From the feast of the Solemnity of the Most H0y Rosary, which is attached to the first Sunday of October, and from the special devotions first appointed for all the days of this month by Pope Leo XIII, October has come to be called and to be the Month of the Holy Rosary. In Australia, where May is a winter month, October has been officially promoted to the dignity of Mois de Marie. Less excuse than all this is needed to justify me in associating October with certain very informal notes about the Rosary, one of which dates as far back as June 265 1874, when I made this brief extract, never utilised till now, from the ninth chapter of "Grapes and Thorns," by Miss Mary Agnes Tincker :—
"Father Chevreuse took out his beads to exorcise troublesome thoughts and invoke holy ones. It was a saying of his that the beads, when rightly used, had always one end fastened to the girdle of Mary, and were a flowery chain by which she led the soul directly to the throne of God. They proved so to him in this case ; and one after another the Joyful Mysteries were budding and blossoming under his touch, when presently he found himself ''
I have no idea how or where he found himself, for I have not the slightest recollection of the story except that it was very good and very clever. But I have not had time to forget another admirable story which may be very earnestly recommended to convent libraries and readers in general—"By What Authority" by Robert Hugh Benson" son of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, and now (thank God) a Catholic priest. The mistaken notions about Rosary beads entertained by persons outside the Church are well discussed at page 174. The heroine, Isabel Norris, " began to discover that for the Catholic the Person of the Saviour was the very heart of religion . . , and that the worship of the saints and of the Blessed Mother, instead of distracting the Christian soul from the love of God, rather seemed to augment it." She soon "began to understand what the Rosary meant to Catholics. Mistress Corbett had told her what was the actual use of the beads, and how the mysteries of Christ's life and death were to be pondered over as the various prayers were said.'' But she had still prejudices against what seemed a mechanical and, indeed, superstitious method of praying. One day she saw the beads in the hands of an old nun who in those troubled days of Queen Elizabeth was obliged to live with her sister in her house in the country. ''The old lady's eyes were half closed and her lips just moving, and the beads passing slowly through her fingers." After a while the good Protestant maiden asks her old friend, "How can prayers said over and over again like that be any good ?" Mistress Margaret was silent for a moment. 'I saw young Mrs. Martin last week,' she said, ' with her little girl in her lap. Amy had her arms round her mother's neck and was being rocked to and fro, and every time she rocked she said O Mother I' 'But then,' said Isabel after a moment's silence, 'she was only a child.' 'Except ye become as little children,' quoted Mistress Margaret softly. 'You see, my Isabel, we are nothing more than children with God and His Blessed Mother. To say Hail Mary! Hail Mary! is the best way of telling her how much we love her. And then this string of beads is like our Lady's girdle, and her children love to finger it and whisper to her. And then we have our Pater Nosters too; and, all the while we are talking, she is showing us pictures of her dear Child, and we look at all the great things He did for us, one by one; and then we turn the page and begin again.' "
The American lady, converted from Transcendentalism forty years ago, and the English gentleman, converted from Anglicanism five or six years ago, have both hit on the same idea that the Rosary is the Blessed Virgin's girdle, and that we are her little children fingering it fondly and therefore keeping very close to our Mother.
