PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE
REFLECTION BY H.E. MSGR. GIAMPAOLO CREPALDI
The Rosary for Peace in our Day
The Encyclical Rerum novarum with which, Leo XIII, the “Pope of the Rosary”, in 1891, began the modern history of the social doctrine of the Church ends with a hymn to charity, queen of the social virtues: “those in whose hands lies the care of the general welfare … must do all they can for the good of the people, particularly by way of strenuous efforts to nourish in themselves and to inspire in others the practice of charity, mistress and queen of all the virtues. For indeed it is from a great outpouring of charity that the desired results are principally to be looked for. It is of Christian charity that we speak, the virtue which sums up the whole Gospel law. It is this which makes a man ever and entirely ready to sacrifice himself for the good of others. It is this which is man’s most effective antidote against worldly pride and immoderate love of self” (n. 45). Christian charity, as the Encyclical says in another beautiful and well-known passage, paragraph 21, makes it possible to go beyond social friendship to brotherly love.
Prayer for peace that produces charity
A little more than a century later, in the Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, (the Rosary of the Virgin Mary), John Paul II teaches that the Rosary “is also a prayer for peace because of the fruits of charity which it produces” (n. 40). He points to Christian charity, that Leo XIII put at the root of peaceful civic coexistence. This charity depends largely on prayer, especially on our prayer as we recite the Rosary. Peace, understood according to the teaching of Pacem in Terris, whose 40th anniversary we will soon celebrate, is “an order founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity, and put into practice in freedom” (n. 167). Peace is a fruit that we can fully obtain only thanks to “an intervention from on high” (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 40) and due to a new orientation of hearts that will produce the fruits of charity.
Marian spirit: Mary’s leading us to Christ inspires charity and peace
The Holy Father, enlightening us about the bond between peace and the Rosary, invites us to consider the entire social teaching of the Church and its ultimate goal, peace, the gift of God, through the medium of the Christian virtue of charity, in their close connection with prayer and, especially, with Marian prayer. The Pope asks us to locate the development of the Church’s social teaching in the perspective of the contemplation of Christ to be fostered by praying the Rosary.
In this way he calls us to consider the Marian spirit of the social teaching of the Magisterium, the centrality of the mystery of Mary in the Church’s social doctrine. The Pope’s Apostolic Letter on the Rosary sheds new light on the role of the Blessed Virgin in the Church’s social teaching. This teaching, since “it proclaims God and his mystery of salvation in Christ” (Centesimus annus, n. 54), is firmly centred on the “yes” that Mary spoke to the Angel, a “yes” that was the fruit of charity, an act of charity, giving birth to charity. What the Church expresses in her social doctrine is also a “yes”: it is the acceptance of God’s design for humanity; a “yes” to renewed social relations, not only of friendship but also of fraternal love; to the dedication to serve one’s brothers and sisters, to see them with eyes illumined by the light that shines from the Face of Christ whom we contemplate in prayer. In elaborating her social doctrine, the Church, in harmony with Mary, Mother of the Church, invites us to do whatever Jesus tells us (cf. Jn 2,5). The Church also presents Christ to all peoples as if they were in the cave of Bethlehem and calls for the realization of the virtues in daily life as if they associated with Jesus in family activities of the home of Nazareth. The Church formulates her social doctrine imitating Mary who kept in her heart (cf. Lk 2,19) the will of the Lord, to accompany humanity with “Christ who made man’s way his own, and who guides him” (Centesimus annus, n. 62). The Church’s social teaching is born at the foot of the Cross where Mary kneels: with this teaching the Church takes on sufferings and wrongs, and points out to everyone the horizons of a new world: “Behold, I make all things new” (Apoc 21,5).
Mary in the Church leads to Christ
The Marian mystery illumines the message of peace that the Church’s social doctrine conveys, and embeds it more firmly in her origins, in Christ. In various perspectives, the Marian theological dimension of the Church is still waiting to be explored and deepened.
The Pope’s Apostolic Letter on the Rosary implictly suggests this relationship and asks for this deepening. It should not be forgotten that his last two social Encyclicals both end with a thought and a prayer addressed to Mary.
In this relationship between the social doctrine of the Church and Marian prayer, so full of theological references which have yet to be fully appreciated, we can find the close link between the Rosary and peace which is the subject of paragraph 40 of the Pope’s recent Apostolic Letter. Through Mary as his/her “way”, the Christian can say with St Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2,20).
Life of grace in the totality of existence
This is Christian spirituality: not just devotion, but above all, the acceptance of the life of grace in the totality of our existence. With the prayerful contemplation of the mystery of Christ, who was born, crucified and rose for us, the Rosary nourishes the spirituality of the Christian which is never separation or detachment from daily life and society. In Laborem exercens John Paul II teaches that the problem of the development of the human being and of work can only be resolved with a new spirituality of work (n. 26). Of course, this applies not only to work but to every other area of historical and social activity, as John XXIII clearly teaches in Mater et Magistra: “As often, therefore, as human activity and institutions having to do with the affairs of this life, help toward spiritual perfection and everlasting beatitude, the more they are to be regarded as an efficacious way of obtaining the immediate end to which they are directed by their very nature” (n. 257).
Christian spirituality is not evasion but elevation. Holy lives have always produced great works, because Christian ascetical effort is not contempt of the world but the ability to accept and purify it.
Learn from Mary practical charity
This is the central message of paragraph 40 of the Apostolic Letter on the Rosary. Prayer and contemplation of Christ through the “way” of Mary produce, as I said earlier, fruits of charity. The joyful mysteries contemplate the hidden life of the Child Jesus and induce one to accept and promote life. In the mysteries of light we contemplate the proclamation of the Kingdom of Christ and this impels us to live in daily life the beatitudes. In the sorrowful mysteries, we fix our gaze on the crucified Christ and, like Simon of Cyrene, this involves bending over suffering man. In the glorious mysteries we contemplate the risen Christ, but this means our dedication to making all things new. The paragraph concludes this perspective and points out to us, in a synthesis, the essential function of the Rosary that “by focusing our eyes on Christ, [it] also makes us peacemakers in the world”.
The Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, presents a demanding and fascinating programme for us. It is a personal and community programme of Marian prayer, which also produces abundant fruits of charity. It is a programme, that is personal and for the community, for relearning the social doctrine of the Church and of her teachings, reinterpreted in their Marian theological dimension. The Rosary is at the centre of both programmes, each of which is a reliable way to obtain progress on the path of peace.