THE HOLY ROSARY
In the Thirteenth Century St. Dominic was greatly afflicted at the deplorable state of the Christian world. Vices and heresies filled Germany and France, and had penetrated into Italy and Rome itself. Desiring to oppose a barrier to such a flood of errors and sins, he had recourse to the august Mother of God, who approved of his zealous intentions, and revealed to him as a remedy for so great an evil the devotion of the Rosary. The Saint at once began to preach this devotion, and he did so with so much fruit that large numbers of people, even entire cities, were thoroughly reformed. Conversions were so astonishing and so universal, that, as the History of the Dominicans attests, when the people heard of the members of any family leading bad lives, they usually said that they either did not recite the Rosary or they recited it badly.
Now in order that we may profit by this devotion and know how to recite the Rosary, we shall consider how the Rosary should be recited in order that it may be meritorious.
The Rosary is a prayer. Prayer is defined by St. John Damascene: “As an elevation of the mind to God.” Without a raising or elevation of the mind to God there is no true prayer. It is divided into mental prayer and vocal prayer: mental prayer consists wholly in the interior exercise of the mind; vocal prayer consists in praising God and praying to Him with the tongue and the mind. If one speaks to God only with the tongue, this would be a prayer without fruit and without merit, like that of a parrot which articulates words without knowing what it says. “Whoever prays merely with the voice,” says St. Bonaventure, “without any application of the mind and without knowing what he says, acts like a parrot.”
The elevation of the mind required in the recitation of the Rosary should be a pious meditation on the Joyous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries; hence, while we are reciting with the voice the “Our Fathers” and the “Hail Marys” which compose the Rosary, we should consider the Mystery that belongs to each decade.
It is true that a vocal prayer, like the Rosary, may be meritorious without the application of the mind to the consideration of the designated Mysteries; it is sufficient that one reflects either on the Presence of God, His Omnipotence, His Mercy, or some of His other perfections; on the temporal or eternal chastisements which one merits, or on other subjects that refer to God; but if one recites the Rosary with such thoughts, and does not consider its Mysteries, he does not gain the Indulgences granted by the Sovereign Pontiff, as Benedict XIII has expressly declared.
We err, then, if we think that we shall have some merit when during the recitation of the Rosary we permit ourselves to listen to those that speak; to look at what is done; to interrupt our prayer in order to speak of what we see or to give answers to questions put to us. We should then deserve the reproach of the Lord: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Matt. xv. 8). And would to God that we only gave ourselves up to distractions without going so far as to meditate revenge, harbour feelings of hatred, or occupy ourselves with wicked thoughts; for then, very far from acquiring merit, we should make ourselves worthy of eternal chastisements!
If, therefore, we wish to find in the devotion of the Rosary a sure support in the hope that we have of saving our souls by the means of it, it should produce in us true amendment, a true reform of our lives, according to what the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, expects of us. But we shall never obtain this fruit, if in the recitation of the Rosary there is not united to our words a pious meditation on these Mysteries, which place before our eyes the loving inventions, the labours, the humiliations, and the sufferings of Jesus Christ.
There are some that deceive themselves still more. They are those who imagine that in carrying with them the Rosary they will be fortified with a formidable arm against the devil, and thus promise themselves a good death. They rely on antiquated examples of sinners, who, after a life full of crimes, because they recited and carried with them the Rosary, obtained through the intercession of Mary the grace of dying repentant. But these examples, if true, are miraculous; and I do not think that you love your soul so little that you wish to save it only by a miracle. What is certain is that one often sees sinners die without the Sacraments and without any sign of contrition, although they had carried about with them the Rosary and recited it as you do. Should not these examples, which are so frequent, fill us with terror? And as to the miraculous examples, which are very rare, do they take from you all fear of dying a bad death, and give you the assurance that you will die well? If I must say to you what I think, I should say: As for those Christians that live without the fear of God, and that rest their hope of salvation on the Rosary, which they recite through habit and without the least devotion, I very much fear that at their death the devil may frighten them with this very Rosary, by representing to them the little devotion they had in the manner of reciting it, and the life they led — a life altogether contrary to the Mysteries that they should have honoured and to the end for which the Rosary was established by the Blessed Virgin.
If, then, you wish to be saved through the protection of Mary, it is fitting you should make a better use of the devotions instituted in her honour; for we know that by the devotions badly performed, or undertaken in order to live without the fear of the justice of God, far from obtaining the protection of the Blessed Virgin, we only merit her disfavour.