Many Protestants make the point, when talking to Catholics, that Jesus is the main thing for us as Christians. And they are absolutely right. Everything that we believe as Catholics focusses on and orbits around Jesus, as the earth orbits the sun.
Focused on Christ
We must remain focused on Christ, and remain in Christ. He is our Salvation. And at every Mass, we have the opportunity to actually have Communion with Jesus, to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, into ourselves in the Eucharist! Experiencing the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist reminds me that He is Present in His Church, and He is our ultimate and absolute focus!
Mary leads us to Christ
But there are many, many doctrines in the Church, and not all of them obviously teach about Christ at first glance. Among those doctrines are the Church's beliefs about His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. For many, especially Protestants, she seems rather to be a stumbling block and a hinderance to a full relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than one who draws us closer to Him. But this is not the truth!
Christ has given us His Mother as our Mother (John 19:26-27; Revelation 12:17). She helps us to know Christ even more intimately. And through her prayers for us, we can find strength in Christ to live for Him. For her whole raison d'être is to give glory to God, and to bring people to her Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 1:46-47; John 2:5).
I have a cd by the Blind Boys of Alabama, called Higher Ground. On it they sing a song called "I Shall Not Walk Alone", that talks about how this relationship with Mary strengthens us in our pilgrimage on earth.
I Shall Not Walk AloneJust as you or I might pray for each other, in the hard times, when we don't know how to continue, our Mother, who loves us, prays for us and brings us to Christ, her Son and our Older Brother, who walks with us. We truly will never walk alone!
Battered and torn still I can see the light
Tattered and worn but I must kneel to fight
Friend of mine what can't you spare
I know sometimes it gets cold in there
When my legs no longer carry
and the cold wind chills my bones
I just reach for Mother Mary
and I shall not walk alone
Hope is alive while we're apart
Only tears speak from my heart
Break the chains that hold us down
And we shall be forever bound
When I'm tired and weary
and a long, long way from home
I reach for Mother Mary
and I shall not walk alone
Beauty that we left behind
How shall we tomorrow find
Set aside our weight in sin
So that we can live again
When my legs no longer carry
and the cold wind chills my bones
I reach for Mother Mary
and I shall not walk alone
This issue of Marian beliefs and Marian devotion was one that I struggled with right up until even shortly after I became a Catholic. I couldn't understand, as many Protestants can't, how she leads us to Christ without somehow getting in the way. Since becoming a Catholic, I have begun to understand her better, and certainly to love her more. This really began when I took up what is possibly the most famous Catholic devotion: The Rosary. In this series of prayers and meditations, John Paul the Great tells us, "We meditate with Mary on the life of her Son." We ponder with Mary the mysteries of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and come to a fuller and greater understanding of Him--and at the same time, pray perseveringly for our needs and the needs of others!
John Paul 2, on March 8th, 2003, said to us,
My Dear Young People! Today, I am handing you the Rosary beads. Through prayer and meditation on the mysteries, Mary leads you safely towards her Son! Do not be ashamed to recite the Rosary alone, while you walk along the streets to school, to the university, or to work, or as you commute by public transport. Adopt the habit of reciting it among yourselves, in your groups, movements and associations.For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Rosary, here is a simple guide for praying it:
How to Pray the Rosary
The Rosary beads are a chain of many beads that form a loop. Trailing from the loop is a small stretch of 5 beads ending with a Crucifix. Where the tail connects to the loop, there is a medal, usually of Mary, or Jesus, or a saint. The one hanging from my rearview mirror has the Eucharistic Chalice with a Host above it. From the medal are ten beads, a slight space, a single bead, another space, ten more beads, etc. In all, there are five groups of ten beads, with a single bead between each group of ten, making four (plus the medal).
Beginning with the Crucifix, we pray the Apostles' Creed. Then, while fingering the first of the five beads, we pray the Our Father. For the next three beads, we pray a Hail Mary each. On the fifth bead, we pray a Glory Be.
