Saturday October 21st 2017


During the month of October, Fr Gerard has been reflecting on the Rosary in our Catholic tradition.  Sometimes we have to face questions from friends or colleagues about our devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  It might be helpful to recall that there are certain criteria that the Church uses to assess true devotion to Mary, the Mother of God.

As long ago as 1974, the Pope, Blessed Paul V1, published an Apostolic Exhortation  (Marialis Cultus/ Marian Devotion) in which he outlined  the place of ‘Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Liturgy’ (Part One),  ‘The Renewal of Devotion to Mary’ (Part Two) and ‘Observations on two exercises of Piety: The Angelus and the Rosary’ (Part Three).

In Part Two the Pope offered four guidelines for true devotion to the Blessed Virgin.  These guidelines were offered in the context of two extremes to which some Catholics are prone: the temptation to downplay devotion to Mary on the one hand and the tendency to exaggerate devotion to Mary on the other.

BIBLICAL: All forms of Christian piety should have a strong biblical imprint.  By this the Pope is expressing the view that true devotion to Mary should be rooted in the Holy Scriptures. What this means in practice is that “the texts of prayers and chants should draw their inspiration and their wording from the Bible and above all that devotion to the Virgin should be imbued with the great themes of the Christian message”.

The Rosary certainly meets this criterion as all but two of the 20 mysteries in our rosary are taken directly from the text of the New Testament;  the other two (The Assumption and the Coronation of Mary) can only be understood in the context of the Scriptural revelation.

LITURGICAL: Marian devotions can be very varied in expression. The Pope is careful to maintain the primacy of the Sacred Liturgy: “It sometimes happens that novenas or similar practices of piety are inserted into the very celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. This creates the danger that the Lord’s Memorial, instead of being the culmination of the meeting of the Christian community,  becomes the occasion, as it were, for devotional practices”.  It used to be the practice in some places that the rosary was publically recited during Mass while the priest said the prayers of the Mass silently.  Harmony is the key here, not merger or suppression.

ECUMENICAL:  We have learned to be sensitive to the rich Christian heritage shared with  other Christian communities of faith.  The Pope says that a sign of true devotion to Mary is making sure that we do not so exaggerate the role of Mary as to  “mislead other Christian brethren about the true doctrine of the Catholic Church”.  One goal of our relationship with Mary is that our devotion to her should not be an obstacle but a path to closer union in the Body of Christ. Pope Paul’s conclusion is that “her intercession can help to bring to realization the time when the disciples of Christ will again find full communion in faith”.

ANTHROPOLOGICAL:  True devotion to Mary will be sensitive to the insights of modern thinking on the role of woman in society.  It has to be admitted that in the past the picture of the Blessed Virgin presented in some devotions tended to assume that women were inferior to men, that they had little if any role in public society.  True devotion to Mary will therefore take careful note of the real role of Mary in the work of our redemption, her experiences as a single mother, as a refugee, as a liberated woman, as “truly our sister”.  What we find so helpful and attractive in the example of Mary is not the social role of woman in her age but her full and responsible acceptance of the will of God. We also see her as the first and most perfect of Christ’s disciples.

Our devotion to the rosary and to Mary as our Perpetual Help draws us closer to Jesus her Son and does so in a way which harmonizes with other aspects of our faith.  We can rejoice at inheriting a sound and Christian devotion to her whom we call our Blessed Virgin.


As we continue through the month of October, which is dedicated in a special way to the prayer of the Most Holy Rosary, I would like to stay with this theme for my word this week. To be honest, they are not my own words. All the Popes of recent times have called on us to make more frequent use of the rosary each day, particularly as a beautiful model of family prayer; a prayer which holds families together in both good times and bad, strengthened in faith and love. This week I would like us to reflect on the wise words of Pope Benedict XVIth.

Pope Benedict XVI advised the faithful to pray the rosary daily and use it to meditate on the mysteries of Christ “in union with Mary, the Virgin at prayer” which “strengthens us all in faith, hope and charity.” The Holy Father called Mary the “model of Christian life” and commended all of the people of God to Her care.

“Mary is the model of Christian life. I ask her above all to help you all walk the path of holiness, briskly and with joy, in the footsteps of many shining examples of Christ” he said, adding that “the daily meditation on the mysteries of Christ in union with Mary, the Virgin at prayer, strengthens us all in faith, hope and charity.”

