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The Rosary – Mary’s School (Part II of II)

September 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Fr. Najim, Mary, Rosary

In our previous post, we looked at what the Rosary is and what it does. In this post, we’ll look at the Hail Mary, the principal prayer of the Rosary, and what Mary teaches us through the Rosary.

MurilloBartolomeEstebanTheMadonnaoftheRosaryGoogleArtProjectCatholics don’t worship the Blessed Virgin Mary, and anyone who says that we do is simply mistaken. You will not find a single line in any official Church document that uses the word “worship” in association with devotion to Mary. True, there may be some misinformed, well-intentioned Catholics who think they are supposed to worship her, but Catholic teaching is abundantly clear: adoration and worship is given to God alone: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That being said, there’s no doubt that Mary ought to play a very significant role in the life of every Christian. There’s a difference between “honor” and “worship.” We honor Mary for the special grace and privilege that was given to her. In fact, by honoring Mary we imitate the Lord who honored her by becoming flesh in her womb. Yes, as Jesus literally entrusted himself to Mary, we too can entrust ourselves to her care and protection.

So what’s the deal with Catholics praying the “Hail Mary?”

No Christian can argue with the first part of the Hail Mary, for it is biblical. “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” were the words that the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” were Elizabeth’s words to Mary upon hearing her greeting. By praying these words we are simply echoing the inspired words of Scripture.

But why the second part: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”? We believe Mary is holy because she is the vessel that carried Christ. We call her “Mother of God” very simply because it follows logically upon the fact that Jesus is God.

Many non-Catholic Christians struggle with the idea of asking Mary to pray for us. In a talk I once heard, the speaker shared his experience of talking to non-Catholic Christians about this very subject. He poses the question: “Do you ask your pastor to pray for you?” They answer: “Yes.” Then he simply asks: “If you had to choose between having your pastor or Jesus’ Mother pray for you, who would you choose?” The point is clear: if we ask those living on earth to pray for us, shouldn’t we also ask those who are with Christ in Heaven to pray for us, especially his mom!?

We can’t doubt that God chose Mary to play a very important part in salvation history. Her only desire is to lead us closer to Jesus, her Son. She knows him best! By honoring her and asking her to pray for us, she will help us to know and love him more.

And, how does she help us know and love him more? She teaches us through the Rosary. It’s a little school of faith. In it, she instructs us on the mysteries of our faith by having us gaze on God’s saving work. As we cast our eyes of faith on the truths we meditate on, we will necessarily have questions: What was it like for Mary to receive the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting? What did she feel in her heart? What of that moment when, renouncing fear, she chose faith, and a surge of confidence arose in her heart, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). What thoughts did she ponder in her heart as she traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth? What sentiments stirred in her soul when Elizabeth proclaimed, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”? (Luke 1:42). What depth of tenderness was in her eyes—and her heart—as she gazed upon the newborn Christ in her arms with her beloved Joseph by her side? What did she feel when, in the Temple, she heard Simeon say to her: “And you yourself a sword will pierce”? (Luke 2:35). And what of the anxiety in her heart as she and Joseph searched for Jesus? And then the joy upon finding him?

These are just some of the questions we can meditate upon as we pray the Rosary. These are the mysteries—at least the Joyful ones—which we are led to ponder ever more deeply as the beads slip through our fingers. And as we contemplate these mysteries we grow in knowledge and love of the Lord.

The rosary is not chatter. It is not rote repetition of words with our lips disconnected from our hearts. When prayed from the heart, the rosary becomes, as some popes have stated, a “compendium of the Gospel.” It brings the Gospel to life, because when we pray the Rosary we see Christ’s life through Mary’s eyes. As Pope John Paul II was fond of saying, when we pray the Rosary we enter the “School of Mary.”

To see with Mary’s eyes. To feel with her heart. This is the interior reality of the Rosary. Rather than being a devotion that leads us away from Christ, it leads us closer to Him—much closer. For who was closer to Jesus than His mother? Who knew Him better? Who better to teach us about His life?

To pray the Rosary, to pray with Mary, is to learn and to love the Lord more. And isn’t this the deepest desire of every human heart?


Art: The Madonna of the Rosary, Bartolomé Estéban Murillo, between 1675-80, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. Michael Najim

Fr. Michael Najim is a priest of the Diocese of Providence. He is Pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Westerly, Rhode Island and has been the Director of Spiritual Formation at Our Lady of Providence Seminary and Chaplain of LaSalle Academy, a coed Catholic high school in Providence, RI. He is the author of Radical Surrender: Letters to Seminarians, published by the Institute for Priestly Formation. He also blogs at Fr. Michael Najim's Blog.

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  • Camila

    Thank you father for this wonderful post.

  • Alphonse Grech

    A small note. The article is wonderful but in my opinion the following needs elboration. ‘Mother of God’ this is founf in the Bable Luke Ch 1. v43.
    ‘Worship’ This is used or at least it was used in Englad to address a judge. ‘Your Worship’ .

  • Carrie

    Father, referencing the first paragraph, I think this may be confusing for some non-Catholic readers. I have come across Catholic hymns to Mary that actually use the word “worship” for the reverence that is given to her – I am sorry, I could not find the sources right away, but they occasionally appear in arguments against the Catholic faith. The hymns were not mistaking Mary for a goddess, but they did use that word. Catholics and other Christians differ over what constitutes “worship” and occasionally use the same word to mean two very different things, so it may seem like we are bluffing when we try to say “O we don’t worship Mary.” ( We often use the terms “Veneration” and “Adoration” to distinguish the honor given to saints or to God, but Catholic literature isn’t always so distinct.) For Catholics, it may be the highest reverence that can be justly given to a creature; for many non-Catholics, there is no concept of a sliding scale of “worshipful” reverence due to creatures, so they have no grounds to differentiate it from idolatry.

