from The Rosary of Our Lady

by Romano Guardini

from  section Form and Meaning of the Rosary Devotion

THE CHAIN OF BEADS AND REPETITION

We should begin with what is most obvious in the Rosary. An aid is used in this prayer, a string or a chain of beads. Some of these beads are larger, or marked apart from the others by a greater distance. Ten smaller beads follow a larger one and form a "decade." The whole chain has five such decades. They are preceded by a sort of preface, formed by a little crucifix and followed by one large and three smaller beads.

For the sake of completeness and for those to whom all of this is foreign, it should be added that there are some variations of the Rosary that have different divisions, and are in usage only in certain places. Also, that externally the Rosary has taken on manifold and at times beautiful and precious forms, as happens with things that are honored and loved. There can be something very venerable and delicate about an old and nobly designed Rosary that looks as if generations had used it and passed it on.

This string of beads slides through the fingers of the person who prays. At the little cross in the beginning he says the Creed; at every smaller bead, the Hail Mary. At the larger ones that always precede a row of the ordinary beads, he says the Our Father. And after every decade, the doxology: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now. and ever shall be, world without end. Amen." And all begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross.

What does all this mean? Is not this praying cord a symptom of inferior piety, as the critics say? Is it not something material that contradicts Jesus' word of exhortation: "God is spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24)?

Praying means intercourse with God. This intercourse is life. But all the expressions of life cannot be reduced to the same pattern. There is no prescription for prayer to be taken "as directed."

Revelation tells us who God is and who we are, and in what disposition we should approach him; but not the precise manner in which to walk and dwell before God. Even words that deal with spirit and truth do not give us that prescription, let alone the fact that they are often misunderstood; for spirit and truth do not mean a contradiction to outward form and order. "Spirit" does not mean thought, but the Holy Ghost that hovered about Christ, assuming at Pentecost the guidance of Christian history; and "truth" is not an incorporeal emotion, but the living order in which Christ has placed us before the Father.

Even in the seemingly most exterior form of prayer, this order can be maintained, this spirit can hold the reins--just as they may become lost in any form of prayer, even the most spiritual and the most interior.

There is a form of prayer in which man expresses a petition or sentiment to God: an appeal, gratitude, repentance. This he must do sincerely and concisely, and his expression should be in keeping with his innermost impulse. We are reminded here of Christ's warning against excessive speech. If a person thinks that his request will be more certainly heard if he repeats it ten times, says the Lord, he acts "like the Gentiles."

But if in his anxiety he longs for expression, he may well repeat it ten or a hundred times. Prayer is good when it springs from the heart's impulse; only otherwise is it harmful. We mean here all and everything that basically meets God in a false manner; for the "prattle of the Gentiles" is not evil because of the fifth or tenth repetition, but from the beginning, because it is not an appeal to the Lord of Creation but to "a god" whom regardless of his greatness one harasses like a man to do one's bidding.

But there is another kind of prayer in which it is not a matter of simply saying "what is in one's heart," but in which one yearns to dwell in God's presence. This prayer is inclined to use fewer and fewer words, not because it exhausts itself in the saying, but because it is beyond words. Perhaps what it voices is always the same, over and over again. Just think of St. Francis who spent whole nights crying out: "My God, and my all!" At the end even such words will be dropped, and the soul -- so claim the spiritual masters -- will enter "nothingness." Words in this prayer have only the task of supporting the inner emotion, fading away when they have done this service.

Finally, there is still a third form of prayer. It is also centered around a sojourn with God, around a service to him -- in inner self-knowledge and tranquility, but in a manner that makes a flowing channel out of the words in which it is expressed, a force that keeps it moving.

In such a case new words will not always emerge, but the same words will return. Repetition becomes the outer form of prayer with the purpose of pacifying and fulfilling the inner emotion. The Litany is such a prayer, with its many related invocations and petitions in which the thought is transformed but slowly. It is very old; we find it at -the dawn of Christendom. A similar kind of prayer is the use of psalms, when the "antiphon" is inserted between the verses -- a constantly recurring invocation. The antiphon, too, is as old as the hills. In this form of prayer we also include the Rosary.

