A Western Way of Meditation: The Rosary Revisited
David Button Bryan
Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1991

Our age appears less than enthusiastic about the doctrines and institutions of religion, but there is no shortage of interest in prayer, meditation and spirituality. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has noted this interest and has offered guidelines in its 1986, letter "On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation."

Some look to the East for guidance in meditation, unaware perhaps that in the West the Rosary has served both as an introduction to and as a method of prayer and meditation. David Burton Bryan is a specialist in Near Eastern studies and biblical languages and reads widely in anthropology, spirituality, and science. He brings many interests and the enthusiasm of a convert as he considers the Rosary, not as a practice limited to Marian devotees but as a method of prayer profitable for all believers. 

For Burton, the Rosary is symbolic of the prayer and meditation necessary for the life of every Christian. He begins with several considerations on the nature of Christian prayer and meditation, on the "seeking" and "waiting," the praise and petition which are part of Christian prayer. Prayer, he maintains, must be organic, unitive, and intuitive. He offers several suggestions for seeing the Rosary as a complement to or extension of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. 

Several times he reviews the fifteen traditional mysteries of the Rosary - each time plumbing a bit further the relation of the individual mysteries to daily life. Each review of a mystery includes references to current studies in Scripture, spirituality, and psychology. 

What is missing in this work is a historical perspective showing the Rosary as an evolving and flexible type of prayer. Only in the post-Tridentine period did it become a fixed, unchangeable formula as presented by Bryan. In their 1974 letter, the American bishops suggested that, in addition to the traditional pattern of the rosary, "we can freely experiment." New mysteries, attuned to the spirit of liturgy, they said, are possible. Because of this encouragement to adaptation, the Rosary has become an attractive way of prayer for many who had difficulty with the traditional form. Finally, any commentary on the Rosary should be mindful of Paul VI's advice: "We recommend this very worthy devotion not be propagated in, a way that is too one-sided or exclusive. The Rosary is an excellent prayer, but the faithful should be serenely free toward it. Its intrinsic appeal should draw them to calm recitation." (Marialis Cultus #55)

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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