Video: Fatima, the Rosary, and St Joseph

Yesterday I recorded a short talk on the anniversary of Our Lady's first appearance at Fatima. After looking at St John Paul's epigrammatic summary of the Rosary, I give some hints on praying the Rosary, and explain why the Rosary is a devotion greatly favoured by the Church. At the end I offer a short reflection on the relationship of St Joseph to the Rosary. I hope you find it helpful.

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Here is the text if you prefer just to read it:

The Rosary

Laudetur Iesus Christus.
Praised be Jesus Christ.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

When our Blessed Lady appeared to the three children of Fatima, she insisted repeatedly that they say the Rosary every day and that they encourage others to do so. When she made her last appearance on 13 October 1917, before the astonishing miracle of the sun which was seen by over 70,000 people, she said of herself “I am Our Lady of the Rosary.”

Today, the anniversary of Our Lady’s first appearance at Fatima, is a reminder to us of that simple message of Our Lady to the children and through them to the world. She asks us to say the Rosary every day, to pray for peace, to ask pardon for our sins and to offer reparation to her Immaculate Heart.

St John Paul “Contemplating with Mary the face of Christ”

Today is also the anniversary of the day when St John Paul was shot in St Peter’s Square. The bullet missed his heart by a short distance and he attributed his protection to the prayers of Our Lady.

Throughout his pontificate, St John Paul gave example to the Church and the world, of a tender and heartfelt devotion to Our Lady. His words on the Rosary tell us something of his motivation. He said:

“With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae (2002) n.1)

Later in the same Apostolic Letter, St John Paul summed it up epigramatically, saying that to recite the Rosary is to “contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.” This is a perfect summary of this excellent prayer.

When it comes to prayer, we are all “at school” in the sense that we don’t ever feel we have “qualified” or accomplished a high status as experts in praying. We all know that our prayers are imperfect and we long to do better in our attempts to lift up our hearts and minds to God, and address Him as we should. In the Rosary, we go to the “school of Mary” to learn from her. She is the greatest of all saints and therefore also, with the sole exception of her divine Son, the greatest expert and teacher of prayer.

Hints on praying the Rosary

Praying the Rosary is very simple and greatly rewards perseverance. It is not a prayer that requires a lot of “expertise” and Our Lady herself will teach each of us to pray better and with greater fervour.

To take an example, in the first Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation, we think of how the angel Gabriel visited Mary and on behalf of God the Father, asked her to become the mother of His Son, the Redeemer of the world.

As with all of the themes of the Rosary, we can approach this mystery in different ways. We might imagine the scene, imagine that we are there watching, think of how we would be frightened by the powerful presence of an Archangel, imagine how we would be overcome with reverence at the holiness of the St Gabriel and of Our Lady, and ask them to help us.

Or, if our “learning style” is more academic, we could think of the truths that the Church proposes to us: the doctrine of the incarnation, the divinity of Christ, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other related truths of our faith. We can ask Our Lady to help us in our faith, or think about the wonderful truth of the incarnation.

The important thing in our prayers is to develop that friendship with Christ in which we speak to Him and listen to Him, adore, praise and thank him, repent of our sins and ask Him for His grace.

Sometimes we’re distracted by our daily troubles. If these are relatively trivial, like worrying about the washing or jobs in the house, renewing a subscription or recording some television programme, we can try to push them away from our mind and return to the mystery.

If our worries are urgent and pressing, such as a major financial problem, concern about a child who is going down a bad path, or the illness or death of someone we love, we can bring these things into our prayers, asking Our Lady to intercede for us.

It takes about fifteen minutes to say five decades of the Rosary: an offering of time to the Most High God who created us and calls us to eternal life. The Rosary is a prayer for people of all abilities: it can be used by someone who can’t read, and it can be used by a university professor. It is for people of every station in life, whether a humble manual worker, someone unemployed, a parent, a single person, a professional person, a cabinet minister, or the Pope himself. It can be used by people of every temperament, whether joyful and effervescent, or melancholy and gloomy. It is a prayer that levels us in the right way. We are all at the feet of Christ, assisted by His Blessed Mother, trying to grow in love for God.

Rosary indulgence

Our Holy Mother, the Church leaves us free to choose those extra-liturgical devotions which are most helpful for growing in our spiritual life. However, she encourages us in various ways to use those devotions which are especially favoured by the influence of saints in composing them, and by using them to help others grow in faith, and the Church discerns over time those which are solid and unambiguous in doctrinal orthodoxy, and trustworthy in their contribution to our spiritual life.

A good sign of the Church’s approval is when a devotion is enriched by the popes with the grant of an indulgence. Another good sign is when popes and saints repeatedly endorse a devotion over centuries by commending it in their writings. The Rosary has been spoken of with affection and the highest recommendation by many popes down the centuries, and has consistently been enriched with indulgences.

The current Enchiridion or official handbook of indulgences allows that we can all gain a plenary indulgence every single day subject to the usual conditions by reciting five decades of the Rosary either in a group, or even alone if we are in a Church.

During the present coronavirus pandemic, when many of us are not allowed to visit a Church, we can gain a plenary indulgence for reciting the Rosary on our own without being in a Church. Normally a person must make a sacramental confession and receive Holy Communion to receive a plenary indulgence. At the moment, when many people cannot fulfil these conditions in the usual space of time, it is sufficient for gaining the indulgence if we have the firm intention to go to confession and Holy Communion as soon as we can.

The Rosary is one of those devotions that are most highly encouraged by the Church. You may have heard of St John Paul’s apostolic letter on the Rosary “Rosarium Virginis Mariae.” You might be surprised to hear that Pope Leo XIII wrote twelve encyclicals on the Rosary during his papacy.

So it’s true that the Church leaves us free to chose the devotions that help us most, but in her wisdom she also guides us on what might be a very good choice, just as a parent won’t simply ask a young child what they want, but will guide them in making good choices.

Saint Joseph and the Rosary

Speaking of parents and the Church, we shouldn’t forget that Saint Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church, named so by Blessed Pius IX in 1870. (If you get the chance, I do recommend a visit to Farnborough Abbey in Hampshire. In the magnificent chapel, the Abbey houses the national shrine of Saint Joseph with its crowned statue.)

Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus is no doubt delighted in heaven with the increase in holiness which so many people experience through saying the Rosary: first because it is a prayer of adoration of his foster Son, the eternal Word made flesh, and secondly because it is a prayer in which we honour St Joseph’s beloved wife Mary whom he cared for on the journey to Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt, and the return to live in seclusion at Nazareth. How he must rejoice to see the Rosary said with love, focussing on Jesus and Mary while he, so to speak, remains in the background, staff in hand, to watch over the Church in prayer and keep us faithful as he was faithful.

With this in mind I invite you to offer that night prayer so beloved of Catholics for generations:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you. Amen.

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