When we get to the medal, we announce the first mystery that we intend to meditate on (the mysteries will be explained below). Then we pray another Our Father. For the next 10 beads we pray a Hail Mary each, while meditating and praying about the mystery that we have just announced. When we come to the space between the tenth bead and the single bead, we pray a Glory Be, and then a Fatima Prayer. This prayer was given to the three children of Fatima, Portugal, when Mary appeared to them in a series of visions. She asked them to pray it when they prayed the Rosary. In my mind, it proves the desire of Mary to lead us to Jesus. At the single bead, we announce the next mystery, and start the process over. This continues until all five mysteries are prayed through and meditated upon, and we arrive at the medal again. In the space after the final tenth bead and the medal, we again pray a Glory Be, and a Fatima Prayer, as we have done. Then, at the Medal, we pray a Marian prayer such as the Hail, Holy Queen (which is my preference) or another prayer to Mary of our choice. Then we cross ourselves and go on our way, knowing that we are not walking alone!
Many Protestants claim that the Rosary violates Jesus' condemnation of "vain repetition" in our prayers, since we repeat each prayer several times (Matthew 6:7-8). However, it is important to understand two things here:
1. Not all repetition is vain. Otherwise, many of the Psalms would fall under Jesus' condemnation, making Jesus a contradiction, since the Psalms are the inspired word of God. See, for example, Psalm 136, where the second line of each of its 26 verses is "For His faithful love endures forever." Now that's repetitious!
2. The focus of the prayer isn't on the words being said. They form a prayerful backdrop for the key part of the prayer--meditating on the life of Christ with Mary. Without this exercise of meditating on Christ, then yes, the Rosary would be vain repetition! The mysteries are the entire point of the Rosary! So what are they?
The Mysteries of the Rosary
By "mystery" it is meant an aspect of our faith that is miraculous, that we cannot comprehend. When it comes to the life of Christ, we will never comprehend how the Infinite, Almighty God could become a Man and live among us. Thus, everything that Christ did is a "mystery". In the Rosary, there are 20 mysteries, divided into four sets of five. One "rosary" is the praying of a set of 5, thus going around the loop.
The mysteries focus on Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection. When we meditate on each mystery, it is important to focus on it as if we ourselves were there, witnessing the event. How would we have felt, or reacted, in that situation? When we do this, we go right into the pages of the Gospels with Mary, as she shows us her Son more clearly. As such, it is important that we read and learn the stories from the Bible itself. Therefore, I will include the place in the Bible where the story is found.
When we undertake to meditate on a mystery, it is helpful to offer a prayer intention. One will be suggested for furthering virtues in your life.
Let us look at each mystery.
The Joyful Mysteries
These five mysteries focus on Jesus' birth and early childhood.
The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary--Luke 1:26-38
Suggested Intention: When meditating on this mystery, pray for the humility of Mary when she responded to God's plan, saying, "You see before you the Lord's servant, let it happen to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38).
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth--Luke 1:39-56
Suggested Intention: When meditating on this mystery, pray that you would have a greater love for your neighbour (Matthew 22:39). Think of Mary, visiting her pregnant cousin, and helping her to keep house, while she herself is pregnant with the Saviour!
The Nativity of Jesus--Luke 2:1-21
Suggested Intention: Pray that Jesus would help you to be poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), as He Himself was: The King of the Universe born in a barnyard feeding trough! If He would do this for us, what should we do for Him?
The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple--Luke 2:22-38
Suggested Intention: The Jewish people had to offer sacrifices of purification for every first-born child. When Mary and Joseph went to offer these sacrifices, two prophets, Simeon and Anna, give testimony to who Jesus is. If Mary and Joseph had not been obedient to even the seemingly minor points of the Law, Simeon would never have seen the Lord's promise fulfilled (Luke 2:26). Let us then pray for willingness to be obedient to Christ's laws.
Finding Jesus in the Temple at the age of 12--Luke 2:41-50
Suggested Intention: Jesus' parents lose track of Him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. In their worry they look everywhere, and finally find Him, a 12-year-old, teaching scribes and teachers of the Law! When they find Him, Mary and Joseph are filled with joy and relief. Let us pray that we would also be filled with joy at finding Christ working in our own lives--even in the places we least expect to see Him!
