ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II
TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY
ON THE MOST HOLY ROSARY
1. The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second
millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by
countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it
still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great
significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily
into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand
years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the
Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order
once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is
Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6),
“the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and
The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric
prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel
message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.2 It is an echo of the
prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive
Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. 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.
The Popes and the Rosary
2. Numerous predecessors of mine attributed great importance to this prayer.
Worthy of special note in this regard is Pope Leo XIII who on 1 September 1883
promulgated the Encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio,3 a document of great worth, the first of his many statements about this prayer,
in which he proposed the Rosary as an effective spiritual weapon against the
evils afflicting society. Among the more recent Popes who, from the time of the
Second Vatican Council, have distinguished themselves in promoting the Rosary I
would mention Blessed John XXIII4 and above all Pope Paul VI, who in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus
emphasized, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, the Rosary's
evangelical character and its Christocentric inspiration. I myself have often encouraged the frequent recitation of the Rosary. From my
youthful years this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life. I
was powerfully reminded of this during my recent visit to Poland, and in
particular at the Shrine of Kalwaria. The Rosary has accompanied me in moments
of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of
concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago, on 29
October 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I
frankly admitted: “The Rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer!
Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth. [...]. It can be said that the
Rosary is, in some sense, a prayer-commentary on the final chapter of the
Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium, a chapter which discusses the
wondrous presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church.
Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the
life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the
complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us
in living communion with Jesus through – we might say – the heart of his Mother.
At the same time our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary all the
events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and
all mankind. Our personal concerns and those of our neighbour, especially those
who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayer of the
Rosary marks the rhythm of human life”.5
With these words, dear brothers and sisters, I set the first year of my
Pontificate within the daily rhythm of the Rosary. Today, as I begin the
twenty-fifth year of my service as the Successor of Peter, I wish to do the
same. How many graces have I received in these years from the Blessed Virgin
through the Rosary: Magnificat anima mea Dominum! I wish to lift up my
thanks to the Lord in the words of his Most Holy Mother, under whose protection
I have placed my Petrine ministry: Totus Tuus!
October 2002 – October 2003: The Year of the Rosary
3. Therefore, in continuity with my reflection in the Apostolic Letter Novo
Millennio Ineunte, in which, after the experience of the Jubilee, I invited
the people of God to “start afresh from Christ”,6 I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary, as a kind of Marian
complement to that Letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ
in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary
is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ. As a
way of highlighting this invitation, prompted by the forthcoming 120th
anniversary of the aforementioned Encyclical of Leo XIII, I desire that during the course of this year the Rosary should be
especially emphasized and promoted in the various Christian communities. I
therefore proclaim the year from October 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the
I leave this pastoral proposal to the initiative of each ecclesial community. It
is not my intention to encumber but rather to complete and consolidate pastoral
programmes of the Particular Churches. I am confident that the proposal will
find a ready and generous reception. The Rosary, reclaimed in its full meaning,
goes to the very heart of Christian life; it offers a familiar yet fruitful
spiritual and educational opportunity for personal contemplation, the formation
of the People of God, and the new evangelization. I am pleased to reaffirm this
also in the joyful remembrance of another anniversary: the fortieth anniversary
of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on October 11, 1962, the
“great grace” disposed by the Spirit of God for the Church in our time.7
Objections to the Rosary
4. The timeliness of this proposal is evident from a number of considerations.
First, the urgent need to counter a certain crisis of the Rosary, which in the present
historical and theological context can risk being wrongly devalued, and
therefore no longer taught to the younger generation. There are some who think
that the centrality of the Liturgy, rightly stressed by the Second Vatican
Ecumenical Council, necessarily entails giving lesser importance to the Rosary.
Yet, as Pope Paul VI made clear, not only does this prayer not conflict with the
Liturgy, it sustains it, since it serves as an excellent introduction and
a faithful echo of the Liturgy, enabling people to participate fully and
interiorly in it and to reap its fruits in their daily lives.
Perhaps too, there are some who fear that the Rosary is somehow unecumenical
because of its distinctly Marian character. Yet the Rosary clearly belongs to
the kind of veneration of the Mother of God described by the Council: a devotion
directed to the Christological centre of the Christian faith, in such a way that
“when the Mother is honoured, the Son ... is duly known, loved and
glorified”.8 If properly revitalized, the Rosary is an aid and certainly not a hindrance to
A path of contemplation
5. But the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the
Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment
to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the
Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine “training in
holiness”: “What is needed is a Christian life distinguished above all in
the art of prayer”.9 Inasmuch as contemporary culture, even amid so many indications to the
contrary, has witnessed the flowering of a new call for spirituality, due also
to the influence of other religions, it is more urgent than ever that our
Christian communities should become “genuine schools of prayer”.10
The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of
Christian contemplation. Developed in the West, it is a typically meditative
prayer, corresponding in some way to the “prayer of the heart” or “Jesus
prayer” which took root in the soil of the Christian East.
Prayer for peace and for the family
6. A number of historical circumstances also make a revival of the Rosary quite
timely. First of all, the need to implore from God the gift of peace. The
Rosary has many times been proposed by my predecessors and myself as a prayer
for peace. At the start of a millennium which began with the terrifying attacks
of 11 September 2001, a millennium which witnesses every day innumerous parts of the world fresh scenes of bloodshed and violence, to
rediscover the Rosary means to immerse oneself in contemplation of the mystery
of Christ who “is our peace”, since he made “the two of us one, and broke
down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). Consequently, one
cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to
advancing peace, especially in the land of Jesus, still so sorely afflicted and
so close to the heart of every Christian.
A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical
contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly
menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical
planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and
indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole.
The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader
pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the
devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age.
“Behold, your Mother!” (Jn 19:27)
7. Many signs indicate that still today the Blessed Virgin desires to exercise
through this same prayer that maternal concern to which the dying Redeemer
entrusted, in the person of the beloved disciple, all the sons and daughters of
the Church: “Woman, behold your son!” (Jn19:26). Well-known are the
occasions in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries on which the Mother of
Christ made her presence felt and her voice heard, in order to exhort the People
of God to this form of contemplative prayer. I would mention in particular, on
account of their great influence on the lives of Christians and the
authoritative recognition they have received from the Church, the apparitions of
Lourdes and of Fatima;11 these shrines continue to be visited by great numbers of pilgrims seeking
comfort and hope.
