“The Rosary is my favorite prayer, a marvelous prayer. Marvelous in its simplicity and depth. It can be said that the Rosary is, in a certain way, a prayer-commentary on the last chapter of the constitution, Lumen Gentium, of Vatican II, a chapter which deals with the wonderful presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church. Against the background of the words, Ave Maria (Hail Mary), there passes before the eyes of the soul the main episodes of the life of Jesus Christ, and they put us in living communication with Jesus through, we could say, His mother’s heart. At the same time, our heart can enclose in these decades of the Rosary all the facets that make up the life of the individual, the family, the nation, the Church and all mankind, particularly of those who are dear to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary beats the rhythm of human life.” (1)
Thus spoke the great Marian pontiff, Pope John Paul II, about his favorite prayer, the Rosary. He described the tremendous value of the Rosary for the Christian life in this address delivered within the first weeks of his pontificate. (2) The Rosary does in fact “put us in living communication with Jesus… through his mother’s heart” and “beats the rhythm of human life.”
As Pope Leo XIII said in one of his eleven encyclicals written exclusively on the Rosary: “Among the various methods and forms of prayer which are devoutly and profitably used in the Catholic Church, that which is called the Rosary is for many reasons to be especially recommended. (3) The pre-eminence of the Rosary (after liturgical prayer) is also confirmed by Pope Pius XII: “the Rosary, as all know, has pride of place.” (4)
The Rosary, the greatest Marian prayer, has been championed by the Church as the most highly recommended prayer form, second only to the liturgical prayer of the Church which centers around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, John Paul II makes clear that while the Church’s Liturgy retains a primacy of place, the Rosary is in no way contrary to the Mass, but actually serves to “sustain it”:
There are some who think that the centrality of the Liturgy, rightly stressed by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, necessarily entails giving lesser importance to the Rosary. Yet, as Pope Paul VI made clear, not only does this prayer not conflict with the Liturgy, it sustains it, since it serves as an excellent introduction and a faithful echo of the Liturgy, enabling people to participate fully and interiorly in it and to reap its fruits in their daily lives. (5)
What Is the Rosary?
The Rosary is a beautiful combination of vocal prayer and meditation that centers upon the greatest Gospel mysteries in the life of Jesus Christ and secondarily in the life of the Lord’s Mother. It is an “incarnational” prayer, a prayer consisting of both vocal and mental prayer that serves to incorporate both body and soul into spiritual communion with Our Lord and Our Mother.
The basic structure of the complete Rosary consists in the praying of twenty sets of ten Hail Marys, referred to as decades, with an Our Father prayed at the beginning of each decade and a “Glory Be” at the end of each decade. During the praying of each decade of ten Hail Marys, one of the central Gospel mysteries of Jesus Christ is meditated upon. This prayerful pondering of the life of Jesus imitates the spiritual practice of Mary herself who, Scripture tells us, interiorly made her own the sacred events in the life of her Son: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). What possibly passed unnoticed by others, did not escape the attention of the Mother of Jesus in regards to salvation history. Mary continually pondered the salvific events and mysteries of her Son in her Immaculate Heart.
Technically, the term “Rosary” refers now to the full twenty decades (with the recent inclusion of the “Luminous” mysteries by John Paul II), (6) with a Gospel mystery associated with each decade. The twenty mysteries are categorized into four sets of five mysteries, known as the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. In these four sets of mysteries, we prayerfully meditate upon the great general mysteries of our salvation as accomplished by Our Lord Jesus Chr