One might object that this repetition leads to an exteriorization of prayer. That may happen, of course; but then one has made a mistake and we are using the Rosary in the wrong way. But this must not happen, for such repetition has a real meaning.

Is it not an element of all life? What else is the beating of the heart but a repetition? Always the same astriction and expansion; but it makes the blood circulate through the body. What else is breathing but a repetition? Always the same in and out; but by breathing we live.

And is not our whole being ordered and sustained by change and repetition? Ever anew the sun rises and sets, night follows day; the round of life begins in the spring, rises, reaches its summit, and sinks.

What objection can one raise against these and many other repetitions? They are the order in which growth progresses, the inner kernel develops, and the form is revealed. All life realizes itself in the rhythm of external conditions and internal accomplishment. If this is so everywhere, why should it not be so in religious devotion?

The Rosary represents a certain form of religious devotion. The individual may claim that be cannot do anything with it; that is his affair. But be must not call this prayer senseless or unchristian, for then he would show ignorance.

The string of beads obviously has the purpose of diverting the thoughts from certain external distractions of attention. One bead lead, the person praying to the next. Their number keeps the repetition within certain bounds, approved by long usage. Otherwise he who prays would have to keep a watch for the "too little" or else fall into the "too much," and thus be diverted from the essential. The beads take this trouble off his shoulders; they do the counting for him. Yet is this not something "technical?"

Surely; but does not all life contain "technicalities?" It is said of all things, even the spiritual, that they have to be learned. But learning requires practice; and "practice" is nothing else but a training of technical skill, liberating our strength and attention for what is essential. So long as one is yet "unskilled," one has to watch every single act, and the essential comes off badly; but with the "acquisition" and development of technical skill, the essential is liberated. The string of beads has no other meaning.

THE WORD

On every bead we say a prayer: words that come from Holy Scripture or from Christian tradition.

The word is something very rich, alive, even mysterious: a formation of sounds and consonances by which the speaker gives the listener a glimpse into the inner realm of thought. To a certain degree this might be done by a simple exclamation-an outcry of fright, or joy, or affection-although this could not be called a real word. A word comes into existence if the. sound expresses not only an emotion or a situation but also an association, a perception and a reality. While I speak, the word floats in space, as it were, and what was formerly closed within me is now open.

Those who hear the word can grasp its meaning. Then it fades away, and its meaning is inside again, in my own self and in those who understood it.

But with all this something has changed: the meaning became a word and it remains a word. Before it was only the gist of being and life; the inner word that man speaks to himself because be can not live a spiritual life without living in words. Now it has been "spoken out," pronounced, and stands open for all time. After speech has died away, its place is no longer in outward audibility, but in the memory of those who heard it.

But this memory is a real place in which the Word can be refound and examined, and from which it can at all times step into open speech again... Something else has happened too: So long as I keep silence, I carry the meaning within myself and am master over it. Even if the other person guesses the meaning, I still have not spoken. But when I speak, I transfer it from my own reservation into the domain of the other.

I risk taking it out into the open and thus into danger. Now I cannot extinguish it any more, because what has been said has been said. So speech is the beginning of history -- the beginning of what happens, with all the consequences.

It is said, sometimes, that the word is spiritual, but that is not true; it is like a man. It has a body like a mortal: the form of notes and sounds. It has spirit, again like man: sense that becomes manifest in the audible. And it has, like a man, a heart: the vibration of the soul which fills it.

The word is man himself, in his finest and most agile form. That is why it has such power. And this not only because of its outward vibration; if it were only that, the roar of the sea or the sound of a siren would be more mighty. Neither is this because of its emotion, because one might try to detach the emotion from the word -- the manner in which modern man reads today, points in that direction. And again, not only because of emotion; a mere gesture or a cry in many cases expresses much more.

