I think I probably scandalized a whole room full of women a few months ago when I was leading a women’s day of reflection. They had asked me about my daily prayer routine, and I mentioned that if saying the Rosary was difficult or tedious, maybe you should do something else. My sister joked that I wasn’t going to be invited back because I told the whole room not the say the Rosary.
Of course, I didn’t mean that. All of us will find certain prayers tedious at some point, and sometimes this requires us to be disciplined and power-through the difficulty. Other times it requires us to change our routines so that we’re not just praying prayers to check off our list. We don’t give up on prayers just because they’re difficult, but we also shouldn’t feel like we have to embrace a certain devotion at every stage in our lives. If we spend our daily prayer time half-heartedly saying the words of the Rosary in a distracted manner just to mark it off our to-do list, perhaps we need to spend our time in prayer with a different devotion for awhile.
However, the Rosary is one of the most powerful prayers we have in our arsenal of devotion, as evidenced by today’s feast. The feast of Our Lady of Victory remembers the 1571 naval victory of Don Juan of Austria and the Holy League against the powerful Turkish fleet. Pope Pius V urged everyone to pray the Rosary for the success of the greatly out-numbered Catholic forces, and the miraculous victory helped hold off the Muslim invasion of Western Europe. Afterwards, the Pope instituted today’s feast, which is now celebrated as Our Lady of the Rosary.
Father Ronald Knox points out that the Rosary is such an important prayer and sacramental, it is the only inanimate object besides the Holy Cross which has its own feast on the universal liturgical calendar.
Far from believing we don’t need to say the Rosary, I think the Rosary is crucial for us today. Praying and preaching the Rosary is one of the keys to combatting several of our modern day heresies, just like it aided St. Dominic in the age of the Albigensian heresy. The Albigensian heresy was a dualistic belief that the spiritual world and the physical world were absolutely opposed. Matter was evil, and the spirit was good. Perfection was found in rejecting the material world, freeing ourselves from the captivity of our bodies.
Well, we live in an age with a lot of modern Albigensians. Sure, they would never call themselves that, and there are some differences. But from the idea that the spiritual and material are complete distinct spheres, it is not a far leap to that common mantra, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” My belief in God doesn’t actually translate into material things – like receiving the sacraments. We also see Albigensian practices like contraception and assisted suicide coming from this same skewed understanding of the material world.
Maybe it seems that this skewed understanding of the material world doesn’t really have consequences. But it does. It shakes our lives at their very roots and at their very purpose. If matter is evil, that means the Son of God could not become flesh. And if He didn’t become flesh … I’m not saved!
This is why Dominic preached the Rosary. He knew that meditation on the mysteries of the lives of Christ and his Blessed Mother would bring you face to face with a real, personal, fleshy God.
In a published interview prior to his election as Pope, Joseph Ratzinger said that devotion to Mary is essential for us today. Of the six reasons he gave for this belief, one of them was the fact that Mary can’t be the mother of an abstraction. The world sees Jesus Christ and Truth itself as an abstraction, something less than objective, something less than real. But once we draw close to Mary, we draw close to the reality of the Incarnation.
We live in a world that would prefer God to be an abstraction, an impersonal force. Why? Because impersonal forces can’t demand anything of me. I can be spiritual… but I don’t have to be religious.
Except that God became flesh. Our God entered time and space. Our God sanctified the material world and showed us that matter is not evil – that every created thing can be used for the glory of God (CCC 1670). So Dominic went out, preaching the mysteries of the Word made flesh – preaching the Rosary. You can’t meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary without coming face to face with the God who loves you.
So while I don’t insist that you have to have a devotion to the Rosary, and if it is actually so burdensome that it’s affecting the rest of your prayer life, I would recommend cultivating another devotion, I do think it’s one of the best things we can work into our daily routines. Ronald Knox admits, “You may not find the recitation of it comes natural to you – the repetitions oppress you with a sense of monotony; you cannot concentrate on the mystery because you are thinking the words of the prayer.” He admits that if this is the case, and you have to say the Rosary reluctantly, it would not be wise spiritual counsel to insist we have an obligation to pray it frequently. But he points out, “But if you can make room for it in your scheme of life, it has got just this advantage; it serves to unite you in the spirit with your Catholic friends everywhere, with prisoners in concentration camps, with the sick and suffering who can’t remember any prayers except the Our Father and the Hail Mary; it may be wearisome, to feel those links slipping one by one between your hands, but somehow, those links form a bond. You put yourself in touch with the mainstream of Catholic life, when you take up the Holy Rosary.”
The Rosary is a prayer that is worth persevering with, so next week we’ll look at some practical ways to help us pray it well. Until then, ask Mary to help you say it. Be honest with her. If it’s hard for you, ask her to help you concentrate and really pray the prayer the way she, you, and God deserve it to be prayed.