Book Notes: The Contemplative Rosary

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The Contemplative Rosary celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical On the Most Holy Rosary (Rosarium Virginis Mariae) by promoting his teaching on this fruitful prayer. Along with his teaching, the authors turn to St. Teresa of Avila’s teaching about vocal prayer. The Contemplative Rosary aims to help Catholics grow in intimacy with Christ through meditation on the mysteries. Praying the Rosary slowly, with loving attention to God, can prepare us for the gift of infused contemplation, the highest expression of personal prayer.

Enjoy this excerpt from The Contemplative Rosary.

In her instruction on the Our Father, Saint Teresa tells her Sisters that true prayer requires solitude. Jesus exemplified this in the Gospels, when He went aside by Himself to pray.[1] We may scratch our heads at Saint Teresa’s teaching, since she is speaking particularly about vocal prayer. Wasn’t the Our Father meant to be said aloud? Don’t we often pray the Rosary as a family or a parish community? How can we pray it together and yet be alone?

Solitude in prayer goes beyond entering our room by ourselves and closing the door.[2] If all we do is place ourselves physically apart from other people, we do not have the type of solitude Saint Teresa encourages. God invites us, out of His desire to commune with us, to set aside anything that would distract us from this encounter of love. We should not have divided hearts, as if we are listening to another conversation while we are speaking to our Lord. This kind of attention falls short of what is necessary to allow us to receive all that He desires to give us in prayer.

When we pray the Rosary, whether alone or with others, we deliberately set aside worldly matters. We pursue an atmosphere, both internally and externally, that is proper to prayer. If we are at home, this means turning off and setting aside any electronic media or anything that produces background noise or buzzing in our pockets or purses. In church, this means discouraging chatter. We set aside a special time and place in which nothing is happening but prayer.

But exterior solitude is only the beginning. We also cultivate solitude in our hearts. Interior solitude presents a greater challenge. We consciously put aside our daydreams, plans, and all reflections that have nothing to do with our prayer. We make a quiet place in our hearts where we can be alone with Jesus, even if we are in a room with other people. This takes both vigilance and practice.

Note that we do not seek to be absolutely alone, even in our hearts. We seek to be alone with God. We do not set aside all thoughts as taught in non-Christian Eastern religions, but only those thoughts that would distract us from Him. Saint John Paul II notes that although the Rosary is a form of meditation, it differs from non-Christian meditation techniques. It is not “aimed at attaining a high level of spiritual concentration” (or, we might add, an altered state of consciousness), nor should we think of the rosary beads as somehow magical, like an amulet. The Rosary is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a means of contemplating Christ. Like the Eastern Christian “Jesus Prayer,” the Rosary can satisfy the desire for a repetitive, meditative form of prayer but in an authentically Christian manner.[3]

In Interior Castle, Saint Teresa writes bluntly about the importance of attention during prayer:

A prayer in which a person is not aware of whom he is speaking to, what he is asking, who it is who is asking and of whom, I do not call prayer, however much the lips move.[4]

When vocal prayers are prayed with attention and devotion, they rise to the level of mental prayer that simply uses words composed by someone else. Teresa anticipated that some of her nuns would protest against engaging their minds in vocal prayer. “You’re asking us to practice mental prayer, and we can’t do that!” She writes:

You are right in saying that this vocal prayer is now in fact mental prayer. But I tell you that surely I don’t know how mental prayer can be separated from vocal prayer if the vocal prayer is to be recited well with the understanding of whom we are speaking to. It is even an obligation that we strive to pray with attention.[5]

Many of us learned the Rosary as children. If we were not taught to pray it well with attention, or we have formed bad habits of laziness in thought, it will take effort to begin collecting our thoughts to focus our minds and hearts on Jesus, as Saint Teresa says we should. She calls this practice recollection.

Helping Catholics to overcome these difficulties was one of the chief goals of Saint John Paul II’s encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae. He wished to revitalize the Rosary, to illuminate its riches, to wake us out of our stupor of “vain repetition,” and to help us realize what a precious gift the Church gives us in this prayer. Attention and devotion hold the secret to drawing ourselves, and allowing God to draw us, ever more deeply into the powerful mysteries of the Rosary and into contemplative prayer. Saint John Paul II quotes his predecessor Blessed Paul VI:

Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words.”[6]

 

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Copyright 2017 Connie Rossini

Connie RossiniAbout the author: Connie Rossini gives whole families practical help to grow in holiness. She is the author of Trusting God with St. ThereseIs Centering Prayer Catholic?, and the series A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Children. She writes a column on prayer for The Catholic Voice. She blogs at Contemplative Homeschool and is a columnist for SpiritualDirection.com. Connie currently resides in Omaha with her husband and four sons.

Works cited

[1] WP 24.4–5; see also Matt. 14:23; 26:36; Mark 1:35; 6:36; 14:32; Luke 5:16; 6:12.

[2] See Matt. 6:6

[3] RVM 28.

[4] Saint Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle (hereafter IC), trans. Otilio Rodriguez and Kieran Kavanaugh (Washington,

DC: ICS, 1980), 1.1.7

[5] Ibid., 24.6.

[6] RVM 12, quoting Marialis Cultus 156 and Matt. 6:7.

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