Sermon – Sunday, October 8, 2023

In southwestern France, alongside the Pyrenees mountains, rests a small town called Lourdes.  In the year 1858, a fourteen year old girl named Bernadette started to see apparitions of a “small young lady” holding a rosary.  It wasn’t until the sixteenth apparition that Bernadette learned the name of the lady, who told Bernadette:  “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Years after the final apparition, once the local bishop and civil authorities accepted Bernadette’s claims, the decision was made to create a statue of the Immaculate Conception.  It stands today in the center of the main square in front of the basilicas in Lourdes.  Preparations took a long time because Bernadette insisted that every detail of the statue correspond to what she had seen.  The artist grew rather exasperated, but Bernadette was insistent.

Among the many details that Bernadette pointed out, one concerned the rosary that the Immaculate Conception held.  Bernadette had to correct the artist because he initially portrayed the Immaculate Conception holding a five-decade rosary.  Bernadette explained to the artist that when the Immaculate Conception appeared to her, she was holding a six-decade rosary, which is called a Carmelite Rosary.

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Many Catholics are unaware that there is such a thing as a six-decade rosary, or that it’s been prayed by Catholics for centuries, although the even-older five-decade rosary, called the Dominican rosary, is the form of the Rosary most often prayed.

The point is that there’s not a single form for the Rosary.  The form of the Rosary is not regulated by the Church as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is.  If someone wants to pray the six-decade Carmelite rosary instead of the five-decade Dominican rosary, that person is free to do so.  Likewise, if someone wishes to read a verse or verses of Scripture at the start of each decade, that person is free to do so.  Likewise, if a person wishes on Thursdays to pray the Luminous Mysteries that St. John Paul proposed, that person is free to do so.  The form by which the Rosary is prayed is not essential.  What is essential is to pray the Rosary.

So since I’ve mentioned the Carmelite Rosary, let me say a little about the sixth mystery of each set of mysteries.  Within the Joyful Mysteries, the additional mystery is added at the start, as the First Joyful Mystery.  The First Joyful Mystery of the Carmelite Rosary is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary by her mother, St. Anne.  Then the customary Joyful Mysteries follow, with the Annunciation being the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation being the Third Joyful Mystery, and so on.

Within the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Carmelite Rosary, the additional mystery is added at the end.  So the sixth Sorrowful Mystery is the scene of the Thirteenth Station of the Cross:  the Deposition of the Body of Christ into the arms of His Sorrowful Mother.

Within the Glorious Mysteries of the Carmelite Rosary, the additional mystery is also added at the end.  So the sixth Glorious Mystery is The Patronage of Mary, Queen and Beauty of Carmel (“Carmel” being the name for the entire family of those friars, nuns, and laypersons who have dedicated their lives to Christ under the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel).

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During this month of October, the Church calls all Christians to go out of their way to grow in their devotion to Our Blessed Mother through the prayer of the Rosary.  Our Lady’s side altar is beautifully decorated during this month:  a reminder of this call to the Rosary.

Consider a suggestion about one way to do this.  While there are a lot of both pros and cons to the modern media, one of the pros that’s helped many Catholics grow in their Faith are Catholic apps available for smartphones or tablets.  While there are surely several good apps that can help you grow in your Catholic Faith, I’d recommend the app called “Hallow”.  There are both a free version and a paid version.  Recently I gave my mother her first Christmas gift, a year’s subscription to Hallow.  This app offers, in addition to audio recordings of the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the entire Bible, reflections on Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic Faith.  These features make it easy to use time travelling in your vehicle in a spiritually profitable way.

Venerable Sister Lucia, one of the visionaries of Fatima, said late in her life that “All people of good will can, and must say the Rosary every day.”  By contrast, she continued by pointing out that “if God, through Our Lady, had asked us to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion every day, there would undoubtedly have been a great many people who would have said, quite rightly, that this was not possible.  Some, on account of the distance separating them from the nearest Church where Mass was celebrated; others on account of the circumstances of their lives, their state in life, their job, the state of their health, etc.”

“On the other hand to pray the Rosary is something everybody can do, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, great and small.”  It is “a prayer which is within our reach…”.  The “Rosary … can be recited either in common or in private, either in church in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or at home, either when traveling or while walking quietly in the fields.”  “A mother of a family can say the Rosary while she rocks her baby’s cradle or does the house work.”

Venerable Sister Lucia continues by noting that “God, who is our Father and understands better than we do the needs of His children, chose to stoop to the simple ordinary level of all of us in asking for the daily recitation of the Rosary, in order to smooth for us the way to Him.”

Statue of Our Lady of Lourdes holding the Carmelite Rosary. The statue is located in the square in front of the main basilicas. In the photo below the same statue is shown from behind.

