SCALABRINI AND THE ROSARY
The queen of Marian devotions for Bishop Scalabrini is the daily recitation of the rosary, a pious practice he remembers as a kind of family heritage, particularly from his mother. He highly recommended it in the three synods, as well as in his pastoral visits and letters: "We ardently desire that you strongly urge your parishioners to make an effort to practice the sublime devotion of the rosary in public or private, each one in his own home and family, and never skip it. We have made this exhortation to you more than once during our pastoral visits, and we repeat it now with all our heart, my dearest children" (Pastoral Letter of 1883, introducing Leo XIII's encyclical on the rosary). Witnesses say that on this occasion he wanted to set an example by reciting the holy rosary for the month of October in the cathedral with his flock.
Apart from punctual pastoral letters introducing Leo XIII's numerous encyclicals on the rosary, Scalabrini's Marian writings on the rosary also contain an 1894 homily that we decided to quote here because it is a short treatise on the rosary. Its main features are of considerable relevance today, even after Paul VI restructured the rosary in Marialis Cultus:
- The rosary is "the most perfect and most sublime" prayer, because "it unites and harmonizes vocal prayer (prayer expressed in words) and mental prayer (contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus' life)." This structure means that the rosary can satisfy both great and small in every way, because, "while it is very easy for the simplest minds, it is sublime for the more intelligent ones. All can find in it a substantial and most pleasing pasture. All can learn from it very great lessons."
- The rosary, especially with the contemplation of the mysteries, is a Christocentric prayer, in which even Mary "is always found at the side of Jesus."
- The rosary is actually a theocentric prayer, in which the whole Church prays to "the Divinity."
- Because of all these characteristics the rosary "is not any ordinary prayer, but the sum of the Christian religion, the most attractive depiction of what Jesus Christ has done for our souls, the memorial of the most marvelous wonders" In these two emphasized phrases we find two of the major features of Marialis Cultus (48).
Structure of the Rosary
After speaking of the excellence of this prayer, an excellence validated by Our Lady herself with her apparitions, Scalabrini moves on to consider the dignity of the prayer in itself a dignity founded on the fact that the vocal prayer of the rosary uses the most important prayers of Christianity, "wonderfully" woven together so as to make up "a garland of roses" and not just sixty unconnected roses.
We should note the beautiful descriptions of the individual prayers, which become effective summaries of their content in the case of the Hail Mary and the Salve Regina. The description of the litanies is also beautiful, especially when, calling them "the most imagerich praise," he highlights their lyrical and poetic aspect. We should also note that through these prayers the rosary is a prayer of the whole Church: Christ, Mary, Angels, Saints and ordinary Christians.
What is the rosary? It is a wonderful interlacement of prayers formed like a garland of roses; and these prayers are the easiest, tenderest, most effective, greatest, most perfect, most sublime that can be conceived. Thus, we have the Lord's Prayer, the prayer Jesus Christ himself taught us with his own lips, the prayer par excellence, the rule and model of all other prayers. Then the Hail Mary, the kiss, the greeting, the petition of children to their faroff mother. Then the Gloria,echo of the praises that the angels sing unceasingly around God's throne in the heavenly Zion. And the Salve Regina, the applause of subjects for the august Queen of Heaven, the groaning of the heart that yearns after her, the cry of the soul that places every trust in her. The litanies, compendium of the virtues and privileges of the loftiest of creatures, the most imagefilled, varied and truest praise that mortal lips have ever intoned to celebrate her who transcends every praise. Thus, in the rosary Jesus Christ himself prays in us and through us, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary prays for us, the Angels pray, the Saints pray, the whole of Paradise prays. And all these prayers, praises, hymns and anthems alternate, intertwine, and are repeated in the rosary with uniform variety and varied uniformity so as to increase their effectiveness and value a thousandfold.
Meditation of the Mysteries
"Contemplation" of the mysteries of Jesus' life, "an essential part of this beloved devotion" (as Marialis Cultus, reiterates, 49a), makes the rosary a Christological prayer. Moreover, Scalabrini draws contemplation of the life of Mary into the sphere of that of Jesus, so that she always appears at his side, inseparably united with him.