    • RobinJeanne

      I have seen and heard that too and it makes me say “yikes!”… the English language is so tugh. Spouses may say they ador the other, but they don’t worship them or we say about a child that they are “adorable” not like we are going to prostrate ourselves before them. We have to admit that the non Catholics will look for anything to say, disprove our claim that we are the true Church of Christ because that would put them on the outside.

    • A. Crawford

      I think, without actually naming them, Father was distinguishing among the 3 levels of reverence:

      Dulia: the reverence we give to Saints
      Hyperdulia: the reverence we give to Mary as the greatest of Saints and Mother of God
      Latria: the reverence and worship we give to God alone

      “Worship” is an old English word that has been used loosely, but the meaning has tended to become narrower over the years. In the old Anglican marriage ceremony, the groom says to the bride, “With my body I thee worship.” It was not intended–and no one thought this–that the groom was directing worship at his bride that should be reserved for God alone. People also tend to object that we “pray to Mary,” but the word “pray” was used in English very commonly to ask something of another person: “I pray thee, tell me….” As recently as when I was a child, we used the expression “pray tell”–and maybe sometimes I still do. It was usually used in an ironic context.

      My point is–yes, on one level, we do “worship” Mary, but not in the modern sense of the word, and we accord her the highest reverence next to the Holy Trinity. It is not at all difficult for Catholics to tell the difference, but it does look strange from the outside (speaking as a convert here).

      Thank you very much, Father, for these two wonderful columns on the Rosary. It has brought many a convert into the Catholic Faith, I do believe–we always say, my husband and I, that if a Protestant starts to pray the Rosary, he’s a goner!

      • Camila

        The word “level” – is the source of confusion.

        The difference between dulia, hyperdulia and latria are not a matter of levels, like we think of levels in a building one being higher than the other. They are different kinds of servitude all together, like two completely separate buildings. They differ in kind not in degree. The chasm between latria and dulia is the size of the chasm between God and man.

        St. Thomas explains that God has both the power to create AND lordship over creation. He gives in part this lordship to humans but not the power to create. So our servitude towards God is one of latria – because we recognize Him as supreme Being, Creator and Lord over the whole universe. No one has this kind of power, only Him. So it is due to Him a kind of reverence that is uniquely and utterly different than the kind of reverence we give to beings who derive their lordship from Him.

        Now, our servitude towards humans (examples par excellence of lordship and virtue) is one of dulia – because of their lordship over creation (endowed to them from their Creator). The difference between dulia and hyperdulia IS a matter of degree not kind. Hyperdulia being a level ‘above’ in the building (if you’ll bear with me in my analogy) than dulia a level below.

        If we make anything a god – imagining it to have omni-power over the universe and thus giving it latria – then we are guilty of idolatry – an infringement on the 1st commandment.

        I hope this helps.

        (PS I think the word ‘worship’ is confusing and ambiguous.)

        • A. Crawford

          Yes, that makes perfect sense. I have thoughtlessly used that word before (I got it somewhere else), but you’re right: it doesn’t work. Two “categories” would be more accurate, with two levels within the second category. Pursuant to your remarks also, leaving aside the fact of Mary’s special privilege, even, I have often also thought that it’s not that we venerate the Blessed Mother too much–it’s that we don’t venerate and respect other human beings enough, as so many of the social conventions have been scrapped, the gestures of respect and courtesy that used to be practiced among humans. The way people dress is just one example.

          • Camila

            Personally, I think idolatry is the greatest problem. The idea of ‘servitude’ helps us zone in on this. We can ask ourselves “who/what do I serve?” (or) rephrase it “who/what am I a slave of?”

            You see, how many of us are servants (or slaves) of you-name-it (food, media, tv, sex, entertainment, money, etc…). How do we order our heart, strength and mind? Who are we serving? Who do we obey?

            I have a friend (a very funny friend) she always asks her kids are you going to serve Almighty Father or almighty dollar?

            food for thought….

  • patricia

    Thank you for this inspiring post Father.

  • Jeanette

    Next month, we start the Rosary Apostolate again this year where we go into Catholic schools in our area to teach the children how to say the rosary and about the mysteries associated with it. I have 3 classes this year, a grade one and two grade twos. It is so wonderful to teach children the rosary…they are so open and there were some who expressed to their teacher last year how they love to say the rosary. Our hope is, of course, that when these children take home their rosaries that we give them that they will talk about what they were taught and in their simplicity encourage their parents to pray with them. Unfortunately, there are few parents that have the inclination nor the time to teach them the rosary so I thank the Lord for the Rosary Apostolate that fills in this gap. I encourage all you grandparents to teach your grandchildren how to pray the rosary. Not only will they be blessed but you will also be blessed!

  • Fr. Michael Najim

    Thanks for all the comments every one! Good discussion. I’ve had a super busy day so I don’t have a lot of time to respond to some of the good points and questions. The distinction between latria, hyperdulia, and dulia is an important one. Bottom line: whatever some hymns might say, we simply do not worship Mary as we worship the Trinity.
    Peace and blessings to all of you!

    • Camila

      God bless you father for all the work you do in service of Him and His Church.

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