Sermon – Sunday, October 1, 2023

May is the month when the Church pays the greatest devotion to Our Blessed Mother Mary.  After all, that’s why Western culture celebrates Mother’s Day during May:  because the celebration is an offshoot of the Church’s devotion to Mary during the month of May.

After the month of May, though, the month of October is second in terms of devotion to Our Blessed Mother.  The most important feast of Our Lady during October will be celebrated next Saturday on October 7th, the date of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  It’s because of this feast that the Church dedicates the entire month of October to the Holy Rosary.

There are two ways to honor Our Blessed Mother during October.  The first is simply to pray the Rosary.  Nothing complicated about that:  pray the Rosary during October.  If you don’t already pray the Rosary every day, start today.  We pray the Rosary to honor Our Blessed Mother, which she of course deserves.  Yet while we pray the Rosary to give honor to Mary, like so much in our Christian life, when we give, we receive.  When we give honor to Mary by praying the Rosary, she draws us closer to her Son.

It’s very simple:  if you want your family to grow spiritually stronger, then pray the Rosary together; if you want your parish to be strong, then pray the Rosary; if you want our world to be filled with God’s grace, then pray the Rosary, so that you and the members of your families and parish will take God’s grace into the world.  So that’s the first way to honor Mary during October:  by praying the Rosary.

The second way to honor Our Blessed Mother during October is to stop and reflect upon what exactly the prayer of the Rosary is all about.  The Rosary is such a simple prayer that there’s a risk of praying it without giving our full attention to the Rosary’s meaning.  In other words, there’s a risk of praying it mindlessly, and if we pray the Rosary mindlessly, then we pray it fruitlessly.  But if we stop every now and again—say, during October—and step back and consider the depth of the Rosary, then when we pray it, our prayers will be more fruitful.

One feature of the Rosary that deserves our reflection is the sets of mysteries that we meditate upon while praying the Rosary.  Consider the three traditional sets of mysteries:  the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries.  The fourth set of mysteries—the Mysteries of Light that St. John Paul II proposed in the year 2002—deserve separate attention because that set of mysteries is so unique.  In the 2002 document that St. John Paul wrote about the Rosary, you can read his reflections upon the Mysteries of Light.

However, the three traditional sets of mysteries—the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries—have several traits in common.  One is that each set of mysteries is liturgical in nature.  That is to say, the Joyful Mysteries are the Advent and Christmas Mysteries.  The Sorrowful Mysteries are the Lenten mysteries.  Then it follows that the Glorious Mysteries are the Easter mysteries, with an “epilogue”, if you will, given to Our Blessed Mother in the last two Glorious Mysteries.

So the Rosary is liturgical in nature.  That is to say, the Rosary tracks the major seasons of the Church year.  But to say that the Rosary tracks the Church’s seasons is simply to say that the Rosary is dramatic in nature:  the drama in question being the unfolding of salvation history.

In other words, on a given day—let’s say Monday—when we pray the Rosary, the five mysteries that we pray that day—in the case of Monday, the Joyful Mysteries—are not five random snapshots from the lives of Mary and Jesus.  The five Joyful Mysteries are inter-connected.  We could say that they make a five-act play, with the events of each act leading to the events of the next, and the entirety of the Joyful Mysteries telling a single story about how God brought joy into the world through Mary and Jesus.  Likewise, the Sorrowful Mysteries tell the story about how God chose to suffer for our sins, while the Glorious Mysteries tell the story of God’s victory over death:  a victory He offers to all mankind, beginning with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the first and best disciple of Jesus Christ.  In response to Mary’s fidelity to all God asked of her, when her earthly days were completed, God rewarded Mary by means of her Assumption and Coronation.  Nonetheless, we need to remember that while Mary is the first disciple of Jesus, she’s not meant to be the last.  She’s not the “last word” on how to follow her Son.  She’s our mother, and we, as her children, learn from our Mother how to follow Jesus.

Let me finish with one of St. John Paul’s recommendations in his 2002 document about the Rosary.  His recommendation concerns the start of each decade of the Rosary.  He writes:  “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’.”

So if necessary, because, for example, there’s a Mass to follow the Rosary, the Scripture passage for each decade can be as short as one verse long.  But when the Rosary is prayed at home, a little longer Scripture passage can be used, and a moment of silence can follow the Scripture passage.  This makes it easier to meditate upon the mystery as the decade proceeds.

We pray the Rosary to honor Our Blessed Mother, as she deserves.  Yet while we pray the Rosary to give honor to Mary, when we honor Mary by praying the Rosary, she draws us closer to her Son.  Meditating upon her life shows us how to make His life the path of our own life.

For the link to St. John Paul II’s 2002 apostolic letter about the Rosary, click HERE.