A bishop speaks at a podium.

Bishop Salvatore R. Matano gives the homily during the Oct. 1 Respect Life Mass at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. (EMC photo by Jeff Witherow)

Mary, bearer of life, links the rosary to life issues

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus:

We have come to this month of October, which in the life of the Church is referred to as the Month of the Most Holy Rosary, especially commemorated on October 7, and as Respect Life Month. The two themes of this month beautifully complement each other.

Let us begin by first contemplating the prayer of the rosary by referring to the Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary. They are, as you recall, as follows:

The Joyful Mysteries

(prayed on Mondays and Saturdays):

  • The Annunciation
  • The Visitation
  • The Nativity
  • The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
  • The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

The Sorrowful Mysteries

(prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays):

  • The Agony in the Garden
  • The Scourging at the Pillar
  • The Crowing of Thorns
  • The Carrying of the Cross
  • The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus

The Luminous Mysteries

(prayed on Thursdays):

  • The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan
  • The Miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana
  • Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God
  • The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ
  • The Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper

The Glorious Mysteries

(prayed on Wednesdays and Sundays):

  • The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven
  • The Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles
  • The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven
  • The Coronation of Mary, Mother of God, as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

One only has to meditate upon the titles of these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary to understand immediately how they connect Mary’s life to the life of her Son, Jesus Christ, and how the mysteries glean from Holy Scripture the events in the life of Jesus that paved our way to redemption and the possibility of obtaining everlasting life in the presence of the Triune God.

In his encyclical letter Grata Recordatio, “Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Rosary: Prayer for the Church, Missions, International and Social Problems” (Sept. 26, 1959), Pope St. John XXIII wrote: “For the rosary is a very commendable form of prayer and meditation. In saying it we weave a mystic garland of Ave Maria’s, Pater Noster’s, and Gloria Patri’s. And as we recite these vocal prayers, we meditate upon the principal mysteries of our religion; the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Redemption of the human race are proposed, one event after another, for our consideration” (No. 2).

In his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus, “For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary” (Feb. 2, 1974), Pope St. Paul VI continued the teaching of his predecessors. In this apostolic letter, His Holiness wrote: “As a Gospel prayer, centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is therefore a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation. Its most characteristic element, in fact, the litany-like succession of Hail Mary’s, becomes in itself an unceasing praise of Christ, who is the ultimate object both of the angel’s announcement and of the greeting of the mother of John the Baptist: ‘Blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Lk 1:42). We would go further and say that the succession of Hail Mary’s constitutes the fabric on which is woven the contemplation of the mysteries. The Jesus that each Hail Mary recalls is the same Jesus whom the succession of the mysteries proposes to us – now as the Son of God, now as the Son of the Virgin – at His birth in a stable at Bethlehem, at His presentation by His Mother in the Temple, as a youth full of zeal for His Father’s affairs, as the Redeemer in agony in the garden, scourged and crowned with thorns, carrying the cross and dying on Calvary, risen from the dead and ascended to the glory of the Father to send forth the gift of the Spirit. As is well known, at one time there was a custom, still preserved in certain places, of adding to the name of Jesus in each Hail Mary reference to the mystery being contemplated. And this was done precisely in order to help contemplation and to make the mind and the voice act in unison” (No. 46).

The devotion to and the instructions of the pontiffs become still more evident in the apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae on the Most Holy Rosary (Oct. 16, 2002) of Pope St. John Paul II, who prayerfully penned these words of inspiration: “The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she ‘wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger’ (Lk 2:7).

“Thereafter Mary’s gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: ‘Son, why have you treated us so?’ (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of a mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14)” (No. 10).

In his address of May 3, 2008, at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Pope Benedict XVI spoke passionately and convincingly of his devotion to the Most Holy Rosary and its relevance in contemporary society in these words: “Today, together we confirm that the Holy Rosary is not a pious practice banished to the past, like prayers of other times thought of with nostalgia. Instead, the Rosary is experiencing a new Springtime. Without a doubt, this is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and His Mother, Mary. In the current world, so dispersive, this prayer helps to put Christ at the centre, as the Virgin did, who meditated within all that was said about her Son, and also what He did and said. When reciting the Rosary, the important and meaningful moments of salvation history are relived. The various steps of Christ’s mission are traced. With Mary the heart is oriented toward the mystery of Jesus. Christ is put at the centre of our life, of our time, of our city, through the contemplation and meditation of his holy mysteries of joy, light, sorrow and glory. May Mary help us to welcome within ourselves the grace emanating from these mysteries, so that through us we can ‘water’ society, beginning with our daily relationships, and purifying them from so many negative forces, thus opening them to the newness of God. The Rosary, when it is prayed in an authentic way, not mechanical and superficial but profoundly, it brings, in fact, peace and reconciliation. It contains within itself the healing power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, invoked with faith and love at the centre of each ‘Hail Mary’.”

On the church’s commemoration of the Most Holy Rosary on Oct. 7, 2020, Pope Francis at his Wednesday General Audience joined the chorus of his predecessors in bearing testimony to the importance of the rosary in our Catholic lives. He said: “I invite you to pray the Rosary, and to carry it in your hands or in your pockets. The recitation of the Rosary is the most beautiful prayer we can offer to the Virgin Mary; it is a contemplation on the stages of the life of Jesus the Savior with his Mother Mary and is a weapon that protects us from evils and temptations ….”

