Monday, February 10, 2014

Fr. Antonio Royo Marin on the Soul of the Rosary

The Soul of the Rosary

The meditation on the principal mysteries of the life of Jesus and Mary constitute the soul or the formal substance of the Rosary, just as how the vocal prayer of the Our Fathers and Hail Marys constitute its bodily material. Both things are absolutely necessary for the Rosary to exist. Whoever limits himself to praying the Our Fathers and Hail Marys, but without meditating on the mysteries, would have without doubt an excellent prayer but would not be reciting the Rosary; and he who meditates attentively on the mysteries, but without reciting the Our Fathers and Hail Marys, would have an excellent meditation but clearly would not have recited the Rosary. For the Rosary to exist, precisely two things must be indispensably joined: the vocal prayers and meditation on the mysteries. We shall indicate more below on a practical method for combining both aspects, which, even though there may be certain theoretical difficulties, are easily overcome in practice with a little effort and good will aided by God's grace.

As is known, the mysteries are divided into three groups of five. The first five recall the intimate life of Jesus and Mary during their hidden life and teach us how to sanctify principally the ineffable joys of the Christian home. The second five recall the main scenes of the passion and death of Jesus and teach us to sanctify the inevitable sufferings of our life in this valley of tears and miseries. The final five, lastly, place before our eyes the triumphant glories of Jesus and Mary and speak to us of heaven, where we shall enjoy forever a sublime and incomparable glory (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17). These form all the aspects of human life, and by which its joys and pains, its sorrows and hopes are sanctified and oriented towards those ineffable joys for which we hope in eternal blessedness above.

Method of Praying the Rosary Effectively

In order to obtain from the holy Rosary all of its impetrating and sanctifying efficacy, it is evident that it is not enough to recite it in a mechanical or distracted manner, like a record player or a tape. It is necessary to recite it worthily [translator's note: sometimes translated as modestly], attentively, and devoutly just as with the Breviary or as with any other vocal prayer well made.

In theory it ought to be remembered that it is difficult to recite the Rosary well, precisely because vocal and mental prayer must be joined together; otherwise the Rosary as such becomes invalidated. But in practice it is easy to encounter some methods which efficaciously help to recite this great Marian devotion correctly and piously. We shall try to explain the manner of reciting it worthily, attentively, and devoutly.

A) Worthily. The first condition required, as a minimum, is the recitation of the Rosary in a dignified manner, corresponding to the majesty of God, to Whom we ought principally to direct our prayer. The best way is to pray it kneeling before the Tabernacle—and this way carries with it a plenary indulgence—or before a pious image of Mary. But it can also be prayed in any other dignified posture or setting (e.g. modestly seated, walking through the countryside, etc.). It would be undignified to recite it in bed (unless it be for reasons of infirmity), or constantly interrupting it in order to answer questions outside of prayer, or in a public and crowded place that would make attention almost impossible, etc.

B) Attentively. Attention is necessary in order to avoid the irreverence that could occur if it were fully voluntary. How can we desire God to listen to us if we do not begin by listening to ourselves?

Nevertheless, not all distraction is culpable. We do not have a despotic control over our imagination but only a political one as the philosophers teach, and we cannot avoid those distractions that afflict us without permission, like a disobedient and indomitable servant or like the mad house. Involuntary distractions do not invalidate the meritorious effect and impetratory value of prayer, provided that efforts be made to contain and avoid the distractions. Listen to the Angelic Doctor admirably explain this point most interestingly by asking "whether attention is necessary for prayer" (Summa, IIa-IIæ, q. 83, a. 13):