No, the power of the word is explained by the fact that it exists like any mortal, and therefore penetrates into the very essence of life. Who has not come to know the sustaining and comforting effect of a "good word"; how its truth engages the mind; how its beauty gladdens the senses; how its sweetness can actually be tasted? But also, how an evil word sinks like a thorn deep into one's soul, so deep that even after years it seems to smart. The word is more than mere communication; it is power, substance and form.

This is not only true when the word has just been spoken; it is true also when it continues to vibrate in our memory. The word is not only the self-expression of the person who speaks, but also the assumption that the person can speak at all: it is speech. In the course of time, words and their arrangement have expanded and developed into a world of sense-figurations within which the individual has his roots.

The language a man speaks is the world in which be lives and strives; it belongs to him more essentially than the land and the things he calls his home. This world of speech consists not only of the words that put it together, but also contains sentences filled with meaning: proverbs, for example, or thoughts of wise and noble men, or songs, or poems. They can confront the individual at any time and exercise their power.

This is true of all words of wisdom, of love, and of beauty that are retained by man's memory. It is true of religious words that are derived from the experience of pious people; it is particularly true of the words that contain God's revelation in human terms, namely the words of Holy Scripture.

Such words express more than mere truth or good counsel. They are a force that stirs up the listener; a room which be may enter; a direction that guides him.

Mary of Egypt was a courtesan in Alexandria, known for her beauty and passion. One day she began to see the light; she went to see a holy man and asked him whether she could be saved. The man of God answered, "Leave everything behind; go into solitude and constantly say the words: 'Thou who has created me, have mercy on me!' " She did as she was told, prayed incessantly, always using the same words. After a number of years, the chronicler tells us, she was as pure as a flame, and the angels carried her to God. Those words were not only a petition or a lesson, but a force; and the woman had such a great heart that she gave it full sway to work her conversion.

Tne Rosary consists of holy words. The Hail Mary takes precedence over all. Its first part is derived from the New Testament. It begins with the message of the Angel in Nazareth. "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." This is followed by the words with which Elizabeth greeted Mary when she crossed the mountains to visit her: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" (Luke 1:28, 42). The second part is an ancient appeal for Mary's intercession. . .

The Our Father the Lord himself gave us as the perfect model and substance of all Christian prayer. . . . The Creed forms the first expression of Christian conviction. . . . The "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" is the glorification of the triune God in its simplest form...Finally, with the Sign of the Cross, with which the Rosary begins and ends--"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" -- Christians from remote antiquity have placed themselves under the name of God and the sign of redemption.

These words are recurrent. They create that open, moving world, transfused by energy and regulated by reason, in which the act of prayer takes place. As soon as the person praying utters the words, be has built for himself a home by his speech. The history of his own language and life becomes animated; behind it is the history of his people, interwoven into that of humanity.

But when the words are those of Holy Scripture, they become an arch in the sacred room of revelation, in which the truth of the living God is made known to us.

MARY

Within this room built by the sacred Word, the figure of Mary appears as the immediate content of the Rosary prayer.

She has been dear to Christian hearts from the beginning. Already the disciples of Jesus surrounded her with special love and respect. One is conscious of this in following the occasional but quite numerous places in the Gospels and the Acts that speak of her. The Christian people have always loved Mary with a love especially reserved for her, and it was not a good omen when Christians thought of severing their bond to Mary in order to honor the Son.

Who is she? Let us say it as simply as it can possibly be said: she is the woman for whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Redeemer, became the main purpose of life. This fact is as simple and at the same time as far beyond all human comprehension as is the Mystery of Our Lord's Incarnation.

There are two possibilities of greatness. One is to be great oneself: a creator, a hero, a herald, a man of special destiny. The other is to love such a great person, and this possibility seems of equal value. In order to comprehend the life of someone else, one's own heart should measure up to the image of the beloved. What do we mean, then, if we say that Jesus Christ was the substance of Mary's life?

