“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.” Pope St. John Paul II
During my years as a Hospice volunteer, I had some very moving and meaningful experiences. One, in particular, stands out.
I was visiting Theresa, a patient in a nursing home where visitations by family members or friends are often few and far between. Theresa was Catholic and though her room was filled with images of her faith she often shared her loneliness with me. One day, when she seemed weaker than usual, I asked her if there was anything she wanted – water, music, prayer, a priest. She looked at me with a smile and pointed to a statue of Mary, on which hung Theresa’s rosary beads.
I slipped them into her hand and her smile widened. She fingered the beads like they were precious and she raised the cross to her lips to kiss. “These are all I need,” she whispered, closing her eyes. Theresa died peacefully a few minutes later.
I have returned often to that afternoon so many years ago and the fact that, at the moment of death, Theresa found comfort and peace in her devotion to Mary and love of Jesus, on whose life she reflected daily through the Rosary.
Praying the Rosary has grown as a Catholic tradition since the 12th century, when, legend has it, Mary entrusted the Rosary to St. Dominic to aid him in his fight against the Albigensian heresy. Then, in 1571, following a miraculous navel victory of the Christian fleet over the Ottoman Turks, Pope St. Pius V established Oct. 7 as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in thanksgiving. Pope St. Pius V believed the battle was won through encouraging the faithful to petition the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the recitation of the Rosary.
With this feast day as a foundation, and the enthusiasm of future popes for the Rosary, October eventually became a month dedicated to the Rosary of the Virgin Mary.
In his apostolic exhortation on the Holy Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope St. John Paul II refers to the Rosary as his favorite prayer. He reveals the Rosary as a path of contemplation, a prayer for peace for the family, and an opportunity to follow the witness of the saints who found in the Rosary a path to holiness.
Throughout his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II prayed the Rosary daily, and his practice was an inspiration to Pope Francis while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio. The cardinal wrote of a time when he was praying the Rosary as it was being led by the Holy Father. “In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his piety, his devotion was a witness,” he wrote. “And the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice… in the same position in which he knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me.” (30 Days, 2005, Archives)
From that time on, the cardinal who became Pope Francis has prayed the 15 decades of the Rosary daily.
The month-long observance during October of the Holy Rosary of the Virgin Mary is the perfect time for us to also be inspired by the example of our beloved popes and embrace the request of Pope St. John Paul II: “I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae).