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The Rosary: The Way of Perfection
“To Mary alone God gave the keys to the cellar of divine love and the ability to enter the most sublime and secret ways of perfection, and lead others along them.”
(St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, #45)
Our Lady of Fatima said that her Immaculate Heart would be our refuge and the way that would lead us to God. She also clearly designated the praying of the Rosary as the Way by which this interior fulfillment of our hearts in union with God should be accomplished.
Just as all Truth, Holiness, and Perfection came to us in the Incarnation of Christ through the Angelic Salutation, so the Hail Mary provides the way for each of our hearts to be fully immersed in Mary in order that we may be transformed into the likeness of her Son Jesus.
Those who have prayed the Rosary faithfully can testify to the mysterious power it has over the human soul, especially in terms of instilling a deep security in their faith. This is something which seems to occur even in the midst of all sorts of distractions, inadequate concentration on the words we are saying, or the equally frustrating failures to focus on the mysteries themselves. But few seem to consider that the Rosary itself, embodying the very words with which God became man, might equally be the means by which Our Lord and Our Lady desire that we be drawn into the highest realms of love and union with God.
Throughout the history of Catholic spiritual writings, there has traditionally been proposed a threefold hierarchical division of types of prayer: oral prayer, discursive meditation, and the higher states of contemplative prayer in which one is drawn into deeper union with God. The Rosary has almost always been seen as operating exclusively in the realm of the first two types of prayer. The third type, usually considered as an exalted mystical state experienced only by very rarely chosen souls, has been viewed as something to which oral prayer like the Rosary cannot usually provide a “Way”. In light of what has been written above, this makes little sense. The Hail Mary being the Word by which God came to us, it should also be considered the “cellar of divine love” (using St. Louis de Montfort’s expression), which contains all that is necessary in order that we may be drawn up through all the stages of prayer into union with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
St. Teresa of Avila, one of the greatest mystics in the history of the Church, tells us that the deepest experiences of prayer through which we reach union with God, are not at all intended by God to be reserved only for a few select souls. She tells us, in fact, that a very large number of souls in this world hover on the edge of such deeper union with God, and never manage to cross over into this marvelous world, solely because of one very tragic mistake which they commit in their spiritual lives.
These souls, described by St. Teresa, have reached a state where mortal sin is truly abhorrent to them, and they even are committed to waging war against venial sin. They are firmly established in the faith, are committed to the practice of virtue, and have spent much time and effort in meditating upon the mysteries of Our Lord and His Mother, and the truths of the Gospel. And all this has been reflected in a devotion to prayer and discursive meditation.
But they come to a point where all of this is not enough – something much deeper seems to place a demand upon their souls. Their former practices of prayer and meditation, which had seemed such fruitful sources of joy and enlightenment, now seem to have become profoundly permeated by temptations, aridity, distraction, and lack of consolation. It is at this point that such persons might experience a great deal of anxiety, restlessness, melancholia, and discouragement – all of this posing the threat that they might even abandon prayer altogether. It is here, according to St. Teresa, that so many souls falter because they lack understanding – most specifically, they lack self-knowledge.
What St. Teresa means by this lack of self-knowledge is not the kind of self-knowledge which we speak of in regard to unraveling the blindness which we may have acquired concerning our sins and infidelities. Rather, it is that ignorance which fails to understand our makeup as fallen human beings, and how this applies to making progress towards God. Because of this ignorance, the temptations, distractions, discouragement, melancholia, etc. which such persons experience become a threat to their commitment to, and progress in, the spiritual life of prayer. And even though these persons may, in all good will, persevere in prayer, they become resigned to a spiritual state of distraction, dullness, and torpidity – somehow becoming convinced that this is the best that has been willed for them by God. They may even suffer the delusion that such a continual state of torpidity and lack of progress is a meritorious cross of suffering intended for them by God.
It is here, says St. Teresa, that such persons are profoundly mistaken. They are indeed very close to God. But they are led away from being drawn into the depths of His love because they identify all of the distraction and temptations which are raging away in their lower mind (because of the effects of original sin) with the state of their soul. And in “going after” such things, they are simply following in the steps of the very foolish man who thinks he can fight the Devil on his own ground. St. Teresa says that in reality, we can no more stop such things through our own efforts than we can stop the roaring of the sea. In her writings, she describes the extraordinary nature and extent of such temptations which she often experienced even after having attained the highest states of union with God.
The lack of self-knowledge which is the cause of this unfortunate attitude and state is therefore this: it consists in the failure to understand that, at this stage of the spiritual life, deeper union with God is dependent not primarily upon the mind and its operations, but rather upon the will. And this in turn requires that we realize that we are now being called to simplify our prayer into what should consist primarily of simple acts of love and surrender to God. St. Teresa even goes so far as to say that during this descent into the cellar of God’s love, we need to laugh at our temptations and distractions, and count them as nothing. This of course does not in any way mean that discursive thinking and meditation cease entirely, but only that they assume their now proper status as the foundations of Faith from which the soul is called to launch forth into the deeper reaches of God’s light and love.
