On October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II marked the 24th Anniversary of his papacy with the release of the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in which he proclaimed a "Year of the Rosary" from October 2002 to October 2003. The document also contained a major innovation from a Pope whose Pontificate has been marked by a steady stream of novelties. He announced that he would add five new mysteries to the Rosary.
Word of the new mysteries was reported first on October 14 by various news agencies claiming that information was leaked from Vatican sources.
Father Richard John Neuhaus from First Things magazine found these early reports hard to believe, and told The Chicago Tribune that the Pope was not likely to alter the Rosary. "That he would suggest," said Neuhaus "or even declare some kind of official change to the Rosary is totally atypical, totally out of character." Neuhaus then said that the Pope does not have the authority to mandate changes in such a prayer.
1. "John Paul is Expected to Alter Rosary, Prayer May Gain Five New Mysteries," Julia Lieblich, Chicago Tribune, October 15, 2002.
Father Neuhaus is correct that a Pope cannot mandate such changes, but he is mistaken to claim that the Pope's change of the Rosary would be "out of character" for this Pontiff of post-Conciliar aggiornamento. Even the secular press recognizes John Paul II as a man with a passion for setting papal precedents.
The New York Times' Frank Bruni wrote on October 15: "Time and again, Pope John Paul II has boldly gone where other Popes have not: a synagogue, a ski slope, distant countries with tiny populations. Tomorrow, he will apparently cross another frontier, making a significant change in the Rosary, a signature method of Catholic prayer for many centuries."
2. "Changes to Rosary: Pope to Increase Mysteries of Jesus," Frank Bruni, New York Times, October 15, 2002.
Bruni failed to mention that John Paul is also the first Pope to kiss the Koran,
3. Reported on June 4, 1999 by Fides news service in the article, "We hope for Peace and a Papal Visit: Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon". It was an interview with Raphael I. Bidawid, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans (Iraq). The Patriarch said, "At the end of the audience the Pope bowed to the Muslim holy book, the Koran, presented to him by the delegation and he kissed it as a sign of respect. The photo of that gesture has been shown repeatedly on Iraqi television ..." Fides is Vatican news service under the auspices of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. (www.fides.org).
participate in rock'n'roll liturgies,
4. See first two installments of the World Youth Day series, J. Vennari, Catholic Family News, September and October, 2002.
allow Altar Girls, permit "lay ministers" to distribute Communion at his Papal Mass,
suggest a "common martyrology" that contains Catholics and non- Catholics, praise documents that call the need for non- Catholics to convert to the Catholic Church an "outdated ecclesiology,"
6. In the 1996 Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II calls for the creation of a "common martyrology" containing "saints" from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant religions. [#84], which defies the de fide Catholic teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Regarding the so-called outdated ecclesiology, the pre- conciliar Popes taught that the schismatic Orthodox must return to the Catholic Church, but the 1993 Balamand Statement states that thanks to "radically altered perspectives and thus attitudes" engendered by Vatican II, the Catholic Church will train new priests "to pave the way for future relations between the two Churches, passing beyond the outdated ecclesiology of return to the Catholic Church." (Balamand Statement, nn. 13 and 30.) The Balamand Statement was cited approvingly by Pope John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint, n. 59.
take part in "inculturated" ceremonies that includes pagan ritual,
7. Further aspects of the Pope's inculturation will appear in Part III of CFN's World Youth Day series. See also The Liturgy of the World by Christopher Ferrara, The Remnant, August 15, 2002.
and convoke pan-religious prayer meetings that include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Snake-worshipers.
8. Otherwise known as the pan-religious prayer meeting at Assisi, and the new "Spirit of Assisi".
On the same theme, Rueters said, "Changing one of Christianity's most fundamental prayers after nearly a millennium will be a typical way for the 82- year-old Pope to crown 24 years of a pontificate marked by bold initiatives sometimes taken against the advice of aides."
9. "Pope to Mark 25th Anniversary, Change Rosary," Phillip Pullella, Reuters News Agency, October 14, 2002.
The "new mysteries" of the Rosary took everyone by surprise. Thus I have postponed publication of Part III of my World Youth Day series
10. A series in four parts commenting on World Youth Day. Parts I and II were published in Catholic Family News in September and October 2002, respectively.
in order to comment on this latest "bold initiative".
The Apostolic Letter
Two weeks previously, the pontiff announced he was preparing a document to stress the value of the Rosary. He urged the faithful to recite the Rosary, including together as families. John Paul said then that he wanted people to "rediscover the beauty and depth of this prayer".
The Pope, for a good part of the Apostolic Letter was true to his word. Much of Rosarium Virginis Mariae is praiseworthy, even edifying. How can one argue with the promulgation of a "Year of the Rosary" in order to revitalize practice of this Holy devotion? How can one find fault with the Pope's call to pray the Rosary for peace? How can one complain when the Pope laments that families are fragmented, that they often get together only to watch television, and that they should set some time aside to pray the Rosary together instead?
Also of interest was the Pope's frequent references to Blessed Bartholomew Longo (1841-1926) who was baptized Catholic, left the faith to become a satanic priest, and then repented, converted back to Catholicism and became an apostle of the Rosary. This is a beautiful lesson that conversion is possible even in apparently hopeless cases.
It is probable that the Letter will do much good in revitalizing Rosary devotion. Tens-of-thousands of Catholics who do not follow the details of Vatican events, will simply learn through the press, or from parish priests, that the Pope wants a renewed devotion to the Rosary and they will comply. I have little doubt that this Letter will produce its desired goal to inspire more Catholics in this holy exercise.
Yet at the same time, countless Catholics are baffled at the unnecessary addition of five new mysteries. What is this strange post-conciliar belief among today's Church leaders that Catholics will not find a traditional devotion interesting unless John Paul updates it? Why is it thought necessary to disfigure our devotions in order to capture a Catholic's attention? Why was it requisite for the Pope to put his personal stamp on the Rosary, rather than simply promote it as is: as did all the Popes before him, as did countless saints, and as did the Mother of God at Fatima?
The New Mysteries
The addition proposed by the Pope, called the Five Luminous Mysteries, also called the "Mysteries of Light," center on the public life of Christ. They are:
the Baptism of Christ in Jordan,
2) the Wedding Feast at Cana,
the Announcement of the Kingdom,
the Institution of the Eucharist as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery.
These new mysteries, according to John Paul, are to be placed between the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries.
The Pope says that these additions are not mandatory, and explains his reason for the change. "I believe" he writes, "that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary, it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between His Baptism and His Passion."
11. Rosarium Virginis Mariae, No. 19. All quotes taken from the English edition from the Vatican webpage.
Do you know of any Catholic, any saint, any Pope who ever considered the Rosary "lacking" in Christological depth? Did not the saints and the Popes constantly speak of the excellence of the Rosary? Did they ever suggest a radical addition to alter the structure of the Rosary in order to "improve" what was already excellent?
Reaction to the new mysteries has been predictable: everything from traditional Catholics who call it an "outrage," to Medjugorje followers who claim it "bears all the hallmarks of Divine inspiration". Once again, the much-vaunted "Pope of unity" has launched a novelty that divides Catholics.
And the question is, why?
Perhaps we should first ask, why not change the Rosary?
The Psalter Assaulted
A constant characteristic of the pre-Vatican II Popes was to abhor novelty and to safeguard tradition, including traditional devotions.
Thus, if one could go back in time and ask any of the pre-Vatican II Popes why they never added "new mysteries" to the Rosary, the answer is easy to presume. "Because," the pre-conciliar Pope would say, "if I add 5 new mysteries, I will have to add 5 new decades. If I add five new decades, then the Rosary can no longer be called 'Our Lady's Psalter'. Now Catholic tradition, my holy predecessors and Our Blessed Mother referred to the Rosary as Her 'Psalter', because the 150 Hail Mary's of the 15-decade Rosary correspond to the 150 Psalms of David. It would be audacious of me to add 5 decades. This would be the decimation of the entire concept of Mary's 'Psalter', a term hallowed by centuries of usage, a term that explains the origin and essence of the Rosary, a term used by the Queen of Heaven Herself. Further, if I make this radical change to the Rosary, then what is to prevent more radical changes in the future?"
The History of Mary's Psalter
The entire history of the Rosary is bound up with the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament, otherwise known as the Psalter of David. From the dawn of Catholic history, monks and hermits prayed these Psalms as part of their daily liturgical life.
