The Rosary in the Life of Pope John Paul II

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The Rosary in the Life of Pope John Paul II

by Timothy Tindal-Robertson

16th October 2003 is the 25th anniversary of the Pope’s election, and also the date on which, one year ago, he inaugurated the Year of the Rosary, and published the Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in which he stated that he has set the whole of his pontificate “within the daily rhythm of the Rosary”, in times of joy as well as of difficulty.

Wojtyla joins the “Living Rosary” circle in Krakow

From his earliest years, Karol Wojtyla imbibed the traditional culture of Polish devotion to the Mother of God, for which his country is so well known. In the last two years of his secondary education, Wojtyla was elected president of the school’s Sodality of Mary. His path to the priesthood began around February 1940, when he joined Jan Tyranowski’s clandestine “Living Rosary” circle in Krakow, after the city had been occupied by the Nazis. Wojtyla became one of its first leaders, and through Tyranowski, came to read the mystical works of St. John of the Cross, and the writings of the foremost Marian saint and theologian, Louis de Montfort. It was from de Montfort that the future Pope “came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption”, as he wrote in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994, p. 213).

The “Marian thread” in John Paul II’s life

Hence, the Rosary contributed at least indirectly to the grace of his own vocation, and thereafter, the strong “Marian thread” in his life grew out of his reading the Treatise of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by St. Louis de Montfort, whose motto of personal entrustment to the Mother of God, Totus Tuus, he subsequently made his own when he was elected Pope, and whose work The Secret of the Rosary, he commended in his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary (RVM, 8).

The Pope wrote that the spiritual experiences of his youth have continued to guide him through all the events of his life, and indeed one of the remarkable features of his pontificate is that he has continuously invoked the intercession of the holy Mother of God, and exhorted the faithful to pray the Rosary for peace and the preservation and well-being of family life.

June 1979: The Pope’s first pilgrimage to Poland was being blocked by the Communist Government. The Rosary was recited day and night, at the Polish national shrine to Our Lady in Czestochowa, and at the end of a week, on the seventh day the Government backed down.

13 May 1981 The Pope’s life was saved from the assassination attempt by the intervention of Our Lady of Fatima, who had revealed, on 13 October 1917, “I am the Lady of the Rosary”.

Act of Entrustment of the Third Millennium to Mary Most Holy, on Sunday 8th October

The Pope’s most important public act with regard to the Rosary, took place at St. Peter’s, Rome, in October of the Great Jubilee of the Holy Year 2000, when 1,400 Bishops - the largest single gathering of Bishops since the end of the Second Vatican Council - came to celebrate the Jubilee of Bishops and join with the Holy Father in making his Act of Entrustment of the Third Millennium to Mary Most Holy, on Sunday 8th October.

It would seem the date had been chosen to coincide with the Feast of the Holy Rosary on the day before, Saturday 7th October. In a special celebration, groups from each of the five continents joined in reciting the different parts of the Rosary. The fifth mystery was led by the surviving seer of Fatima, Sister Lucia, together with her Carmelite community in Coimbra, representing Europe.

Addressing the Bishops at the end of the Rosary, the Holy Father said that “tomorrow we will collegially make our Act of Entrustment to the Immaculate Heart of Mary [thereby referring to the request of Our Lady at Fatima]. This evening, while meditating on the Glorious mysteries of the Holy Rosary, we prepared inwardly for this act”.

Both the Rosary celebration and the Act were carried out in the presence of “the revered image” of “Our Lady of the Rosary” of Fatima, which had been flown over at the request of the Holy Father.

John Paul II on the Rosary

The Rosary is one of the most meaningful prayers for the faithful of every age and every condition. In the Rosary, even the most lowly and humble son or daughter of the people of God can find the fullness of his or her baptismal vocation, his or her prophetic, priestly and kingly role, and can find, in and through Mary, an extraordinary capacity to approach the heart of Christ and of the Father.

In the Rosary, Mary herself gathers up the prayers of the poor and humble and clothes them with a most potent ability to intercede before the throne of the Most High. The Rosary, thanks to Mary, brings the saving light of the mysteries of Christ to shine on all the circumstances and difficulties of our daily life, work, labours, doubts, suffering, family and social lives, and transforms it all, raises it up and purifies it.

Extracts from the Pope’s Apostolic Letter on the Rosary,

Rosarium Virginis Mariae issued on 16 October 2002

The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. It has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.

The Pope wants encourage people to pray the Rosary because it is more urgent than ever that our communities become “genuine schools of prayer”, in which, through the Rosary, we contemplate the divine mystery of the life of Christ.

The two important themes mentioned by the Pope:

I willingly entrust to the power of this prayer, the cause of peace in the world, and the cause of the family which is “increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration”.

From Chap. I: Contemplating Christ with Mary

The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary.

The family that prays together stays together … [and] reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth.

With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the mother of the Redeemer.

Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her Son, with the desire that they … will release all their saving power.

Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to “read” Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message.

In this school, Mary teaches us by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Never as in the Rosary do the life of Jesus and that of Mary appear so deeply joined. Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ !


 Homiletic & Pastoral Review article:

St Dominic and the Rosary, by Paul A. Duffner
It is very probable that the Mother of God did use St. Dominic in some way to give the Rosary to the Church.


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