Today, the last day of the month of May, the month dedicated to Mary, is also the Feast of the Visitation of Mary when she goes “in haste” to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who has “conceived a son in her old age.” In this episode from Scripture, we see Mary described in the role of the Queen-Mother. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Elizabeth, the elder of the two women, nevertheless receives Mary as a person of greater stature, of higher importance. Elizabeth proclaims:
Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Elizabeth calls Mary “the mother of my Lord,” and the one who is “blessed among all women.” These designations are a way of referring to the special title and role that Mary holds in the Kingdom of God. In the Jewish tradition, the role of the Queen-Mother stretched all the way back to the time of King Solomon, around 950 BC. The Queen-Mother had three very specific tasks. First, she had a certain amount of authority in her son’s kingdom, secondly, she was an advisor to the king and lastly, she was an advocate for the people who belonged to the kingdom of her son. We know that Mary keeps all three of these tasks. In fact, she appears like a glorious queen during her apparitions at Fatima, when she is dressed in the colors of gold and white, the colors typically associated with the glory of God during the liturgical calendar.
The Visitation itself is one of the mysteries of the rosary, being the second decade in the 5 Joyful Mysteries. Even though Mary is usually referred to as Our Lady of Fatima, her official title for these May apparitions is “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary at Fatima.” That name change makes a big difference. Calling Mary “Our Lady of Fatima” emphasizes the secrets and the supernatural aspect of Fatima. These are indeed notable, to be sure, but they can also quickly become overwhelming. Remembering that Mary is actually named "Our Lady of the Holy Rosary at Fatima" gets to the heart of her message. It enables us to carry out the message that she relayed - Pray, offer sacrifices and repent. In other words, get out your rosary beads. The solution to war, strife and suffering - literally- lies in your own hands. It is not beyond reach, or too high above us. It is in the humble act of daily prayer.
It is helpful to remember the words of Pope Pius XII who said ""The gates of hell will never prevail, where Mary offers her protection. She is the good mother, the mother of all, and it has never been heard that those who seek her protection, will not receive it. She will help! Error will be overcome with her assistance and divine grace." She is our great Queen-Mother who will come “in haste” to aid us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death, and pray for those who never pray to you, now and at the hour of their death. Amen.
I wrote in an earlier article (5 Good Reasons to Pray the Rosary) about Our Lady of Fatima’s request that we pray the rosary daily “to end the war.” The three children whom she was speaking to, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia, assumed that she was referring to World War I, since the year was 1917 and the “war to end all wars,” as it was sometimes called then, had been raging on for years.
Unfortunately, of course, we know that believing WWI would be the last war was just wishful thinking. No doubt Our Lady was referring to World War I as “the war,” since she is always concerned with the trials we have in our specific, present moment, but, at the same time, she was also likely speaking about the greater war that has been going on since the world began. St. Paul wrote, in the Letter to the Ephesians, that “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” Certainly, Mary was also speaking about this greater war.
With all the sadness, turmoil and death in our world today, we can assume that we need to pray the rosary more, not less, than back in 1917. In reading my Magnificat magazine for May, I found these words in the back, written by Magnificat’s founder, Pierre Marie Dumont, which offer some profound wisdom for interpreting our times, especially as the month of May draws to a close and we remember all those who have died, recently as well as all those we pray for on Memorial Day. Dumont suggests we might slightly adapt the Hail Mary from time to time, “so that the death of everyone, even the most hardened of sinners, may be a victory over death, because remember “the Father is not willing that any of his children should be lost’ (Mt 18:14)”. Consider adding an extra Hail Mary after each decade, saying this:
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for all the sinners who never pray to you,
Now and at the hour of their death. Amen.
If praying the rosary can change us, the pray-ers, surely it can also have a good effect on those whom we ask Mary to pray for, even if they - and we - don’t know what those effects will be. Who knows the difference this kind of prayer could have made in the past, or could make in the future?
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
Today, May 13, we celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. This day recalls and commemorates the time period in 1917 when Our Lady appeared to three young children who were shepherding their sheep near Fatima, Portugal. During the six times Our Lady appeared to them, she requested they pray the rosary every day, in order to bring peace to the world and the end of World War I. We don’t have to look far today to know that Mary is still making the same request of us: pray the rosary every day to bring peace to the world and an end to war.
But why did Mary specify we pray the rosary? After all, there are many forms of prayer available to Catholics, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, novenas and chaplets, as well as Mass. But Mary only -and explicitly- asked for a daily rosary. We know that praying the rosary brings us so many graces and benefits. Five benefits of this prayer are listed below, starting with the most basic and building up to the top, best reason to pray it. Perhaps these five reasons can give us some insight into why Our Lady asked for the rosary.
5. For the physiological changes that take place in the body.
In today's over-scheduled, over-rushed world, it seems like everyone is always looking for ways to relax. Many studies have shown the effects on the body that take place when we pray the rosary. The rhythm of the words, the repeating prayers and the consoling knowledge that someone who loves you is listening all combine to slow down the heart rate, cut down the release of cortisol, improve concentration and even our breathing. While anxiousness and stress may not totally evaporate, they certainly subside. And all these benefits are on the purely physical level - we haven't even gotten to the spiritual benefits yet.
4. To practice Contemplative Prayer
Once the body is calm, the mind is much more able to practice contemplative prayer. Cortisol and adrenaline levels subside, opening the pathway to the creative and restorative areas of the brain. We can use our imagination to dwell on the mysteries of the rosary. Many spiritual pathways incorporate a well-formed imagination to dwell on the mysteries of God. The Ignatian Exercises and the Dominican Practice of Contemplation help us to remain grounded in a place of calm alertness, able to step away from our daily lives for a few minutes and obtain a greater perspective.
3. To Draw Down and Apply Graces
By lifting our hearts and minds in contemplation and supposition to God, we are able to draw down the graces won for us by Jesus as he walked the earth. Prayer unites us with God, so we can apply the graces and guidance from Jesus' life to our own. In a very real way, we can participate in the life of the Holy Family as we pray through the mysteries of the rosary and draw down those graces into our own homes and situations. The rosary assists us in incarnating the stories of Scripture.
2. To Grow In Holiness
Repeated contemplation of the lives of Jesus and his only perfect follower, Mary, his Mother, will change us. We will slowly grow in imitation of them and understanding of how to react and act in our own lives as we put on more and more of Christ.
1. To Change Our World and Build the Kingdom of God
This sounds like such a huge statement, and it is. It's also a true statement. Our prayers for world peace, for guidance and wisdom for our world leaders, are more necessary than ever today. Yet, we can also change our own corner of the world by first changing ourselves.
If you don’t consider yourself to be a devotee of the rosary, today is a good day to give it a try. Since it takes only about 20 minutes to say, there is usually a pocket of time during the day when we can pause and pray it. The rosary is also a great way to introduce communal prayer into families. Families with very young children might only say one or two decades together and add more as children grow. The point is not perfection, but practice and persistence. Just remember, no matter how well or poorly we pray it, saying the rosary in any form can only be good for ourselves, our families and the world, as we respond to Mary’s request.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!