably, on Oct. 13, 1917, she told the three shepherd children, "I am the Lady of the Rosary. I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and to ask pardon for their sins. ... People must pray the Rosary. Let them continue to pray it every day."
The most significant teaching on this prayer was the October 2002 apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary. This letter introduced the Luminous Mysteries (or Mysteries of Light). The five new mysteries fill in the "public ministry gap" in the life of Jesus between the final Joyful Mystery, when the 12-year-old Jesus is found in the temple, and the first Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden, which occurs the night before Jesus' death.
The Luminous Mysteries added to the Rosary the Baptism of Jesus, the Wedding at Cana, Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist. Not only did the new Mysteries "fill in the blanks" of Jesus' three-year public ministry, they had the effect of refreshing the Rosary for many of its devotees.
For the first time, the Rosary became an ideal prayer in which to meditate directly on the public ministry of Christ. Prior to the Mysteries of Light, this opportunity wasn't there.
This is the great contribution of Pope John Paul II, who composed the new mysteries. On that occasion, he reminded the faithful, "The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer."
This month, honor Mary by praying her definitive prayer, often. You will do yourself — and the world — a lot of good.
*Thurston, Herbert, and Andrew Shipman. "The Rosary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912.