The purpose of contemplation, then as in fact is always the case in Scalabrini's devotion and pastoral approach is the imitation of Christ, and (note the happy use of the expression "journey of the mysteries"!) "walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ," "learning from that divine prototype," turning our gaze on the Crucified One/serpent, in order to let him heal us, and conforming our hearts to him. The same slant is also found in Marialis Cultus: " ... contemplation, by its very nature, encourages practical reflection and provides stimulating norms for living" (ibid.).
The mysteries of Jesus and of Mary "at his side" are contemplated not only in their fulfillment, but also in their prophecy in the Old Testament and in the final, eschatological solution.
However, all this is still little, dearly beloved. As you know, meditation on the mysteries is an essential part of this much loved devotion. This means that not only the tongue prays in the rosary, but also the mind; and tongue and mind exercise themselves in honor of Mary, the former repeating, and the latter contemplating the most sovereignly lovable and most lovably sovereign being in heaven and on earth. Dearly beloved! Is there anything sweeter and more useful than contemplating Jesus, infinite beauty, author and fulfiller of our faith? The bronze serpent raised up in the desert was an image of Jesus Christ, and if those who had been bitten by poisonous snakes looked at it, they escaped certain death. No, in the depraved condition of our being, we cannot be saved unless we walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Now the rosary meets this need of every Christian soul with wonderful solicitude, because the mysteries, strewn rather like shining gems among these mystical roses, show us the main facts of our redemption. Divided into joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, they remind us of the incomparable joys, sufferings and triumphs of Jesus Christ.
So while we contemplate this divine prototype, he speaks to our heart in a mysterious but most effective way, saying "Learn from me!" Proud souls, learn humility from me; sensual souls, learn chastity; sensitive souls, learn mortification; rebellious souls, learn obedience. Timid ones, learn courage from me; hottempered ones, learn gentleness; greedy ones, learn a lack of selfinterest; ambitious ones, learn disregard for worldly honors; slaves of selflove, learn love of God and men. Yes, learn from me, for I am the way, the only way to eternal salvation, and nobody comes to the heavenly Father except through me. However, if it is sweet to contemplate Jesus in the rosary and hear his voice, it is no less sweet, my beloved sons and daughters, to contemplate Mary. And in the mysteries of the rosary Mary is always seen at Jesus' side.
These two sublime figures are inseparable in the rosary. In Nazareth and Bethlehem, Egypt and Jerusalem, and on Golgotha we always see Jesus with Mary, and Mary with Jesus. So in the rosary we have the mysteries that were revealed in various visions to the prophets lined up before our eyes and already in actual fact fulfilled: with Isaiah, we contemplate the virgin who gives birth to Emmanuel; with Malachi, the angel of the covenant who enters the temple; with Daniel, Christ who, after the prescribed weeks are consumed, is put to death to redeem his people; with David, the night that shines as bright as day in his resurrection, and the eternal gates that open wide for his ascension; with Joel, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the outpouring of his gifts; with the author of the Song of Songs, the assumption of the virgin in the bride who comes up from the wilderness surrounded by delights, leaning upon her beloved; with the seer of Patmos, the triumphs of this Virgin and the glory of all the Saints in the heavenly Zion.
Thus, my most loved sons and daughters, in the rosary we have what is needed to revive faith, change one's life, foster fervor, raise hopes, strengthen the will, console the spirit, and honor Mary.
The golden key of paradise
In the conclusion of his homily, Scalabrini stops to consider the effectiveness of the rosary as demonstrated in the history of the Church (which has therefore "enriched it with many indulgences, privileges and favors"), and the way of reciting it, namely, with faith, devotion and perseverance. In this connection, a consistent feature of Scalabrini's piety emerges also in the recitation of the rosary, namely, the community dimension (which, incidentally, is also recovered and valued in Marialis Cultus, 48): "Let us recite the rosary in large groups," especially in families, and "open a school of Christian wisdom to your families with it each evening." The community concern is also highlighted in the presentation of an encyclical of Leo XIII (1893): "With my dear sons and daughters in Jesus Christ I like to emphasize just one thing: family recitation of the rosary. This pious and dear habit of our ancestors has never ceased among us and must now be made as universal as possible, so that no Christian family is left without it. The rosary is a soothing balm, a symbol of unity, a messenger of peace within the family."
