The import of the feast is, of course, the protection that Our Lady gave the Christian forces representing the then-Christendom of 1570 in the struggle against Islam and the Turks. Pope Pius V was moved to proclaim Our Lady as “Help of Christians” which has survived to this day in the litany of the Rosary. She continues to be “Help of Christians” in this war which we now wage even more tellingly with ourselves.
Our Lady was writ large in the life of John Paul II. In his October 16, 2002 “Rosarium Virginis Mariae,” he said:
“I myself have often encouraged the frequent recitation of the Rosary. From my youthful years this prayer has held an important place n my spiritual life. I was powerfully reminded of this during my recent visit to Poland, and in particular at the Shrine of Kalwaria. The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twenty-four years ago, on 29 October 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I frankly admitted: `The Rosary is my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer! Marvelous in its simplicity and its depth. (…). It can be said that the Rosary is, in some sense, a prayer-commentary on the final chapter of the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium, a chapter which discusses the wondrous presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church. Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through – we might say – the heart of his Mother. At the same time our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind. Our personal concerns and those of our neighbor, especially those who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life.’
With these words, dear brothers and sisters, I set the first year of my Pontificate within the daily rhythm of the Rosary. Today, as I begin the twenty-fifth year of my service as the Successor of Peter, I wish to do the same. How many graces have I received in these years from the Blessed Virgin through the Rosary: Magnificat anima mea Dominum! I wish to lift up my thanks to the Lord in the words of his Most Holy Mother, under whose protection I have placed my Petrine ministry: Totus Tuus!”
The Millennial Mission as Proposed by John Paul II: To Re-cognize the Face of Christ.
Novo Millennio Ineunte proposes that the entire Church “Launch out into the deep.” The purpose is to “experience” the Person of Jesus Christ. Only if we experience Him, will we re-cognize His Face in this situation and that. Here John Paul II and Benedict XVI are profoundly one. They both highlight the same point in an exegesis of Matt. 16, 13-19 and Luke 9, 18.
“Engaging in a kind of first evaluation of his mission, Jesus asks his disciples what `people’ think of him, and they answer him: `Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets’ (Mt. 16, 14). A loft response to be sure, but still a long way – by far – from the truth. The crowds are able to sense a definitely exceptional religious dimension to this rabbi who speaks in such a spellbinding way, but they are not able to put him above those men of God who had distinguished the history of Israel. Jesus is really far different! It is precisely this further step of awareness, concerning as it does the deeper level of his being, which he expects from those who are close to him: `But who do you say that I am?’ (Mt. 16, 15). Only the faith proclaimed by Peter, and with him by the Church in every age, truly goes to the heart, and touches the depth of the mystery: `You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mt. 16, 16).
Only Prayer gives the experience of self-gift that is the Person of Christ.
“How had Peter come to this faith? And what is asked of us, if we wish to follow in his footsteps with ever greater conviction? Matthew gives us an enlightening insight in the words with which Jesus accepts Peter’s confession: `Flesh and blood is a reference to man and common way of understanding things. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough. A grace of `revelation’ is needed, which comes from the Father (cf. ibid.). Luke gives us an indication which points in the same direction when he notes that this dialogue with the disciples took place when Jesus `was praying alone’ (Lk. 9, 18). Both indications converge to make it clear that we cannot come to the fullness of contemplation of the Lord’s face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand. Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery which finds ti culminating expression in the solemn proclamation by the Evangelist Saint John: `And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father’ (1, 14).”
Then-Josef Ratzinger would explain: Like is known by Like. Only he who makes the gift of self in prayer can re-cognize Him who is prayer in His very Being. The only person I experience is myself. If I experience myself going out of myself, I can “know” Him whose very Being is to be going out of Himself as Son of the Father. To be the Son is to be the act of glorifying and obeying the Father. His entire Being as Son is to be in relation to the Father.
So also us. If we experience going out of ourselves – by prayer, and turning work into prayer – we “cognize” ourselves and become conscious of who we are in a different way than when we are “trapped” in ourselves. Having cognized ourselves by praying, we can then “re-cognize” Him Who is prayer and transpose the experience and consciousness of who we are (as “other Christs”) to Jesus. Then, we too, like Peter, can say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is the reason for the Rosary and the Apostolic Letter: Rosarium Virginis Mariae
“Therefore, in continuity with my reflection in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which… I invited the people of God to `start afresh from Christ,’ I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary… to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.”
“The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she `wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger.’ (Lk. 2, 7).
“Mary lived with hr eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: `She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart’ (Lk. 2, 19; cf. 2, 51)…. In a way those memories were to be the `rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.”