Our Lady of the Rosary is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary related to the popular method of prayer practised by countless Christians throughout the world whose origin is attributed to an apparition of Our Lady to Saint Dominic in 1208. The actual feast – which was originally Our Lady of Victory – was instituted in 1571 by the Dominican Pope Saint Pius V as an annual reminder of the Battle of Lepanto which cut short the Muslim invasion of Western Europe. In 1969 Pope Paul VI changed the name of the feast to Our Lady of the Rosary.
Isn’t it amazing that we intelligent human beings need so many signs and reminders. For those of us who drive road signs are everywhere, telling us how fast or how slow we may go, where to fill the petrol tank, where to eat. They also tell us what not to do: no U-turns, no parking; they warn us about school crossings and railway crossings. Signs are part and parcel of our daily lives and it seems we just can’t do without them.
The rosary is a sign that fits our fingers, a handful of beads that reminds us of the mysterious events in the life of Christ and of his Blessed Mother.
But who has to be reminded of Our Lady’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, and her willing acceptance of God’s plan for her? Who needs a reminder of God’s great love for us shown in the stable of Bethlehem? Who has to be told again of Our Lord’s great love for us as he sweats blood, as he is scourged, as he is crowned with thorns, and as he dies on the Cross? The alleluia of Easter is a joyful sign; the fire of Pentecost is a sign of life. Who has to be reminded of all these events? Well, we do, all of us; and this because we so easily forget.
In 1996 I went on pilgrimage to Medjugorje and one of the highlights of the visit was a meeting with the late Father Skavko Barbaric, the first spiritual director to the visionaries. Among other things, he told us that many of the pilgrims that visit Medjugorje ask the wrong questions. They inquire as to what new teaching Our Lady has revealed to the Church, or what Our Lady says about this, or that, or the other. Father Barbaric would tell them that Our Lady reveals nothing new to the Church: she is simply reminding us of what we have forgotten; prayer, penance, and fidelity to the teachings of the Church.
The familiar, down-to-earth beauty of our daily rosary reminds us all of God’s love for us. The mysteries of the rosary are reminders that the rosary is not just a sign or a badge of Catholicity. Rather the rosary must be translated into life, just as the beads must be turned into reflection and prayer. This is why the rosary should never be rushed or gabbled through as if there were no tomorrow. The rosary is a tool for meditation and should be recited slowly and prayerfully.
And not only that, we must also reflect on the mysteries the decades suggest. This reflection should then lead to imitation; it should lead to practice in our everyday lives. The rosary is not a chain of dead beads to be rushed through as quickly as possible; the rosary is a powerful prayer, it’s a chain of living reflection and action, designed to influence the words and works of our daily living. The rosary makes real and practical the life, death, and resurrection of Christ which our lives must reflect. The rosary should be a living sign in our hands to pray and to plead for a greater fullness of Christ in our lives through the prayerful help of his Blessed Mother.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.