Not only strangers outside the Church, but there are many within it who look on the Rosary with its string of beads as a sort of devotional toy, a mere pious device, excellent in its way as a help for simple, rude, uneducated people who cannot even read, but never meant for intellectual persons like themselves. Nay, it is a solid, scriptural devotion, useful for all, and fit to be our chief daily proof of filial loyalty to the Mother of God. Rohrbacher, at the 449th page of the 71st volume of his "History of the Church''— that is a tremendous number of volumes for a single work, but so I have it in my note—asks a string of questions which brings out very well the nature of the Rosary. " The sign of the Cross with which it begins—is it not the mark of a Christian ? Is not the Apostles' Creed (These preliminary prayers do not belong to the Rosary, and are not necessary for the gaining of the Indulgences attached to it.) the profession of faith which the martyrs recited at their baptism and under the axe of the executioner ? Is not the Our Father the prayer which our Lord Himself deigned to teach us? Was not the Hail Mary pronounced by an Archangel in the name of Heaven, continued by the holy Mother of the Baptist whom the Holy Ghost inspired to speak and finished by the Church with whom that Spirit abides for ever ? Is not the Gloria Patri the everlasting cry of praise that goes up to the Adorable Trinity from men and angels, from all times and from all places ? Are not the fifteen mysteries that were proposed here for our meditation an abridgment of the Gospel ? In truth I know of no practice better adapted for facilitating attention, piety, and devotion in prayer, the meditation of mind and heart. I say this for the learned who are ignorant of it, not for the ignorant who have learned it by experience"
Yes, the use of the Rosary beads is by no means to be confined to those who cannot read, who cannot use a prayer-book or other book of devotion. Even priests who are compelled (blessed compulsion !) to give a considerable portion of their day to the ritual and liturgy of the Church, must not reckon the Rosary among those private devotions which may be supposed to be satisfied by the devout recitation of the Divine Office. I will venture to emphasise this point by the authority of a priest who is dead nearly forty years. Yet some in Ireland, even outside the Society to which he belonged, remember still the holy and gifted Father Daniel Jones. To one of his younger brethren who had accused himself of some shortcoming with regard to his way of saying the Rosary, the amiable saint took the trouble of giving the following counsel, and his penitent took the trouble of at once writing it down exactly. " I had occasion to write lately to Father Etheredge of the English Province, and I told him that I had never ceased to be grateful for a warning he gave me when I was ordained priest. Up to this, he said, the Rosary was imposed on you as an obligation for various intentions, but now all that is satisfied for superabundantly by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and you will be tempted sometimes to be careless about saying the Rosary. Take great pains not to yield to the temptation.' ''
It would be very well for us to stir ourselves up sometimes to perform this act of filial piety better by remembering all that the Rosary has been to countless generations of simple and devout souls since this devotion first became popular—all that it has been and is and will be in the Catholic homes (for instance) of Ireland and in holy convents there and everywhere. In country chapels on Sunday morning, waiting for the arrival of the priest, how piously the good women say their beads ! In trouble and poverty how many have been comforted and strengthened by this act of piety which puts them in communication with the Queen of Heaven.
Before beginning to say their Rosary in private, some make use of this little rhyme to stir up their fervour :—
Mother! now I'll say my beads,
For my soul some comfort needs;
And what better can there be
Than to raise our hearts to thee,
Sweet Mother ?
But sometimes it might be more effective to remind ourselves of the good company we are entering—how many souls very dear to God are at that moment employed as we are : good humble folk such as I have just referred to, or nuns kneeling before the altar of their convent chapel or pacing slowly the convent alleys with beads in hand and heart in heaven. With these and with all who are similarly engaged in every corner of the Church, all the world over, let us join our hearts when we set about saying the Rosary.
A few more thoughts about its worth in general before descending to particulars.
The Rosary is, first of all, a prayer ; and all the encomiums that can be heaped upon prayer in general are true of this prayer. Every prayer, every cry of the soul to God, every expedient and artifice that can entice us to pray, to raise our hearts to God, to turn to God, to think of God, is good and holy and salutary and praiseworthy.
But this prayer is, secondly, a long prayer. The goodness of a prayer does not indeed depend upon its length. My Jesus, mercy ! '' is a good prayer. " O God, be merciful to me a sinner,' is an excellent and efficacious prayer, producing often the blessed results attributed to it by our Lord Himself in the parable (if it be merely a parable) of the Pharisee and the Publican who went up into the Temple to pray. But perseverance in prayer is both desirable and difficult; and the Rosary helps us to persevere in prayer. The perseverance and piety exercised in so prolonged a prayer as the Rosary are in themselves more meritorious and are calculated to influence the soul more deeply and more permanently. No other form of prayer nearly so long has ever wound itself so closely round the hearts of the faithful, beguiling them into forgetfulness of its length, when recited habitually with fitting dispositions—so diversified is it, so interesting when we take fair pains to enter into its spirit, and withal, in spite of its repetitions, so little monotonous. Those repetitions are surely not '' vain repetitions,' for they are repetitions of the divinest prayers that human lips can utter, the prayers which Jesus Himself prescribed as a model prayer—" Thus shall ye pray ''—and the prayer which the Holy Ghost dictated to the Archangel at the sublimest moment of the world's story.
