Mary in the context of the mysteries

Both of these elements that we have mentioned – the recitation of the “Hail Marys” and the meditation on the mysteries – are essential to the Rosary, and it is their combination that gives the Rosary its distinctive quality as a form of Christian prayer. But it is precisely on this point that some people experience difficulty with the Rosary. To recite “Hail Marys” and at the same time to meditate on mysteries seems to demand of us an effort to focus simultaneously on two quite different objects of attention, which can be experienced perhaps as a source of a certain mental tension. But in fact the combination of these two elements is not as difficult as it might seem at first sight.

When we think about a person whom we love, we always situate that person is a particular context – dressed in a particular way, doing a particular job, talking about a particular topic, and so on. So too with Mary when we are reciting the Rosary. The Mary to whom we speak is a Mary situated in a particular context, and this context is suggested to us by the mystery we are meditating on. “The mysteries of Christ are also in some sense the mysteries of his Mother, even when they do not involve her directly, for she lives from him and through him”[fn]John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 24[/fn].

Thus, in the first joyful mystery, we may consider Mary as she embodies the expectant attitude of the Old Testament with regard to the coming of the Messiah, and welcomes the Savior into the world in our name. In the first half of the “Hail Mary” we address ourselves to her as we consider her from this point of view: “Hail, Mary, you who longed with unique intensity for the coming of our Redeemer, and who welcomed him unreservedly when he came”. And in the second half of the “Hail Mary” we ask her to obtain for us from God some share in that attitude of soul that was hers: “Holy Mary, pray for me that I too may long deeply for the coming of Jesus into my life, and may welcome all the offers of God’s grace that come my way”. Or in the third joyful mystery we may think of Mary as she kneels beside the manger in an attitude of deep faith and profound adoration, and we address her: “Hail, Mary, you are the great model of faith, blessed because you believed, and a worshipper of God in spirit and in truth. Holy Mary, pray for us that we too may acknowledge Jesus in faith and adoration as our Lord and our God”. (To avoid misunderstanding, please note that I am not proposing these words as a substitute for the traditional Hail Mary, but am rather suggesting some thoughts that might fill our minds and hearts as we recite the traditional words).

It might be objected that, while it is not difficult to situate Mary in the context of those mysteries where she directly figures in the Gospel story – mysteries such as the finding in the temple, or Cana, or Pentecost, - it is not so easy to see her place in such mysteries as the preaching of the kingdom, or the crowning with thorns, or the resurrection. Here we should remind ourselves that Christian life means walking as Christ walked[fn]cf. 1 John 2:6[/fn], i.e., allowing all the significant events of Christ’s life to be relived in one’s own life, thus becoming, as it were, additional humanities of Christ in which he can re-live his whole mystery[fn]Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity[/fn].

Every Christian, therefore, must be prepared to experience something of Gethsemane in his own life. He must be prepared to undergo suffering in expiation for sin, must be ready to experience mockery and humiliation, must be willing to carry his cross and must be ready to welcome death in a Christian way. Mary, precisely because she was the ideal Christian and model of discipleship, re-lived the whole mystery of Christ in her own life, and hence experienced a share in each one of the sorrowful mysteries, filling up in her own body what was lacking to the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Church[fn]cf. Col. 1:24[/fn].

As we recite these mysteries, we honour in the first part of the “Hail Mary” she who was so perfectly conformed to Christ in his sufferings, and in the second part we ask her to help us to be generous in accepting the cross in its various forms when it comes our way. And what we have said here with reference to Mary’s place in the context of the sorrowful mysteries may be applied in its own way to Mary in the context of the luminous mysteries and in the context of the glorious mysteries.

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Anglais