Prayer and Reflection by Archbishop Stephen Brislin

Archbishop Stephen Brislin offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Wednesday 7 October 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Welcome to this reflection. Today we celebrate the Feast of our Lady of the Rosary. The rosary has a deep and special meaning for me personally, as it does for many people. Some parishes are dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary and so I wish all parishes who celebrate their patronal feast today all God’s blessings.

Let us start, as usual, with a verse from the Gospel of today, from St Luke (11:1-40):

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples”.

Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech you O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an angel may, by his Passion and Cross, be brought to the glory of the Resurrection, through  the same Christ Our Lord, amen

Jesus was a person of prayer. We frequently hear in the Gospels how he would spend time alone praying, or going to the synagogue. Those around Jesus must have been influenced by the depth of Jesus’ prayer life and so the disciple we heard about in today’s Gospel asked Jesus to teach them to pray Jesus taught them the prayer which we continue to use to the present day, the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father”. 

“Teach us to pray”, said the disciple. A fundamental part of the ministry of the Church is to teach people to pray.  It is the responsibility of priests and deacons to teach people to pray but, in fact, it is the responsibility of all, most especially parents. Our ability to pray, and our desire to pray, arises first and foremost in the family, and it is prayer that binds a family together and enables them to meet with faith whatever life brings to them. 

Of all the many types of prayers available to us and the many ways of making ourselves present to God, the rosary shines out as one of the most beautiful and enriching of all prayers. It is a prayer that has been taught by the Church for centuries and it is known to date back to at least the 9th century in various forms Tradition has it that the rosary was given to St Dominic in 1214 in an apparition know as “Our Lady of the Rosary”. Certainly, it is a prayer that was promoted by the Dominicans through the centuries. Today’s feast was declared by Pope Pius V in 1571 to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish fleet at Lepanto. Successive Popes, saints and theologians have promoted the use of the Rosary as being a powerful and efficacious prayer. St Francis de Sales, for example, said that The greatest method of praying is to pray the rosary and Pope St John Paul II described the rosary as his favourite prayer. So what is it about praying the rosary that makes it so special and so powerful? There are at least 5 points that come to mind.

Firstly, the rosary – just as with the celebration of Holy Mass – is based on Scripture. The mysteries are not human constructs, but they are given to us in the Bible, which is the foundation of our faith. The Church continues to teach and give teachings in the light of modern life and new experiences, but the roots of those teachings are in Scripture and the tradition of the Church. In praying the Rosary we remain faithful to Scripture and that tradition.

Secondly, it is a Christ-centred prayer, focussing on the life of Christ and the culmination of God’s great acts of salvation history for the redemption of the world. This prayer, more than any other, helps us to remember and concentrate on the life of Christ, his teaching and his self-giving. It re-affirms our faith in the Incarnation, the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, as well as our faith in the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Some may say, what about the Marian mysteries – Mary Assumed in to heaven, and Mary crowned Queen of heaven? But these as well help us to meditate on the power of God to save – Mary, after all, like all human beings is saved by Jesus Christ and she represents all of us.

Thirdly, it is a prayer of contemplation. A Vatican document noted that the rosary is contemplative prayer which requires tranquility of rhythm or even mental lingering which encourages the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life. The point about contemplative prayer is that it is not just about “thinking” of the mysteries or calling them to mind. In contemplation we are assimilating the mysteries into our lives, so that prayer is no longer just words we use, but becomes a living prayer – prayer that changes and transforms us so that we are able to live what we pray.

Fourthly, it is a prayer that seeks the intercession of Our Lady. One theologian described praying the rosary as participating in the life of Mary whose focus was on Christ. Like Mary, through the rosary, we try more and more – as I mentioned above – to focus our lives on Jesus. But the rosary is also a recognition that Jesus himself gave Mary to be mother of the Church and, indeed, mother of us all. Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, “Woman this is your son”. Then to the disciple, he said, “This is your mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home – these are the words from St John’ Gospel (19:26-27) that we know so well and hear every Good Friday in the reading of the Passion. United with Mary in this great prayer, as we too focus on Christ, we seek her intercession for the world, for the Church, for those we love and for ourselves.

Fifthly, the rosary is a prayer of hope. No matter what difficulty we may be facing, no matter what emotions we may be subjected to, the rosary lifts us up to see beyond ourselves in recognition of God’s acts of salvation and his continued presence and activity in the world. It reminds us that God does not abandon his people, and that after the darkest of nights which we may experience physically, emotionally or spiritually, there comes the dawn and new light. In the words of the prophet Isaiah (25:8), he has destroyed death for ever. Lord God has wiped away the tears from every cheek; he has taken his people’s shame away everywhere on earth, for he has spoken. The rosary is an uplifting prayer that brings us peace even in the most tumultuous times. 

Yes, you say, but it is so monotonous and repetitive. Indeed, it is monotonous, but St Josemaria Escriva counters this objection, with what seems to me to be quite a caustic remark, saying, Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins! He also said that it is the very monotony of praying the rosary that destroys our vainglory and pride. 

Pray the rosary – it is a beautiful, peaceful, powerful and Christ-centred prayer.

Let us pray now for God’s blessing:

The Lord be with you                                                  R./ And with your spirit

Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, may God enrich you with his blessing, may he protect you form harm at all times and may he fill you with gifts of spiritual joys and heavenly rewards, through Christ Our Lord, amen.

May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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