Talk to the Sodality at the Admission of new members and Aspirants, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2020, Fr Richard Peers, Superior
Last summer, my brother, sister and I sat around the bed in St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds where our mum was dying. Over the weeks she had been there we had the great gift of being able to visit her daily, and for me the great gift of praying the Rosary with her. No matter how tired or exhausted she became she would push at the beads on the hospital table and I would pray a set of mysteries. Initially praying strongly with me, as she weakened I would hardly be able to hear her say the second half of each prayer until I needed to say the whole prayer for her. Summoned by the staff early on a Friday as we gathered for her last few hours I started on the Rosary. There was no sound, her lips moved to the prayers and Brideshead-like she raised her hand slightly from the sheets as I made the sign of the cross at the start. A couple of hours later her lips stopped moving and soon we noticed that she had stopped breathing. The Rosary was deeply embedded in Mum’s consciousness and, as it became clear her sub-conscious too. When so much else in her memory had fallen away the Rosary remained.
The Rosary has always been part of my life. I remember my grandmother – who I lived with for part of my childhood – praying the Rosary each evening. Sometimes tuning in to Vatican Radio to pray it in Latin. Rosary with her before weekday Masses in her church in Bolsover. Rosary at home with mum. Rosary on camps as a teenager, Rosary at theological College in the chapel and with friends in our rooms; Rosary in the parishes I’ve served in. Rosary with the brothers of the Jerusalem Community in the car driving through the French countryside back to the centre of Paris after their retreat day. Rosary at Lourdes, and Rosary at Walsingham, in the Holy House, and, of course, through the loud speakers at the national pilgrimage.
I’m only going to speak briefly today but I want to do so with some intensity, some considerable conviction because as I get older I find the Rosary is becoming increasingly important as part of my prayer life. Not least because like many others of us it is almost the only form of prayer (with microphone and camera switched off) that I can bear on Zoom and really feel enriched not drained by.
Like many others I probably read too much mystical literature as an adolescent and young man. I imagined that I would attain to the height of Mount Carmel, pass through the Mansions of prayer and by the time I got to my age now be a master of the contemplative life!
Well, it ain’t like that. I am content now to paddle in the shallows of the spiritual life; to enjoy the playful waves not of a crashing sea but of a quiet day on the beach. My prayer life is definitely of the bucket and spade variety with an occasional ice-cream. I am more than happy to leave the depths to others or until such a time that God calls me.
I want to do two things today. To make some simple suggestions for the way we pray the Rosary as a community and as individuals and to do so by recommending we all read a short text, an Apostolic Letter of Pope St John Paul II: Rosarium Virginis Mariae. I have put a PDF version of the whole text in the files on our Facebook group and also a shortened version with some key phrases highlighted by me.
My Twitter profile at the moment includes three two word phrases that have appealed to me for some time as I consider my Christian life and seek to be:
I believe the Rosary is all these things.
Near the end of his letter John Paul II writes:
“The centre of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins its two parts, is the name of Jesus.”
The Rosary is hinged on Jesus, centred on Jesus. The opening prayers and each Mystery include the prayer that Jesus taught. And to be Jesus-centred is to be profoundly a person of the church,
“The Our Father,” Pope John Paul writes, “makes meditation upon the mystery, even when carried out in solitude, an ecclesial experience.”
And, beautifully, he describes the beads themselves, as physical objects that illustrate this Jesus-centred, ecclesial spirituality. “the beads converge on the Crucifix”.
And “the beads remind us of our many relationships, of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us all in Christ.”
This is such a beautiful thing for us in the Sodality. Our bonds are in many ways not very substantial, but we are a chain of relationships, now across the world, that I hold on to day in day out as I pray my beads.
The Rosary is Jesus Centred.
The Rosary is Spirit filled because it is contemplative prayer. In it we follow the example of Mary who “pondered these things in her heart”. As we ponder the mysteries of the Rosary it becomes a “way of assimilating the mystery”. It is an act of remembering that creates us as people who are formed in the likeness of Christ because we are what we remember. This is why we can’t pray the Rosary too often. It is a constant work of conversion as it shapes our minds and identities. As its “quiet rhythm and lingering pace” become a “training in holiness”, that phrase alone make sit a suitable prayer for us as Sodalists with our single aim of “growing in holiness because the world needs holy priests.”