With these best of vocal prayers mental prayer may be joined ; for while the beads glide through our fingers and the Hail Marys fall from our lips, our minds and hearts may be quietly turned towards one of the joyful, sorrowful, or glorious mysteries of our Lord's life, such as every prayer-book explains them to us.
Our Lord's Life ? Yes, for in each of these scenes our Lord is the principal figure, as He must needs be, even when His Blessed Mother is beside Him. We call it the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin ; but, like everything that is hers, it is much more her Divine Son's than her own. Even in her own Hail Mary the central word, the central thought, is Jesus, the blessed fruit of her womb. Ah ! when that moment comes of which each Hail Mary reminds us— pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death "— when Death shall have come and after that the Judgment, and we shall stand before the Judgment-seat of that Jesus whom every Hail Mary blesses, we shall have no fear of the reproach that Heresy flings at us, as if forsooth in praying to the Mother we blasphemed or slighted the Son. The moments we shall have spent in saying the Rosary will not be the portion of our lives that we shall then regret.
The ordinary way of saying the Rosary is another of the innumerable triplets or trinities that meet us everywhere. Though the Psalterium Marianum consists of 150 Hail Mars as King David's Psalter consists of 150 Psalms, the faithful divide it into three parts, each consisting of 50 Hail Marys, and the daily portion is limited to these five decades, each preceded by an Our Father and followed by a Glory be to the Father, &c.
Again, this three-fold division into Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries may perhaps, be considered another of the many instances in which it seems possible to discover a special propriety in assigning one of the three to each of the Three Divine Persons in order. The plainest point in the present case is that the Sorrowful Mysteries, which come second, belong specially to the Second Person, the Man of Sorrows, Jesus Crucified. He, and He alone, is present in each of these mysteries. The Sorrows are all His own. Though, of course, the First Person of the Blessed Trinity is in all the others also, yet a certain attribution to Him of the Joyful Mysteries may be ventured, as the Archangel of the Annunciation represents the Eternal Father in His Embassy to the Immaculate Virgin ; on the morning of the Nativity that Voice might well have been heard which spoke thirty years later : " This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased—hear ye Him!'' Yes, though all that is heard is the wailing of a helpless Babe. This attribution is justified also in the fifth mystery, where Jesus asks, " Must not I be about My Father's business ? '' Of course it is not pretended that this distribution of the Rosary-Mysteries between the Three Divine Persons is more than an application of the yearning to find traces of the Trinity in the works of God. But even to advert to the idea in order to reject it keeps the mind alert and prostrates it before the fundamental mystery of mysteries, Immortalis et Invisibilis God the Three in On.
Not by any arbitrary choice of private devotion, however, but by an authorised arrangement in force among the pious faithful and set forth in our prayer-books, the three divisions of the Rosary are definitely assigned to certain Sundays of each year and certain days of each week. As regards the Sundays, the year may be considered as consisting of Christmastide, Passion-tide, and Eastertide ; but we here give to those terms a much wider signification than they generally bear. From the first Sunday of Advent to the Sunday before Lent we meditate on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary; on all the Sundays of Lent on the Sorrowful Mysteries; on Easter Sunday, and all the Sundays after it till the ecclesiastical year begins again with Advent, we meditate on the Glorious Mysteries.