Following the witnesses
8. It would be impossible to name all the many Saints who discovered in the
Rosary a genuine path to growth in holiness. We need but mention Saint Louis
Marie Grignion de Montfort, the author of an excellent work on the Rosary,12
and, closer to ourselves, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, whom I recently had the joy
of canonizing. As a true apostle of the Rosary, Blessed Bartolo Longo had a
special charism. His path to holiness rested on an inspiration heard in the
depths of his heart: “Whoever spreads the Rosary is saved!”.13 As a result, he felt called to build a Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy
Rosary in Pompei, against the background of the ruins of the ancient city, which
scarcely heard the proclamation of Christ before being buried in 79 A.D. during
an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, only to emerge centuries later from its ashes as
a witness to the lights and shadows of classical civilization. By his whole
life's work and especially by the practice of the “Fifteen Saturdays”,
Bartolo Longo promoted the Christocentric and contemplative heart of the Rosary,
and received great encouragement and support from Leo XIII, the “Pope of the
CONTEMPLATING CHRIST WITH MARY
A face radiant as the sun
9. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun” (Mt
17:2). The Gospel scene of Christ's transfiguration, in which the three Apostles
Peter, James and John appear entranced by the beauty of the Redeemer, can be
seen as an icon of Christian contemplation. To look upon the face of
Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of his
human life, and then to grasp the divine splendour definitively revealed in the
Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of
every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In
contemplating Christ's face we become open to receiving the mystery of
Trinitarian life, experiencing ever anew the love of the Father and delighting
in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul's words can then be applied to us:
“Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed into his likeness, from
one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the
Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
Mary, model of contemplation
10. 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
11. Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She
kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf.
2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her,
leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son's side. In
a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited
uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.
Even now, amid the joyful songs of the heavenly Jerusalem, the reasons for her
thanksgiving and praise remain unchanged. They inspire her maternal concern for
the pilgrim Church, in which she continues to relate her personal account of the
Gospel. Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her
Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release
all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community
enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.
The Rosary, a contemplative prayer
12. The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an
exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it
would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI clearly pointed out: “Without
contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the
risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the
admonition of Christ: 'In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles
do; for they think they will be heard for their many words' (Mt 6:7). By
its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering
pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as
seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the
unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed”.14
It is worth pausing to consider this profound insight of Paul VI, in order to
bring out certain aspects of the Rosary which show that it is really a form of
Remembering Christ with Mary
13. Mary's contemplation is above all a remembering. We need to
understand this word in the biblical sense of remembrance (zakar) as a
making present of the works brought about by God in the history of salvation.
The Bible is an account of saving events culminating in Christ himself. These
events not only belong to “yesterday”; they are also part of the
“today” of salvation. This making present comes about above all in the Liturgy: what God accomplished
centuries ago did not only affect the direct witnesses of those events; it
continues to affect people in every age with its gift of grace. To some extent
this is also true of every other devout approach to those events: to
“remember” them in a spirit of faith and love is to be open to the grace
which Christ won for us by the mysteries of his life, death and
Consequently, while it must be reaffirmed with the Second Vatican Council that
the Liturgy, as the exercise of the priestly office of Christ and an act of
public worship, is “the summit to which the activity of the Church is directed
and the font from which all its power flows”,15 it is also necessary to recall that the spiritual life “is not limited solely
to participation in the liturgy. Christians, while they are called to prayer in
common, must also go to their own rooms to pray to their Father in secret (cf. Mt
6:6); indeed, according to the teaching of the Apostle, they must pray without
ceasing (cf.1Thes 5:17)”.16 The Rosary, in its own particular way, is part of this varied panorama of “ceaseless” prayer. If the
Liturgy, as the activity of Christ and the Church, is a saving action par
excellence, the Rosary too, as a “meditation” with Mary on Christ, is a
salutary contemplation. By immersing us in the mysteries of the Redeemer's
life, it ensures that what he has done and what the liturgy makes present is
profoundly assimilated and shapes our existence.
Learning Christ from Mary
14. Christ is the supreme Teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not
just a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him”. In
this regard could we have any better teacher than Mary? From the divine
standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of
Christ (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). But among creatures no one knows
Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his
mystery better than his Mother.
The first of the “signs” worked by Jesus – the changing of water into wine
at the marriage in Cana – clearly presents Mary in the guise of a teacher, as
she urges the servants to do what Jesus commands (cf. Jn 2:5). We can
imagine that she would have done likewise for the disciples after Jesus'
Ascension, when she joined them in awaiting the Holy Spirit and supported them
in their first mission. 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.
This school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that she teaches by
obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as she offers
us the incomparable example of her own “pilgrimage of faith”.17 As we contemplate each mystery of her Son's life, she invites us to do as she
did at the Annunciation: to ask humbly the questions which open us to the light,
in order to end with the obedience of faith: “Behold I am the handmaid of the
Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Being conformed to Christ with Mary
15. Christian spirituality is distinguished by the disciple's commitment to
become conformed ever more fully to his Master (cf. Rom 8:29; Phil
3:10,12). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Baptism grafts the believer like
a branch onto the vine which is Christ (cf. Jn 15:5) and makes him a
member of Christ's mystical Body (cf.1Cor 12:12; Rom 12:5). This
initial unity, however, calls for a growing assimilation which will increasingly
shape the conduct of the disciple in accordance with the “mind” of Christ:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
In the words of the Apostle, we are called “to put on the Lord Jesus Christ”
(cf. Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27).
In the spiritual journey of the Rosary, based on the constant contemplation –
in Mary's company – of the face of Christ, this demanding ideal of being
conformed to him is pursued through an association which could be described in
terms of friendship. We are thereby enabled to enter naturally into Christ's
life and as it were to share his deepest feelings. In this regard Blessed
Bartolo Longo has written: “Just as two friends, frequently in each other's
company, tend to develop similar habits, so too, by holding familiar converse
with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary
and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of
our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of
humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection”.18
In this process of being conformed to Christ in the Rosary, we entrust ourselves
in a special way to the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin. She who is both the
Mother of Christ and a member of the Church, indeed her “pre-eminent and
altogether singular member”,19 is at the same time the “Mother of the Church”. As such, she continually
brings to birth children for the mystical Body of her Son. She does so through
her intercession, imploring upon them the inexhaustible outpouring of the
Spirit. Mary is the perfect icon of the motherhood of the Church.
The Rosary mystically transports us to Mary's side as she is busy watching over
the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us
and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is “fully formed” in us (cf.
Gal 4:19). This role of Mary, totally grounded in that of Christ and radically
subordinated to it, “in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of
Christ, but rather shows its power”.20 This is the luminous principle expressed by the Second Vatican Council which I
have so powerfully experienced in my own life and have made the basis of my
episcopal motto: Totus Tuus.21 The motto is of course inspired by the teaching of Saint Louis Marie Grignion
de Montfort, who explained in the following words Mary's role in the process of
our configuration to Christ: “Our entire perfection consists in being
conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of
all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most
perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most
conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most
consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy
Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be
consecrated to Jesus Christ”.22 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!