The Luminous Mysteries
These new mysteries, given by Pope John Paul 2 in 2002, highlight key events in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Jesus' Baptism--Matthew 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-11; Luke 3:1-22; John 1:29-34
Suggested Intention: At His baptism, the heavens were opened, and God proclaimed His love for Jesus, and sent the Holy Spirit to empower His ministry. Let us pray that we would have a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Jesus Turning Water into Wine at the Wedding in Cana--John 2:1-12
Suggested Intention: In this story, we see Mary bringing the servants to Jesus so that He could meet their need, and she tells them the most important piece of advice ever: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5). Let us pray and ask Mary to lead us into a deeper relationship with her Son.
The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God--Matthew 4:23; 5:1-7:29
Suggested Intention: Let us pray that we would be willing to proclaim Jesus' Kingdom as He sends us out. Let us pray that we are never too worried about what others think that we would deny Jesus!
The Transfiguration of Jesus--Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8
Suggested Intention: When Jesus was transfigured, He displayed His true glory for a moment, to Peter, James and John. Let us pray that He would reveal His glory in our own lives.
The Last Supper--Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:7-20
Suggested Intention: Let us pray that we would come to know Jesus truly as He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist.
The Sorrowful Mysteries
These mysteries focus on Jesus' suffering and death, which brings us forgiveness for our sins.
Jesus' Agony in the Garden--Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46
Suggested Intention: As we meditate on Jesus praying and sweating blood for us, let us pray for true sorrow and true repentance for our sins which brought Him here.
Jesus' Arrest and Scourging--Matthew 26:47-27:26; Mark 14:43-15:15; Luke 22:47-23:25; John 18:1-19:16
Suggested Intention: As we meditate on Jesus' suffering, let us realise that it brought us our redemption: "He was being wounded for our rebellions, crushed because of our guilt; the punishment reconciling us fell on Him, and we have been healed by His bruises" (Isaiah 53:5). Let us pray and thank Him for His salvation, and pray that we would understand the value of suffering in our own lives.
The Crowning with Thorns--Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20
Suggested Intention: Let us pray, as we meditate on Jesus' humiliation, that we will have the strength to stand up for Him, even in the face of ridicule and death.
Jesus' Carrying His Cross--Matthew 27:32-33; Mark 15:20-22; Luke 23:26-32; John 19:17-18
Suggested Intention: As we meditate on Christ carrying His Cross, let us pray for the patience that He had in enduring this torture.
Jesus' Crucifixion and Death--Matthew 27:32-56; Mark 15:23-39; Luke 23:33-49; John 19:18-37
Suggested Intention: As we meditate on Jesus' death, let us reflect on the care He had for those around Him, even in His agony. Let us pray that we would persevere in our walk with Him always, so that we would inherit the crown of life.
The Glorious Mysteries
These mysteries focus on Jesus' resurrection and His power in the Church
The Resurrection--Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-13; Luke 24:1-42; John 20:1-21:25
Suggested Intention: As we meditate on Jesus' Resurrection, pray that He would increase our faith in Him.
The Ascension--Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11
Suggested Intention: As we meditate on Jesus' Ascension into heaven, let us pray that He would fill us with hope in the angels' words, "Why are you...standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you will come back in the same way as you have seen Him go to heaven" (Acts 1:11).
The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost--Acts 2:1-36
Suggested Intention: As we meditate, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would fill us with a greater love and zeal for God.
Mary's Assumption into Heaven--Revelation 11:19-12:1
Suggested Intention: At the end of her life, Mary was assumed bodily into Jesus' presence in heaven so that she who had been graced to be without sin, would not suffer the unltimate consiquence of sin: death. Let us pray for the desire to join Mary and her Son, Jesus, in heaven, so that we would not stray from following Him here on earth.
Mary's Coronation as Queen of Heaven--Revelation 12:1
Suggested Intention: Let us pray and ask Mary to increase our trust in her intercession for us, and for the entire Church, of which she is the Mother (Revelation 12:17).
These mysteries of the Rosary, when we pray them, and meditate on them, will lead us to a greater knowledge of Christ, and a deeper relationship with Him. Let us take our cue from Mary herself, and ponder all these things in our hearts (Luke 2:51).
(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Mary, Mother of God.
Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)