Of course, we have to be on guard. The heart of man, even the most profound, can never bear the same relation to Christ as it has to a loved fellow creature. The limits of the incomparable rise up here, for He, though our brother, still has the deepest roots of his being on the side of God. All that was just said about dimension and greatness becomes oblique, and must now be discarded. And yet the fact remains that Mary was his mother. Wherever the Gospel speaks of her, not only does she appear as the one who bore and reared the Savior Child, but she stands living, knowing, and loving in this holiest of spheres.

The lesson alone of the Angel's message should suffice for every one of the faithful who reads aright; it is not the announcement that the divine decree was to be consummated in her, but the question of whether she agreed that it be so.

This instant was an abyss before which one's head reels, because here stood Mary in her freedom before the first decision of all that meant salvation. But what does it mean if the question, "Will you help the Savior's coming?" coincided with the other question, "Will you become a mother?"

What does it mean that she received the Son of God and the Savior; that she carried and bore him? That she feared for his life and wandered into exile for him? That he grew up beside her in the tranquility of the home in Nazareth, then left her on his mission, while she, as the Gospel hints, followed him with her love, standing, at the end, beneath the Cross? That she knew of the Resurrection and waited after the Ascension in the midst of the Apostles for the descent of the Holy Ghost whose power overshadowed her? That she continued to live on in the care of the Apostle "who was loved by Jesus" and to whom he himself entrusted her until her Son and Master called her?

Scripture says little about this but for those who wish to understand, the texts are eloquent; all the more so because it is Mary's own voice we hear. For where else should the disciples have learned about the mystery of the Incarnation, about the first happenings of the Childhood, and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem?

If we do not want to look upon the first chapters of the Gospels as legends (we have to know what we are doing in this case, for we are daring to decide which of the Gospel words are words of God and setting aside Revelation), we can but say that Mary's recollections, her testimony, her whole life are the foundation of all accounts of Christ's childhood. And not only the foundation; for how could she have lived with the Master for thirty years and not spoken about him after his departure? No one can gauge the effect of her narrative on the understanding of Christ and the spread of Christian teaching.

The course of this life contains nothing fictitious, nothing legendary. It is quite simple, quite real -- but with what reality!

Legends often sound pious and profound in meaning, often fanciful, and sometimes even foolish. Even when they are really devout, they can do harm. They tell wonderful tales, but often impair and weaken the meaning of something that is much more beautiful, much more devout and much more wonderful than all legends, namely reality.

The life of Mary, as the Gospel tells it is as humanly true as it can possibly be, but in this human quality it is filled with a mystery of divine communion and love the depth of which is unfathomable. The Rosary points in this direction.

Jesus is the substance of Mary's life, just as the child is the life blood of its mother, for whom it is the one and all. But, at the same time, He is also her redeemer, and that another child cannot be for its mother. Speaking of child and mother in such a manner is like "making conversation": as soon as the speech takes a serious turn, it borders on blasphemy.

Not only was Mary's existence as a human mother achieved in her relation to Jesus, but also her redemption. Becoming a mother, she became a Christian. By living with her child, she lived with the God whose living revelation he is. Growing humanly along with the child, as do all mothers who really love; releasing him on the road of life with so much resignation and pain, she ripened in God's divine grace and truth.

For this reason, Mary is not only a great Christian, one among a number of saints, but she is unique. No one is like her, because what happened to her happened to no other human being. Here lies the authentic root of all exaggeration about her. If people cannot be extravagant enough in their praises of Mary, and even say reckless and foolish things, they are still right in one respect: even though the means are faulty they seek to express a fact the tremendous depth of which must overwhelm everyone who realizes it. But exaggerations are useless and harmful, because the simpler the word expressing a truth, the more tremendous and at the same time the more deeply realized do the facts become.

It is Mary on whom the Rosary is centered in a focus ever new. This prayer means a lingering in the world of Mary, whose essence was Christ.