Praying to Christ with Mary
16. Jesus invited us to turn to God with insistence and the confidence that we
will be heard: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). The basis for this power
of prayer is the goodness of the Father, but also the mediation of Christ
himself (cf. 1Jn 2:1) and the working of the Holy Spirit who
“intercedes for us” according to the will of God (cf. Rom 8:26-27).
For “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26), and at times
we are not heard “because we ask wrongly” (cf. Jas 4:2-3).
In support of the prayer which Christ and the Spirit cause to rise in our
hearts, Mary intervenes with her maternal intercession. “The prayer of the
Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary”.23 If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and
most transparent reflection, shows us the Way. “Beginning with Mary's unique
cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their
prayer to the Holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ
manifested in his mysteries”.24 At the wedding of Cana the Gospel clearly shows the power of Mary's
intercession as she makes known to Jesus the needs of others: “They have no
wine” (Jn 2:3).
The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. Insistent prayer to the Mother
of God is based on confidence that her maternal intercession can obtain all
things from the heart of her Son. She is “all-powerful by grace”, to use the
bold expression, which needs to be properly understood, of Blessed Bartolo Longo
in his Supplication to Our Lady.25 This is a conviction which, beginning with the Gospel, has grown ever more firm
in the experience of the Christian people. The supreme poet Dante expresses it
marvellously in the lines sung by Saint Bernard: “Lady, thou art so great and
so powerful, that whoever desires grace yet does not turn to thee, would have
his desire fly without wings”.26 When in the Rosary we plead with Mary, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (cf.
Lk 1:35), she intercedes for us before the Father who filled her with grace and
before the Son born of her womb, praying with us and for us.
Proclaiming Christ with Mary
17. The Rosary is also a path of proclamation and increasing knowledge,
in which the mystery of Christ is presented again and again at different levels
of the Christian experience. Its form is that of a prayerful and contemplative
presentation, capable of forming Christians according to the heart of Christ.
When the recitation of the Rosary combines all the elements needed for an
effective meditation, especially in its communal celebration in parishes and
shrines, it can present a significant catechetical opportunity which
pastors should use to advantage. In this way too Our Lady of the Rosary
continues her work of proclaiming Christ. The history of the Rosary shows how
this prayer was used in particular by the Dominicans at a difficult time for the
Church due to the spread of heresy. Today we are facing new challenges. Why
should we not once more have recourse to the Rosary, with the same faith as
those who have gone before us? The Rosary retains all its power and continues to
be a valuable pastoral resource for every good evangelizer.
MYSTERIES OF CHRIST – MYSTERIES OF HIS MOTHER
The Rosary, “a compendium of the Gospel”
18. The only way to approach the contemplation of Christ's face is by listening
in the Spirit to the Father's voice, since “no one knows the Son except the
Father” (Mt 11:27). In the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus responded
to Peter's confession of faith by indicating the source of that clear intuition
of his identity: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father
who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17). What is needed, then, is a revelation
from above. In order to receive that revelation, attentive listening is
indispensable: “Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the
proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent
knowledge of that mystery”.27
The Rosary is one of the traditional paths of Christian prayer directed to the
contemplation of Christ's face. Pope Paul VI described it in these words: “As
a Gospel prayer, centred on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the
Rosary is a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation. Its most characteristic
element, in fact, the litany- like succession of Hail Marys, 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 Marys constitutes the warp on which is
woven the contemplation of the mysteries. The Jesus that each Hail Mary recalls
is the same Jesus whom the succession of mysteries proposes to us now as the Son
of God, now as the Son of the Virgin”.28
A proposed addition to the traditional pattern
19. Of the many mysteries of Christ's life, only a few are indicated by the
Rosary in the form that has become generally established with the seal of the
Church's approval. The selection was determined by the origin of the prayer,
which was based on the number 150, the number of the Psalms in the Psalter.
I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the
Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern
which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden
it to include the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion. In the course of those mysteries we contemplate important aspects of the
person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God. Declared the beloved Son
of the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ is the one who announces the
coming of the Kingdom, bears witness to it in his works and proclaims its
demands. It is during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of
Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: “While I am in the world, I
am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5).
Consequently, for the Rosary to become more fully a “compendium of the
Gospel”, it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and the
hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the
sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of
his Resurrection (the glorious mysteries), a meditation on certain
particularly significant moments in his public ministry (the mysteries of
light). This addition of these new mysteries, without prejudice to any
essential aspect of the prayer's traditional format, is meant to give it fresh
life and to enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary's place within Christian
spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of
joy and of light, of suffering and of glory.
The Joyful Mysteries
20. The first five decades, the “joyful mysteries”, are marked by the joy
radiating from the event of the Incarnation. This is clear from the very
first mystery, the Annunciation, where Gabriel's greeting to the Virgin of
Nazareth is linked to an invitation to messianic joy: “Rejoice, Mary”. The
whole of salvation history, in some sense the entire history of the world, has
led up to this greeting. If it is the Father's plan to unite all things in
Christ (cf. Eph 1:10), then the whole of the universe is in some way
touched by the divine favour with which the Father looks upon Mary and makes her
the Mother of his Son. The whole of humanity, in turn, is embraced by the
fiat with which she readily agrees to the will of God.
Exultation is the keynote of the encounter with Elizabeth, where the sound of
Mary's voice and the presence of Christ in her womb cause John to “leap for
joy” (cf. Lk 1:44). Gladness also fills the scene in Bethlehem, when
the birth of the divine Child, the Saviour of the world, is announced by the
song of the angels and proclaimed to the shepherds as “news of great joy” (Lk
The final two mysteries, while preserving this climate of joy, already point to
the drama yet to come. The Presentation in the Temple not only expresses the joy
of the Child's consecration and the ecstasy of the aged Simeon; it also records
the prophecy that Christ will be a “sign of contradiction” for Israel and
that a sword will pierce his mother's heart (cf Lk 2:34-35). Joy mixed
with drama marks the fifth mystery, the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in
the Temple. Here he appears in his divine wisdom as he listens and raises
questions, already in effect one who “teaches”. The revelation of his
mystery as the Son wholly dedicated to his Father's affairs proclaims the
radical nature of the Gospel, in which even the closest of human relationships
are challenged by the absolute demands of the Kingdom. Mary and Joseph, fearful
and anxious, “did not understand” his words (Lk 2:50).