The Pope has not ceased to call attention to the efficacy of the Rosary during his pontificate. In 2008, while reciting the Rosary in Rome’s historic Basilica of St. Mary Major, he reminded the faithful that this prayer is not “a pious practice banished to the past, like prayers of other times thought of with nostalgia. Instead, the Rosary is experiencing a new Springtime.”

He went on to say that in the current world, which is so dispersive, “this prayer helps to put Christ at the centre, as the Virgin did, who meditated within all that was said about her Son, and also what he did and said.”

When we recite the Rosary, we relive important and meaningful moments in our own salvation history. “The various steps of Christ’s mission are traced. With Mary, the heart is oriented toward the mystery of Jesus. Christ is put at the centre of our life, of our time, of our city, through the contemplation and meditation of his holy mysteries of joy, light, sorrow and glory.”

He encourages us to welcome within ourselves “the grace emanating from these mysteries, so that through us we can ‘water’ society, beginning with our daily relationships, and purifying them from so many negative forces, thus opening them to the newness of God.

“The Rosary, when it is prayed in an authentic way, not mechanical and superficial but profoundly, it brings, in fact, peace and reconciliation. It contains within itself the healing power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, invoked with faith and love at the centre of each ‘Hail Mary’.”

“To be apostles of the Rosary, however, it is necessary to experience personally the beauty and depth of this prayer which is simple and accessible to everyone.”

Even though it is a prayer of many words, the Rosary is actually a “school of contemplation and silence,” he said.

“At first glance, it could seem a prayer that accumulates words, therefore difficult to reconcile with the silence that is rightly recommended for meditation and contemplation. In fact, this cadent repetition of the Hail Mary does not disturb inner silence but indeed both demands and nourishes it.”

The silence “surfaces through the words” he said, not as emptiness, “but rather as the presence of an ultimate meaning that transcends the words themselves and through them speaks to the heart. Thus, in reciting the Hail Mary, we must be careful that our voices do not “cover” the voice of God who always speaks through the silence like the “still small voice of a gentle breeze” (1 Kgs 19: 12).

These beautiful words of Pope Benedict highlight once more the great and wonderful graces that are available to all of us through the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary. It is a treasure of our faith. And it is my prayer that more and more of us will come to know and cherish the beauty of this prayer.

Fr Gerard, CSsR


Last week, in my letter, I wrote about the importance of the family rosary as a wonderful, uniting form of family prayer. On Saturday, we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. For my letter this week I have chosen to share with you a letter written by Fr Sean Wales to all the Redemptorists in South Africa. This letter also focuses on the importance of the Holy Rosary for our Redemptorist life of prayer. I believe it will also be helpful to each of us as we continue to focus on the Holy Rosary throughout this month of October. Here are Fr Sean’s words:

“Many biographies of St Alphonsus mention that he was fond of the Rosary as one form of his devotion to Mary, the Mother of God.  He is known to have said the rosary daily. Rey-Mermet tells us that Alphonsus carried the rosary with him always and that he wore it round his neck when he went to bed at night. He gave the full fifteen decades rosary to his new Congregation as part of the religious habit and as a distinctive sign of Redemptorist allegiance to Mary.

All the early versions of the Rule included the injunction: “every day they shall also say a third part of the Rosary”.  The new Constitutions and Statutes keep this ideal before our minds:

All the confreres will honour the Blessed Virgin Mary every day, following the tradition of St Alphonsus.  To all is recommended the recitation of the holy rosary, so that with grateful hearts they may reflect upon and imitate the mysteries of Christ in which Mary had a share”

My experience of the rosary in the Redemptorist Congregation is that it is a private devotion.  I remember that down the years there have been many robust sermons about the rosary and plenty of exhortations to pray the rosary -as individuals or families.  Time was that all evening mission services began with the rosary.

We have St John Paul’s religious imagination to thank for the extension of the rosary to include the luminous mysteries. In doing this, the Pope opened the door for us to ponder other aspects of the mysteries of Jesus and Mary.

We might consider our own “Redemptorist mysteries”: aspects of the Gospel which bear on the work of our redemption, prayed through the eyes of Jesus and Mary:

1. Jesus leaves home to begin his public life of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.   When we left home to join the Congregation, it was a significant moment for us and for our family. Being a Redemptorist always involves a leaving and a spiritual adventure.

