The Rosary in the light of St. John Paul II

October is the month of the Rosary because Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated on the 7th, a feast established by Pope Pius V in the 16th century in commemoration of the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In this article we share some of the reflections of St. John Paul II on the recitation of this ancient prayer and devotion to Mary.

Loreto Rios-October 28, 2023-Reading time: 8 minutes

A woman prays the rosary ©OSV

Numerous Popes, including the current Pope, have encouraged the recitation of the rosary. Among them, Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter on this prayer, with the title "Rosarium Virginis Mariae". In it, the Pope indicated: "(...) I have never missed an opportunity to exhort the frequent recitation of the Rosary. This prayer has had an important place in my spiritual life since my youth. (...) The Rosary has accompanied me in times of joy and in times of tribulation. To it I have entrusted so many worries and in it I have always found consolation.

Twenty-four years ago, on October 29, 1978, two weeks after the election to the See of Peter, as if opening my soul, I expressed myself thus: The Rosary is my favorite prayer, a marvelous prayer! Wonderful in its simplicity and in its depth. [One could say that the Rosary is, in a certain sense, a commentary-prayer on the final chapter of the Constitution. Lumen gentium I have received so many graces from the Blessed Virgin through the Rosary in these years".

The Pope also recalled that Our Lady herself has on many occasions throughout history asked people to pray the Rosary: "We know of the various circumstances in which the Mother of Christ, between the 19th and 20th centuries, has in some way made her presence and her voice known in order to exhort the People of God to have recourse to this form of contemplative prayer. I wish in particular to recall the apparitions of Lourdes and Fatima, whose Shrines are the destination of numerous pilgrims in search of consolation and hope, because of the incisive influence they retain in the lives of Christians and because of the Church's accredited recognition of them".

The structure of the rosary

In this letter, the Pope analyzed the structure of the Rosary. Among other things, he explained that the first part of the Hail Mary, the central prayer of the Rosary, taken "from the words addressed to Mary by the Angel Gabriel and by St. Elizabeth, is an adoring contemplation of the mystery accomplished in the Virgin of Nazareth. They express, so to speak, the admiration of heaven and earth and, in a certain sense, hint at the pleasure of God himself in seeing his masterpiece - the incarnation of the Son in the virginal womb of Mary - analogous to the look of approval in Genesis".

Then, St. John Paul II explained, "the center of the Hail Mary, almost as a link between the first and second parts, is the name of Jesus. Sometimes, in a hurried recitation, this central aspect is not perceived, nor is the relationship with the mystery of Christ that is being contemplated. But it is precisely the emphasis given to the name of Jesus and his mystery that characterizes a conscious and fruitful recitation of the Rosary".

Finally, the Pope pointed out that "from the special relationship with Christ, which makes Mary the Mother of God, the Thetokos, derives, moreover, the strength of the supplication with which we address her in the second part of the prayer, entrusting our life and the hour of our death to her maternal intercession".

After the 10 Hail Marys, the "Gloria" is recited: "Trinitarian doxology is the goal of Christian contemplation. Indeed, Christ is the way that leads us to the Father in the Spirit," the Pope said.

The rosary as an object

In this letter, the Pope also analyzed the rosary as an object: "The first thing to keep in mind is that 'the rosary is centered on the Crucifix,' which opens and closes the very process of prayer. In Christ the life and prayer of believers is centered. Everything starts from Him, everything tends towards Him, everything, through Him, in the Holy Spirit, reaches the Father.

As a means of counting, marking the progress of prayer, the rosary evokes the unceasing path of contemplation and Christian perfection. Blessed Bartholomew Longo also considered it as a 'chain' that unites us to God".

"If you say 'Mary,' she says 'God'."

Moreover, the Pope expressed on numerous occasions his admiration for the writings of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), a great devotee of the Virgin Mary, who wrote the "Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary".

A Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

TitleA Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
AuthorSt. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort

John Paul II defined this writing in a letter to the montfornian family 2003 as "a classic of Marian spirituality". In this letter, the Pope explained: "I personally, in the years of my youth, was greatly helped by reading this book, in which 'I found the answer to my doubts', due to the fear that the cult of Mary, 'if it becomes excessive, ends up compromising the supremacy of the cult due to Christ'. Under the wise guidance of St. Louis Marie, I understood that, if one lives the mystery of Mary in Christ, this danger does not exist. In fact, the Mariological thought of this saint 'is based on the Trinitarian mystery and on the truth of the Incarnation of the Word of God'".

In fact, St. John Paul II's papal motto, "Totus tuus" ("all yours"), is taken from the "Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin." "These two words express total belonging to Jesus through Mary," the Pope explained. "The doctrine of this saint has had a profound influence on the Marian devotion of many of the faithful and also on my life. It is a question of a lived doctrineThe work is of remarkable ascetic and mystical depth, expressed in a lively and ardent style, often using images and symbols".

A text of St. Louis Marie, quoted by the Pope in the letter, exemplifies very well this concept of belonging to Jesus through Mary: "For you will never think of Mary without Mary, for your sake, thinking of God; you will never praise or honor Mary without Mary praising and honoring God. Mary is all relative to God, and I venture to call her 'the relation of God,' for she exists only with respect to him, or the 'echo of God,' since she neither says nor repeats anything else but God.

If you say Mary, she says God. St. Elizabeth praised Mary and called her blessed for having believed, and Mary, the faithful echo of God, exclaimed: 'My soul glorifies the Lord'. What Mary did on this occasion, she does every day; when we praise her, love her, honor her or give ourselves to her, we praise God, love God, honor God, give ourselves to God through Mary and in Mary" (section 225 of the "Treatise on the True Devotion of the Blessed Virgin").

