Rediscovering the Rosary from Scripture and theology
LESSONS IN A ROSE-GARDEN:
Reviving the Doctrinal Rosary
by Aidan Nichols O.P.
(Freedom Publishing, 2012, 330pp, $54.95, ISBN 978-0-85244-790-1. Available from Freedom Publishing)
The title of this book is a clever play on words. The word "rosary" comes from the Latin rosarium, meaning a rose garden. The "lessons in a rose garden" are a series of connected theological reflections on each of the 20 mysteries of the Rosary, including John Paul II's Luminous Mysteries.
Fr Aidan Nichols is author of about 30 books, and is probably the most controversial Catholic writer in England. In contrast to the liberalism of the Tablet magazine, he is an uncompromising supporter of Pope Benedict XVI, has called for a rebirth of English Catholicism and is author of The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England, a book which contains a manifesto for the re-evangelisation of England.
While universally known by the simple title "Father", Aidan Nichols OP has been awarded a doctorate in philosophy and has held posts as lecturer and visiting professor at universities in Rome, the UK and USA.
This book is designed to address a deficiency in contemporary Catholic literature: the near complete absence of any detailed examination of the Rosary from a theological perspective.
This is not to say that there are no writings on the Rosary: rather, the available booklets are devotional in character, rather than theological, designed to help people to recite the Rosary as a prayer of praise to Our Lady.
In her apparitions at Fatima, Lourdes and elsewhere, Our Lady appears with Rosary beads in hand, and has urged people to say the Rosary. It is, quite clearly, her favourite prayer and therefore provides an ideal starting point for seeking her intercession.
Aidan Nichols however, has approached the Rosary from a different point. When he decided to write a contemporary series of papers for retreat conferences on the Rosary, he found that no significant theological works had been written on the Rosary for at least two centuries, although almost every Pope from the 19th century onwards had urged the faithful to its regular recitation, particularly in the family.
Fr Nichols sets out to show us the framework in which the Rosary is established. Each of the mysteries of the Rosary reflects in some way the role of Mary in the life of Jesus when on earth, and then in Heaven.
While much of it reflects the role of Mary during Jesus' life, it is also infused by the Catholic belief that Mary was assumed, body and soul into Heaven, and that as the Mother of God, she is Queen of Heaven and Earth.
The scriptural foundations for this belief can be found in a number of passages, including the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, in which John writes, "A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth."
Within this book, each mystery of the Rosary is given a chapter, preceded by a beautiful traditional work of art to illustrate the theme.
The approach which Fr Nichols takes is to use the mysteries to give an overview of Jesus' life and redemptive mission, taken from the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, doctors of the church, and others.
In the course of his exposition, many contentious subjects are discussed. Let me give an example. How could Mary, a created being, possibly be the Mother of the one God who existed before all ages?
The author does not shy away from the subject, but rather, confronts it head-on.
He says, "It is vital to get hold of the fact that Catholic Christians (and indeed all orthodox Christians) regard that claim that Mary is the God-bearer as quite literally true. Obviously enough, to say that Mary is literally the Mother of God is not to say that she, a human being, pre-existed the Creator of the world and was responsible for bringing him into existence ...
"When we say that Mary is literally the Mother of God, we mean that the embryo that came to be in her womb is what it is by taking from her our human nature ... But that does not yet answer the question of who it is that is embodied in our human nature in the womb of Mary. The answer to that question is: this person is the eternal Word or Son of the Father, the One in whom the Father expressed his own being before all time."
Each of the 20 mysteries of the Rosary contains detailed historical, biblical and theological reflections on the mysteries, and affords a wonderful opportunity to deepen one's appreciation of the Church's understanding of Mary's role in our salvation.
This is an important and valuable book, provided by one of the most gifted contemporary theologians in the world today.