In this way, the Rosary is, in its deepest sense, a prayer of Christ. The first part of the Hail Mary ends with his name: "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." After this name follow the so-called "mysteries." For example: "whom thou, 0 Virgin, didst conceive of the Holy Ghost"-"whom thou didst bear with thee to Elizabeth" -- "who was born to thee in Bethlehem." Every decade of the Rosary contains such a mystery.

The whole, as expressed in the chain of beads, includes five decades and thus forms a cycle of five mysteries. There are three such cycles. The first is the joyful Rosary: its mysteries deal with the sweetly serene and yet overshadowed youth of Jesus. The second, the Sorrowful Rosary, comprises his passion from the hour of Gethsemane to his death on the Cross. The third, the Glorious Rosary, deals with the glory of his Resurrection and Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, and Mary's fulfillment.

We see how, in this prayer, the figure and life of Jesus occupies the foreground; not as in the Stations of the Cross, immediate and in itself, but through Mary: as the tenor of his life seen and sensed by her, "keeping all these things carefully in her heart" (Luke 2: 51).

The essence of the Rosary is a steady incitement to holy sympathy. If a person becomes very important to us, we are happy to meet someone who is attached to him. We see his image mirrored in another life and we see it anew. Our eyes meet two eyes that also love and see. They add their range of vision to ours, and our gaze may now go beyond the narrowness of our own ego and embrace the beloved being, previously seen only from one side.

The joys that the other person experienced, and also the pains he suffered, become as many strings whose vibrations draw from our heart new notes, new understanding, and new responses. It is intrinsic in the virtue of sympathy that the other person puts his life at our disposal, which enables us to see and to love not only with our own senses but also with his.

Something of this sort, only on a higher plane, happens with the Rosary.

CHRIST IN US

To linger in the domain of Mary is something divinely great. One does not ask about the utility of truly noble things, because they have their meaning within themselves. So it is of infinite meaning to draw a deep breath of this purity, to be secure in the peace of this union with God.

With this we come back to what was said in the beginning. Man needs a place of holy tranquility that is pervaded by the breath of God and where he meets the great figures of the faith. This place is really the inaccessibility of God himself which is opened to man only through Christ.

All prayer begins by man becoming silent -- recollecting his scattered thoughts, feeling remorse at his trespasses, and directing his thoughts toward God. If man does all this, the place is thrown open, not only as a domain of spiritual tranquility and mental concentration, but as something that comes from God.

We are always in need of this place, especially when the convulsions of the times make clear something that has always existed but which is sometimes hidden by outward well-being and a prevailing "peace of mind": namely, the homelessness of our lives.

In which times, a great courage is demanded from us: not only a readiness to dispense with more and to accomplish more than usual, but to persevere in a vacuum we do not otherwise notice. So, we require more than ever this place of which we speak, not to creep into to hide, but as a place to find the core of things, to become calm and confident once more.

For this reason the Rosary is so important in times like ours -- assuming, of course, that all slackness and exaggeration are done away with, and it is used in its clear and original forcefulness. This is all the more important because the Rosary does not require any special preparation, and the petitioner does not need to generate thoughts of which he is not capable at the moment or at any other time. He steps into a well-ordered world, meets familiar images and finds roads that lead him to the essential.

The Rosary has the character of a sojourn. Its essence is the sheltering security of a quiet, holy world that envelops the person who is praying. This is particularly evident when we compare it with the Stations of the Cross, which have the character of a journey. The worshipper follows the Master from one "station" to another, and feels at the end that he has reached his goal. The Rosary is not a road, but a place, and it has no goal but a depth. To linger in it has great compensations.

Into this place the worshipper may carry all his petitions. The second part of the Hail Mary is a request, and he may fill it with his fondest wishes. The Mother of Our Lord is not a goddess who lives far above men in all her splendor and bestows no care on them. What happened to her happened for humanity's sake. He who became her Child is our Redeemer. She is one of us, even if she met our common destiny in a fashion that is her very own. The Christian heart has always known her as the essence of compassion and love to whom men can turn with particular and unreserved confidence. That is expressed so well by the intimate name that was given her from the beginning: the name of "mother."

