Online Edition – Vol. V, No. 3: May 1999
The Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration
by Susan Benofy
A new statement of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship [CDW] has affirmed that the Rosary may form part of devotions for Eucharistic Adoration. As the practice of Eucharistic Adoration has increased recently, due to encouragement from the Holy Father and initiatives by bishops, pastors and lay associations, questions have arisen about devotions for adoration in particular, whether saying the Rosary is an appropriate form of prayer during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In some cases it has been forbidden.
Criticism of praying the Rosary during Eucharistic devotions stems from a 1968 article in the CDW’s official periodical,
. But the matter was revisited and newly clarified in Notes on the Recitation of the Rosary During Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, published in
1998, 507-511. An unofficial English translation was published early this year by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (
Citing Pope Paul VI’s
, the CDW article affirms the appropriateness of praying the Rosary as part of Eucharistic adoration. While acknowledging that at times the praying of the Rosary seems to be confined to the recitation of the Hail Mary and Our Father, the article urges that "the Rosary should be promoted in its authentic form, that is, with its Christological character."
The article especially encourages the reading of a Scriptural text along with the announcement of the mystery to aid in meditation. With this understanding of the meaning of the Rosary the article concludes:
One should not expose the Eucharist only to recite the Rosary. However, among the prayers that are used during adoration, the recitation of the Rosary may certainly be included, emphasizing the Christological aspects with biblical readings relating to the mysteries, and providing time for silent adoration and meditation on them.
Confusion about the Rosary devotion arose immediately following the Second Vatican Council. Some liturgists and theologians considered this devotion and other traditional Catholic devotions, including Eucharistic Adoration itself, outdated and un-ecumenical. In their view, Marian prayer was theologically questionable and tinged with "Mariolatry". Some predicted that the Rosary would (and should) disappear altogether from the Catholic vocabulary of prayer.
It was in this context that the CDW in 1968, responded to a query about whether prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints could appropriately be said during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
In this reply the CDW stressed that the 1967 Instruction on Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery (
) had specified that prayers should be directed "to Christ the Lord". The reply interpreted the intention of the Instruction to mean prayers "to Christ the Lord alone"; thus prayers in honor of Mary and the saints were not appropriate. Concerning praying the Rosary during Eucharistic Adoration, the 1968 reply said,
Even the Rosary must be classified as a Marian prayer, not as addressed to Christ. Nor is the prescribed meditation on the mysteries of Christ during the saying of the Hail Mary a counter argument. For the essential part of the Rosary consists in the repeated prayer addressed to the Blessed Virgin. In fact, this devotion would in some way require a re-evaluation so that there may be closer concord between the voice and mind of the one praying:
4 (1968), 133-134, no. 110. See footnote in
Documents on the Liturgy
, 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal and Curial Texts, §1291: p. 418.)
On the basis of this 1968 reply, which suggested "re-evaluation" of the Rosary itself, praying the Rosary during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was considered inappropriate by some.
Revival and Re-evaluation
While it may not have been foreseen then that Eucharistic Adoration would wither — or that nearly all Marian devotions, once a standard feature on the weekly calendars of countless parishes, would disappear from churches altogether — this 1968 reply of the Congregation reflects accurately the extreme reaction of some powerful liturgical reformers against all Marian devotions, including the Rosary.
But the Rosary did not disappear into the dustbin of history, as had been so confidently predicted. The current revival of Eucharistic Adoration, which has been encouraged by bishops and eagerly taken up by faithful Catholics everywhere, has again led some liturgists to raise questions concerning these devotions (for example, a recent "resolution" of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions). They have expressed alarm at the growing popularity of Eucharistic devotions outside of Mass, which, they say, may detract from the central Eucharistic celebration, and they discourage use of the Rosary. But this ignores the important papal teaching document on the subject of Marian devotion, issued only six years after the 1968 CDW reply.
In 1974, Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic Exhortation,
, subtitled "for the right ordering and development of Marian devotion". Pope Paul’s letter shows that he is acutely aware, ten years after the Council, of the confusion and misinformation surrounding Marian devotions. He first considers the relationship of the devotion to the Blessed Mother to the liturgy, closely examining the Calendar and liturgical books, and includes comments about how Mary is commemorated in the liturgy throughout the various seasons of the year:
The examination of the revised liturgical books leads us to the comforting observation that the postconciliar renewal has, as was previously desired by the liturgical movement, properly considered the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of Christ, and, in harmony with tradition, has recognized the singular place that belongs to her in Christian worship as the holy Mother of God and the worthy Associate of the Redeemer.
