The Rosary: Looking with Mary

An article from Fr. Noel Molloy, published in Dominican Ashram, Vol. 3, No. 4, December 1984
Fr. Noel Molloy, OP is an Irish Dominican Priest of the Indian Province who arrived in India in 1969. He is well known Retreat Preacher and teaches Dogmatic Theology in St. Charles Seminary, Nagpur
But, as in the case of other vocal prayers, it may happen that as we say the rosary we feel strongly disinclined to concentrate directly on the words we are saying, and we feel attracted rather to a peaceful resting in Christ or in God, in a Christ or in a God now haloed and quietly radiant with those mysteries of Incarnation, Redemption and Glorification in which they have supremely manifested themselves. The Mysteries are now present to us in a very general and global way, caught up and reduced to great simplicity in the glory of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We no longer feel drawn to break them down into detailed considerations of Bethlehem, Gethsemane, etc. This too, corresponding as it does to the third way of vocal prayer, is a fully authentic way of saving the Rosary – indeed, the most perfect way, and the fulfillment of the rosary as contemplative prayer. For people who have reached a certain level of contemplative prayer, this may well be the only way of saying the Rosary that remains possible for them if they are not to do violence to the action of the Spirit within them. Such people should be positively encouraged to pray the Rosary in this way. Perhaps the difficulty that some people, advanced in the ways of prayer, experience with regard to the Rosary (we have already mentioned the example of St. Therese in this regard) may be partly explained by a failure to take into account this third level at which the Rosary can be prayed.

Even in this way of saying the Rosary, the recitation of the ‘Hail Marys’ remains very significant. Their recitation involves Mary both objectively and subjectively in our contemplative prayer, and we are enriched by her presence.

Objectively, that is to say, in itself, and even though we are no longer focusing on the words we are saying, the recitation of the ‘Hail Marys’ is a prayer to Mary to be with us as we contemplate the glory of God on the face of Christ. In Hindu spiritual tradition one is encouraged to seek the presence of a holy man so that, in his company, one can ‘sit with God’. The recollection and contemplativity of the guru will mysteriously communicate itself to the disciple. This instinct is there too in the heart of the Church. From the very beginning the Church sat with Mary in prayer (cf. Acts 1:14). The Church spontaneously recognizes in her the queen of contemplatives. Luke tells us how she kept the mysteries of Christ’s infancy in her heart, pondering them. We may be sure that all the other mysteries of Christ’s life, as they gradually unfolded themselves, also found a place in her heart. Because of that fullness of grace which enlightened the eyes of her immaculate heart, she penetrated, to a degree never equaled by even the greatest mystic, beyond these mysteries into the depths of God which they disclosed. To be privileged to participate to at least some extent in that contemplative gaze of Mary has always been the desire of the Church. This is beautifully symbolized by an old Carthusian custom: “A small connecting room called the Ave Maria room, empty except for a statue of Mary, links the monk’s room for work with his room for prayer, so that he must pass through it when he wants to give himself wholly to his prayer”. It is through the heart of Mary that he gains access to the mystery of God. By our recitation of the ‘Hail Marys’ we sit with Mary, and to sit with Mary is to sit with God. Even though we may not be concentrating on the words we are saying, our saying of them is in itself the expression of our hope and prayer that Mary may share with us something of her own recollection in God.

But in addition to that objective value which they have as an implicit plea to Mary to help us see with the eyes of her heart, the recitation of the ‘Hail Marys’ also sustains in us, on the subjective level of experience, a quite awareness of Mary’s presence. It is a fact of common experience that even while we concentrate on one thing we can remain aware of something else. While praying the Office in choir, for instance, I focus directly on the things of God, and yet remain aware that there are people all round me or, during midnight mass at Christmas, my attention may be centered on the mystery being enacted on the Altar, and yet the strains of ‘Silent Night’ sustain in me an awareness of what feast is being celebrated. So with the Rosary. Though contemplating God at this third level of Rosary recitation, the ‘Hail Marys’ sustain in us a gentle, unobtrusive awareness of Mary’s presence. We are aware that she is there with us as we sit with God.

We are told about a tradition that St. Dominic once had a vision of heaven, and saw there, before the throne of God, members of the various Religious Orders. But he looked in vain for the sight of a Dominican habit. In great distress he fell at Mary’s feet and asked her what had gone wrong. In reply she lifted her great cloak, and there were the Dominican brethren sheltered beneath it. This might be taken as a symbol of the third way of saying the Rosary. We gaze at God, but under the shelter of Mary’s cloak.

This third way of saying the Rosary, corresponding to the third way of vocal prayer, I would described as looking with Mary.