All of this bears profoundly on our praying of the Rosary.
Probably all readers have either read, or heard it said, that meditations upon the individual Mysteries, and the lives of Jesus and Mary which they depict, are the very soul of the Rosary. This is certainly true. Just as Faith is the absolute foundation of all true Charity, so the Mysteries of the life of Christ and His Mother are the foundations of all that constitutes our growth in love through the Rosary. As St. Teresa also wrote, any devotion or method of prayer which proposes to make progress in the spiritual life by bypassing the humanity of Christ (and therefore the actual Mysteries of the Rosary) is an extremely dangerous deceit of the Devil.
This does not mean, however, that all of our time spent in praying the Rosary must be spent in discursive thought concerning these Mysteries. Anyone who has spent years trying to use something such as a “scriptural rosary” is fully aware of the futility of always trying to keep their attention fixed upon such “thoughts”. Because their prayer is always focused in the realm of discursive thinking and imagination, they also find themselves operating in the playground where all the “demons” of distractions and temptations make their home. They must therefore come to realize that there is truly a path into the heart of all of these mysteries which is profoundly effective in bypassing this “roaring of the sea”. And since the Angelic Salutation occupies what is certainly at least ninety percent of the time of our prayer, and is the heart of the Rosary, we shall begin here (we shall discuss the other prayers of the Rosary afterwards).
While at the beginning of each decade we must certainly try to focus on, and bow our minds and hearts, before the individual mystery which we are about to pray. During the actual recitation of the Hail Mary’s we suggest something very different – a difference which is completely focused on placing our hearts within Mary’s Immaculate Heart in order to enter upon that way of interior transformation that will lead us “affectively” closer to Her and to Jesus.
During the words “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee”, we should see Our Lord entering in complete spiritual childhood into Mary’s Immaculate Heart and womb at the moment of the Incarnation. It is here that we may be assured that we are in no way attempting to bypass the humanity of Christ or any of the Mysteries of His life, despite the fact that we are not always focused on discursive thinking and meditation upon these Mysteries. As St. Louis de Montfort writes, “The Incarnation is the greatest of the Mysteries of Christ’s life, because it contains the grace and intention of all the rest.” With the very first words of the Angelic Salutation we therefore become united with Our Lord and Our Lady in all of the Mysteries of their lives. And we may be assured that, as deemed necessary by Our Lord Himself, the deeper meaning of these Mysteries will open up to us, not only during the recitation of the Rosary itself, but also through all the further meditations upon and study of the Faith which is incumbent upon all of us during our entire life.
With the words “Blessed art thou among women” we interiorly follow Our Lord in total humility and descent into the Immaculate Heart of Mary our Mother. And with the words “and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus”, we receive Jesus in spiritual communion. It is an extraordinary source of joy to have realized that we can “make” a spiritual communion during each Hail Mary. We might also add a quick “Come into my heart” after saying the name of Jesus. Such an ejaculation “in the back of our mind” is possible even when praying the rosary orally with someone else, and while we are meanwhile responding with the second half.
As for the second half of the Hail Mary, it is easy simply to focus on the words – to pray as sinners for the grace of profound inner purification which can only come through the grace of her intercession (“Pray for us sinners”), and to also pray especially for what has always been considered the greatest of individual actual graces – the grace of final perseverance (“now and at the hour of our death.”). This second part of Hail Mary amounts to a total consecration to Jesus through Mary for the entirety of our lives on the path towards holiness.
We must realize that when we ask our Holy Mother to pray for us, we are asking for something completely unique in the way of intercession. Mary’s prayer is something much more than the prayer of others. Her union with her Son possesses a power shared by none. Being totally and uniquely united to her Son, her prayer for an individual soul is a total embrace and enfolding of that soul within the depths of love which is her Immaculate Heart. And since her Heart is totally united with the Sacred Heart of her Son in a manner which makes her the mediatrix of all of His graces, the only thing which prevents the total union of such a soul (for whom she prays) with Christ, is the lack of total surrender of that particular person to her love. The second part of the Hail Mary should therefore embody our deepest cry for that state of spiritual childhood which seeks complete surrender to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in order that she might fully form us into the likeness of her Son Jesus.
What is written above might seem rather complicated in print, but after a bit of initial effort and work, it has become something that seems very natural. It does not disturb the pace of the Rosary (unless we are praying it too fast). Even if we become distracted (which still often happens), it is easy, as St. Louis de Montfort says, to “arise with alacrity” and return our hearts to Jesus and Mary. It is the work (the art) of a lifetime.
One of the very noticeable effects of this method of praying the Hail Mary is its effect on the desire and ability to focus on the other prayers of the Rosary. The additional great benefit of this practice is that it does truly bring about a “union” between the “word” that is on our lips and the thought that is in our mind. We are actually intending with our mind and will what we are orally (or silently) praying One of the primary effects of original sin, stemming from the loss of the gift of integrity between all our faculties, is the now natural (in terms of fallen nature) duplicity ( St. James calls this “double-mindedness”) that runs so deep in each of us between what we are thinking and doing, and especially between what we are thinking and what we are saying. Any restoration of “single-mindedness” is therefore a wonderful thing and a foretaste of Heaven in which this integrity will be fully restored. As Our Lord said, “If thy eye be single, then thy whole body shall be lightsome.”