To meditate upon the “joyful” mysteries, then, is to enter into the ultimate
causes and the deepest meaning of Christian joy. It is to focus on the realism
of the mystery of the Incarnation and on the obscure foreshadowing of the
mystery of the saving Passion. Mary leads us to discover the secret of Christian
joy, reminding us that Christianity is, first and foremost, euangelion,
“good news”, which has as its heart and its whole content the person of
Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the one Saviour of the world.
The Mysteries of Light
21. Moving on from the infancy and the hidden life in Nazareth to the public
life of Jesus, our contemplation brings us to those mysteries which may be
called in a special way “mysteries of light”. Certainly the whole mystery of
Christ is a mystery of light. He is the “light of the world” (Jn
8:12). Yet this truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public
life, when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom. In proposing to the Christian
community five significant moments – “luminous” mysteries – during this
phase of Christ's life, I think that the following can be fittingly singled out:
(1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of
Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion,
(4) his Transfiguration, and finally, (5) his institution of the Eucharist, as
the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery.
Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the
very person of Jesus. The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of
light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became
“sin” for our sake (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), the heavens open wide and the
voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Mt 3:17 and
parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission
which he is to carry out. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs,
given at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1- 12), when Christ changes water into wine and
opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary,
the first among believers. Another mystery of light is the preaching by which
Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mk
1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk
7:47- 48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy
which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through
the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. Jn 20:22-23).
The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally
believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines
forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to
“listen to him” (cf. Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to
experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy
of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit. A final mystery
of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body
and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies “to the
end” his love for humanity (Jn 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer
himself in sacrifice.
In these mysteries, apart from the miracle at Cana, the presence of Mary
remains in the background. The Gospels make only the briefest reference to
her occasional presence at one moment or other during the preaching of Jesus
(cf. Mk 3:31-5; Jn 2:12), and they give no indication that she was
present at the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Yet the role
she assumed at Cana in some way accompanies Christ throughout his ministry. The
revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan and echoed
by John the Baptist is placed upon Mary's lips at Cana, and it becomes the great
maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age: “Do whatever
he tells you” (Jn 2:5). This counsel is a fitting introduction to the
words and signs of Christ's public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation
of all the “mysteries of light”.
The Sorrowful Mysteries
22. The Gospels give great prominence to the sorrowful mysteries of Christ. From
the beginning Christian piety, especially during the Lenten devotion of the Way
of the Cross, has focused on the individual moments of the Passion,
realizing that here is found the culmination of the revelation of God's love and
the source of our salvation. The Rosary selects certain moments from the
Passion, inviting the faithful to contemplate them in their hearts and to relive
them. The sequence of meditations begins with Gethsemane, where Christ
experiences a moment of great anguish before the will of the Father, against
which the weakness of the flesh would be tempted to rebel. There Jesus
encounters all the temptations and confronts all the sins of humanity, in order
to say to the Father: “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42 and
parallels). This “Yes” of Christ reverses the “No” of our first parents
in the Garden of Eden. And the cost of this faithfulness to the Father's will is
made clear in the following mysteries; by his scourging, his crowning with
thorns, his carrying the Cross and his death on the Cross, the Lord is cast into
the most abject suffering: Ecce homo!
This abject suffering reveals not only the love of God but also the meaning of
Ecce homo: the meaning, origin and fulfilment of man is to be found in Christ, the God
who humbles himself out of love “even unto death, death on a cross” (Phil
2:8). The sorrowful mysteries help the believer to relive the death of
Jesus, to stand at the foot of the Cross beside Mary, to enter with her into the
depths of God's love for man and to experience all its life-giving power.
The Glorious Mysteries
23. “The contemplation of Christ's face cannot stop at the image of the
Crucified One. He is the Risen One!”29 The Rosary has always expressed this knowledge born of faith and invited the
believer to pass beyond the darkness of the Passion in order to gaze upon
Christ's glory in the Resurrection and Ascension. Contemplating the Risen One,
Christians rediscover the reasons for their own faith (cf. 1 Cor 15:14)
and relive the joy not only of those to whom Christ appeared – the Apostles,
Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus – but also the joy of
Mary, who must have had an equally intense experience of the new life of her
glorified Son. In the Ascension, Christ was raised in glory to the right hand of
the Father, while Mary herself would be raised to that same glory in the
Assumption, enjoying beforehand, by a unique privilege, the destiny reserved for
all the just at the resurrection of the dead. Crowned in glory – as she appears
in the last glorious mystery – Mary shines forth as Queen of the Angels and
Saints, the anticipation and the supreme realization of the eschatological state
of the Church.
At the centre of this unfolding sequence of the glory of the Son and the Mother,
the Rosary sets before us the third glorious mystery, Pentecost, which reveals
the face of the Church as a family gathered together with Mary, enlivened by the
powerful outpouring of the Spirit and ready for the mission of evangelization.
The contemplation of this scene, like that of the other glorious mysteries,
ought to lead the faithful to an ever greater appreciation of their new life in
Christ, lived in the heart of the Church, a life of which the scene of Pentecost
itself is the great “icon”. The glorious mysteries thus lead the faithful to
greater hope for the eschatological goal towards which they journey as
members of the pilgrim People of God in history. This can only impel them to
bear courageous witness to that “good news” which gives meaning to their
From “mysteries” to the “Mystery”: Mary's way
24. The cycles of meditation proposed by the Holy Rosary are by no means
exhaustive, but they do bring to mind what is essential and they awaken in the
soul a thirst for a knowledge of Christ continually nourished by the pure source
of the Gospel. Every individual event in the life of Christ, as narrated by the
Evangelists, is resplendent with the Mystery that surpasses all understanding
(cf. Eph 3:19): the Mystery of the Word made flesh, in whom “all the
fullness of God dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). For this reason the
Catechism of the Catholic Church places great emphasis on the mysteries of
Christ, pointing out that “everything in the life of Jesus is a sign of his
Mystery”.30 The “duc in altum” of the Church of the third millennium will be
determined by the ability of Christians to enter into the “perfect knowledge
of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge” (Col 2:2-3). The Letter to the Ephesians makes this
heartfelt prayer for all the baptized: “May Christ dwell in your hearts
through faith, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power...
to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled
with all the fullness of God” (3:17-19).
The Rosary is at the service of this ideal; it offers the “secret” which
leads easily to a profound and inward knowledge of Christ. We might call it Mary's
way. It is the way of the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, a woman of
faith, of silence, of attentive listening. It is also the way of a Marian
devotion inspired by knowledge of the inseparable bond between Christ and his Blessed Mother: the mysteries of Christ are also in some sense the
mysteries of his Mother, even when they do not involve her directly, for she
lives from him and through him. By making our own the words of the Angel Gabriel
and Saint Elizabeth contained in the Hail Mary, we find ourselves
constantly drawn to seek out afresh in Mary, in her arms and in her heart, the
“blessed fruit of her womb” (cf Lk 1:42).