"There's your mother."

Another fundamental aspect of devotion to the Blessed Virgin is that, from the words Jesus addressed to her on the Cross ("Woman, behold your son", "Son, behold your mother"), Mary is Mother of the Church, and of every member of the Church. In this regard, John Paul II points out that Vatican Council II "contemplates Mary as 'Mother of the members of Christ', and thus Paul VI proclaimed her 'Mother of the Church'. The doctrine of the Mystical Body, which expresses in the strongest way the union of Christ with the Church, is also the biblical foundation of this affirmation.

The head and the members are born of the same mother' ("A Treatise on True Devotion", 32), St. Louis Marie reminds us. In this sense, we say that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, the members are united and configured to Christ the Head, Son of the Father and of Mary, so that 'every true son of the Church must have God for Father and Mary for Mother' (The Secret of Mary, 11).".

The Pope also pointed out that "The Holy Spirit invites Mary to 'reproduce' herself in her chosen ones, spreading in them the roots of her 'invincible faith', but also of her 'firm hope' ("A Treatise on True Devotion", 34). The Second Vatican Council recalled: 'The Mother of Jesus, already glorified in heaven in body and soul, is the image and beginning of the Church which will reach its fullness in the age to come. In this world too, until the day of the Lord arrives, she shines before the people of God on the move as a sign of sure hope and consolation' (Lumen gentium, 68).

St. Louis Marie contemplates this eschatological dimension especially when he speaks of the 'saints of the last times,' formed by the Blessed Virgin to give the Church the victory of Christ over the forces of evil (Treatise on True Devotion, 49-59). This is not at all a form of 'millenarianism', but the deep sense of the eschatological nature of the Church, linked to the uniqueness and salvific universality of Jesus Christ. The Church awaits the glorious coming of Jesus at the end of time. Like Mary and with Mary, the saints are in the Church and for the Church, in order to make her holiness shine forth and to extend to the ends of the world and to the end of time the work of Christ, the only Savior'".

Watching with Mary

John Paul II also stressed that the Rosary is a mode of contemplative prayer, and indicated that Mary is the model of contemplation: "The face of the Son belongs to her in a special way. It was in her womb that it was formed, taking also from her a human likeness that evokes a spiritual intimacy that is certainly even greater. No one has dedicated herself with Mary's assiduity to the contemplation of the face of Christ.

The eyes of her heart are somehow focused on him already at the Annunciation, when she conceives him by the Holy Spirit; in the following months she begins to feel his presence and to imagine his features. When she finally gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes also turned tenderly to the face of her Son, when she 'wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger' (Lk 2:7). From then on, her gaze, always full of adoration and wonder, will never turn away from him".

The Pope also pointed out: "Going through the scenes of the Rosary with Mary is like going to Mary's 'school' to read Christ, to penetrate his secrets, to understand his message".

The Battle of Lepanto

Moreover, John Paul II implicitly recalled in this apostolic letter the relationship of the Rosary with the victory of the Battle of Lepanto: "The Church has always seen in this prayer a particular efficacy, entrusting the most difficult causes to its communal recitation and constant practice. At times when Christianity itself was threatened, the power of this prayer was attributed to deliverance from danger and the Virgin of the Rosary was considered the propitiator of salvation".

Blessed Bartholomew Longo

In addition to St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort and Padre Pio, the Pope gave as an example of an apostle of the rosary, Blessed Batolomeo Longo, who, an atheist, anti-Christian and immersed in spiritualistic currents, was converted as an adult and had the intuition that he had to propagate the prayer of the rosary in reparation for his past. "His path to holiness rested on an inspiration felt in the depths of his heart: 'Whoever spreads the Rosary is saved!' Based on this, he felt called to build in Pompeii a temple dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary," the Pope indicates in Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

"The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. The insistent prayer to the Mother of God is based on the confidence that her maternal intercession can do everything before the heart of the Son. She is 'omnipotent by grace,' as, with a bold expression that must be well understood, Blessed Bartholomew Longo said in his 'Supplication to Our Lady.'"

The rosary in the third millennium

St. John Paul II strongly recommended the recitation of the rosary. The saint said in the aforementioned apostolic letter that the rosary "is the fruit of a centuries-old experience. The experience of countless saints speaks in its favor.

And he affirmed: "The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, gradually spread in the second millennium under the breath of the Spirit of God, is a prayer cherished by many Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. In its simplicity and depth, it remains also in this third millennium, just begun, a prayer of great significance, destined to produce fruits of holiness".

The Pope concluded the letter by saying: "Take the Rosary confidently in your hands", adding: "May this appeal of mine not be in vain! At the beginning of the twenty-fifth year of my Pontificate, I place this Apostolic Letter in the hands of the Virgin Mary, prostrating myself spiritually before her image in her splendid Shrine built by Blessed Bartholomew Longo, Apostle of the Rosary.

I gladly make my own the moving words with which he ends the famous Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary: 'O blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain that unites us to God, bond of love that unites us to the Angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of hell, safe harbor in the common shipwreck, we will never leave you. You will be our consolation in the hour of agony. For you the last kiss of the fading life. And the last whisper of our lips shall be thy gentle name, O Queen of the Rosary of Pompeii, O Mother our dearest, O Refuge of sinners, O Sovereign consoler of the sorrowful. May you be blessed everywhere, today and always, on earth and in heaven'".

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.