The recitation of the Apostles Creed seems to be almost immediately affected by the overflow of graces which now flow from this at-least partial restoration of integrity. All of the articles of belief enunciated in the Creed are of course quite specific truths of our faith, and the movement of assent of our minds and hearts to the truths contained therein is penetrated now with new attentiveness and assent.
The “Our Father” is of course “Our Lord’s Prayer”, and therefore pre-eminent over all of creation. When we pray “Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be they name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”, it might therefore indeed be seen as appropriate to make the simple intention of surrendering to God’s absolute sovereignty over all the world, especially as expressed in the Kingship of Christ over all individual souls, all nations, and all aspects of our individual and collective lives. And even though entire books have been written on the Our Father, the simple requests that follow should present no problem for the attention of those who pray them. We only need to mention that, as we descend more deeply in to the Heart of Mary, our supplication “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” naturally becomes far more redolent with meaning. Entering into the Heart of Mercy cannot fail in generating the effect of saturating our own hearts with a deeper charity and mercy towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. This of course should also necessarily have the effect of increasing our attention and desire for the salvation of souls which is the essence of the Fatima prayer at the end of each decade.
The “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end” might indeed be the Rosary prayer which has been said in the most rote matter, and could well rate highest on any scale of double-mindedness and minimal consciousness. This is tragic. It is the prayer which most succinctly expresses the greatest mystery of our Faith – the Holy Trinity – and it should not at all be difficult during its recitation to place our minds in the eternal unchanging knowledge, will, and embrace of God (we wrote on this subject in the article on the Fifth Glorious Mystery). It might even be very appropriate in reciting this prayer to experience a wave of fortitude, and even anger, in militant defense of the eternal, unchanging Nature of God and His Revelation in the face of the world-wide attacks now being made by the forces of Antichrist against all that is contained therein.
We need also consider the intentions for which we pray the Rosary. Anyone who has prayed the Rosary for many years probably has experienced how tedious it can be offering the same intentions over and over, especially if they are numerous. These intentions tend to become very automatic, and profoundly lacking in all that we might imagine to be integral to truly desiring what we ask for, or in loving the very people for whom we are praying. It is one of the wonderful and mysterious effects of praying the Angelic Salutation in the way we have described above that it opens our hearts to the needs and miseries of others:
“And I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 36:26).
All that we have offered above in regard to a method for praying the Rosary are suggestions. There is a great deal of richness and variety in human hearts and minds which cannot be placed under any one absolutely- uniform method or rule of prayer.
At the same time, however, we believe that we have offered some principles that are universal. Holding primacy among these principles is the truth that it is a great error and delusion to be in any way satisfied with a practice of praying the Rosary which is beset with distractions, inattentiveness, etc. What is imperative is that each one of us becomes, as was the Old Testament prophet Daniel, a “Man of Desires”, incapable of resting in spiritual mediocrity and duplicity. If none of what is written above is helpful to some particular individual, then we recommend incessant prayer to Our Lady that he be shown his own particular way – like the widow who sought justice from the unjust judge (Luke 18: 1-8). As Our Lord said, “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away (Mt. 11:12). Nothing is more pleasing to Our Lord than the violence within the human heart that refuses to live on the outskirts of His love.
We need only add that what has been written above is the essence of what the Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church is all about. There can be no solution to the tidal wave of chaos which is now upon us except through that extraordinary interior purification of our hearts which awaits our descent into the cellars of divine love present within the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and which is accessible through her Rosary. Only thus will the power of the Holy Spirit once again become fruitful within the Church for the conversion, and re-conversion, of peoples and nations to Christ. Let us pursue this love violently, especially for the sake of our children who are faced with a world (and the Prince of this world) which is now in possession of a power to devour souls never before witnessed in Christian history.
Praying At All Times
“Watch ye, therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21: 36)
Never in Christian history has it been more imperative that we pay heed to the scripture quoted above. Never have we more needed an escape from the “things to come”, and never, therefore, has it been more incumbent upon us to “pray at all times”.
The five-decade Rosary of course requires a period of extended time. There are therefore many limitations in our over-busy world placed upon how many times we can pray such a Rosary during the day. There would seem to be no such limit placed upon Hail Mary’s prayed according to the method we have described above. A Hail Mary takes about twenty seconds. We all need to think about what this means in terms of the potential for being immersed in the “cellars of divine love” of Our Lord and Our Lady, of receiving Jesus in spiritual communion innumerable times during the day, and of protecting ourselves from evil and all “the things to come”.
One of the most wonderful times to pray Hail Mary’s in this way is when we are in bed and trying to fall asleep. This is especially true if we go to bed with worries on our mind, and enormously so if there is any kind of despair, discouragement, depression, anger, etc. At such times, the truths concerning Mary as being the “Refuge of Sinners” and the Rosary as the “Way of Perfection” are verified beyond any possible doubt