Mystery of Christ, mystery of man
25. In my testimony of 1978 mentioned above, where I described the Rosary as my
favourite prayer, I used an idea to which I would like to return. I said then
that “the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life”.31
In the light of what has been said so far on the mysteries of Christ, it is not
difficult to go deeper into this anthropological significance of the
Rosary, which is far deeper than may appear at first sight. Anyone who
contemplates Christ through the various stages of his life cannot fail to
perceive in him the truth about man. This is the great affirmation of the
Second Vatican Council which I have so often discussed in my own teaching since
the Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis: “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man is
seen in its true light”.32 The Rosary helps to open up the way to this light. Following in the path of
Christ, in whom man's path is “recapitulated”,33 revealed and redeemed, believers come face to face with the image of the true
man. Contemplating Christ's birth, they learn of the sanctity of life; seeing
the household of Nazareth, they learn the original truth of the family according
to God's plan; listening to the Master in the mysteries of his public ministry,
they find the light which leads them to enter the Kingdom of God; and following
him on the way to Calvary, they learn the meaning of salvific suffering.
Finally, contemplating Christ and his Blessed Mother in glory, they see the goal
towards which each of us is called, if we allow ourselves to be healed and
transformed by the Holy Spirit. It could be said that each mystery of the
Rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man.
At the same time, it becomes natural to bring to this encounter with the sacred
humanity of the Redeemer all the problems, anxieties, labours and endeavours
which go to make up our lives. “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will
sustain you” (Ps 55:23). To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens
to the merciful hearts of Christ and his Mother. Twenty-five years later,
thinking back over the difficulties which have also been part of my exercise of the Petrine ministry, I feel the need to say
once more, as a warm invitation to everyone to experience it personally: the
Rosary does indeed “mark the rhythm of human life”, bringing it into harmony
with the “rhythm” of God's own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy
Trinity, our life's destiny and deepest longing.
'FOR ME, TO LIVE IS CHRIST'
The Rosary, a way of assimilating the mystery
26. Meditation on the mysteries of Christ is proposed in the Rosary by means of
a method designed to assist in their assimilation. It is a method based on
repetition. This applies above all to the Hail Mary, repeated ten
times in each mystery. If this repetition is considered superficially, there
could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is
quite another thing, however, when the Rosary is thought of as an outpouring of
that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved with expressions similar
in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them.
In Christ, God has truly assumed a “heart of flesh”. Not only does God have
a divine heart, rich in mercy and in forgiveness, but also a human heart,
capable of all the stirrings of affection. If we needed evidence for this from
the Gospel, we could easily find it in the touching dialogue between Christ and
Peter after the Resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three
times this question is put to Peter, and three times he gives the reply:
“Lord, you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:15-17). Over and above
the specific meaning of this passage, so important for Peter's mission, none can
fail to recognize the beauty of this triple repetition, in which the insistent
request and the corresponding reply are expressed in terms familiar from the
universal experience of human love. To understand the Rosary, one has to enter
into the psychological dynamic proper to love.
One thing is clear: although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly
to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her
and through her. The repetition is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever
more completely to Christ, the true programme of the Christian life. Saint Paul
expressed this project with words of fire: “For me to live is Christ and to
die is gain” (Phil 1:21). And again: “It is no longer I that live,
but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). The Rosary helps us to be conformed
ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness.
A valid method ...
27. We should not be surprised that our relationship with Christ makes use of a
method. God communicates himself to us respecting our human nature and its vital
rhythms. Hence, while Christian spirituality is familiar with the most sublime
forms of mystical silence in which images, words and gestures are all, so to
speak, superseded by an intense and ineffable union with God, it normally
engages the whole person in all his complex psychological, physical and
This becomes apparent in the Liturgy. Sacraments and sacramentals are
structured as a series of rites which bring into play all the dimensions of the
person. The same applies to non-liturgical prayer. This is confirmed by the fact
that, in the East, the most characteristic prayer of Christological meditation,
centred on the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a
sinner”34 is traditionally linked to the rhythm of breathing; while this practice favours
perseverance in the prayer, it also in some way embodies the desire for Christ
to become the breath, the soul and the “all” of one's life.
... which can nevertheless be improved
28. I mentioned in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte that the
West is now experiencing a renewed demand for meditation, which at times
leads to a keen interest in aspects of other religions.35 Some Christians, limited in their knowledge of the Christian contemplative
tradition, are attracted by those forms of prayer. While the latter contain many
elements which are positive and at times compatible with Christian experience,
they are often based on ultimately unacceptable premises. Much in vogue among
these approaches are methods aimed at attaining a high level of spiritual
concentration by using techniques of a psychophysical, repetitive and symbolic
nature. The Rosary is situated within this broad gamut of religious phenomena,
but it is distinguished by characteristics of its own which correspond to
specifically Christian requirements.
In effect, the Rosary is simply a method of contemplation. As a method,
it serves as a means to an end and cannot become an end in itself. All the same,
as the fruit of centuries of experience, this method should not be undervalued.
In its favour one could cite the experience of countless Saints. This is not to
say, however, that the method cannot be improved. Such is the intent of the
addition of the new series of mysteria lucis to the overall cycle of
mysteries and of the few suggestions which I am proposing in this Letter
regarding its manner of recitation. These suggestions, while respecting the
well-established structure of this prayer, are intended to help the faithful to
understand it in the richness of its symbolism and in harmony with the demands
of daily life. Otherwise there is a risk that the Rosary would not only fail to
produce the intended spiritual effects, but even that the beads, with which it
is usually said, could come to be regarded as some kind of amulet or magic
object, thereby radically distorting their meaning and function.
Announcing each mystery
29. Announcing each mystery, and perhaps even using a suitable icon to portray
it, is as it were to open up a scenario on which to focus our attention.
The words direct the imagination and the mind towards a particular episode or
moment in the life of Christ. In the Church's traditional spirituality, the
veneration of icons and the many devotions appealing to the senses, as well as
the method of prayer proposed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual
Exercises, make use of visual and imaginative elements (the compositio loci),
judged to be of great help in concentrating the mind on the particular mystery.
This is a methodology, moreover, which corresponds to the inner logic of the
Incarnation: in Jesus, God wanted to take on human features. It is through
his bodily reality that we are led into contact with the mystery of his
This need for concreteness finds further expression in the announcement of the
various mysteries of the Rosary. Obviously these mysteries neither replace the
Gospel nor exhaust its content. The Rosary, therefore, is no substitute for lectio
divina; on the contrary, it presupposes and promotes it. Yet, even though
the mysteries contemplated in the Rosary, even with the addition of the
mysteria lucis, do no more than outline the fundamental elements of the life
of Christ, they easily draw the mind to a more expansive reflection on the rest
of the Gospel, especially when the Rosary is prayed in a setting of prolonged
Listening to the word of God
30. In order to supply a Biblical foundation and greater depth to our
meditation, it is helpful to follow the announcement of the mystery with the
proclamation of a related Biblical passage, long or short, depending on the
circumstances. No other words can ever match the efficacy of the inspired word.
