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May 2003

The Last Battle?


Hands up those who can date the last Marian Year? … Struggling? Well, don’t be too hard on yourselves. The fact is that the 1987-88 Marian Year came and went with a yawn in many Western dioceses. Even the unprecedented spectacle of a televised worldwide Rosary - led by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica at the year’s climax, magnificently co-ordinated and presented and the largest television link up in history at that time - was missed by countless faithful thanks to clerical disinterest. (In some places, home-made videos of the event were still being passed around long afterwards to appreciative Catholics amazed that this sumptuous public presentation of the Faith and global homage to the Mother of God had passed them by.)

Many readers will also be unaware, therefore, that this Marian Year which escaped them also featured a one-off Rosary concocted by the Holy Father. A melange of the traditional mysteries, it seemed at the time like just one more postconciliar novelty; needless, pointless, passing. And that is how it worked out. Like most people I cannot remember the mysteries involved and have absolutely no interest in looking them up. One does recall, however, the sharp reactions and antagonism provoked when ‘The Pope’s Rosary’ was suddenly imposed on prayer groups over and above the traditional mysteries of Our Lady’s Rosary.

My thoughts immediately turned to this Marian Year scenario when, last October, upon proclaiming a Year of the Rosary for world peace and the family in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the Holy Father produced yet another new Rosary. This time he encouraged meditation on five additional "luminous" mysteries, to be prayed on Thursday. While disconcerting, this turn of events seemed harmless enough on the surface and likely to be as short-lived as the ’87-88 experiment. So, while traditional commentators around the world voiced their fears, I determined to let this latest papal innovation pass without comment.

It transpires, however, that the situation is more serious than first envisaged. Rather than taking John Paul II at his word and treating his luminous mysteries as purely optional, there is a push from certain orthodox quarters to incorporate them permanently into the traditional Rosary. This smacks heavily of the familiar postconciliar pattern: whereby tradition is trampled as quixotic options rapidly become corrosive obligations. And so, having observed this emerging situation and then read Christopher Ferrara’s ensuing article, it became clear that we owed our readers the opportunity to consider and weigh for themselves some alarming aspects of Rosarium Virginis Mariae which have passed largely unnoticed. Our Lady’s month thus seems the perfect time to run the Ferrara critique, which treats not only the problematic nature of the new mysteries and several ominous RVM ‘recommendations,’ but includes an illuminating history of the Rosary itself.

In order to afford this important article the continuity it deserves, and to facilitate easy copying for wide distribution, it is reprinted in full rather than over two editions. Although a lengthy read, it will more than repay the effort, always bearing in mind the Holy Father’s statement that his luminous mysteries - despite the rush to institutionalise them by neo-ultramontanes - are "left to the freedom of individuals and communities." The greater the awareness both of that fact and the issues raised by Mr Ferrara, the more likely Catholics are to hold fast to tradition and prevent a gradual Novus Ordo-like deconstruction of the Holy Rosary - Our Lady’s sacramental weapon of choice and "the largest remaining vestige of traditional Catholic piety still in use throughout the universal Church."

In the meantime, as we launch this offensive to save our most beloved Marian devotion from the pathetic fate of the New Mass, on another front we hear wonderful news that the Holy Father has formally "commanded" that the Old Mass be allowed in St. Peter’s Basilica, and increasing talk from well placed sources of the real possibility of a general permission for priests to say Mass according to either the 1962 or 1970 missals as and when they wish. In addition, later this month, on 24th May at 3.30pm in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, His Eminence Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, will lead the Rosary and offer the Old Mass: the first time since 1970 that a Cardinal and serving Prefect of a Roman Congregation has publicly celebrated the traditional rite in Rome and in a Papal Basilica. Moreover, the outstanding success of the Vatican-sanctioned traditionalist community in Campos, Brazil, recounted herein, is further cause for hope. Even at this late stage of postconciliar battle, perhaps we really can, as Jim Allen suggests, "dare, on our knees, to think of ‘green shoots’."

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