One of my favorite stories from the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima a century ago this year is how Our Lady was compelled gently to correct the three shepherd children for “cheating” on how they were praying the Rosary.
The eldest, at the time 10-year-old Lucy, described in her eventual memoirs what they were doing and why.
“We had been told [by our parents] to say the Rosary after lunch, but as the whole day seemed too short for playing, we worked out a great way to get through it quickly. We simply passed the beads through our fingers, saying nothing but ‘Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary.’ At the end of each mystery, we paused a second, then simply said, ‘Our Father,’ and so, in the twinkling of an eye, as they say, we had our Rosary finished! So great was our eagerness to get to play! Our prayer finished, we started to play ‘pebbles.’”
When Our Lady appeared, she taught them how to slow down and to pray the whole Our Father, the whole Hail Mary, and the whole Glory Be in each decade.
Seven-year-old Jacinta was a quick convert. Later that day, when the pastorinhos brought their sheep to a place of pasture and Lucy and eight-year-old Francisco called her to come to play, she demurred, saying, “That Lady told us to say the Rosary and to make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. So from now on, when we say the Rosary, we must say the whole Hail Mary and the whole Our Father!”
Our Lady would later teach the docile Jacinta how to go beyond merely just saying the complete prayers. She pointed her to the 15 tableaus in their parish church of Fatima (Aljustrel), which depicted the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, and helped her to learn how to meditate on each of them as the most important part of praying the Rosary.
Learning how to pray this Christocentric Marian prayer not just correctly but well was central to the revelations of Fatima. In each of Mary’s six appearances in 1917, she insisted on the children praying the Rosary each day.
In May, Mary appeared to them the first time holding Rosary beads in her hand and asked the three kids to “recite the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.” One month later, as they were praying the Rosary, Mary appeared and asked them to “say the Rosary every day.” In July, she stated, “Pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary to obtain peace in the world” and, “When you recite the Rosary, say at the end of each decade: ‘O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Your mercy.’” The following month she expressed her wish that they “continue to say the Rosary every day.” In September, she reiterated, “I want you to continue to recite the Rosary to obtain the end of the war.” Finally, in October, she revealed her identity as “the Lady of the Rosary” and said, “I desire that people continue to recite the Rosary every day.”
Could she have been more emphatic about the importance of praying the Rosary daily or about relating to her through the Rosary?
I’ve always found it noteworthy that Mary didn’t insist that the shepherd children go to Mass each day, even though Mass is the source and the summit of the Christian life. She didn’t demand that people read Sacred Scripture. She didn’t require that they do a Eucharistic Holy Hour or a certain fixed time of meditation. After all, it’s not possible for everyone to get to daily Mass, to read, or without training easily to do mental prayer. Mary, rather, recommended something basically everyone could do, from young children to popes.
And she asked that it be done daily and well. And she said that the peace of the world depended on it.
Why? St. John Paul II attempted to answer that question in 2002, in his apostolic exhortation, “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary.”
“The Rosary,” he wrote, “is by its nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the One Who is ‘our peace’ (Eph 2:14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ — and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary — learns the secret of peace and makes it his life’s project. Moreover, by virtue of its meditative character, with the tranquil succession of Hail Marys, the Rosary has a peaceful effect on those who pray it, disposing them to receive and experience in their innermost depths, and to spread around them, that true peace which is the special gift of the Risen Lord” (cf. Jn 14:27; 20.21).
“The Rosary is also a prayer for peace,” he continued, “because of the fruits of charity that it produces. When prayed well in a truly meditative way, the Rosary leads to an encounter with Christ in His mysteries and so cannot fail to draw attention to the Face of Christ in others, especially in the most afflicted. How could one possibly contemplate the mystery of the Child of Bethlehem, in the Joyful Mysteries, without experiencing the desire to welcome, defend and promote life, and to shoulder the burdens of suffering children all over the world? How could one possibly follow in the footsteps of Christ the Revealer, in the Mysteries of Light, without resolving to bear witness to His ‘Beatitudes’ in daily life? How could one contemplate Christ carrying the cross and Christ Crucified, without feeling the need to act as a ‘Simon of Cyrene’ for our brothers and sisters weighed down by grief or crushed by despair? Finally, how could one possibly gaze upon the glory of the Risen Christ or of Mary Queen of Heaven, without yearning to make this world more beautiful, more just, more closely conformed to God’s plan?
“In a word,” he concluded, “by focusing our eyes on Christ, the Rosary also makes us peacemakers in the world. By its nature as an insistent choral petition in harmony with Christ’s invitation to ‘pray unceaselessly’ (Lk 18:1), the Rosary allows us to hope that, even today, the difficult ‘battle’ for peace can be won.”
In his Centenary, the woman who wants us to relate to her as the “Lady of the Rosary,” is reiterating her call for us to take up the Rosary each day almost as a “weapon of peace,” praying it correctly, slowly, and meditatively, so that we might become more like the blessed Fruit of her womb, the Prince of Peace, and allow Him to forgive us, save us, and lead us and others to Heaven.
The beads await our fingers.
Anchor columnist Father Landry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.