As we listen, we are certain that this is the word of God, spoken for today and
spoken “for me”.
If received in this way, the word of God can become part of the Rosary's
methodology of repetition without giving rise to the ennui derived from the
simple recollection of something already well known. It is not a matter of
recalling information but of allowing God to speak. In certain solemn
communal celebrations, this word can be appropriately illustrated by a brief
31. Listening and meditation are nourished by silence. After the
announcement of the mystery and the proclamation of the word, it is fitting to
pause and focus one's attention for a suitable period of time on the mystery
concerned, before moving into vocal prayer. A discovery of the importance of
silence is one of the secrets of practicing contemplation and meditation. One
drawback of a society dominated by technology and the mass media is the fact
that silence becomes increasingly difficult to achieve. Just as moments of
silence are recommended in the Liturgy, so too in the recitation of the Rosary
it is fitting to pause briefly after listening to the word of God, while the
mind focuses on the content of a particular mystery.
The “Our Father”
32. After listening to the word and focusing on the mystery, it is natural for the
mind to be lifted up towards the Father. In each of his mysteries, Jesus
always leads us to the Father, for as he rests in the Father's bosom (cf. Jn 1:18)
he is continually turned towards him. He wants us to share in his intimacy with
the Father, so that we can say with him: “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal
4:6). By virtue of his relationship to the Father he makes us brothers and
sisters of himself and of one another, communicating to us the Spirit which is
both his and the Father's. Acting as a kind of foundation for the Christological
and Marian meditation which unfolds in the repetition of the Hail Mary,
the Our Father makes meditation upon the mystery, even when carried out
in solitude, an ecclesial experience.
The ten “Hail Marys”
33. This is the most substantial element in the Rosary and also the one which
makes it a Marian prayer par excellence. Yet when the Hail Mary is
properly understood, we come to see clearly that its Marian character is not
opposed to its Christological character, but that it actually emphasizes and
increases it. The first part of the Hail Mary, drawn from the words
spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel and by Saint Elizabeth, is a contemplation
in adoration of the mystery accomplished in the Virgin of Nazareth. These words
express, so to speak, the wonder of heaven and earth; they could be said to give
us a glimpse of God's own wonderment as he contemplates his “masterpiece”
– the Incarnation of the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary. If we recall how,
in the Book of Genesis, God “saw all that he had made” (Gen 1:31), we
can find here an echo of that “pathos with which God, at the dawn of creation,
looked upon the work of his hands”.36The repetition of the Hail Mary in the Rosary gives us a share in God's
own wonder and pleasure: in jubilant amazement we acknowledge the greatest
miracle of history. Mary's prophecy here finds its fulfilment: “Henceforth all
generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).
The centre of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins
its two parts, is the name of Jesus. Sometimes, in hurried recitation,
this centre of gravity can be overlooked, and with it the connection to the
mystery of Christ being contemplated. Yet it is precisely the emphasis given to the name of Jesus and to his mystery that is the sign of a
meaningful and fruitful recitation of the Rosary. Pope Paul VI drew attention,
in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, to the custom in certain
regions of highlighting the name of Christ by the addition of a clause referring
to the mystery being contemplated.37 This is a praiseworthy custom, especially during public recitation. It gives
forceful expression to our faith in Christ, directed to the different moments of
the Redeemer's life. It is at once a profession of faith and an aid in
concentrating our meditation, since it facilitates the process of assimilation
to the mystery of Christ inherent in the repetition of the Hail Mary.
When we repeat the name of Jesus – the only name given to us by which we may
hope for salvation (cf. Acts 4:12) – in close association with the name
of his Blessed Mother, almost as if it were done at her suggestion, we set out
on a path of assimilation meant to help us enter more deeply into the life of
From Mary's uniquely privileged relationship with Christ, which makes her the
Mother of God, Theotókos, derives the forcefulness of the appeal we make
to her in the second half of the prayer, as we entrust to her maternal
intercession our lives and the hour of our death.
34. Trinitarian doxology is the goal of all Christian contemplation. For Christ
is the way that leads us to the Father in the Spirit. If we travel this way to
the end, we repeatedly encounter the mystery of the three divine Persons, to
whom all praise, worship and thanksgiving are due. It is important that the
Gloria, the high-point of contemplation, be given due prominence in
the Rosary. In public recitation it could be sung, as a way of giving proper
emphasis to the essentially Trinitarian structure of all Christian prayer.
To the extent that meditation on the mystery is attentive and profound, and to
the extent that it is enlivened – from one Hail Mary to another – by love
for Christ and for Mary, the glorification of the Trinity at the end of each
decade, far from being a perfunctory conclusion, takes on its proper
contemplative tone, raising the mind as it were to the heights of heaven and
enabling us in some way to relive the experience of Tabor, a foretaste of the
contemplation yet to come: “It is good for us to be here!” (Lk 9:33).
The concluding short prayer
35. In current practice, the Trinitarian doxology is followed by a brief
concluding prayer which varies according to local custom. Without in any way
diminishing the value of such invocations, it is worthwhile to note that the
contemplation of the mysteries could better express their full spiritual
fruitfulness if an effort were made to conclude each mystery with a prayer
for the fruits specific to that particular mystery. In this way the Rosary
would better express its connection with the Christian life. One fine liturgical
prayer suggests as much, inviting us to pray that, by meditation on the
mysteries of the Rosary, we may come to “imitate what they contain and obtain
what they promise”.38
Such a final prayer could take on a legitimate variety of forms, as indeed it
already does. In this way the Rosary can be better adapted to different
spiritual traditions and different Christian communities. It is to be hoped,
then, that appropriate formulas will be widely circulated, after due pastoral
discernment and possibly after experimental use in centres and shrines
particularly devoted to the Rosary, so that the People of God may benefit from
an abundance of authentic spiritual riches and find nourishment for their
The Rosary beads
36. The traditional aid used for the recitation of the Rosary is the set of
beads. At the most superficial level, the beads often become a simple counting mechanism to mark the
succession of Hail Marys. Yet they can also take on a symbolism which can
give added depth to contemplation.
Here the first thing to note is the way the beads converge upon the Crucifix,
which both opens and closes the unfolding sequence of prayer. The life and
prayer of believers is centred upon Christ. Everything begins from him,
everything leads towards him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit,
attains to the Father.
