Pope Paul VI
October 8, 1969
Beloved Sons and Daughters,
Again that question which We have already asked here more than once comes back to Our mind: What does the Church need today?
We are well aware that the Church is at this moment in a condition of particular and pressing needs, for two opposed reasons. First, there are the internal and external maladies that afflict her, and secondly there is the mission which she has to fulfill and possibilities of offering fresh Christian testimony to the contemporary world. The Church is urged on by this experience of her own needs and this awareness of her duties, to seek aid from beyond the human and temporal sphere. She is urged to pray and to invoke divine help, to ask for that prodigious and mysterious assistance which Jesus Christ promised to his apostles when he was near the end of his visible life on this earth. I shall be, rather "I am with you all days even to the end of time" (Mt 28:20).
This recourse to the Lord’s effective and imminent action in the Church’s soul, in the Christian people’s psychology, produces a certain result. It is something that is very well known, very common and as it were spontaneous among us, yet it is always something singular (so much so that many of our Christian brethren still in separation from us continue to be somewhat critical in regard to its rightfulness and effectiveness).
We refer to the fact of intercession, of mediation, to which we have recourse. To speak more simply, we ask someone to use their good offices, to recommend us, to speak for us.
Who is our Mediator?
To whom shall we turn, in order to reach whose ear? We turn to Mary, in order to reach Jesus. For us who are all disciples of the Church’s spiritual and doctrinal school this is not strange, illogical or futile. We know very well that "there is but one mediator between God and men, the man, Christ Jesus, he who gave himself as the price of redemption for all" (1 Tim 2:5). Christ alone is the cause of our salvation (Heb 5:9); but we also know that the economy of salvation provides for human cooperation, which St. Thomas describes as "dispostive and ministerial" (S. Th. III, 26, 1). This human cooperation, permits of preparation, of introduction to the source of grace, a non-causal human intervention, which has the power of facilitating, and is wonderfully suited to circulation of charity, communion, and the solidarity which exists on the divine level of our salvation.
The name we give to this intervention is intercession. It has great weight in devotion to the saints, and obviously also to an eminent degree in that very special devotion which is due, and is rightly given to Christ’s Mother (cf. Lumen Gentium 66). She more than any other creature, takes part – and what a part, a unique, active, and most holy part! – in the Incarnation (Gal 4:4), and in Jesus’ redeeming sufferings (Lk 2:35; Jn 19:25).
For this reason We will repeat with Our great Predecessor Leo XIII, Our Apostolic Office "and the most difficult conditions of the present times lead Us more and more every day and, as it were, drive Us to give greater attention to the Church’s protection and safety the more her trials become graver" (Enc. Supremi Apostolatus; September 1, 1883), the more delicate the times, and the more urgent the need of peace, wounded and threatened in the world, as in Vietnam, in Africa, in the Middle East, in Ireland, and in other places of suffering in the world.
All these reasons led Us to send out that exhortation to the Church which was published the other day, to urge it to call down the Virgin’s motherly care in a special way during this month of October, during which we celebrate the feast of the Rosary.
We should now like to talk about the Rosary and say why a devotional practice has become the reason for rather than the object of a special feast. But the more pressing need at present is to remind you in your piety what a good thing it will be for all of us to take up our rosaries once again and to recite the prayers with the simplicity and fervor of the humble, of the little ones, of the devout, of the afflicted and of the trustful – and to do so for peace in the Church and peace in the world.
It is now four centuries since Pope St. Pius V settled the form of the Marian devotion, and the occurrence of this centenary should encourage us to take it up again. The Council also tacitly recommended it (cf. Lumen Gentium 67). In regard to the difficulty sometimes felt in the Rosary because of repetitiveness and monotony, we may be helped to get over that by remembering that certain kinds of modern popular music are based on a single word or idea repeated again and again to a single beat (cf. Sneghor, Négritude et humanisme, p. 35).
We need the Virgin’s help. A tormented, famous, spiritual, and realistic writer, Charles Péguy, compared the Our Father and the Hail Mary in the Rosary to ships sailing victoriously towards the Father (cf. Le mystère des Saints Innocents, 1912). We too should attempt that mystic voyage.
And let it not be said, that by doing so we are "only using" a prayer and devotion to Our Lady for our own temporal desires, that that sort of religion is just utilitarianism, the same that pervades modern life at all points. To begin with, there is nothing wrong in making prayer a confession of our limitations, of our needs, and of our trust in being able to obtain from on high that which our own powers are unable to obtain. Did not Christ himself teach us to do this? Did he not say, "Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you..." (Mt 7:7)?
But We can add two other observations about the Rosary. the prayer of petition in the ordinary intention of the person reciting the rosary fuses and, as it were, transfuses into contemplative prayer through the attention which the mind gives to the so-called "mysteries of the Rosary." These turn this pious Marian devotion into a meditation of Christ, and accustom us to look at him from the best possible viewpoint, that of Mary herself. The Rosary sets our gaze and our mind upon Christ, the scenes of his life and their theological meaning, and does this not only with Mary, but also in the same way as Mary, in so far as this is possible for us. There is no doubt that no one every gave more thought to him (cf. Lk 2:19; 2:51; 8:21; 11:28), understood him more, loved him more, and lived more like him.
Secondly, the Rosary puts anyone who has trust in it into communication with Our Lady, sets up a dialogue with her as it were, puts him beside her. It obliges him to feel her power, her evangelical style, her example, which instructs and transforms. It is a school that makes us Christians. This benefit is almost an unexpected one, but how precious it is, and how close to our primary needs.
So listen, dearly beloved children, to Our call to prayer. As we move along its line of repeated but meditative invocations, it strengthens us in hope, assimilates us to Christ, and obtains for us patience, peace, and the joy of Christ. May the Madonna render effective Our wish and Our Apostolic Benediction.
L’Osservatore Romano, October 16, 1969.
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