To Holy Father, praying rosary is looking at face of Christ with Mary

Published: November 6, 2004

By Father Raphael Kitz, OCD

In his apostolic letter, “Rosarium Virginis Mariae,” ("Rosary of the Virgin Mary") Pope John Paul II offers a rich and profound teaching on this beloved devotion. He sums up his exhortation by saying that to recite the rosary is nothing other than to contemplate the face of Christ with Mary.

This article intends to present a few of the Holy Father’s insights and suggestions. The first thing he does is to place the rosary within the context of Christian faith and spirituality. He said, “Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Therefore, the most perfect devotion is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates one more perfectly to Christ.”

He recalls a number of New Testament texts to cast light on this truth. He points out that in our baptisms, the Holy Spirit has grafted us like branches onto the vine, which is Christ, that he makes us members of the mystical body of our Lord. Baptism is our initial encounter and union with Jesus Christ.

In the journey of the rosary, we linger and look at the face of Christ in the mysteries of his earthly life and glorified life at the right hand of the Father.

St. Paul puts it simply by saying we are in Christ. By placing the recitation of the rosary within this broad horizon, the Holy Father is telling us the rosary is a journey, an adventure that changes us as we walk along the way. In other words, the devotion is a being with and becoming like our Lord Jesus Christ as we travel to our final destiny, eternal life.

The rosary through the centuries has been called a school of contemplation. A theme that continues to come up in the writings of the Holy Father is the face of Christ. He constantly urges the faithful to look at that face. In the journey of the rosary, we linger and look at the face of Christ in the mysteries of his earthly life and glorified life at the right hand of the Father.

We can say that every word, deed and gesture of Jesus Christ reveals the Father and communicates the Holy Spirit. The rosary then is not only our prayer, our work, but also the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Another suggestion that the Holy Father makes is to view this contemplation and conformation to Christ in terms of friendship in which we share our Lord’s deepest feelings.

A saint that can be helpful in understanding this suggestion is St. Teresa of Avila. In her book the “Way of Perfection,” she gives a commentary on the Our Father and an instruction on how to say it well. Teaching her Carmelite daughters, she said, “Since you are alone, look for a friend. Who could be a better friend than the one who taught you this prayer? Stay with him as long as you can.” In this 26th chapter she repeats some 20 times, “Look at him. Just look at him. He is always looking at you.”

The "rosary," which in Latin means "rose garden," is Mary’s prayer, her garden. To go back to the Holy Father, the rosary is a looking at the face of Christ with Mary. St. Teresa’s same principal can be applied to Mary. Since you are alone, look for a friend, a mother. Who could be a better mother than the one whose prayer you are about to recite? Stay with her as long as you can.

According to the Holy Father, this looking at Christ’s face with Mary challenges us to be conformed to Christ. He said, “In the process of being conformed to Christ in the rosary, we entrust ourselves to her maternal care. The devotion mystically transports us to Mary’s side, as she is busy watching over the human growth of her son in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and mold us with the same care, until Christ is fully formed in us.”

Father Raphael Kitz, OCD, is novice master at Marylake Monastery in Little Rock.