X. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE ROSARY IN REGARD TO ITS FORM
"She reacheth therefore from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly."—Wisdom viii, 1.
The disposition of the heart is in prayer of more consequence than the manner of expression. Yet an appropriate form of prayer is helpful in avoiding distraction and in inducing devotion. Our Divine Saviour taught His disciples to make use of a special form of prayer, the "Our Father."
The form of the Rosary helps appreciably in rendering the Rosary the great prayer it is. The Rosary has been aptly called the "lay breviary." For many centuries the faithful joined in the reciting of the breviary. As late as in the eleventh century St. Peter Damian urgently exhorted the faithful to participate in the ecclesiastical "hours" of prayer. And when gradually participation in the ecclesiastical prayer ceased, Divine Providence supplied the Rosary to take for the laity the place of the breviary. It may thus properly be called the "lay breviary." In fact it reminds of the breviary of priests, for it contains verbal prayer and meditation, and the hundred and fifty "Hail Marys" of the Rosary correspond to the hundred and fifty psalms of the breviary.
Let us now consider how appropriate the form of the Rosary is, and how it renders the Rosary a perfect prayer.
The form makes the Rosary both an excellent devotion and a perfect prayer. Prayer is the first duty of all men. It is an article of faith that no man can work out his salvation without prayer. The real essence of prayer consists in the union of vocal prayer with meditation, or interior prayer. The true prayer is a conversation, or intercourse, of man with God. The combination of meditating with vocal prayer is an excellent means of participating in Divine grace. Meditation makes us realize our needs, the faults which we should lay aside, and the virtues which we must acquire. Sin makes man blind, meditation opens his eyes. Vocal prayer alone is not of itself a protection from sin, daily experience teaches this. There are many who say vocal prayers and yet fall into grievous sin and remain in that state. The reason is because they omit the contemplative prayer. Those who combine vocal prayer with meditation do not easily incur God's disfavor, or if they do they at once resolve to amend and they lose no time in returning to God. A combination of meditation and vocal prayer is therefore calculated to preserve us from sin, and to rescue us from that state, if unfortunately we find ourselves in it. It is also the most effective means for us to reach Christian perfection and eternal salvation.
We should therefore combine with vocal prayers proper meditation if we desire our prayers to be more perfect. When we say the "Our Father," or the "Hail Mary," we should not merely utter the words with our lips, but should contemplate the purport of the words, lifting the mind to God, to whom we are praying, otherwise our prayer will be merely a prayer of the lips. Remember the words of our Divine Saviour: "These people glorify Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me."
In saying the Rosary we combine vocal prayer with meditation upon the Sacred Mysteries. Where there is time for it a longer meditation is very beneficial and of great spiritual advantage. But if time is lacking, or when the Rosary is said in common with others, one should at least at every decade briefly put the mystery before the mind. Pondering upon the mysteries whilst saying the prayers is ordinarily requisite to gain the indulgences attached to the Rosary.
The Rosary in its union of vocal prayer and meditation is a perfect prayer. The parts of the Rosary so appropriately succeed one another as to form a beautiful chain of prayers. We begin the prayers of the Rosary with the sign of the Cross, with which the Church commences all her prayers. This sign reminds us of the Most Holy Trinity in whose Name we were baptized, and to whom we belong absolutely, through creation, redemption, and sanctification. By making the sign of the Cross we place ourselves vividly in the presence of God, to whom we are praying, and awaken within us acts of faith, reverence, love, and confidence. Through the sign of the Cross there are dedicated to God in prayer the thoughts of the mind, the words of our lips, and the sentiments and feelings of the heart. Most assuredly the devout signing ourselves with the Cross is an excellent introduction and preparation for prayer.
Then follows most appropriately the Apostle's Creed. It declares more fully that which the sign of the Cross indicates. The twelve articles of the Creed contain that which we must firmly believe if we would be saved.
The Creed most properly opens the Rosary because it is the basis of our faith. The Joyful Rosary expounds the article of faith: "Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary." The Sorrowful Rosary is a commemoration of the article: "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." The glorious is founded upon the article: "Rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God." Thus the entire Rosary is in truth a prayer of faith, and draws from the faith its force and efficacy.
After the Creed follows "Glory be to the Father," which is repeated at every decade of the Rosary as it is also said in the ecclesiastical "hours" after every Psalm. To give glory to God is our chief duty, it must be our intention in all our words and works. To give glory to God must also be our principal intention in saying the Rosary. As we repeat this doxology at the end of each decade, we should again raise up our mind and heart to God with fresh sentiments of faith, love, and confidence. This preserves us from distraction and gives new zeal to our prayers.
After the first "Glory be to God" we say one Our Father and three Hail Marys for the increase of the three divine virtues. The three divine virtues are the foundation of the right disposition which we must have, in order truly and worthily to honor God. St. Augustine says: "God is to be glorified through faith, hope, and charity. They are the corner-stone of the Christian life." And the Apostle says: "The just man liveth by faith" (Heb. x, 38), meaning that man lays the foundation for his justification through faith, receives the life of justification from faith, perseveres in this just life through faith, perfects this life through the light and the power of faith whence hope and charity proceed.
To promote this kind of life is the aim of the devotion of the Rosary. The more pious and virtuous we become, the more we glorify God and assure our temporal and eternal happiness.
These prayers are the introduction and preparation to the prayer of the Rosary, which combines meditation of the Mysteries with the recital of the Our Fathers and Hail Marys. The Rosary is a prayer indeed for the glory of God and for honoring and invoking Mary the Mother of God. The Mysteries of the Rosary contain that which God has done in order to glorify Himself and to redeem, sanctify, and save mankind. At the same time these mysteries from the lives of Jesus and Mary are fraught with touching examples for our own lives. In the devout contemplation of these mysteries, and in the application of the same to our own religious moral life, lie the gist of the prayers of the Rosary and the chief fruits which we should draw from this saving devotion.
Certain critics of the Rosary cannot understand why the Hail Mary is so frequently repeated. But in the repetition lies the strength of the prayer, for holy perseverance is expressed by this repetition. The psalmist in the one hundredth and thirty-fifth Psalm repeats twenty-six times the words: "For his mercy endureth forever." And the heavenly hosts proclaim their "Thrice Holy" for ever and ever.
We are perfectly right, therefore, in declaring that the Rosary is a thoroughly practical prayer, corresponding exactly to the necessities and peculiarities of our minds and hearts.
We might challenge the world to name a more beautiful, a more excellent prayer. The Church therefore numbers the Rosary amongst her most efficacious prayers, and she has endowed it richly with indulgences to induce the faithful to say it frequently.