A school of Christian wisdom: this could be a good definition of the rosary. And the essence of the wisdom learned at this school is found in the truths powerfully summarized by the mysteries of the rosary as well namely, that "God is love giving itself, Jesus Christ is love sacrificing itself, and Mary is love giving comfort."
However, I would go on for ever if I tried to tell you of the merits of the holy rosary, which are so many and so great that it could rightly be described as the golden key of paradise, the anchor of our salvation.
So it is hardly surprising if people in every age have obtained the most outstanding favors and won the most amazing victories through the rosary. It is hardly surprising if famous people illustrious through birth, teaching, fame or holiness, popes, bishops, kings, princes, commanders, warriors, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, writers, artists have made the rosary their dearest delight. It is hardly surprising if the rosary has become the devotion of all times, places, conditions, ages and languages, the queen of devotions, the universal devotion. It is hardly surprising if the supreme pontiffs have enriched it with so many indulgences, privileges and favors that perhaps there are now no more to be obtained beyond those already granted. It is hardly surprising, lastly, if the concern of the reigning pontiff, Leo XIII, to bring about better times for the Church and society, has led to repeated calls to all the faithful, even recently, to pray the rosary.
Let us recite it with faith, humility, devotion and perseverance; let us recite it every day, and if possible several times a day; in large groups, laying siege, as Tertullian puts it, to God's throne in close ranks, and doing him gentle violence. In this way, shall we not also see the wonder admired by St. Augustine: man's prayer going up, and God's mercy coming down?
Let us therefore be devoted to the rosary, dearly beloved. It should be as dear to us as it was to our forefathers and mothers. You parents especially, each evening with the recitation of the rosary you, open a school of Christian wisdom for your families: make sure that, as your children meditate on those mysteries and repeat those vocal prayers, they are reminded of the love of God, of Jesus Christ, of Mary; they should learn that God is love giving itself for our salvation, Jesus Christ is love sacrificing itself, and Mary is love giving comfort. In the midst of so many voices that strive to bend them down toward the earth, let there be a powerful voice that raises their hearts high and makes them love heaven.
Commentary on the first part of the Hail Mary
In the words of the Angel Gabriel, which in a tradition no longer followed today Scalabrini also extends to Elizabeth's greeting, "Blessed are you among women!" and, closely following the text of Pius IX's Bull proclaiming the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Scalabrini finds confirmation of the unique privilege of the mother of Jesus, who was full of all the graces, "in fullness of measure and time," in other words always. The deepest thought, however, is the one that links the privilege of the Immaculate Conception to Mary's divine motherhood, and even more to the mother's close participation in the Son's redemptive work, "in this superhuman work which has the aim of bringing down the rule of sin": it would have been repugnant for her to have been contaminated by sin. In the last part we find a "litany" of poetic images in praise of the Immaculate Conception taken from tradition and showing the patristic dimension of Scalabrini's preaching.
This passage is taken from a homily on the Immaculate Conception and is given here because it is a beautiful commentary on the first part of the Hail Mary, and because it shows us what Scalabrini says in the 1883 letter already quoted that the rosary is "the prayer that is most pleasing of all to Mary." This is because "it recalls her best loved titles, her most excellent merits, whether in the joys of life, the sorrows of the passion, or the glories of the triumph," linked, in other words, to the attributes of her Immaculate Conception, divine motherhood, and Assumption into heaven.
