Scott Hahn is a well-known Catholic writer. He used to be staunchly anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister. He is now a Catholic. Scott tells how, as a fervent Evangelical teenager, he discovered his grandmother’s rosary beads. His grandmother had just died and the young Scott Hahn ripped the rosary in pieces crying out, ‘God, set her free from the chains of Catholicism that have bound her!’
Since then, Scott has discovered the power of the rosary and has written a beautiful book about the Blessed Virgin Mary calledHail Holy Queen. Scott is not the only American Evangelical to have discovered the rosary. I was brought up in a similar background. After university I came to England to study and was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest. As an Anglican priest I used to make my annual retreat at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. Just as I was about to leave for retreat a parishioner gave me a rosary. She had just come back from a pilgrimage to Walshingham and she had felt led to buy me this gift. I had never used the rosary, and was prejudiced against it.
But one of my guiding principles was a little saying I had discovered while a student. It is, ‘A person is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.’ So I looked at the rosary and asked myself why I was denying something used by millions of fellow Christians. Who was more likely to be right—me or the millions? So I went to the Abbey bookshop and found a little book of instruction and started to learn my way around that ‘chain of prayer that binds us to God.’
What happened next was terrible. Within weeks my life started to come apart at the seams. I was a young priest who thought he had everything together. Suddenly I began to see great fault lines in my life. I started to receive Christian counselling and God began the long process of sorting me out, and before he could start to put me together he had to take me apart. It wasn’t easy, but in the midst of it a gentle priest said to me, ‘Our Lady’s prayers have done you so much good haven’t they?’ Only then did I realise that the healing process I was going through had started once I began using the rosary.
Since then I have used the rosary regularly in my life. The journey of Christian healing is never over, and the rosary has been my link back to that same power that constantly seeks to draw me back to Christ. I am also convinced that praying with the rosary has been one of the great magnets that finally drew me into full communion with the Catholic Church. Evangelicals have great difficulties understanding the Catholic view of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At worst they think we worship Mary instead of God. At least they think our worship of Jesus Christ is distorted by our devotion to Mary. They have trouble accepting the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Our Lady. I had thought these things through, but it was the rosary that brought me to understand them with the heart, not just with the head.
This is why I am so delighted by Pope John Paul’s new encyclical letter on the Rosary. He has called for the year from now until next October as the year of the rosary. As part of his renewal of the rosary the Pope has introduced five new mysteries. These five mysteries take us further into the life of Christ. The Joyful Mysteries focus on his conception, birth and boyhood. The sorrowful mysteries focus on his passion and death. But the new ‘Mysteries of Light’ or ‘Luminous Mysteries’ take us into his earthly ministry. The five new mysteries are 1. Our Lord’s Baptism 2. Our Lord’s First Miracle at the Wedding in Cana 3. Our Lord’s Teaching on the Kingdom and the need for Repentance 4. The Transfiguration and 5. The Institution of the Eucharist.
Many people who use the rosary focus on one set of mysteries per day. Where does the new set of mysteries fit in? The traditional form is for Sunday to be devoted to the Glorious Mysteries, then Monday and Thursday for the Joyful Mysteries, Tuesday and Friday for the Sorrowful Mysteries and Wednesday and Saturday for the Glorious Mysteries. The Pope suggests that instead of focussing on the Glorious Mysteries on Saturday and Sunday, that we focus on the Joyful Mysteries on Saturday instead of Thursday, which leaves Thursday free for the Luminous Mysteries.
Put simply, the order goes like this: Sunday: Glorious. Monday: Joyful. Tuesday: Sorrowful. Wednesday: Glorious. Thursday:Luminous. Friday: Sorrowful. Saturday: Joyful.
I’m delighted with this renewal of the rosary not only for my own life, but because of my friendship with Evangelicals. I correspond regularly with many evangelical friends. I have to admit that most are not really interested in the Catholic Church. But some are interested and a few are attracted to the Catholic faith. However, they still have problems with our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now the Pope has answered many of their concerns.
They have argued that that the rosary does not focus on the ministry and teaching of Jesus. Pope John Paul has corrected that imbalance. They have worried that the prayer is a vain form of repetition done only for its own sake. The pope warns that the rosary is simply a method of contemplation. As such, ‘it serves as a means to an end and cannot become an end in itself.’ They have complained that those who use the rosary ignore Scripture. In the new encyclical the pope teaches us to use passages from Scripture to nourish and inform our contemplation of Christ. They have complained that the rosary focuses on Mary too much. The Pope has reminded all of us that the centre of the rosary is Christ not Mary. Furthermore, in substituting the Luminous Mysteries for one day’s focus on the Glorious Mysteries he has boosted our focus on Christ and slightly lessened our attention to Mary in the mysteries of the Assumption and Coronation.
One of the best things about Evangelicals is their emphasis on having a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’. Often that means they regard Christ as a friend and brother. That is good, but Jesus Christ is also our Lord and God. Because of this our relationship with him should also be one of adoration and love. My evangelical friends admit that they are not strong on this aspect of worship. They shouldn’t be afraid of the rosary. It provides a way for all Christians to enter into a closer relationship with Christ. To contemplate is to spend time in Christ’s loving presence, and the rosary is an excellent way to do this. As the Pope reminds us, ‘To recite the rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.’
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