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The Rosary: more a method of preaching than of praying

By: Gabriel Harty, OP

 

Pious legend has it that the Mother of God came to Dominic in the forest of Bouconne, west of Toulouse, with the remedy of the Rosary:

Wonder not that until now you have had such little fruit from your labours. You have spent them on a barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth he began by sending down the fertilizing dew of the Angelic Salutation. Go, preach my Rosary and you will obtain an abundant harvest.

The Dominican Rosary was born into a barren land. The puritanical Cathars were preaching a divided humanity, with flesh warring against spirit, with women downgraded and life itself despised. Dominic’s answer came in the proclamation of the Word made flesh and born of woman.  ‘Hail... the Lord is with you... you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son.’

Whatever critical historians may have to say about the legend of the Rosary, it bears witness to the charismatic gift entrusted by the Church to the Order of Preachers, a gift we exercise by reason of profession, by our legislation and by the constant exhortation of the See of Rome. 

‘Go preach’ – that is the Dominican tradition of the Rosary. Dominic is above all the Man of the Book. Art may show him without the beads, but never without the Scriptures. The well-known fresco of Cristo deriso, (Christ mocked) in Florence’s San Marco contains the three elements of the Dominican Rosary. Firstly, Jesus seated on a throne, the centre of our contemplation and of our preaching. Secondly, Mary, at the foot of the throne pondering these things in her heart. Thirdly, inviting Dominic on the other side to keep her company. The Rosary is not so much a prayer to Mary as a keeping her company as we meditate on the mysteries of her Son.

The Gospel of the Votive Mass of the Rosary, which appeared in the old Dominican missal, is not the modern one of Gabriel and the baby to be born. It is that of the Sower and the seed, which ends with the challenge: To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom. It points to the Rosary as our particular method of preaching.

In the golden age of the Rosary, it was common practice to open up any detail of the lives of Jesus and Mary to this preaching of the mysteries of the Kingdom. Huge volumes are to be found in the Santa Maria Novella library in Florence, on the lines of a modern Lectionary, entitled: Annualia and Festivalia, giving a whole panorama of the Gospel. A typical example is that of the woman with the issue of blood, who said: If only I can touch the tassel of his robe. The preacher would hold up the beads, saying: Here it is, touch it in faith and be healed. This would explain the old adage that has meant so much to me over the course of my ministry as a Dominican preacher: Rosarium magis est modus praedicandi quam orandi. (The Rosary is more a method of preaching than of praying.)