For the month of October, Gretchen Crowe, editor of Our Sunday Visitor’s “Newsweekly,” has issued a month-long “Rosary Challenge” to encourage people to pray the prayer daily. This is the message of Fatima, which marks its 100th anniversary this year. We talk about the prayer, Mary, and her recent book Why the Rosary, Why Now?
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Well, not to ask the most obvious question, but: Why the Rosary, why now?
Gretchen Crowe: This year is a momentous one for the Catholic Church, as we currently are in the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Mary to three shepherd children in Fátima, Portugal. Appearing to Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia on six different occasions between May and October 1917, Mary asked them repeatedly to pray the rosary for peace in the world. At that point, of course, the world was entangled in World War I and desperate for peace. A century later, though the great war has long since ended, we find that, unfortunately, Mary’s plea is just as applicable. We continue to be desperate for peace. Just look at the horrific events that unfolded in Charlottesville this past summer. A deplorable demonstration that spiraled inevitably into violent protests and civil disorder between fellow citizens and culminated in injury and death. All of it so utterly avoidable were we a people of prayer motivated by love rather than selfishness. And Charlottesville is just one example. Our culture is rife with secularism, terrorism, and a general lack of understanding of what it means to live a holy life. The rosary, because it brings us to the heart of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, is the antidote to all of it — the evils in our world, the lack of faith, the distractions from God, the breakdown of the family, the lack of a drive for holiness. The rosary is key because it leads us to Jesus through Mary.
Lopez: Why pray to Mary? Why not bypass the middleman, so to speak?
Crowe: Catholics most definitely pray directly to the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. But the Church, too, recognizes the immense value in the relationship between Mary and her son, Jesus. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) called it a “close and indissoluble tie” (Lumen Gentium, 53). Because of that connection, the Church teaches that asking for the intercession of Mary is one of the best ways to communicate to Jesus. Simply put, Mary has the ear of her son. This is backed up in Scripture. When at a wedding feast the hosts embarrassingly run out of wine to serve to their guests. Mary asks Jesus to intervene. Though he initially objects, saying it is not yet his time, Jesus ultimately performs his first miracle — the changing of water into wine — at his mother’s behest. Having Mary, the first disciple, the first Christian, and the mother of our Savior, advancing our petitions for us in prayer is powerful stuff indeed.
Lopez: Isn’t there a danger that being so focused on Mary turns into Mary worship, as critics have insisted, as you know?
Crowe: Any time worship is directed anywhere other than the Holy Trinity, there is a problem. We see it repeatedly in the worshiping of idols in the Old Testament, and we see it today mostly in the worshiping of ourselves. The Church is very clear that Catholics do not worship Mary, as worship is meant for God alone. Rather, we venerate Mary, honoring her appropriately for her irreplaceable role as the mother of Our Lord, who, assumed into heaven, has taken her rightful place as queen of heaven and earth. Mary, in agreeing selflessly to become the mother of Jesus, gives us a model of how to align our lives with the will of God and thereby become the people he created us to be. She is our guidepost to Christ, and for that, we honor her.
Four Jesuit priests who were just eight blocks from the center of the blast when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 survived with no long-term damage. They had been praying the rosary daily.
Lopez: How do you proclaim Christ with Mary?
Crowe: The rosary is our way to be assisted by Mary in our work of evangelization. By meditating on the 20 mysteries of the rosary, whether in group settings or individually, we are empowered to proclaim Christ more intimately and more joyfully to the world. The rosary strengthens us more deeply in our relationship with Christ, which allows us to better proclaim him and his message, which is the fundamental task of every Christian. Mary, as the first evangelizer, is our model for that.
Lopez: What was so special about John Paul II’s encyclical on the rosary?
Crowe: Pope St. John Paul II loved Mary, and his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae, of which I include excerpts in my book, is written almost like a love letter to her. He writes: “No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary.” John Paul beautifully describes this relationship, identifying her as the way she is meant to be understood — as one whose primary role is to point others to Christ. It is also in Rosarium Virginis Mariae that John Paul gifts the Church with the Luminous Mysteries, thereby giving us five new ways to contemplate and meditate, through Mary, on the human and divine natures of Our Lord.
Lopez: What did you learn from putting the book together that perhaps surprised you?
Crowe: I was fascinated by the story of four Jesuit priests who, though they were just eight blocks away from the center of the blast when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, survived with minimal wounds and no long-term radiation damage. They credited Mary for saving their lives, saying they had been living the message of Fátima and praying the rosary every day. Prayer, they said, was more powerful than the atom bomb. How incredible, and yet how true! The priests then directed their efforts toward encouraging the faithful to pray the rosary for peace.
Lopez: How can praying the rosary combat secularism?
Crowe: As you know, secularism, the growing separation of religion from state, is growing ever more pervasive in today’s society. When we buy into a secular worldview, we basically are saying that religion, and therefore God, has no place in the public square. The prevailing opinion in Western society says that belief in God is okay when it’s confined to the privacy of our homes, or when it comes to worshiping in a church on Sunday, but that otherwise it serves to limit one’s freedom. As people of faith, however, we know that our relationship with Christ defines — or should define — every aspect of our lives. It has to, or we are frauds. The rosary deepens that relationship. It helps us grow in our understanding of what Jesus is calling us to do with our lives in service to him and his Church. Making a commitment to pray the rosary daily also reminds us that prayer is outside of Mass is essential to growth in holiness. It needs to be a constant in our lives — similar to the repetition of the Hail Marys of the rosary beads — not just something we do during pre-determined moments.
Lopez: Do we make too much of secularism?
Crowe: When we believe that we can operate without God, something within society breaks. Relativism prevails, the rules of natural law evaporate, and evil takes root. So, no, we do not make too much of it.