When Christian hearts begin to beat, they know that Mary is theirs because she is the mother of Christ. The same maternal mystery in her surrounds Christ, "the first-born among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29) and us. Christians have at all times carried their petitions to Mary with the conviction of doing right.

There is something stupendous in the profusion of human petitions that find expression in the Hail Mary: that she may intercede for us "now and at the hour of our death." There is no naming of details. Every human need is included, and we all employ the same words to portray our misery.

Only at two instants can we grasp this human need, instants that are decisive in our lives. The one is the "now," the hour in which we have to fulfill the will of God, to choose between good and evil, and so decide the course of our eternal destiny. The other one is "the hour of our death," which terminates our life, giving to all deeds and past happenings the character that will count for them in eternity.

To this we must add something else. To say the Rosary correctly is not easy, and I must ask the reader not to dwell on single words but to strive to find their right meaning.

The Apostle Paul speaks in his letters again and again of an ultimate mystery of Christian existence: namely that Christ dwells "in us." "It is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me," he says in his message to the Galatians (Gal. 2:20). He exhorts us to be faithful and vigilant, "until Christ is formed in you" (Gal. 4:19). He sees the significance of Christian growth in "the deep knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph- 4:13), and in "becoming conformed to the image of his Son, that be should be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29).

This, in the first place, is an expression of the unity of faith and the communion of grace, just as one may say of a person that a venerated model lives in him. But there is more significance to this, more from a human standpoint: namely a communion that surpasses the joint indwelling of grace and mercy, of conviction and loyal allegiance; a participation in the reality of Christ that cannot be felt deeply enough. More also in the eyes of God; and we only rightly value the meaning of these words if we seek to understand what they mean to God.

God loves man. We say and hear this again and again. But it seems that this message is not always understood in its whole gravity. For it means not only that God is kindly disposed to man, that he pardons his sins, gives him the strength to lead a virtuous life, and leads him toward that likeness to God which is the meaning of creation. Surely all of this must not be treated with disdain. It should be enough and more than enough, and, anyway, it would be senseless in this case to lay such things on a scale. But it is not enough when we use the measurements that God himself has laid into our hands: namely what he has done for his love's sake.

He has taken the task of atoning for our sins upon himself; in the human nature which he assumed, he became man, remained man, and keeps the human form eternally; he has lived among us, accepted the death that was decreed for him and made of it an atonement for our sins.

We must put an end to the attitude of taking it for granted when we hear and accept all this. As a matter of fact, it is something tremendous, even indeed irrational, if one measures it by what man of himself can understand about God and even about humans. From our standpoint, we must say that this is by rights "not becoming to God."

Here obviously is more than mere benevolent love, a pure and mighty act of graciousness. Here must be found a motive in action that concerns God himself, and we can only express it by saying that his love must have meant "fate" for him from the beginning. The word is uncommon, but I do not find a better one; so I must ask the reader to try and understand what is meant by it.

Certainly nothing that would diminish God's honor, but on the contrary, something that should teach us to adore him all the more deeply. A person who loves relinquishes the freedom of the untouched heart, and becomes chained to the beloved, not by force or necessity but precisely by love. He cannot say of the other any more "this is someone else, not I -- this bits him, not me!" Such distinctions disappear with the degree of love's reality.

Therefore, love is fate from the first moment. Something similar must be true with God. Again this is not said correctly, for what happens to the loving individual must be only a reflection of what happens in God with unbelievable import and power.

One might object that such thoughts might encroach upon God's freedom, and that he, who is Lord of all, might be brought into a position of dependency. If that happened, such thoughts would surely be false, for the foundation and guarantee of our salvation is the truth that God is the Master-independent, self-sufficient and all-mighty. But this same God has loved man from the start, and loved him in divine truth. So, man's commissions and omissions are not consummated "beneath" God, so to speak, and pursued by him with the eyes of affection but still as something that does not concern him.