Rosary Within the Eucharist
Pope Paul specifically considers the Rosary in relation to forms of devotion to Mary other than those expressed within the Eucharistic liturgy. He begins by quoting
This document, while wholeheartedly approving of the practices of piety of the Christian people, goes on to say `…it is necessary however that such devotions with consideration for the liturgical seasons should be so arranged as to be in harmony with the sacred liturgy. They should somehow derive their inspiration from it, and because of its pre-eminence they should orient the Christian people towards it’. …
The pope warns that discouraging Marian devotions is contrary to the Council:
In this context we wish to mention two attitudes which in pastoral practice could nullify the norm of the Second Vatican Council. In the first place there are certain persons connected with the care of souls who scorn, a priori, devotions of piety which, in their correct forms, have been recommended by the Magisterium, who leave them aside and in this way create a vacuum which they do not fill. They forget that the council has said that devotions of piety should harmonize with the liturgy, not be suppressed.
Secondly there are those who, without wholesome liturgical and pastoral criteria, mix practices of piety and liturgical acts in hybrid celebrations. It sometimes happens that novenas or similar practices are inserted into the very celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. This creates the danger that the Lord’s Memorial Rite, instead of being the culmination of the meeting of the Christian community, becomes the occasion, as it were, for devotional practices. For those who act in this way we wish to recall the rule laid down by the Council prescribing that
exercises of piety should be harmonized with the liturgy, not merged into it. [§31] (Emphasis added.)
He responds to the criticism that devotion to Mary is not "ecumenical":
Because of its ecclesial character, devotion to the Blessed Virgin reflects the preoccupations of the Church herself. Among these especially in our day is her anxiety for the re-establishment of Christian unity. In this way devotion to the Mother of the Lord is in accord with the deep desires and aims of the ecumenical movement, that is, it acquires an ecumenical aspect. [§32]
He mentions the veneration of the Theotokos [Mother of God] by the Orthodox Churches, and says that "in the Churches of the Reform, where love for the Sacred Scriptures flourishes" there is "a better understanding of Mary’s place in the mystery of Christ and of the Church" which he hopes will help promote Christian unity.
While the pope observes that "hybrid celebrations" and some excesses in Marian devotions "are not in harmony with the Catholic Faith" [§38], he emphasizes that the Rosary, properly understood, is both biblical and Christological. Pope Paul comments on his interest in the many conferences held on the Rosary and in the historical work done on its original inspiration and structure of the Rosary. He says that in light of recent scholarship,
..the Gospel inspiration of the Rosary has appeared more clearly: the Rosary draws from the Gospel the presentation of the mysteries and its main formulas. … The Rosary is thus a Gospel prayer, as pastors and scholars like to define it, more today perhaps than in the past. [§44]
Rosary is "A Prayer to Christ"
Pope Paul explains that this scholarly research has shown that the Rosary is
…a branch sprung from the ancient trunk of the Christian liturgy, the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin, whereby the humble were associated in the Church’s hymn of praise and universal intercession. …Once the pre-eminent value of liturgical rites has been reaffirmed it will not be difficult to appreciate the fact that the Rosary is a practice of piety which easily harmonizes with the liturgy. In fact, like the liturgy, it is of a community nature, draws its inspiration from Sacred Scripture and is oriented towards the mystery of Christ. [§48]
The research, along with the teaching that honor given to Mary can only be seen in relation to her Son, leads inevitably to the conclusion that the Rosary is, indeed, a prayer to Christ.
As a Gospel prayer, centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is therefore a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation. Its most characteristic element, in fact, the litany-like succession of Hail Mary’s, becomes in itself an unceasing praise of Christ, who is the ultimate object both of the angel’s announcement and of the greeting of the mother of John the Baptist: "Blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Lk. 1:42). We would go further and say that the succession of Hail Marys constitutes the warp on which is woven the contemplation of the mysteries. [§46]
To Pope Paul VI’s careful explanations of the correct orientation and significance of Marian piety, one can add the many similar statements of Pope John Paul II, especially in Redemptoris Mater, and in his constant invocation of the Mother of God and Mother of the Church in all his papal pronouncements.
Clearly, the Congregation for Divine Worship’s recent clarification that the Rosary "may certainly be included" in Eucharistic adoration is solidly grounded not only in historic Catholic practice, but in the most recent papal teaching.
Susan Benofy is research editor of AB and an officer of Women for Faith & Family. (Helen Hull Hitchcock contributed to this report.)