The Rosary in Montfort's Thought

Among what he calls the “exterior practices” of devotion to the Blessed Virgin, recommended most strongly by St. Louis Marie de Montfort, is the Rosary. He has justifiably been called an “Apostle of the Rosary”, since, not only did he recite it himself daily, but in all his missions he vigorously promoted its recitation, in public as well as in private. He wrote in The Love of Eternal Wisdom: “I know of no better way of establishing the kingdom of God, Eternal Wisdom, than to unite vocal and mental prayer by saying the holy Rosary and meditating on its fifteen mysteries” (LEW 193). He was absolutely convinced, from his own pastoral experience, that the Rosary is a powerful and effective means of growth in the spiritual life - the life of union with Christ. In the book The Secret of the Rosary, he makes this claim:

When I have gone back to parishes where I had given missions, I have seen tremendous differences between them; in those parishes where the people had given up the Rosary, they had generally fallen back into their sinful ways, whereas in places where the Rosary was said faithfully I found the people were persevering in the grace of God and advancing in virtue day by day. (SR 113).

And, to make sure that the Missionaries of the Company of Mary, the congregation he dreamed of from his early days as a priest, would take seriously the obligation he laid on them to preach the Rosary as one of the major planks of their own missions, he claimed:

“This is one of the greatest secrets to have come down from heaven. Its heavenly dew refreshes men's hearts and makes God's word operative within them.” (Manuscript Rule of the Company of Mary, 57).

Apostle of the RosarySt. Louis Marie, like Pope John Paul II in our own day, saw the Rosary as not primarily a Marian prayer, but as one which is firmly centred on Christ, enabling us to contemplate his life and so grow in likeness to him:

“The Meditation of the mysteries makes us resemble Jesus… the Rosary is a memorial of the life and death of Jesus… Meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary is a great means of perfection” (SR 65, 68, 71).

And, foreshadowing what was said by Pope Paul VI, in Marialis Cultus (no. 47), he says that “meditation is the soul of this prayer. For the Rosary said without the meditation on the sacred mysteries of our salvation would almost be a body without a soul” (SR 61).

In fact, Montfort sees this meditation on, or contemplation of, the mysteries of the Rosary, not only as the best way of praying the Rosary, but even as an essential element of the Christian’s life of relationship with Jesus Christ:

“A Christian who does not meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary is very ungrateful to our Lord and shows how little he cares for all that our divine Saviour has suffered to save the world” (SR 70).

Some people might be afraid, especially on hearing the words “meditation” and “contemplation” that the Rosary would be too difficult a prayer for them. But St Louis Marie reassures us:

“The meditation on the mysteries and prayers of the Rosary is the easiest of all prayers, because the diversity of the virtues of our Lord and the different situations of his life which we study, refresh and fortify our mind in a wonderful way and help us to avoid distractions. For the learned, these mysteries are the source of the most profound doctrine, while simple people find in them a means of instruction well within their reach” (SR 76).

Of course, we need to make sure certain conditions exist to help us to say the prayer well:

  1. “To say the holy Rosary with advantage one must be in a state of grace or at least be fully determined to give up sin” (SR 117); - so, as he says, even sinners can say the Rosary, provided that they see it as an opportunity to rise from their sins;
  2. We need to pay sufficient attention to what we are doing – Montfort speaks of avoiding “voluntary distractions” (that is, just letting our mind wander, without making any effort to stop it); but also of trying to lessen involuntary distractions and control our imagination, while recognising that it is impossible to avoid all such involuntary distractions – he has various means of helping us to do this, as we shall see;
  3. Montfort advises us to invoke the help of the Holy Spirit before we begin – that spirit who St Paul assures us will pray in us if we allow him to.

And the methods of saying the Rosary that Montfort offers us are designed to help us to pray this prayer well, and to avoid distractions.

St. Louis Marie offers us several methods of saying the Rosary, two of which are included at the end of the book The Secret of the Rosary.

The first method given by St. Louis Marie at the end of SR is headed “Offering of the decades”, and indeed, each decade is prefaced by a short prayer of offering: “We offer you, Lord, Jesus, this decade…” This is in line with what he himself recommends in SR 120: “Above all, do not fail to offer up each decade in honour of one of the mysteries, and try to form a picture in your mind of Jesus and Mary in connection with that mystery.” But also, true to the tradition of the French School of Spirituality, with its emphasis on the states of Jesus, there is a request for a particular grace which is seen as appropriate to that mystery. To explain: according to Cardinal de Bérulle and his followers in the French School, the states of Jesus are those profound sentiments which motivated him in the various mysteries of his life, and which have permanent value: though the actions he performed are completed, his states (in this sense) last forever, and they should penetrate the devout follower of Jesus, in such a way that they gradually transform us into his image – make us more and more like him. And so, St Louis Marie wants us to ask specifically for one of the virtues most evident in each mystery of the Rosary: as he says (SR 126): “Always be sure to ask, by this mystery and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, for one of the virtues that shines forth most in this mystery or one of which you are in particular need.” Since it is Mary’s mission to form us into Jesus Christ, we ask her to help us to interiorize this grace of the mysteries.

Then, at the end of each decade, we ask again for a particular grace appropriate to that mystery. This is something that Pope John Paul picked up and recommended in his letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae two years ago, where he says:

“In current practice, the Trinitarian doxology (i.e. the Glory Be) is followed by a brief concluding prayer which varies according to local custom. Without in any way diminishing the value of such invocations, it is worthwhile to note that the contemplation of the mysteries could better express their full spiritual fruitfulness if an effort were made to conclude each mystery with a prayer for the fruits specific to that particular mystery.”

The second method recommended by St. Louis Marie is one that, in fact, was quite popular in certain areas before his time; it consists in adding a short phrase, after the name of Jesus in the middle of each Hail Mary, which momentarily reminds us of the mystery we are considering in this decade. So, for example, while saying the first decade of the Joyful Mysteries, in which we meditate on the Incarnation of Jesus in Mary’s womb, St. Louis Marie suggests that we add, after “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” the words “becoming man”, so that the whole phrase becomes “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, becoming man.” We repeat this in each Hail Mary; then, in the second decade, we might add the phrase, “Jesus sanctifying” – reminding us of how St John the Baptist was sanctified in his own mother’s womb as Mary greeted Elizabeth. And so on, for each of the decades – you can find suggested phrases in The Secret of the Rosary, in the second method. If you are sufficiently creative, you could even devise different phrases to add for each of the Hail Marys in a decade, provided you keep them reminiscent of the mystery being contemplated.

This method of saying the Rosary, though it did survive in a few places, seems to have been largely forgotten for a long time, until in the years around 1967 and 1968, it began to be reintroduced in France. Paul VI, in his Apostolic Letter, Marialis Cultus, of 1974, mentions this practice favourably (no. 46), adding that this is done “precisely in order to help contemplation and to make the mind and the voice act in unison.”

These are just two of the possible methods mentioned here and there by St. Louis Marie – we won’t go into any more for the moment. They, and all the others, are designed to make the Rosary a genuine contemplation of the life of Christ, so that we may, through Mary’s help, become more and more conformed to his example, and so become more and more children of God.