The Joyful mysteries and the theology of the body.
The Rosary, a treasure to be rediscovered
If you confess you are a Catholic, especially to certain types of protestant, one of the things which gives rise to bewilderment, misunderstanding and even sometimes to outright hostility is devotion to Our Lady and in particular the praying of the Rosary.. Non-Catholics have sometimes told me that their solitary experience of Catholic worship has been going into a Catholic Church and being deluged with Hail Marys. So why do we do it?
There are three main aspects to the Rosary as a prayer: It is doctrinal - it teaches in a relatively short span the chief mysteries or doctrines of our faith; it is a prayer of intercession and petition, uniting our prayers with the prayers of Our Lady; and it is contemplative - it leads those who pray it well into a way of prayer where we dwell in the mystery of God. What makes it particularly good is that these three aspects are simultaneously present in each part of the prayer. My theme here is what the Rosary teaches us about our faith - and as the topic is enormous, I am going to concentrate on some aspects of the Catholic Theology of the Body in relation to the Joyful mysteries.
The Rosary is a ‘Christocentric prayer’ - that is it is a prayer primarily about Christ. JPII says that it contains ‘the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety,’ To meditate upon the “joyful” mysteries is to enter into the “good news”, which has as its heart and its whole content the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the one Savior of the world.
The first joyful mystery is the Annunciation. We rather automatically as Catholics use the expression ‘Mother of God’, and most Christians quite happily call Jesus true God and true man, but these titles were both once in dispute - At the Church Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople from which the Creed we say in Mass, it was agreed that Jesus as God and Jesus as man were the same ‘hypostasis’ (approximately 'person'). Later at Ephesus it was agreed that from this it followed that if Mary truly was the Mother of Jesus, then she truly was the mother of God. 'Theotokos'
It is difficult, if you are a cradle Catholic at least to get a full sense of how extraordinary this is: the Word, the self-expression of the Father became flesh in Mary’s womb at the precise moment of her consent. The whole of salvation history, in some sense the entire history of the world led up to Gabriel’s greeting, to Mary’s ‘fiat’ - (let it be), to the fulfilment of the Father’s plan to unite all things in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10).
St Bernard of Clairvaux meditates thus upon the moment, in a meditation addressed to Mary at th moment of the annunciation:
'The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.'
In Jesus, God wanted to take on human features. It is through His bodily reality that we are led into contact with the mystery of His being God. As Vincent McNabb says ‘There is no better proof that God was Man than this - that the Mother of God was a Woman’ The Physicality of the Rosary - the fact that we use beads, speak words, meditate perhaps upon pictures while we pray is directly connected to this inner logic of the Incarnation.
The next mystery, the mystery of the Visitation shows the encounter of two women and two unborn children. The Mothers greet each other and praise God. The embryonic Jesus confers grace upon the foetus John the Baptist so that he is held in the Church’s tradition to have been cleansed of original sin from that moment. The Church marks this by celebrating the birth of John with a feast - the only saint apart from Our Lady who is honoured in this way. The words spoken by Elizabeth here and by the angel Gabriel form the first part of the Hail Mary. Outwardly this may seem like a prayer exclusively to Mary, but John Paul II in his encyclical sees in it “a glimpse of God’s own wonderment as He contemplates His “masterpiece” the Incarnation of the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary” such that “the repetition of the Hail Mary in the Rosary gives us a share in God’s own wonder and pleasure: in jubilant amazement we acknowledge the greatest miracle of history” and fulfil Mary’s own prophecy “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”(Rosarium Virginis Mariae 33). These two mysteries of the unborn Christ invite us to a clear commitment to upholding the dignity of all unborn children: If the next person after Mary to receive the grace of Christ was an unborn baby, How can one possibly contemplate this without experiencing the desire to welcome, defend and promote life?
Next we are presented with the Birth of Christ - the bodiliness of God, hitherto a private and hidden thing, is brought forth into view by a human birth - but not, as some modern theologians would have it a birth like any other. Rather, like his conception, His birth, according to the constant tradition of the Church left Mary a Virgin - before during and afterwards, she was spared the pangs of childbirth but suffered later the greater agony of participation in her Son’s passion and death on the Cross on Calvary. Yet in spite of her very great closeness to the Passion of Our Lord, Mary shed no blood for the redemption of the world: “You were not redeemed with corruptible things…but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled” The mediaeval image has it that Jesus passed through her body like light through glass. (For more on this subject follow this link: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15448a.htm
In this dual privilege as Mother and Virgin, Mary is not set before women as the impossible model which none can follow. Rather she is set before all Christians as an icon which all must strive to image in their lives - All must be chaste, have a right relation to others in the language of the body, always respecting the other as the temple of the Holy Spirit and never treating the other as object, and all must be fruitful - bring forth fruits worthy of salvation.