Loving man, God has in a way allowed man's fate to touch his heart. He has united his honor -- the honor of a loving Creator with the salvation of his creature in such a manner that whatever happens to this creature becomes his own fate.

Again one might object that no creature by dint of his own power can have any significance in the eyes of God, least of all man who sins and becomes his contradiction. One might object that God's love can find no worthy object, being a consummate motive in itself. That is very true! No creature can, of his own power, draw down God's love upon himself, because the creature has nothing to offer of his own.

Whatever he has and is, he has from Him -- but very truly from Him -- and that establishes its validity before Him. Otherwise, what could it mean that God himself, looking at his work of creation, declared with mounting emphasis that all he had made was "good." It was indeed "good"; in fact, it was "very good" in his eyes (Gen. 1:4, 31).

Here begins the self-injection of the honor of a loving Creator of which we spoke before. It continues when it is said of man that he was created in God's image, for this means that God has placed the honor of his own image into man; and as his motive was love, it further means that he is now united with this man in a manner that can not be compared to a loving union on the human plane.

This self-injection grows deeper and more inexorable with the advent of God into the course of Sacred History, with the covenant he formed with man, with the revelation of his holy truth and decrees  -- up to the event of the Incarnation, a deed that burst asunder all and every earthly scale.

To be of real importance to him, is a gift God gave to man. It is the beginning of his love. There must be a mysterious longing for man in God. In the eyes of the Infinite Eternal, in the eyes of the Lord who is and possesses all, man must be very precious, and he wants to have a share of him.

This is the mystery to which the spiritual masters refer when they speak of God's birth in man. God not only strives to be man's helper and guardian, as he is with all that has a being, but to have a share in his existence, to enter it, transfer himself into it, to become the Son of Man. This happened, once and for all, in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The life of Christ is the essential and substantial fulfillment of God's love expressed to man. In Christ, God has presented himself to man; but in Christ he has also claimed his share of him.

God took upon himself the human form, thus he who sees Jesus sees God (John 14:9). This means that be has not only the grace to recognize God in Jesus, but also God's joy at dwelling as a human being in Christ. What has happened in Christ, once and for all, shall be consummated again and again, says St. Paul. Not that it will happen again physically the Incarnation is a divinely personal event of indisputable uniqueness-but spiritually, so that it can be re-enacted in every individual man. Yes really, in every one.

No one is dispensable, for every one exists only once, and God loves man so much that he wants to renew the mystery of the Incarnation in every one of us. To become a true believer means to receive the risen Christ within us. To live the life of the faith is to make room for him, so that he may express himself and grow within oneself.

Faith is finally fulfilled when Christ penetrates man's being and becomes his one and all. Tne life of Christ is the theme that is given and carried out in every man anew. More and more Christ enters into his life, and God in Christ; evermore his human side is led across to Christ, and through Christ to God.

In this manner is created the new man in whom the Lord lives again, in whom God sates his love. Through this be becomes what God wants him to be. To this mystery the Rosary conforms. What happened in Mary does not concern us at a holy distance, but fashions for us the unique, unattainable and yet primal form of what should take place in every Christian life: for the eternal Son of God to "take shape" in the life of the man of faith.

When that man meets the figures that make up the cast of the Rosary, he comes close to the primal form of this proceeding, and the hidden spark in him is ignited. Not consciously, so that he desires this and does that; but by seeing and pausing, by praising and imploring in the surroundings of Mary, the mystery of a Christian life is roused and awakened. It is called forth, it breathes, it grows, and it expands.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

And  now a few words about the different ways of praying the Rosary.

It has a simple form, but its substance is wide and deep. This combination makes praying it easy and difficult at the same time. Easy for a person with a vivid imagination and an open heart, capable of arresting the picture with the flow of words and identifying his own existence in the holy figures; difficult for him who has bartered his inner contemplative faculties for the multiformity of modern life. So, if a person belonging to the second order wishes to pray the Rosary, he must be prepared to grapple with some difficulty. He must practice, and learn gradually what comes naturally to others.