2. The Temptations of Jesus.  Each of us had to face initial temptations about our vocation -and we continue to face temptations as Redemptorist missioners. Mary served the mystery of redemption by dedicating herself completely to her Son.  We find in her a perpetual help in living our consecrated life.

3. Jesus the healer.  In what has been recognized as a key-note address in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus set out his ministry of preaching and healing. We too have appropriated the words of Isaiah to describe our Redemptorist calling: He has sent me to bring good new to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight…

4. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. If I then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. This intimate incident of tenderness and compassion on the night before his death, gives us an unforgettable model of the new community in Jesus.

5. The silence of Jesus and Mary during the Passion. Alphonsus captures the poignancy of the wordless meeting of Jesus and Mary during the way of the cross: “Jesus and Mary looked at each other, and their looks became as so many arrows to wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly”. Mary’s silence continued to the end.  We learn from her a pastoral silence in our ministry of presence.”

I thank Fr Sean Wales for his wise words and pray that it will help each of us to continue to grow in our love of the Holy Rosary during this month, and thereafter.

May we explore the mysteries of faith with Mary “our model and helper”.

Fr Gerard, CSsR


Throughout the Catholic world the month of October is recognised as the month of the rosary. I know that, within my own family, while we were attending school, we prayed the rosary as a family every evening. It was not always something that, as children, we looked forward to, but I know that it brought many blessings to us as a family, and helped us through some difficult times. I would encourage all our families in the parish to pray the rosary each day during the month of October, even if we can only manage one Decade of the Rosary each evening. Pope Francis always speaks much more wisely than I do, and here is what he had to say recently about the necessity of family prayer as a means of developing faith, hope and love within our family life:

“1. First: the family prays.

…I would like to ask you, dear families: Do you pray together from time to time as a family?  Some of you do, I know.  But so many people say to me: But, how can we? But in the family how is this done? After all, prayer seems to be something personal, and besides there is never a good time, a moment of peace…  Yes, all that is true enough, but it is also a matter of humility, of realizing that we need God… all of us! We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness.  And we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength!  And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents, praying for each other.  This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer.

2. Next, the family keeps the faith.

Here too, we can ask: How do we keep our faith as a family? Do we keep it for ourselves, in our families, as a personal treasure like a bank account, or are we able to share it by our witness, by our acceptance of others, by our openness? We all know that families, especially young families, are often “racing” from one place to another, with lots to do. But did you ever think that this “racing” could also be the race of faith? Christian families are missionary families. They are missionary in everyday life, in their doing everyday things, as they bring to everything the salt and the leaven of faith! Keeping the faith in families and bringing to everyday things the salt and the leaven of faith.

3. And finally: the family experiences joy.

I would like to ask you all a question today. But each of you keep it in your heart and take it home. You can regard it as a kind of “homework”.  Only you must answer.  How are things when it comes to joy at home?  Is there joy in your family?   You can answer this question.

Dear families, you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well.  True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey.  But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God, the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all.  And above all, a love which is patient: patience is a virtue of God and he teaches us how to cultivate it in family life, how to be patient, and lovingly so, with each other. To be patient among ourselves. A patient love.  God alone knows how to create harmony from differences.  But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centredness prevails and joy fades.  But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally.  That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society as a whole.

Dear families, always live in faith and simplicity, like the Holy Family of Nazareth!  The joy and peace of the Lord be always with you!”

Fr Gerard, CSsR


Today, here in South Africa, we celebrate Heritage Day. My word for this week will be shorter than usual, because I wish to enclose within it the Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Brislin on this day. Of course, this year we have an added bonus because we will have a public holiday to celebrate Heritage Day. The history of South Africa, as we all know too well, has been a very troubled one. We have known too much racial division, too much violence and bloodshed.

The purpose of the institution of Heritage Day was intended to be an act of reconciliation, a day when we could move forward to a brighter and more peaceful future. Sadly though, our recent times have seen no real progress in terms of a peaceful and just country. It can easily be argued that, in fact, the country has never been more divided. We have extremely high levels of violence throughout the country. And we are having to live with the consequences of massive corruption in our political and social structures. This should be a real cause of concern for all of us. I would like to suggest that, as part of our celebration of Heritage Day, we each take time to pray for our poor and troubled country: that we might still find a way forward where each and every citizen feels safe and at home in this beautiful land.

Fr Gerard, CSsR


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