Finally in each week each of the three parts of the Rosary is used twice over on the six week-days, so that the Joyful Mysteries are assigned to Monday and Thursday the Sorrowful to Tuesday and Friday, the Glorious to Wednesday and Saturday. Fortunately in this arrangement the Sorrowful Mysteries fall to Friday, which is our weekly commemoration of the Passion; and Saturday, which is the Blessed Virgin's day, is the most suitable day for the Glorious Mysteries which end with our Lady's Coronation and the everlasting Sabbath of Heaven.
Some of the foregoing suggestions, even for those who will only think of them (as I said before) to reject them, may yet help occasionally to awaken our attention while saying the Rosary ; they may serve as pegs to hang ideas on. But all of us would draw profit from some attempt to follow the method used generally, I think, by the Sisters of Mercy. Instead of breaking the flow of the Hail Marys by saying (for instance) Blessed is the fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus, who was crowned with thorns," and so for the other mysteries, it is better at the beginning of each decade merely to name the mystery attached to it, with the briefest possible prayer for a corresponding virtue. Thus on Monday and Thursday throughout the year, and on the Sundays from the beginning of Advent to Lent, we remind ourselves before the first decade of the first of the Joyful Mysteries: " The Annunciation. O Blessed Mother, obtain for me your love of humility" And as the beads slip through our fingers, we keep before our mind a picture of the scene of that mystery and bow at the name of Jesus as if we were present at it.
Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation. O Blessed Mother, obtain for me your love of fraternal charity.
'Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity. O Blessed Mother, obtain for me your love of holy poverty.
Fourth Joyful Mystery : The Purification* O Blessed Mother, obtain for me your love of holy purity.
Fifth Joyful Mystery : The finding in the Temple, O Blessed Mother, obtain for me your love of holy obedience.'
A little reflection will show us how each of the virtues suggested as the objects of our prayer springs from the mystery it is linked with ; as in the last of them, the Finding in the Temple, which ends with that summary of our Lord's Hidden Life, Erat subditus illis ' He was subject to them," a lifetime of obedience. The Nativity, which shows the Incarnate Son of God born in a stable and cradled in a manger, suggests a love of poverty. In the Annunciation the lowliness of the Handmaid of the Lord— ecce Ancilla Domini —suggests Humilty; and more plainly still the Purification and Purity, the visit to St-Elizabeth and Charity, are linked with one another.
More arbitrary is the selection of graces to be prayed for with each decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries, which in the scheme I am following are these in order : ist, a love of silence and resignation— Not My will but Thine be done "; 2nd, mortification; 3rd, meekness; 4th, patience; 5th, the Crucifixion suggests a prayer for an ardent love of God. This last we might be reminded of by the words" Greater love than this no man hath that a man lay down his life for his friend.'
Finally, St. Paul's dictum (i Cor. xv. 17), If Christ has not arisen, your faith is vain,' makes it natural to link the First Glorious Mystery with faith. "O Blessed Mother, obtain for me a lively faith.'' The Ascension, a confident hope— "I go to prepare a place for you.'' The Descent of the Holy Ghost, true zeal for the glory of God— for not till then did the Apostles go forth boldly to preach the Gospel. Last of all, the Assumption joins together again for ever the hearts of the Mother and the Son, and we naturally pray, "O Blessed Mother, obtain for me constant union with the Sacred Heart of Jesus," while her Coronation suggests as our aspiration before the last of the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, O Blessed Virgin, obtain for me the grace of confidence in your prayers and the grace of final perseverance.' Better, however, all through to say "for us" not merely "for me," and to include many or all in our prayer.
Even the effort, often unsuccessful, to make use of these or other fiae industriae in our saying of the Rosary, will make our prayers more pleasing to Him whose sermocinatio est cum simplicibus. A minute or two would be well spent in ending with some such prayer as this: " O glorious Queen of Heaven, accept this Rosary which as a crown of roses we lay at your feet; and help us, O most gracious Lady, join your prayers with ours when we turn to God and pray: O God, whose only begotten Son by His Life, Death, and Resurrection has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that, meditating upon the mysteries of the most Holy Rosary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through Jesus Christ our Lord. O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us.