Oct 15, 2009

The Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration

Online Edition: October 2009

Vol. XV, No. 7

The Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration

by Helen Hull Hitchcock and Susan Benofy

Following is a revised and updated version of an article originally published in the Adoremus Bulletin in May 1999. — Ed.


Confusion about the Rosary devotion arose immediately following the Second Vatican Council. Some liturgists and theologians considered the Rosary and other traditional Catholic devotions, including eucharistic adoration itself, outdated and un-ecumenical.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.

Thus in 1968, within this negative context concerning devotions outside of Mass, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) 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 Eucharisticum Mysterium (on worship of the Eucharistic Mystery) had specified that prayers should be directed “to Christ the Lord”. The reply interpreted the intention restrictively, 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.

(Notitiae 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 from the Congregation, which suggested “re-evaluation” of the Rosary itself, praying the Rosary during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was considered inappropriate, was discouraged, and sometimes directly forbidden.

Rejection, Revival and Re-evaluation

While it may not have been foreseen at that time that eucharistic adoration would seriously 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 recent 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. They have expressed alarm at the growing popularity of eucharistic devotions outside of Mass, which, they say, detracts 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.

Marialis Cultus

In 1974, Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, 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. [§15]

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 Sacrosanctum Concilium:

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 toward 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]

Pope Paul 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 now “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 Pope Paul 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. He notes the many conferences held on the Rosary and the historical work done on its original inspiration and structure. 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]

The 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 toward 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 Marys, 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. The Jesus that each Hail Mary recalls is the same Jesus whom the succession of the mysteries proposes to us — now as the Son of God, now as the Son of the Virgin — at His birth in a stable at Bethlehem, at His presentation by His Mother in the Temple, as a youth full of zeal for His Father’s affairs, as the Redeemer in agony in the garden, scourged and crowned with thorns, carrying the cross and dying on Calvary, risen from the dead and ascended to the glory of the Father to send forth the gift of the Spirit.… [§46]

To Pope Paul VI’s careful explanations of the correct orientation and significance of Marian piety, one can add many similar statements of Pope John Paul II, especially in Redemptoris Mater and Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his visit to Pompeii and the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 19, 2008, referred to Pope John Paul’s addition of Christological mysteries to the Rosary:

… it is necessary to experience personally the beauty and depth of this prayer which is simple and accessible to everyone. It is first of all necessary to let the Blessed Virgin take one by the hand to contemplate the Face of Christ: a joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious Face.

“The Rosary is a school of contemplation and silence”, Pope Benedict said.

At first glance, it may seem like a prayer that accumulates words, therefore difficult to reconcile with the silence that is rightly recommended for meditation and contemplation. In fact, this cadenced repetition of the Hail Mary does not disturb inner silence but indeed both demands and nourishes it. Similarly to what happens for the Psalms when one prays the Liturgy of the Hours, the silence surfaces through the words and sentences, not as emptiness, but rather as the presence of an ultimate meaning that transcends the words themselves and through them speaks to the heart.

Clearly praying the Rosary during eucharistic adoration is solidly grounded not only in historic Catholic practice, but in the most recent papal teaching.


Notes on the Recitation of the Rosary during Exposition of the
Blessed Sacrament

“Notes on the Recitation of the Rosary during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament” by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments first appeared in the XXXIV edition of Notitiae (1998) 507-511. The original article was in Spanish. The English translation by the US Bishops’ Secretariat for the Liturgy (now Divine Worship), was published in its January-February 1999 Newsletter (online: www.usccb.org/liturgy/innews/199.shtml).


I. Origin

1. The conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, §13, says: “Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See…. But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons in such a way as to be in accord with the sacred liturgy, that they be in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds to this citation from Sacrosanctum Concilium: “These expressions are a prolongation of the liturgical life of the Church, but are not substitutes for it”.

Eucharistic exposition is a celebration related to the liturgy as understood in the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, §62, from the Roman Ritual: “Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass”, and from the Ceremonial of Bishops which dedicates chapter XXII to this same topic.

The Holy Rosary is, without doubt, one of the pious exercises most recommended by ecclesiastical authority.

(See also The Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 971, 1674, 2678, 2708).

A Catholic sensitivity never separates Christ from His mother or vice versa.

2. The Apostolic Letter [of John Paul II] Vicesimus quintus annus, §18, says: “Finally, to safeguard the reform and ensure the promotion of the Liturgy it is necessary to take account of popular Christian devotion and its relation to liturgical life. This popular devotion should not be ignored or treated with indifference or contempt, since it is rich in values, and in itself it gives expression to the religious attitude towards God. But it needs to be continually evangelized, so that the faith which it expresses may become an ever more mature and authentic act. Both the pious exercises of the Christian people and also other forms of devotion are welcomed and encouraged provided that they do not replace or intrude into liturgical celebrations. An authentic pastoral promotion of the Liturgy will build upon the riches of popular piety, purifying and directing them towards the Liturgy as the offering of the peoples”.

II. Relationship between Eucharistic Exposition and the Holy Rosary

One quote from each of the three most important documents follows:

1. “During the exposition everything should be so arranged that the faithful can devote themselves attentively in prayer to Christ Lord…” (Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, §62)

2. “To encourage a prayerful spirit there should be readings from Scripture with a homily or brief exhortations to develop a better understanding of the eucharistic mystery” (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, §95)

3. The Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus indicates that the Rosary “as a prayer inspired by the Gospel and centered on the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption should be considered a prayer of deep Christological orientation” (§46).

III. At this time it is important to note:

From the Second Vatican Council until the present, the following have been observed:

In the first two decades after the Council, more or less, there arose within the Catholic Church a tendency to suppress adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament within the Christian community.

In recent years, prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament has been increasingly appreciated once more. Two phenomena have been observed with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, namely: adoration takes place according to the same style and mentality and with the same prayers as before the Council, or it is celebrated in accordance with the guidelines provided by the Church’s documents.

Pastorally, this is an important time to encourage the prayer of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament according to the spirit of the Church documents. An opportunity to reorient this popular practice should not be wasted.

The restoration of the Rosary should be promoted in its authentic form, that is, with its Christological character. At times, the traditional manner of reciting the Rosary would seem to be limited to a recitation of the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Currently in some places the stating of the mysteries is accompanied by a reading of a brief biblical text to assist in meditation. This is very positive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Cf. 2708) indicated that Christian prayer ought to go further. It should lead to a knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus, to union with Him, finding great encouragement and support in liturgical prayer before the Eucharist.

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.

“During the exposition, the prayers, songs, and readings should be arranged so as to direct the attention of the faithful to the worship of Christ the Lord. To encourage a prayerful spirit, there should be readings from the Scriptures with a homily or brief exhortations to develop a better understanding of the Eucharistic mystery” (Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, §95). In the area of popular piety there is still much to be done so that pious exercises will support liturgical life and vice versa. There is a need to educate the Christian community to deepen the understanding of this pious exercise in order to appreciate fully its true worth.



Helen Hull Hitchcock Susan F. Benofy