Saint Benedict, in his Holy Rule, explains that the monks of the desert recited the 150 Psalms every day. Saint Benedict arranged the Psalms for his monks so that all 150 would be recited in one week.
12. See Saint Benedict's Rule for Monasteries.
This became the Divine Office (Breviary) that priests and religious recited every day until the post-conciliar aggiornamento revolutionized both Breviary and Mass.
The story of "Mary's Psalter" reportedly begins with the Irish monks in the 7th Century. These monks divided the 150 Psalms of David into a Na tri coicat format of three groups of fifty. Arranged in such a way, the "fifties" served both as reflective and corporal/penitential prayer.
13. The History and Devotion of the Rosary, Richard Gribble, C.S.C., with a Foreward by Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1992), p. 28.
The people of the Middle Ages in their great love of Our Lady set to fashioning "Rosariums" in Her honor. They composed Psalms in praise of Mary to match the 150 Psalms of David. St. Anselm of Canterbury (1109) made such a Rosary. In the 13th Century, St. Bonaventure divided his 150 Marian Psalms into three groups. The first group commenced with the word Ave, the next with Salve, and the final fifty Psalms each commented with the word Gaude. Such Rosaries of praise took the name of Our Lady's Psalter.
14. See "Our Rosary Beads" by Father James J. Galvin, C.SS.R., in the collection of articles on Our Lady from the American Ecclesiastical Review entitled "In Praise of Mary," edited by Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton and the Reverend Doctor Edmond Darvil Benard (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), pp. 16-19.
It was not long before the custom of reciting Hail Mary's became the substitute of reciting the Psalms in praise of Our Lady. "By the 13th Century" writes the Redemptorist Father James Galvin, "the number of Aves was set at one hundred and fifty to equal the number of the Psalms of David."
Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that the Psalter of David, composed as it is of one hundred and fifty Psalms, is divided into three equal parts of fifty Psalms each. These three equal parts represent figuratively the three stages in which the faithful find themselves: the state of penance, the state of justice, the state of glory. Likewise, explains Father Anthony Fuerst, "the Rosary of Mary is divided into three parts of fifty Hail Mary's each in order to express fully the phrases of the life of the faithful: penance, justice and glory."
16. This Rosary, Father Anthony N. Fuerst, S.T.D. (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1948), pp. 44-45.
Heaven itself declared the immeasurable value of this Psalter. In 1214, Our Blessed Mother told Saint Dominic to "preach My Psalter" in order to rekindle faith, to convert sinners and to crush stubborn heresy. Saint Louis de Montfort tells the story in his magnificent work, The Secret of the Rosary.
"Saint Dominic," writes Saint Louis, "seeing that the gravity of the peoples' sin was hindering the conversion of the Albigensians, withdrew to a forest near Toulouse where he prayed unceasingly for three days and three nights. During this time he did nothing but weep and do harsh penances in order to appease the anger of Almighty God. He used his discipline so much that his body was lacerated, and finally he fell into a coma."
Our Lady then appeared to him, accompanied by three angels. She said, "Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?"
Saint Dominic asked Her to tell him. Our Lady responded:
"I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter which is the foundation stone of the New Testament. Therefore if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach My Psalter."
17. The Secret of the Rosary, Saint Louis de Montfort (Bay Shore: Montfort Publications, 1954), p. 18. St. Louis de Montfort explains that the story of Our Lady's visitation to Saint Dominic is found in the book De Dignitate Psalterii by Blessed Alan de la Roche.
Our Lady's words contain two special points of interest:
1) She uses the language of the Church militant. She does not speak of the Rosary in a sentimental manner in order to achieve good feelings or pan-religious unity. No, She refers to it as battering ram against heresy.
2) She twice uses the term "Psalter", which is the Rosary designated as 150 Aves that link it to the Psalms of David.
Regarding the Rosary's traditional structure, Msgr. George Shea writes, "Because its 150 Hail Mary's correspond to the 150 Psalms of the Psalter, the complete Rosary is sometimes called Our Lady's Psalter. In fact, the latter was its common designation down to the end of the 15th Century, while 'Rosary' was reserved for a part, i.e., a third, of Our Lady's Psalter."