Clearly in her entire life, Mary paved the way to Jesus. Etched into Mary’s heart were the virtues lived and taught by Her Son, Jesus. Among them was the gift of presence: She was constantly present to Christ during His earthly life from the very moment of His conception to that moment when her outstretched arms waited to receive her dead Son as He was taken down from His cross. Those same arms would embrace all God’s children. At Calvary, with Jesus’ words to His Mother Mary, “Woman, behold your son,” and to the Beloved Disciple John, “Son, behold your Mother,” Mary truly became our Mother and she has been and continues to be ever present among us. (cf. Jn 19:26-27). How many beads have been worn thin by parents at prayer seeking Mary’s intercession, a mother’s intercession, for their sons and daughters! How many in so many circumstances, trials and desperate moments have begged Mary’s help, sought her maternal and loving support? In turning to Mary, her children are asking her to bring them to her Son.

Every life has its joys and sorrows, its challenges and its accomplishments, its hopes and disappointments, the rays of light and the shadows of darkness, life and death. Mary indeed had these very same moments in her life, but she never faltered in her commitment to the Lord; her fiat remained firm as before her very eyes the wood of the crib was being fashioned into the wood of the cross. She who wrapped her newborn Son in swaddling clothes later would wrap her adult Son in His burial linen.

On Calvary God gave His children a real mother, a true mother, who knows our sufferings. For this reason, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the priest and poet, would dare to compare Mary to “the Air We Breathe.” She is, indeed, an intimate part of our lives, bearing a title so real, so personal, so very human – Mother! Because she is Mother, like the Curé in Georges Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest, we, too, long to see her of whom he writes:

“Our Lady knew neither triumph nor miracle.

Her Son Preserved her from the last tip-touch

of the savage wing of human glory. No one has

ever lived, suffered, died in such simplicity, in

such deep ignorance of her own dignity, a

dignity crowning her above the Angels.”

(from Behold Your Mother, Priests Speak about Mary, edited by Father Stephen J. Rossetti,

including essay “Mother of Every Priestly Grace” by Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ferrarese,

p. 39 and p. 45; Ave Maria Press, 2007).

The only possibility to heal the pain felt in today’s world on so many levels and in so many circumstances is that faith, so pronounced in Our Blessed Mother. Belief in God in imitation of Mary’s faith is the real force that will bring about peace in our homes, our neighborhoods, our community, our state, our nation and our world.

It is no accident that Respect Life Month coincides with the Month of the Most Holy Rosary. Mary’s life speaks loudly of the sanctity of all human life from that moment of conception until natural death. Mary echoes the words of her Son: “I have come that you might have life and have it in its fullness” (Jn 10:10). Mary is the bearer of life, the living example of acceptance of God’s will, the model of selfless and total love, love that is pure and wholesome, love that desires the good of the other, love that sees in the face of every person a daughter, a son of God, whose life is precious. Christ died for our lives and Mary stood beneath His cross in fidelity to His life.

Mary’s life stands as a true model of Christian discipleship and what it means to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is never separate from the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. We pray that Mary, who accepted fully the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will intercede before her Son on the part of all now participating in the Synod in Rome. This consultation comes at a time when the world, our country, society, both civil and ecclesial, are experiencing so many divisions and conflicts, and existing under the shadow of confusion and doubt. People are seeking a reason for living, for believing, striving and reaching out for hope and for stability. Our people are searching for the soul in our church and in our communities to make the cold bitterness of a secular society transformed by the renewed and vibrant presence of Jesus Christ and His authentic and true teachings. The faithful ask – you, my brothers and sisters – you ask: “Where is the light?” “Will the darkness end?” “Where are our sisters and brothers absent from the worshipping community?”

Indeed, this is the time to reflect, to seek out the heart of Christ, and to discover the cure, the soul of humanity, Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. This is the time to beg the intercession of Jesus’ Mother and listen to her words: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5) and heed the words of Jesus to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23), thus putting aside personal agendas, opinions, and rooting ourselves in the very words of Jesus and embracing the transmission of His message down through the ages by His own bride, the Church.

With sincerity of heart and placing all our needs before Our Mother, let us recall the Prayer for the Marian Year prayed in 1987 by Pope St. John Paul II:

“To you, Mother of the human family and of the nations, we

confidently entrust the whole of humanity, with its hopes and fears.

Do not let it lack the light of true wisdom. Guide it to seek

freedom and justice for all. Direct its steps in the way of peace.

Enable us all to meet Christ, the way and the truth and the life.”

As a true mother, Mary has gone on ahead to prepare the way for her family, to tell God about us, to ask God never to leave us in our suffering but that He grant us His gift of peace. And because we know Mary loves us with a mother’s love, the beads will continue to be worn thin. Behold your Mother! Behold her to whom Benedict XVI offered this prayer: 

“Holy Mary, Mother of God,

you have given the world its true light,

Jesus, your Son – the Son of God.

You abandoned yourself completely

to God’s call

and thus became a wellspring

of the goodness which flows forth from him.

Show us Jesus. Lead us to him,

teach us to know and love him

so that we too can become

capable of true love

and be the fountains of living water

in the midst of a thirsting world.”

(Deus Caritas Est, No. 42, Dec. 25, 2005).

Entrusting your intentions to Our Mother Mary, Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope, I remain, with an assurance of prayers,

Sincerely yours in Christ,

he Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano

Bishop of Rochester

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