by Jose Maria Fernandez
A few years back TIME magazine had Mother Mary on its cover and ran a feature story on how a growing number of Protestant Evangelicals were rediscovering her. Now, this was not the first time Mary has graced the magazine’s cover; she has, in fact, appeared on TIME’s cover more times than any other woman. However, it was a first in the magazine’s history to acknowledge in its secular pages a growing Marian consciousness and developing Mariology among present day descendants of the Reformation who consider the Bible as their sole authority.
Martin Luther severed ties with Rome and anchored his faith solely on the Bible, denying fifteen millennia of Church Authority under the pope’s leadership for a novel doctrine of Sola Scriptura – Bible Alone. Mid-sixteenth century Christianity was rent into Catholic and Protestant camps. Diverging doctrines soon developed among the Reformers that its leaders, deeming it prudent to stay stably united, convened at Marlburg, Germany in 1529. In the stormy meeting that followed they failed to achieve their purpose but instead broke into four major camps of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and the Anabaptists, and went their separate ways with Bible Alone.
By the time of Luther’s death the Reformation had separated further into seventy-five distinctly diverse groups. Divisions continued down generations; today’s fragmented Protestant landscape counts over thirty-five thousand denominations and non-sectarians comprised by independent fellowships, para-churches, etc. A progeny five centuries removed from the secure moorings of Apostolic Tradition, adrift in private interpretations of Sacred Scripture and, sadly, dispossessed of the richness of Christian heritage from antiquity and throughout the centuries. The Marian dimension of being a Christian was one such loss.
It ought to be noted that the Reformation fathers held on to the Marian Doctrines and were all faithful devotees of Mary till the end of their lives despite their defiance of the pope and differences with each other. In fact Luther, Zwingli and Calvin were staunch defenders of the Dogma of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity which they reasoned from the Bible. Moreover they also wrote prayers to Mary. Yet today, you may meet devout and sincere Separated Christians who consider Marian devotions as superfluous Catholic inventions of late Medieval Age. Some even inimical; the Rosary especially gets the ire of Fundamentalists who consider it as sacrilegious. Where in the pages of the Bible is the Rosary? Anything not found in the Bible is unbiblical.
Not so the Protestant Evangelicals who have rediscovered Mary and her Rosary. Being Bible Alone Christians it has dawned on them that the Holy Rosary does contain the Sacred Scriptures in its entirety, the Bible is in the Rosary and the Rosary is in the Bible. Shorn of anti-Catholic bias they have found Mary’s Rosary to be a most scriptural prayer, realizing its value in regard to the Bible, and beginning to understand why Catholics pray the Rosary.
Pope Paul VI called the Holy Rosary a “Compendium of the Gospels” for indeed it is. We meditate on Christ in the mysteries as we address our prayer partner, Mother Mary, in a string of Hail Mary’s repeating the scriptural salutations of the Incarnation spoken by Archangel Gabriel and Elizabeth, in a meditative travelogue through the Bible. Each decade is bookended by the Our Father, the prayer Jesus Himself taught us, and the angelic song of the Heavenly Choir to the Trinity.
Meditation is the soul of the Rosary. We are not restricted to the words we recite rather the Gospel comes alive in the meditations. Familiarity with Bible verses contextual to the twenty decades is certainly a must. Honing up on the daily liturgical readings can gain for us far more enriching insights on the relevance of the biblical passages to particular mysteries and lessons they contain and the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets in the person and mission of Christ set against a backdrop of milestone Biblical events.
Christ is at the center of the Bible and in the Rosary. In its early stages of development, the first part of the Hail Mary ended with a mention of any episode in the New Testament, going somewhat like this: …and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus Who raised Lazarus from the dead, or Who cast out the demons from the possessed men at Gadarenes – or …cured the lame man at the pool of Bethsaida – or …forgave the adulterous woman... and so on, with appended snippets from the Gospels throughout each of the one hundred and fifty Hail Mary’s. In some regions of Germany, the Rosary is still prayed in like manner. Over time it developed into the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries.
John Paul the Great expanded this format with the introduction of the Mysteries of Light (Luminous Mysteries) that focus more on Christ’s public ministry. This complementation greatly expanded the meditative scope of the prayer. The third mystery – Proclamation of the Kingdom about Christ’s Sermon on the Mount – is also generic; one can choose other Gospel episodes apart from the regular mysteries to meditate on, like the call of Simon Peter for instance, or the parables and miracles, Bread of Life discourse, encounters with Pharisees and Scribes, etc. For practical purposes anyway the Gospel for the day is sufficient for this third mystery.
Every part of the Gospel can be meditated on: To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ – John Paul II. And meditating the Gospels opens for us a proper understanding of the Old Testament. St. Augustine emphasized that the New Testament is concealed in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.
Jesus, as well as people and events associated with Him, have their types that prefigured them in the Old Testament. The Church Fathers recognized this typology and understood all of the Spirit-inspired Word to be centered on Christ. To cite a typological example: Isaac, an only son [of promise] carrying the bundle of wood up Mount Muriah for his immolation, foreshadows Jesus, the only Begotten Son Carrying the Cross of His immolation up the same mountain to one of its seven peaks, Calvary. Abraham, in allowing his son to be sacrificed, is a figure of the Eternal Father willing His Son to be the atoning sacrifice.
Naturally this means that we should know our Bible. A good practice is to set a prayer time for daily Scripture reading, capped by the recitation of one or all four mysteries of the Holy Rosary. A meditative travelogue through Salvation History highlighted by key events and the promised Eternal Home contained for all believers who do the will of the Father. The Holy Spirit will prompt us in our prayerful reflections on the meaning of the Mysteries of the Rosary and how to conform.
St. Jerome said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ, so read the Bible and pray it in the Holy Rosary with Mother Mary whom St. Augustine called the mold of God; it is in her that the Eternally Begotten Son of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit assumed human form, it is through her that we will be molded by this biblical prayer. Archbishop Fulton Sheen aptly put it thus, “As she formed Jesus in her body so she forms Jesus in our souls.”
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