18. "The Dominican Rosary", entry by Msgr. George W. Shea, S.T.D, Mariology, Edited by Juniper B. Carol, OFM, Volume III (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1960) p. 92
As late as the last quarter of the 15th Century, Blessed Alaus de Rupe protested vigorously against the use of the terms "Rosario," "Chapelet" or "Corono," and insisted that the title of Our Lady's Psalter be retained.
19. The Splendor of the Rosary, Maise Ward, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1945), p. 35.
Msgr. Shea points out that the first indication from a Pope that the Psalter of Mary is commonly called "Rosary" is found in the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Leo X, Pastor Aeterni dated October 6, 1520, over three hundred years after Our Lady spoke to Saint Dominic.
The Constant Language of the Popes
The term "Psalter" of Mary, as a link to the 150 Psalms of David, is what we find consistently from the Popes throughout the centuries.
The Apostolic Constitution of Pope Leo X, Pastor Aeterni October 6, 1520, uses the term "Psalter of Mary" in connection to the Rosary.
20. Msgr. Shea writes: "The Apostolic Constitution of Pope Leo X, Pastor Aeterni, Oct. 6, 1520, gives the first indication from a Pope that the Psalter of Mary is commonly called "rosary": "et modum orandi huiusmodi Psalterium sive Rosarium eiusdem Beatae Virginis vulgariter appellatum". Mariology, Juniper Carol, Volume III, p. 92, note 18.
Pope Saint Pius V wrote in Consueverunt Romani of September 17, 1569, "And so Dominic looked to that simple way of praying and beseeching God, accessible to all and wholly pious, which is called the Rosary, or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which the same most Blessed Virgin is venerated by the angelic greeting repeated one hundred and fifty times, that is, according to the number of the Davidic Psalter, and by the Lord's Prayer with each decade."
21. Pope Saint Pius V, Consuerverunt Romani, September 17, 1569. Found at www.papalencyclicals.net.
Pope Leo XIII wrote "Just as by the recitation of the Divine Office, priests offer a public, constant, and most efficacious supplication; so the supplication offered by the members of this Sodality in the recitation of the Rosary, or 'Psalter of Our Lady' ..."
22. Pope Leo XIII, Augustissimae Virginis Mariae - September 12, 1897. Taken from The Rosary of Mary, Letters of Pope Leo XIII. (Paterson: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1945).
Pope Leo XIII later said, "The formula of the Rosary, too, is excellently adapted to prayer in common, so that it has been styled, not without reason, the 'Psalter of Mary'."
23. Fidentem Piumque September 20, 1896. Taken from The Rosary of Mary, Letters of Pope Leo XIII.
Pope Pius XI wrote in his Encyclical Ingravescentibus Malis. "Among the various supplications with which we successfully appeal to the Virgin Mother of God, the Holy Rosary without doubt occupies a special and distinct place. This prayer, which some call the Psalter of the Virgin or Breviary of the Gospel and of Christian life, was described and recommended by Our Predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII ..."
24. Pope Pius XI, Ingravescentibus Malis, Encyclical on the Rosary, September 29, 1937. It is true that Pope John Paul II mentions the "Psalter" Rosarium Virginis Mariae, No. 19. He writes: "Of the many mysteries of Christ's life, only a few are indicated by the Rosary in the form that has become generally established with the seal of the Church's approval. The selection was determined by the origin of the prayer, which was based on the number 150, the number of the Psalms in the Psalter." But he then immediately follows this with the recommendation of the five new mysteries, an addition that shatters the concept of Our Lady's Psalter. It's almost as if he mentioned the term only to kiss it goodbye.
Sadly, Pope John Paul II has made the term "Psalter of Mary" with its rightful connection to the Psalter of David, as obsolete as fund drives for Pagan Babies. Anyone who accepts the twenty-decade Rosary, and still refers to the Rosary as Mary's Psalter, will use the term divested of meaning. Why introduce this destabilization? Would not Pope John Paul show more respect to the pious sentiments of Catholics worldwide, to his predecessors and to the Mother of God by leaving Her Psalter at peace?
Tomorrow: Part Two What of Fatima and Lepanto?
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For past TRADITIONAL THOUGHTS articles, see www.DailyCatholic.org/2002tra.htm Archives