This mystery in particular shows Jesus in solidarity with the poor and as the answer to their deepest longings: The infant Jesus is presented in the Temple according to the Law, with two young pigeons offered in His stead, the offering of the poor. A richer couple would have been able to offer a lamb. (cf. Leviticus 12:6) Two old people, the poor of the Temple, greet Him. As Simeon approaches Mary and says ' "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34–35), Mary's co-redemptive suffering is alluded to. The mystery points forward to the redemptive value that the Passion of Christ was to give to all other suffering, as Paul explores in Colossians 1:24
The Finding in the Temple
The finding in the Temple like the marriage feast at Cana, presents the relationship between Jesus and His mother. People are often struck and possibly a little scandalised by the things our Lord says to Mary - The most difficult of which is the apparent rejection of Mary when Our Lord says 'Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Anyone who does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother' Matthew 12:48 Even the address on the Cross lacks that note of tenderness one might look for in a Son to His mother: 'Woman, behold your Son'.John 19:26 Here it is important to meditate upon the position of Mary. She is like certain other figures in the Bible, a prophetic witness - and this prophetic role sometimes carries with it burdens which externally look too hard to bear - like the prophet Ezechiel, forbidden to mourn his wife, the delight of his eyes, as a prophetic sign to the people.(cf Ezekiel 24:16)
Mary is, as I have said an icon which all Christians are oblige to emulate- and this is because she is the first and perfect Christian, the type and exemplar of the Church. Our Lord's Words to her show the priority which we should have - obedience to the will of God should override any human consideration, even the ties of family and affection. Mary's response in word and deed is to '“Do whatever He tells you'John 2:5 - and her obedience is reciprocated. Vincent McNabb meditates again and again on the mystery of Christ's obedience to His mother. He points out that on the two occasions when we see Mary expressing a desire - Here, and at the wedding feast of Cana- in each case the response is overwhelming: 'He not only went down to Nazareth, but He dwelt there eighteen years. He not only changed the water into wine, But he changed six vessels of water into wine'… 'Our Lady's Fiat at Nazareth drew Jesus from His Father's side to her womb. Her Fiat again drew Him back to Nazareth from His Fathers business…Her Fiat again sent Him forth on His work of salvation'
Mystery of Christ, mystery of man
To pray the Rosary is to be put in touch with The Christian anthropology - an anthroplogy formed first on the premise that every human being is made in the image of God; that the image fatally damaged by sin is in Christ restored to a far higher degree of perfection, participation in the divine nature. As it says in Redemptor Hominis: “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man is seen in its true light”. Each mystery of the Rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man. The Rosary 'marks the rhythm of human life”, bringing it into harmony with the “rhythm” of God’s own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life’s destiny and deepest longing.
This is the backdrop against which the demands of the Gospel - the commandments and the Beatitudes, the New Commandment of Love and the counsels of perfection are set and become reasonable. It is as Temples of the Ho;y Spirit, members of the Body of Christ, adopted Sons and daughters of the heavenly Father that we should se ourselves. This implies a life in which obedience, worship and sacrifice make sense. As adult Catholics we must inform our faith - properly meditated upon, the Rosary will open up vistas for exploration, and the exploration may be of very many kinds - in this there is very great liberty - we may study the theology of each mystery, read the poetry and meditation inspired by the Rosary, or which it leads into, listen to the music and look at the great art inspired by the various mysteries, learn about the social and moral teaching of the Church and commit ourselves to promoting it. This sort of religion is not, as the philosopher Marx said 'the opium of the people' (or in modern terms prozac): Far from offering an escape from the problems of the world, the Rosary obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes, and obtains for us the strength to face them with the certainty of God’s help and the firm intention of bearing witness in every situation to “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14)
Where you have placed it let the sword divide
And your unmotherly Medea be
Here sundered from our human Trinity
The Mother and the Virgin and the Bride
Why should we falter? Ours shall be the mirth
And yours the amaze when you have thinned away
Your starvling serfs to fit their starvling pay
and seen the meek inheriting the earth.
That Christ from this creative purity
Came forth your sterile appetites to scorn
Lo: in her house Life without Lust was born
So in your house Lust without life shall die.
G. K Chesterton