Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel as sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
This feast, focussed on the intercessory power of our Blessed Lady, was instituted by Pope Saint Pius V in thanksgiving for the great naval victory of a Christian fleet over the Turks at Lepanto on October 7, 1571, a favour widely attributed to intense recitation of the Rosary. This crucial battle saved Europe from being overrun by the forces of Islam. This Lepanto victory over the Ottoman Empire, is commemorated by the invocation "Help of Christians," inserted in the Litany of Loreto. Many years later the Turks were again defeated at Belgrade on the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, in 1716. Another victory that year on the Octave of the Assumption motivated pope Clement XI have the Feast of the Rosary celebrated by the universal Church. Leo XIII added the invocation "Queen of the most Holy Rosary, pray for us," to the Litany of Loreto.
In modern times successive popes have urged the faithful to pray the Rosary regularly, as a form of contemplative prayer focussed on the life of Christ. It calls prayerful attention to the saving mysteries of Christ and Mary's close association with her Son in his mission. Pope St John Paul II called the rosary a "Christocentric prayer" containing the Gospel message in its entirety. His letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (2002) expanded the scope of the rosary to include five extra mysteries ("Mysteries of Light") to summarise the life and mission of Jesus. These are: 1) The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. 2) The Wedding Feast of Cana. 3) The Announcement of the Kingdom. 4) The Transfiguration. 5) The Institution of the Holy Eucharist.
The Rosary invites us to reflect on the great mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel presents Mary as a deeply reflective person. In the second chapter of his gospel, in response to the words of the shepherds, Luke says of her that she "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." Again, in response to the words of the child Jesus to her in the temple, Luke says of Mary that she "treasured all these things in her heart." Luke presents Mary as a contemplative person, reflecting deeply on all that was happening in the life of her Son. To that extent, she embodies the attitude of mind and heart that we are invited to bring to the praying of the Rosary. In praying that prayer, we treasure and ponder upon the key moments in the journey of Jesus in this world and from this world to the Father. Mary not only pondered on what God was doing in the words and deeds of her Son, but she gave herself over to what God was doing, as shown by her response to the visit of Gabriel in today's gospel, "Let what you have said be done to me" or "Let it be to me according to your word." As we ponder on all God is doing in the words and deeds of Jesus, we too will hear the call to give ourselves over more fully to God's purpose for our lives. [MH]