This question applies chiefly to vocal prayer. Accordingly we must observe that a thing is necessary in two ways. First, a thing is necessary because thereby the end is better obtained: and thus attention is absolutely necessary for prayer. Secondly, a thing is said to be necessary when without it something cannot obtain its effect. Now the effect of prayer is threefold. The first is an effect which is common to all acts quickened by charity, and this is merit. On order to realize this effect, it is not necessary that prayer should be attentive throughout; because the force of the original intention with which one sets about praying renders the whole prayer meritorious, as is the case with other meritorious acts. The second effect of prayer is proper thereto, and consists in impetration: and again the original intention, to which God looks chiefly, suffices to obtain this effect. But if the original intention is lacking, prayer lacks both merit and impetration: because, as Gregory [Hugh St. Victor, Expos. in Reg. S. Aug. iii] says, "God hears not the prayer of those who pay no attention to their prayer." The third effect of prayer is that which it produces at once; this is the spiritual refreshment of the mind, and for this effect attention is a necessary condition: wherefore it is written (1 Corinthians 14:14): "If I pray in a tongue . . . my understanding is without fruit." 
It must be observed, however, that there are three kinds of attention that can be brought to vocal prayer: one which attends to the words, lest we say them wrong, another which attends to the sense of the words, and a third, which attends to the end of prayer, namely, God, and to the thing we are praying for. That last kind of attention is most necessary, and even idiots are capable of it. Moreover this attention, whereby the mind is fixed on God, is sometimes so strong that the mind forgets all other things, as Hugh of St. Victor states [De Modo Orandi ii].
Having kept in mind these principles of the Angelic Doctor for the purpose of facilitating attention in praying the holy Rosary and in order to extract from it its maximum sanctifying efficacy, we propose the following method, which has been used with great success for many people who suffer greatly from interior distractions when trying to pray the Rosary:

1. While praying the Our Father, attend solely to the marvelous thought behind each of the words, without thinking about the corresponding mystery since it is psychologically impossible to attend effectively to two things at the same time.

2. During the first three (more or less) Hail Marys, fix your attention exclusively on the thought of those Hail Marys, saluting the Virgin, without taking account of the pertinent mystery, for the reason given above.

3. During the next three Hail Marys (again, more or less since this shouldn't be measured "by the millimeter"), think exclusively on the corresponding mystery which is being recited (e.g. the Incarnation of the Word, the Crucifixion, etc.) without thinking about the Hail Marys that are being recited, for doing both things at once is incompatible with each other.

4. During the last three or four Hail Marys, think exclusively on the practical consequences which flow from the corresponding mystery (e.g. the humility of Mary, the love of the Cross, etc.) without thinking about either the mystery itself or the Hail Marys that are being recited.

5. During the Glory Be, focus solely on glorifying the Most Holy Trinity without thinking about anything else whatsoever.

This method, which during its first attempts may seem somewhat artificial and complicated, ultimately produces a very easy and simple result once the soul becomes habituated to it. In the beginning it takes a little getting used to, but afterwards follows the easiest results, and the soul will experience a living pleasure in praying the Rosary. From this manner of praying, we draw out the maximum benefit of the vocal prayers, of the meditation on the mysteries, and of each respective mystery's practical fruits, joined together in a comfortable, easy, and simple manner for all whose attention is affected in different ways during vocal and mental prayer. To the one who may have doubts, we ask him at least to try this method for some time with complete seriousness, and we accept whatever his final verdict may be.

C) Devotedly. This condition follows automatically from the preceding ones that we have just indicated. Devotion consists—as we have said in another place—in a promptness of the soul for those things regarding the service of God. It is impossible for the soul not to feel full of devotion if it is correctly praying the Rosary in a manner as perfect as we have indicated.

Here is one of the most important things to which we must draw attention. The primary end of all vocal or mental prayer is the union of the soul with God in a manner that is as intimate as possible. All others—including the impetration of the graces for which we ask—are secondary in relation to this supreme goal. From which it must be concluded that, if during the Rosary or any other vocal prayer that is not obligatory, the soul has begun to feel full of a love of God so intense that to continue praying would result in increasing pain or would become nearly impossible, it ought immediately to cease the prayer, without any pain of scruples, in order "to abandon itself to burning in silence" because that living flame of love "tastes of eternal life and pays every debt" as St. John of the Cross says. Nevertheless, if the prayer is obligatory (e.g. the recitation of the Breviary for the priest or religious who have taken their solemn vows), one would have to renounce the spiritual delight of the contemplative prayer in order to fulfill the obligation. Here results the truth, that "obligation comes before devotion," from which so many instances of abuse have come because of illegitimate purposes and for the sake of comfort.

The Rosary, Great Sign of Predestination

The Rosary, prayed with the qualities that we have just mentioned, constitutes one of the greatest and clearest signs of predestination that we can possess in this world, combining the infallible efficacy of impetratory prayer for final perseverance and the omnipotent intercession of Mary, who is the universal Mediatrix of all graces. [...] [To close, we have only] to beg from Mary that she place in at least one of the readers of these words the ardent desire of a great devotion to the Virgin under the double invocation of Carmel and the Rosary:

When the white pall
shall cover my remains...,
may your Scapular save me
and may my cold fingers be clutching
the beads of your Rosary!


Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marín, La Virgen María, trans. by R. Grablin (Madrid, Spain: BAC, 1996), 471-476.

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