As a counting mechanism, marking the progress of the prayer, the beads evoke the
unending path of contemplation and of Christian perfection. Blessed Bartolo
Longo saw them also as a “chain” which links us to God. A chain, yes, but a
sweet chain; for sweet indeed is the bond to God who is also our Father. A
“filial” chain which puts us in tune with Mary, the “handmaid of the
Lord” (Lk 1:38) and, most of all, with Christ himself, who, though he
was in the form of God, made himself a “servant” out of love for us (Phil
A fine way to expand the symbolism of the beads is to let them remind us of our
many relationships, of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us all
The opening and closing
37.At present, in different parts of the Church, there are many ways to
introduce the Rosary. In some places, it is customary to begin with the opening
words of Psalm 70: “O God, come to my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me”,
as if to nourish in those who are praying a humble awareness of their own
insufficiency. In other places, the Rosary begins with the recitation of the
Creed, as if to make the profession of faith the basis of the contemplative
journey about to be undertaken. These and similar customs, to the extent that
they prepare the mind for contemplation, are all equally legitimate. The Rosary
is then ended with a prayer for the intentions of the Pope, as if to expand the
vision of the one praying to embrace all the needs of the Church. It is
precisely in order to encourage this ecclesial dimension of the Rosary that the
Church has seen fit to grant indulgences to those who recite it with the
If prayed in this way, the Rosary truly becomes a spiritual itinerary in which
Mary acts as Mother, Teacher and Guide, sustaining the faithful by her powerful
intercession. Is it any wonder, then, that the soul feels the need, after saying
this prayer and experiencing so profoundly the motherhood of Mary, to burst
forth in praise of the Blessed Virgin, either in that splendid prayer the Salve
Regina or in the Litany of Loreto? This is the crowning moment of an
inner journey which has brought the faithful into living contact with the
mystery of Christ and his Blessed Mother.
Distribution over time
38. The Rosary can be recited in full every day, and there are those who most
laudably do so. In this way it fills with prayer the days of many a
contemplative, or keeps company with the sick and the elderly who have abundant
time at their disposal. Yet it is clear – and this applies all the more if the
new series of mysteria lucis is included – that many people will not be
able to recite more than a part of the Rosary, according to a certain weekly
pattern. This weekly distribution has the effect of giving the different days of
the week a certain spiritual “colour”, by analogy with the way in which the
Liturgy colours the different seasons of the liturgical year.
According to current practice, Monday and Thursday are dedicated to the
“joyful mysteries”, Tuesday and Friday to the “sorrowful mysteries”,
and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday to the “glorious mysteries”. Where might
the “mysteries of light” be inserted? If we consider that the “glorious
mysteries” are said on both Saturday and Sunday, and that Saturday has always
had a special Marian flavour, the second weekly meditation on the “joyful
mysteries”, mysteries in which Mary's presence is especially pronounced, could
be moved to Saturday. Thursday would then be free for meditating on the
“mysteries of light”.
This indication is not intended to limit a rightful freedom in personal and
community prayer, where account needs to be taken of spiritual and pastoral
needs and of the occurrence of particular liturgical celebrations which might
call for suitable adaptations. What is really important is that the Rosary
should always be seen and experienced as a path of contemplation. In the Rosary,
in a way similar to what takes place in the Liturgy, the Christian week, centred
on Sunday, the day of Resurrection, becomes a journey through the mysteries of
the life of Christ, and he is revealed in the lives of his disciples as the Lord
of time and of history.
“Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain linking us to God”
39. What has been said so far makes abundantly clear the richness of this
traditional prayer, which has the simplicity of a popular devotion but also the
theological depth of a prayer suited to those who feel the need for deeper
The Church has always attributed particular efficacy to this prayer, entrusting
to the Rosary, to its choral recitation and to its constant practice, the most
difficult problems. At times when Christianity itself seemed under threat, its
deliverance was attributed to the power of this prayer, and Our Lady of the
Rosary was acclaimed as the one whose intercession brought salvation.
Today I willingly entrust to the power of this prayer – as I mentioned at the
beginning – the cause of peace in the world and the cause of the family.
40. The grave challenges confronting the world at the start of this new
Millennium lead us to think that only an intervention from on high, capable of
guiding the hearts of those living in situations of conflict and those governing
the destinies of nations, can give reason to hope for a brighter future.
The Rosary is by its nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one
who is “our peace” (Eph 2:14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of
Christ – and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary – learns the secret of peace
and makes it his life's project. Moreover, by virtue of its meditative
character, with the tranquil succession of Hail Marys, the Rosary has a
peaceful effect on those who pray it, disposing them to receive and experience
in their innermost depths, and to spread around them, that true peace which is
the special gift of the Risen Lord (cf. Jn 14:27; 20.21).
The Rosary is also a prayer for peace because of the fruits of charity which it
produces. When prayed well in a truly meditative way, the Rosary leads to an
encounter with Christ in his mysteries and so cannot fail to draw attention to
the face of Christ in others, especially in the most afflicted. How could one
possibly contemplate the mystery of the Child of Bethlehem, in the joyful
mysteries, without experiencing the desire to welcome, defend and promote life,
and to shoulder the burdens of suffering children all over the world? How could
one possibly follow in the footsteps of Christ the Revealer, in the mysteries of
light, without resolving to bear witness to his “Beatitudes” in daily life?
And how could one contemplate Christ carrying the Cross and Christ Crucified,
without feeling the need to act as a “Simon of Cyrene” for our brothers and
sisters weighed down by grief or crushed by despair? Finally, how could one
possibly gaze upon the glory of the Risen Christ or of Mary Queen of Heaven,
without yearning to make this world more beautiful, more just, more closely
conformed to God's plan?
In a word, by focusing our eyes on Christ, the Rosary also makes us peacemakers
in the world. By its nature as an insistent choral petition in harmony with
Christ's invitation to “pray ceaselessly” (Lk 18:1), the Rosary
allows us to hope that, even today, the difficult “battle” for peace can be
won. Far from offering an escape from the problems of the world, the Rosary
obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes, and obtains for us
the strength to face them with the certainty of God's help and the firm
intention of bearing witness in every situation to “love, which binds
everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).
The family: parents ...
41. As a prayer for peace, the Rosary is also, and always has been, a prayer
of and for the family. At one time this prayer was particularly dear to
Christian families, and it certainly brought them closer together. It is
important not to lose this precious inheritance. We need to return to the
practice of family prayer and prayer for families, continuing to use the Rosary.
