The Virgin Mary's army of peace

For centuries, many Catholics around the world have dedicated a few minutes each day to pray the Holy Rosary. This custom turns millions of people into members of the "army of peace" organized by the Virgin Mary.

Paloma López Campos-November 7, 2023-Reading time: 7 minutes

Blessing of candles at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima (CNS photo / Paul Haring)

One of the best known Catholic customs is the Holy Rosary. This prayer, urged on by the Virgin Mary, makes millions of people members of an "army of peace".

Lawrence Lew, promoter general of the Holy Rosary in the Order of Preachers

Lawrence Lew, a Dominican friar and general promoter of the Order's Rosary, says something similar. He is convinced that "Our Mother is asking us to become participants in the divine plan of peace". To this end, one of the best things we can do is to pray the Rosary, even if only during the little free moments we have each day.

In this interview with Omnes, he discusses the history of the Dominican order and this Catholic custom, as well as the real impact that intimacy with the Virgin Mary can have on our relationship with Christ.

What is the relationship between the Dominican Order and the Virgin Mary and the Holy Rosary?

– The oldest collection of stories dating to the 13th-century about the foundation of the Order of Preachers, who are also known as Dominicans after our founder St Dominic, recount that the Order was the fruit of Our Lady’s prayers. In various visions, Our Lady was seen imploring her Son, in his mercy, to give to the world an Order that would be dedicated to preaching the fullness of the Truth, to preaching the Gospel of Christ who is our one Saviour, to proclaiming the Good News of divine mercy and salvation for humanity.

The Rosary, which tradition says Our Lady gave in some way to St Dominic, is a perfect instrument for the mission and charism of the Dominican Order. For just as the Order was founded to contemplate divine truth and to preach the things that are contemplated, so the Rosary is firstly a meditation on the mysteries of salvation in Christ, and then, as an act of vocal prayer and also through Rosary processions and chapels and by being prayed on the streets wherever we go, it is also a visible and audible preaching of the Gospel to those around us.

As such, it was the Dominicans who preached the Rosary and taught it to the laity, especially through promoting Confraternities of the Rosary that would pray it and organise Marian processions. In the 16th-century Pope St Pius V, a Dominican pope, propagated the Rosary with the fifteen traditional Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious) that was being prayed in the Dominican Order, and he also asked the Rosary Confraternity to pray for victory at the battle of Lepanto. What followed is well known and the success and popularity of the Dominican Rosary has its roots in this historical moment.

Why has a Rosary pilgrimage been organized in the United States?

– The Dominican friars in the USA, and especially in the Eastern Province of St Joseph, are to be credited for the organisation of the Dominican Rosary Pilgrimage. At a time of increasing polarisation, and the fragmentation of society, in times of unrest and of division, the Dominican response is, firstly, a call to concrete prayer. We turn to Jesus through Mary particularly through the Rosary so as to recall the goodness and mercy of God, and to see how beautiful is the call he has given us in Christ, which is to share in divine friendship. Dominicans preach this, and we try to give witness to this by the way we live together in our communities, and also by bringing people together to share in our prayer.

The Dominican Rosary Pilgrimage, it seems to me, did this so beautifully and well, and the mind was fed by the talks given by Fr Gregory Pine OP, and then the soul was uplifted by the processional Rosary interspersed with song, and finally, we were united through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

In today's troubled times, why is it important for Catholics to turn to the Virgin Mary?

– Mary is our mother, given to us by the Lord as he was dying on the Cross. There can be no more “troubled” time than this! So in our moments of distress and of death, we turn to the mother Christ gave us. Why? Because she lead us to her Son, our Saviour who is the conqueror of sin and death. Led by Mary to him, and clinging to him, we shall surely find that our troubles in this life are only temporary and passing compared to the eternal joy that is found in remaining close to Jesus. Mary always leads us to her Son. Thus St Thomas Aquinas said that Our Lady is like the star that guides ships safely to the harbour who is God.

Is there a real difference in the life of a Christian when he prays the Rosary?

– The Blessed Virgin Mary herself gave us the Rosary, and down to our current times she has appeared and recommended it to the saints. At Fatima, for example, Our Lady said she will be known as ’The Lady of the Rosary’, and she repeatedly asked the children of Fatima to pray the Rosary (five decades) every day. Our Lady, as a good mother, does not ask us to do anything superfluous or unnecessary, but rather, she asks us to do those things which are conducive to our salvation and to our true good. So many things which we do in life, which we occupy our days with are, in fact, unnecessary when compared to the goal of salvation through a deeper following of Christ and the living out of our Baptismal vocation.