Above all, he has to subdue his repugnance to repetition, for this is an essential part of the Rosary. The quiet rhythm of the same words is its form. He must also subdue the restlessness so deeply entrenched in modern man. One who cannot do this, had better not give a thought to the Rosary.

He will not only be disappointed, but will run the danger of attaching little value to something beautiful. The Rosary is a prayer of lingering. One must take one's time for it, putting the necessary time at its disposal, not only externally but internally. One who wants to pray it rightly, must put away those things that press upon him, and become purposeless and quiet. That is necessary, whether be has thirty or ten minutes at his disposal. Neither should he attempt too much. It is not necessary to ramble through the whole Rosary; it is better to say only one or two decades, and to say them right.

Into this one may take his whole life -- joys and sorrows, men and things, everything -- as he would take it to a man whose presence he finds restful; not to find out how be might act with more success, but to put everything into a proper light.

The real meditation takes place in the Ave Maria.

The first part of the prayer consists in beholding and penetrating, in understanding and praising whatever mystery it is that follows the name of "Jesus." After that, one's thoughts are suspended for a while in contemplation.

In the second part of the prayer one turns to Mary as the center of the mystery, asking her intercession, "now and at the hour of our death." All petitions for body and soul, one's own and those of others, personal and general, are laid before her. Above all, the petition to participate in the mystery of Christ.

In reading these directions for the first time, one may receive the impression that they are complicated and difficult. This impression may grow even stronger if one tries to carry them out, and one may possibly become discouraged and provoked. The point is to realize that one has something to learn. This is a paramount truth, and the crux is the linking together of one's heart's desires and one's conception of the mystery with the words of the prayer.

The following illustration may make this clearer. When I speak to a person, it may be that I have something definite to tell him. In that case, my attention is concentrated on using the right words and on making my hearer understand them properly. My attention runs, so to speak, along a single track.

But it may also be that we have a quiet conversation, and that the words do not run along a prescribed course but wander here and there. I then speak to my listener and watch whether he grasps what I mean. I follow his mien and gestures, sense his motives, and feel his whole reaction. I observe the surroundings; the pictures of other people enter; events of the past emerge, and the future steps forward.

This means that my attention is spread. It does not have the shape of a line but resembles a space. It acts, one might say, symphonically; sees the background in the foreground, the essence in the gesture, and the past and the future in the present.

One might say the same about the action in the Rosary. It is not directed toward anything definite; it is all-embracing. It is not sharp cut, but unconstrained. The words are not anchored to a special meaning but left free, so that such pictures may also emerge as are not directly related to it. The person praying not only looks at these pictures but dwells in their company, feels them, speaks to them, and lets his own life pour into them.

In this way a quietly moving world comes into being, a world in which the prayer moves with a freedom that is bound only by the number of repetitions and the theme of the mystery.

This has to be learned, of course, and it requires patience. A loving patience, one is tempted to say; the kind a man needs when he strives for something beautiful and alive, and does not give in until it reveals itself.

The Our Father before each decade must not be prayed like the Hail Mary, but each of the words must retain its own meaning. It is the "Lord's Prayer"; we must shield it carefully; and yet, in the sequence of the Rosary it will always have a ring of its own.

The start and the goal of all spiritual movement is the Father. So the prayer to him is placed at the beginning of each decade, to ask him for the things that are really vital. The meditation that follows is thus made in the sight of the Father; like the seer in the Revelation of St. John we look at all the different events that pass before the eyes of him "who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever" (Apoc. 4:9).

The Creed is the introduction to the whole. In it the faith is expressed in its entirety. And, finally, with the "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" at the end of each decade, he who prays bows before the triune God, from whom everything comes and to whom everything returns.

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The first two of the three images on this page were painted by Sister Mary Grace Thul, O.P.

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