Mary: Contemplating and preaching the Word


"The restoration (in the 19th century, after the Napoleonic upheaval and in the face of emerging liberalism) underwrote the exaltation of the papacy, the cult of the Eucharist and the cult of the Virgin Mary as the central concepts and special means whereby Christianity was to be reborn in Europe" (G.BOSELLI in: R. BARILE(ed.), Discorso breve sull'eucaristia, ESD 2007, pp.121-122).

Looking at the lives of today’s Catholics, and despite the renewal pursued by the Church in the 20th century, which reached its peak with the Second Vatican Council, it seems that things have hardly changed after 200 years: Catholic sentiment, wrongly believing that it is returning to the long-established tradition, increasingly stresses the centrality of the Pope, certainly prefers to nourish spiritual life through Adoration than to celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and has given not the slightest hint of a decline in the Marian cult - on the contrary!

It is not surprising, then, that a few months ago, when I was guiding a pilgrimage to Fatima, my statement that the rosary is an eminently Christological prayer was greeted with astonishment, and in some cases with incomprehension and resistance. But I had made up my mind; and so in four days, explaining its contents and Scriptural references, my fellow pilgrims and I were able to pray the psalter of the Virgin Mary in a way that struck most of them as new (and hence suspect!), but proved to be for everyone a spiritually rich experience, hitherto never undergone. This indicates that what is perhaps the most typically Catholic manner of praying is, certainly, learned by heart and repeated mechanically, but perhaps never explained and taught, much less personally understood and interiorized.

So...? Should we go back to the "sound" Dominican tradition and preach the rosary? Preach the rosary! Put like this, it sets your teeth on edge. Perhaps we could talk of "teaching people how to pray the rosary" or even "promoting the prayer of the rosary", but how can you preach something that is none other than a method of prayer? And yet, if we are clear that the object of this preaching is the content of our faith and its effect on our lives, spiritual and moral, it may be useful to adopt the rosary as a preaching tool.

Let me explain: praying the rosary means meditating on the mysteries of the Incarnation, Passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord, starting from a Scriptural utterance and supported by the almost uninterrupted recitation of the Hail Mary, the first part of which is materially derived from the Gospel, with the addition of the name of Jesus, followed by the ecclesial invocation "Holy Mary...", or - and this in my view is the best way - by the phrase pertaining to the mystery being meditated. The name of Jesus is at the center, and occupies this center throughout the prayer, whether we think of it or not, and the meditation on the mystery focuses on the repetition of that Name that is above all other names, the only name in which we can find salvation. In brief: if all this proceeds well and is reinforced by protracted custom, little by little praying the rosary makes us familiar with the story of Jesus, and leads us to pray correctly, which is to say "for Christ, with Christ and in Christ". And that is certainly worth more than the sermons I may preach, however hard I try! If such a proposal is unthinkable with those "outside", beyond doubt anyone who already has a toe inside the Christian life can make great spiritual progress thanks to a manner of praying that is nourished and made by the Word, meditated and repeated.

That Word, continually repeated, begins with the greeting to the Virgin - "Hail Mary - and so we pray together with her. And we understand, very simply and immediately, that from Mary contemplation and preaching may arise.

fra Enrico Arata OP (March 18, 2013)