The fullness of time has come. Under the Old Law, Mary was simply a hope, foretold by the prophets with the most charming images, but without naming her. Now we know who she is. God himself allowed us to know her. He (as we heard a moment ago from the Holy Gospel) sent a prince of the heavenly court, an archangel, to her as ambassador, and he knelt down and said to her: "Hail, full of grace!" We find the dogma of the Immaculate Conception embedded here too as a precious jewel in a circlet of gold. And can you tell me, my brothers and sisters, how Mary could rightly have been described as full of grace if the beginning of her existence had been like a scrap of accursed earth, devoid of grace? No! Mary is full of grace. Full of grace, because she is enriched with all the virtues, all the gifts, all the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Full of grace because she had been enriched with all these virtues, all these gifts, all these charisms, in superabundance. Full of grace because she was never without these virtues, these gifts, these charisms for a single moment, because the Holy Spirit had possessed her from the start of her journey, because her mind, her heart, her body, were always in holiness. In other words, full of grace because, in virtue of a unique privilege of God and the merits of Jesus Christ, she was allbeautiful, allpure, allimmaculate from the very first moment of her conception. Thus a fullness of gifts, a fullness of measure and a fullness of time are like the three elements making up that unconditional fullness of grace to which the archangel bears witness, and hence a fullness of every degree of holiness, holy to such a high degree that she has no equal among either men or angels, holy, allholy, always holy from the beginning, from her conception, in other words, conceived immaculately.
And in order to make sure that nobody should doubt this fullness of grace, the archangel also says to her, "The Lord is with you," with you who are his temple, his dwelling place, his throne, his favorite creature. He is yours with his power, his wisdom, his grace, his love, even before he is with you with the fullness of his divinity. With you even before time, before the earth, with you from the moment of your conception: "The Lord is with you." And if this were not enough, the archangel adds: "Blessed are you among women." No woman whatsoever is excepted here. Mary is blessed among and above all other women. So she is a woman inferior only to God, the supreme woman, the privileged woman, the miraculous, incomparable, divine woman: "Blessed are you among women." And this means that while all human creatures find a curse on the door of life, only the Virgin finds a blessing. It means that while all human creatures are vessels of wrath through the contamination of nature, only the Virgin was a vessel of favor because she was preserved from the general condemnation. It means that while all human creatures are conceived in sin, only the Virgin was conceived without stain of sin, in the splendor of justice and holiness.
This, my brothers and sisters, is a direct consequence of another very sweet dogma: that of the divine motherhood. For when Mary became mother of God, to what task was she raised up? That of the incarnation and redemption the superhuman work that has the aim of bringing down the rule of sin and setting to rights its terrible consequences, establishing worship of God on earth and winning us from the yoke of nature. Now, will the Virgin, who was chosen and predestined from all eternity to be the privileged instrument of this reparatory task, also be involved in the work of our ruin? Will she who is to demolish the rule of sin be the slave of sin? Will she who is to restore order be a prey to disorder? Will she who has to defend life be dead to life? Will she who must host the Holiest of holies within her be first a shelter for sin, or a dwelling place for Satan? The idea is repugnant. The Mother of God had to be worthy of God. If there is an indispensable exception, it is the one that removes this most human creature from the general law. Christian tradition has always greeted Mary as the virgin conceived without sin. The faithful in every age have greeted her with the poetic language of the holy books as the mystical ship safe among the ruins of the shipwrecked world, an immaculate dove who never sets fool among earthly filth, a hedged orchard defended from every incursion of profane feet, a pure white lily, untouched among the thorns, a marvelous thornbush unsinged among the flames. Even more eloquent voices have been raised in chorus through the centuries to proclaim her a garden of delights, full of lilies and unfading roses, a paradise of innocence in which the tree of life spreads its branches, a palace of the supreme king, decked out with the rarest decorations; or again, an everlimpid fountain, a mirror without stain, incorruptible wood, star of the morning, house of glory, chosen and precious relic, purest golden urn, treasurehouse of immortality, new Eve, only daughter of life, protected with every blessing, holier than the saints, higher than the heavens, more glorious than the cherubim, more honorable than the seraphim, more beautiful, purer and holier than holiness and beauty themselves. I these words, my brothers and sisters, you have heard the great saints and doctors of Christianity ....