by Paul Thigpen
Why Pray the Rosary With St. Paul?To pray the Rosary with St. Paul might seem at first a puzzling notion. After all, the Apostle could not possibly have prayed the Rosary during his life on earth. The custom as we know it today developed a thousand years or more after his time.
Then, too, the Rosary is closely associated with Our Lady. Its name comes from the Latin word Rosarium — a garland of roses — and that sweetest of flowers has long been a symbol of Mary. The familiar story of the Virgin Mother’s appearance to St. Dominic, instructing him to spread the Rosary devotion, has led to her title “Our Lady of the Rosary.” And many of the Rosary mysteries on which we meditate are events from her life.
This particular form of prayer, then, is a supremely Marian form of devotion. Yet St. Paul had very little to say about Jesus’ mother in those of his letters that became part of Scripture. We have no clear evidence that he ever even met her. The only biblical text by the Apostle that speaks of Our Lady is a rather general reference in his letter to the Galatians:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. (Gal 4:4-5; NAB)
Is it true, then, as some Christians insist, that St. Paul had no interest in Mary, and that we would do well to ignore her, too?
In response to that challenge, we should first note that St. Luke the Evangelist was a companion of St. Paul on his apostolic journeys. So some biblical scholars believe that the Gospel of Luke should actually be read as “Paul’s Gospel.” They say that St. Luke’s account of Our Lord’s life was shaped by St. Paul’s insights into who Christ is and why He came into the world.
If this conclusion is correct, then we should be struck by the fact that St. Luke’s story is actually the most “Marian” of the four Gospels. It tells us more than any of the others about Our Lady and her relationship with her divine Son.
In fact, it’s in St. Luke’s account (which originally included, as its second part, the Book of Acts) that we learn most of what we know about the events in Mary’s life featured in the Rosary. In these pages, we find the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38), the Visitation (Lk 1:39-56), the Nativity (Lk 2:1-20), the Presentation in the Temple (Lk 2:22-39), the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52), and Pentecost (an event at which Mary was present; Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-42).
We might note as well that the most prominent prayer of the Rosary, the Hail Mary, takes most of its words from this same book.
If this is indeed “Paul’s Gospel,” revealing his vision of Christ, then the Apostle must have had a keen interest in Mary.
Consider as well: How was St. Luke able to learn about even the intimate details of Our Lady’s experience with her Son, such as what she was “pondering . . . in her heart” at His birth (see Lk 2:19)? St. Luke tells us that he relied heavily on eyewitness accounts (see Lk 1:1-4), so some scholars believe that he personally interviewed Mary to gain this information. There are even ancient stories about his painting a portrait of her.
If the Evangelist did in fact know Our Lady, isn’t it reasonable to think that he may have introduced her to his close friend and colleague? Since St. Paul hadn’t known Our Lord during His earthly lifetime, wouldn’t that zealous convert, who devoted his life to teaching people about Christ, have been eager to learn more about Jesus directly from His own mother?
Yet suppose we assume that St. Paul never met Mary, or that St. Luke’s careful attention to her doesn’t reflect an interest on the part of the Apostle. Even then, we still have good reason to pray the Rosary, with all its Marian prayers and meditations, in the light of St. Paul’s words. That reason is found in kernel form in the reference to Mary from St. Paul’s own hand that we just cited.
“God sent his Son, born of a woman.” This short phrase summarizes the whole Gospel that the great Apostle preached. In Jesus Christ, God Himself became man. He took our human nature and joined it to His own divine nature. Because of that startling historical event, in “the fullness of time,” nothing would ever be the same again.
The Word of God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14) received His flesh from Mary of Nazareth. That woman, “full of grace” (Lk 1:28), became the first Christian, the model for all the rest. In her immaculate heart, her obedience to God, her devotion to her Son, and her heavenly destiny, we catch a vision of our own vocation to holiness, the summons to a journey that will at last bring us face-to-face with God.
As always, Mary leads us to Jesus. What we discover about her in praying the Rosary teaches us also about her Son and why He came. Yes, it has taken a millennium and more for Christians to unpack this mystery, and we haven’t yet finished the task. But St. Paul himself knew that the process would take time, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph 4:13).
In the meantime, the Apostle prayed that we would come to know “the riches of [God’s] glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). In the Rosary, we meditate on those riches as we find them in the Queen of Saints: the mother of God’s Son, and the mother of all who “receive adoption” as children of God.
This little book has one purpose, then: to aid those who pray the Rosary to hasten on their journey to Jesus through Mary with the help of St. Paul. No doubt the Apostle is praying right along with us.
October 7, 2008
Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary
In the Year of St. Paul
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