As you know charismatic renewal is an important part of my life. The gifts of the Spirit are real and necessary for me. But the Spirit’s gifts are not all fireworks, they include the gift of contemplation, of stillness, of “attentive listening”.
By its rhythms and its concreteness I find the Rosary can bring me to a place of stillness even in times of great stress and anxiety.
The Rosary is Spirit-filled.
The Rosary is bible-based because it feeds into our memories, our identities the great mysteries of the Christian faith, beginning with the creed and extending into meditation on the individual mysteries. The prayers of the Rosary are the “warp into which is woven contemplation of the mysteries.” I really like this image from the Apostolic letter because sometimes, especially when people start praying the Rosary, it can feel like there is too much to do, too much going on. But if we imagine ourselves weaving a strong, and beautiful, fabric using the warp and weft of prayer and contemplation it may help us to see what we are doing. Pope John Paul also addresses the use of the imagination, specifically mentioning the Ignation method of ‘composing the scene’, picturing in as much detail as possible the scene of the Mystery. We can become very words in our prayer and should not be afraid of using our visual memories as much as our verbal minds.
The Rosary is bible-based.
So from these reflections based on Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I want to make some practical suggestions for the way we pray the Rosary together.
In particular I want to reflect on the place of specific intercession – which is so important. Those of us who are familiar with praying the Rosary at Walsingham stood or sat around the Holy House will know what a major part intercession and the lists of those to be prayed for plays in that devotion. But as I hope I have shown intercession needs to be balanced with the biblical-contemplative dimension of the gospel. “No other words can ever match the efficacy of the inspired word.” Pope John Paul II writes of the Rosary.
I also notice that in our Zoom Rosaries we can have a good deal of intercession at each mystery and then requests for prayer at the end of the meeting which means both a good deal of intercessory material and also that we end with material without being able to process it or talk around it. So I suggest that we remove requests for intercession from the end of our meetings entirely and we end with the Hail Mary and Sodality Prayer. At the beginning of the Rosary having made the sign of the cross and recited the creed the leader then ask for any prayer requests.
We hold these in silence before moving to the mysteries.Individual intentions for each decade are still possible on occasion thus combining the specific intercessions of our community and the intentions offered by the leader of the Rosary. But while there may not always be intercession for each mystery there ought always to be Scripture and silence.
It may also be appropriate at the end of the Salve Regina before the versicle (Pray for us Holy Mother of God etc) that a time of silence be punctuated by anyone calling out names of those to be prayed for as they wish. I think this can work quite powerfully on Zoom. That way the time after the Rosary is for conversation and news and does not end on too undigested a heavy note.
There are other elements that John Paul II suggests which used judiciously might enhance our praying of the Rosary:
Every praying of the Rosary should involve some reading of Scripture; there are lots of Rosary books around with shorter and longer suggestions, and these can be found online as well and can be used before each mystery.
Each of these Scripture readings could profitably be followed by a period of silence, not just a moment but a minute or two.
Additional prayers often in Collect format can enrich our understanding of the mystery and usefully follow the Glory be …
There are also many other short meditations that can be used without adding huge amounts of time to the Rosary. Fr Steven Shakespeare and I are hoping to work on some of these, he is writing poems and I am compiling other material – I hope that now the first few months of the new job are done I can find time to work on that. I often mention Bishop David Konstant’s Mysteries of the Rosary as a great source of material.
I don’t want to suggest overwhelming the Rosary or extending our time too long but I think some light tweaking of our prayer would be helpful. Pope John Paul II talks of the ‘sobriety’ of the Rosary and the ‘noble simplicity’ of Latin Christianity should be respected. But I do want to encourage some light creativity!
Most of all I want to thank the 20 or so new members admitted today and next week (in Australia and New Zealand) and all Sodalists for committing to this community in which the Rosary has found such a natural home, or rather in which we as a community have found our natural home.
“If ever I come to the end of a day without having said the Rosary,” Blessed Columba Marmion declared, “I confess that I feel disappointed.”
I hope that each of us will find deep joy and satisfaction in being faithful pray-ers of the Rosary.