The Rosary, for a Christian, will lead to a deeper friendship with God if we truly pray it. The problem, though, is that often the Rosary is just said, recited, and not prayed. The Rosary Confraternity guidebooks all remind us that the soul of the Rosary is meditation, that is to say, a mental focus on the mysteries of salvation, on what Jesus is doing for us, and the grace he wants to give us by these saving actions. But without meditation, the Rosary becomes lifeless, like a body without a soul – it is a corpse. Hence the saints of the Rosary, such as St Louis Marie de Montfort call us to pray the Rosary with attention, even just one decade at a time, if this will help us focus better.

How does Our Mother's presence influence our lives?

– God could have become man without a mother. But in his wisdom and providence, God chose to be born of a woman, as Scripture tells us. Therefore, the Son of God, in his Incarnation, has a mother and the Second Person of the Trinity takes his human flesh and DNA from Mary. This is a beautiful and astounding reality, and it also shows the divine humility that, in God's divine plan, he needs a mother. Hence, without Mary, there can be no incarnate Jesus Christ. Mary, therefore, and her presence so to speak makes all the difference.

As I said, Mary leads to her Son, and indeed, the Divine Maternity is envisioned by God from all eternity so that with the mother comes the Son, and the Son with the mother. Therefore, as soon as we turn to the Blessed Mother, we are also led to Christ and pray to Christ our God and Saviour. The Rosary, therefore, is a Christocentric prayer, as the popes have said, and it is a compendium of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

How can we pray the Rosary well, without falling into mere repetition of prayers?

– There are many ’spare’ moments in our day, those five minutes or so between things, or waiting for things to happen, which we might utilize by scrolling through our smartphones. These wasted moments, I think, can be converted into fruitful moments of prayer. Pray one decade of the Rosary at a time. There is no need to rush the prayers, but take in the world around you, and offer the world, its peoples, its situations to Jesus through Mary. As you pray that decade, consider that God has chosen to dwell among us, that he descends into the pain and suffering of our humanity, and that he has risen so that we too can transcend the misery of sin and death. Using sacred images of these Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries can help, I think, to focus the mind on our prayer.

Lucia dos Santos, one of the seers of Fatima (OSV News photo /courtesy Shrine of Fatima)

We also need to be familiar with the Scriptures which are the source for our knowledge of these Mysteries. Hence St Jerome said that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. The Rosary, by itself, does not make up for our ignorance of the written Word of God, so we do need to read the Scriptures as a basis for praying the Rosary. Hence part of the First Saturday devotion that Our Lady asked Sr Lucia of Fatima to propagate involves fifteen minutes of meditation on the mysteries of our salvation, that is to say, on the Scriptures. For the prayer of the Rosary is then a genuine meditation, a kind of ‘lectio divina’ on the Gospels, through which the Holy Spirit, acting on our knowledge, deepens our understanding of divine truths.

If we do this consciously throughout the day, one decade at a time, we will find at the close of the day that we have in fact offered up at least five decades of the Rosary without too much constraint on our time.

What words of encouragement would you like to address to those who have not yet taken the step to pray the Rosary frequently?

– As Our Lady of the Rosary said in 1917: “Will you pray the Rosary daily for peace and for an end to the war?” Our merciful mother asks us most courteously to become participants in the divine peace plan, and it is a grace to be invited to do this. As I said, Our Lady asks nothing superfluous of us, but only gives us whatever will aid our salvation and keep us close to her Son. Therefore, if you wish to grow in love for Jesus, and to become an active member of his “peace corps”, then please do take up a daily Rosary.

And if you struggle, or fail sometimes, or are distracted, or feel its all a bit dull and dry, then please persevere and offer up your difficulties to God. I too used to be in that position, and sometimes I feel that way too. However, because I trust Mary and love her as my mother, I try my best to please her, to do as she asks, with confidence that Mary always leads me to Christ who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). The Rosary, therefore, like physical exercise and other disciplines is not always enjoyable or pleasurable but it is always necessary. After all, the aim of the Rosary is to bring me closer to Jesus, and without him I can do nothing. (cf Jn 15:5).

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