When we pray the Rosary we not only meditate on the history of the Lord’s life but try to make these events increasingly meaningful in our own lives. Looking at some of the mysteries we discover that they involve what appear to be completely mundane things, they do not all involve an obviously miraculous or supernatural happening. In the Joyful mysteries, apart from the Annunciation, we find ordinary human events like Mary visiting her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the birth of a child and so on. Of course these events in the life of the Lord and his Mother are surrounded by the miraculous action of God in His world, but if we were to look with ordinary eyes and not eyes enlightened by faith, we would see simple, ordinary human things.
It is one of the stories from Dominican history that tells of how Our Lady appeared to St. Dominic in 1208 in Prouille and gave him the Rosary as a means for preaching the Gospel. Until this time St. Dominic had been trying with little success to convert people who had fallen away from the full truth of the Catholic faith. Armed with the rosary and the central insight of this way of prayer, St. Dominic began to meet with increasing success in his preaching and within eight years had obtained from Pope Honorius III the permission for a new order to be called “The Order of Preachers”, known better as Dominicans.
It is hard to say exactly why St. Dominic became so successful in his preaching, but one of the factors was most definitely his use of the Rosary to preach the true faith in the face of the distortions of the heretics. Though many of the mysteries of the Rosary are seemingly mundane events, there is always something more going on behind the scenes. There is a dual truth at the very least to each mystery, in that though they often speak of ordinary human acts, they are always speaking simultaneously of the acts of God that give reality and truth to what is most obvious to us.
St. Dominic knew and understood this, and passed on the Rosary to his followers as a most useful means of encountering Jesus in prayer. It was and is a most efficacious way of prayer because in presenting the events of the Lord’s life in an orderly manner we are able to follow the whole story and come into touch with a reality. This reality, the reality of the Incarnate God, is what we are seeking in prayer, seeking to know and believe by faith. The ordinary events, the historical facts of the life of Jesus are the means by which we encounter Jesus as his disciples first did while he lived. Yet we are never invited to simply rest in the ordinarily human, no, we are invited by this humanity, this physicality, to progress deeper in our understanding until our minds are enlightened by faith.
Fr. Ciaran M. Dougherty, O.P. St. Malchy’s Friary, Dundalk.