Our beloved St. John Paul II once confided to the faithful that the rosary was his “daily meeting” with Mary, “which neither I nor she neglects.”
“If you wish to be close to the heart of the Pope for a few moments,” he continued in his Angelus address, “I propose to you the time of the rosary, in which I remember all of you to the Virgin Mary, and I would like you to remember me to her in the same way.”
On Oct. 7, we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and this month provides an excellent opportunity to renew our fidelity to this prayer or to begin its practice.
My own thoughts on the rosary have been colored recently by Christ’s words from the cross, which we heard in the Gospel for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on Sept. 15: “Behold, your mother.”
I have always interpreted these words as meaning simply, “John, this is your mother.” Indeed, the main force of the phrase is to entrust Mary to John, encouraging him to take her as his mother. But there must be more to the “behold” than simply, “This is.” Why did Christ choose to command John to “behold” Mary? The answer: It is important for us to see Mary, to behold our mother, to gaze upon her as she lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.
In his encyclical on the rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, St. John Paul II vividly depicts the rosary as a “school of Mary,” in which she teaches us to behold Christ. Is this not the essence of all teaching? When a child is taught, he sees the world through new eyes, through the eyes of his teacher. As we pray the rosary, Mary is our teacher. We gaze upon her, and she, in turn, directs our gaze toward Christ. Through her eyes, we see Him — in His infancy, in His childhood and young adulthood, in His preaching and His suffering, in His triumph and in His church.
Many artistic representations of Mary over the centuries from all parts of the world show her in just this role of directress of our gaze. Whether contemplating Him herself or pointing toward Him with her hand, Mary leads us by example or by suggestion to her Son. The Eastern icons that portray her gesturing toward Him are termed “Hodegetria” icons, from the Greek for “she who points the way.”
In this month of the rosary, let us schedule a daily “meeting with Mary,” during which we can entrust to her all our needs, hopes, and joys and follow her eyes to meet Christ’s loving gaze upon us.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.