In my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte I encouraged the
celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours by the lay faithful in the
ordinary life of parish communities and Christian groups;39 I now wish to do the same for the Rosary. These two paths of Christian
contemplation are not mutually exclusive; they complement one another. I would
therefore ask those who devote themselves to the pastoral care of families to
recommend heartily the recitation of the Rosary.
The family that prays together stays together. The Holy Rosary, by age-old tradition, has shown itself particularly effective
as a prayer which brings the family together. Individual family members, in
turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in
the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see
their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.
Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically
developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating.
Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are
often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the
family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his
most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces
something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place
Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and
their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go
... and children
42. It is also beautiful and fruitful to entrust to this prayer the growth
and development of children. Does the Rosary not follow the life of Christ,
from his conception to his death, and then to his Resurrection and his glory?
Parents are finding it ever more difficult to follow the lives of their children
as they grow to maturity. In a society of advanced technology, of mass
communications and globalization, everything has become hurried, and the
cultural distance between generations is growing ever greater. The most diverse
messages and the most unpredictable experiences rapidly make their way into the
lives of children and adolescents, and parents can become quite anxious about
the dangers their children face. At times parents suffer acute disappointment at
the failure of their children to resist the seductions of the drug culture, the
lure of an unbridled hedonism, the temptation to violence, and the manifold
expressions of meaninglessness and despair.
To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children,
training them from their earliest years to experience this daily “pause for
prayer” with the family, is admittedly not the solution to every problem, but
it is a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated. It could be objected
that the Rosary seems hardly suited to the taste of children and young people of
today. But perhaps the objection is directed to an impoverished method of
praying it. Furthermore, without prejudice to the Rosary's basic structure,
there is nothing to stop children and young people from praying it – either
within the family or in groups – with appropriate symbolic and practical aids to
understanding and appreciation. Why not try it? With God's help, a pastoral
approach to youth which is positive, impassioned and creative – as shown by the
World Youth Days! – is capable of achieving quite remarkable results. If the
Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise
adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the
enthusiasm typical of their age group.
The Rosary, a treasure to be rediscovered
43. Dear brothers and sisters! A prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves
to be rediscovered by the Christian community. Let us do so, especially this
year, as a means of confirming the direction outlined in my Apostolic Letter
Novo Millennio Ineunte, from which the pastoral plans of so many particular
Churches have drawn inspiration as they look to the immediate future.
I turn particularly to you, my dear Brother Bishops, priests and deacons, and to
you, pastoral agents in your different ministries: through your own personal
experience of the beauty of the Rosary, may you come to promote it with
I also place my trust in you, theologians: by your sage and rigorous reflection,
rooted in the word of God and sensitive to the lived experience of the Christian
people, may you help them to discover the Biblical foundations, the spiritual
riches and the pastoral value of this traditional prayer.
I count on you, consecrated men and women, called in a particular way to
contemplate the face of Christ at the school of Mary.
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.
May this appeal of mine not go unheard! At the start of the twenty-fifth year of
my Pontificate, I entrust this Apostolic Letter to the loving hands of the
Virgin Mary, prostrating myself in spirit before her image in the splendid
Shrine built for her by Blessed Bartolo Longo, the apostle of the Rosary. I
willingly make my own the touching words with which he concluded his well-known
Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary: “O Blessed Rosary of
Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the
angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of Hell, safe port in our
universal shipwreck, we will never abandon you. You will be our comfort in the
hour of death: yours our final kiss as life ebbs away. And the last word from
our lips will be your sweet name, O Queen of the Rosary of Pompei, O dearest
Mother, O Refuge of Sinners, O Sovereign Consoler of the Afflicted. May you be
everywhere blessed, today and always, on earth and in heaven”.
From the Vatican, on the 16th day of October in the year 2002, the beginning of
the twenty- fifth year of my Pontificate.
1 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes,
2 Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (2 February 1974),
42: AAS 66 (1974), 153.
3 Cf. Acta Leonis XIII, 3 (1884), 280-289.
4 Particularly worthy of note is his Apostolic Epistle on the Rosary Il
religioso convegno (29 September 1961): AAS 53 (1961), 641-647.
5 Angelus: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, I (1978): 75-76.
6 AAS 93 (2001), 285.
7 During the years of preparation for the Council, Pope John XXIII did not fail to
encourage the Christian community to recite the Rosary for the success of this
ecclesial event: cf. Letter to the Cardinal Vicar (28 September 1960): AAS 52
8 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 66.
9 No. 32: AAS 93 (2001), 288.
10 Ibid., 33: loc. cit., 289.
11 It is well-known and bears repeating that private revelations are not the same
as public revelation, which is binding on the whole Church. It is the task of
the Magisterium to discern and recognize the authenticity and value of private
revelations for the piety of the faithful.
12 The Secret of the Rosary.
13 Blessed Bartolo Longo, Storia del Santuario di Pompei, Pompei, 1990, 59.
14 Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (2 February 1974), 47:
15 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.
16 Ibid., 12.
17 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen
18 I Quindici Sabati del Santissimo Rosario, 27th ed., Pompei, 1916, 27.
19 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen
20 Ibid., 60.
21 Cf. First Radio Address Urbi et Orbi (17 October 1978):
AAS 70 (1978),
22 Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
23 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2679.
24 Ibid., 2675.
25 The Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary was composed by Blessed
Bartolo Longo in 1883 in response to the appeal of Pope Leo XIII, made in his
first Encyclical on the Rosary, for the spiritual commitment of all Catholics in
combating social ills. It is solemnly recited twice yearly, in May and October.
26 Divina Commedia, Paradiso XXXIII, 13-15.
27 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001),
20: AAS 93 (2001), 279.
28 Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus (2 February 1974), 46:
29 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001),
28: AAS 93 (2001), 284.
30 No. 515.
31 Angelus Message of 29 October 1978 : Insegnamenti, I (1978), 76.
32 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
33 Cf. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, III, 18, 1: PG 7, 932.
34 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2616.
35 Cf. No. 33: AAS 93 (2001), 289.
36 John Paul II, Letter to Artists (4 April 1999), 1:
AAS 91 (1999), 1155.
37 Cf. No. 46: AAS 66 (1974), 155. This custom has also been recently praised by
the Congregation for Divine Worship and for the Discipline of the Sacraments in
its Direttorio su pietà popolare e liturgia. Principi e orientamenti (17
December 2001), 201, Vatican City, 2002, 165.
38 “...concede, quaesumus, ut haec mysteria sacratissimo beatae Mariae
Virginis Rosario recolentes, et imitemur quod continent, et quod promittunt
assequamur”. Missale Romanum 1960, in festo B.M. Virginis a Rosario.
39 Cf. No. 34: AAS 93 (2001), 290.