Having successfully reflected on the Marian titles that denote Our Lady as “Vessel,” today being the twenty-seventh day of our May Devotion, we arrive at one of the most famous Marian titles enshrined in a figurative language, viz: “Mystical Rose” (Latin, Rosa Mystica). Apparently, this title has to do with a flamboyant flower – Rose. With a good understanding of our reflections so far on the litany, this title becomes easier to understand. Now, what does the Church intend to explain by addressing our Lady as “Mystical Rose?”
First, the rose is regarded as the queen of flowers. The simple beauty, flamboyance, and unmistakable perfume of the rose make it the favourite flower of lovers. Similarly, the Blessed Mother of God (the King of kings) is undoubtedly the Queen of the Garden of God. She is the masterpiece of Creation; an icon of spiritual beauty, and a model for every Christian. “Roses have long been connected with Mary, the red rose symbolic of love, the white rose, of purity” (cf. “Mystical Rose”. New Catholic Dictionary. Catholic Saints).
The Bible already knew and talked of this flower in the Old Testament. First, we see this title in the Song of Songs (2:1), often translated, “I am the Rose of Sharon.” The book of Ecclesiasticus speaks of the Rose flower several times as a metaphor for the Wisdom of God. Here, the Wisdom of the Most High is said: “to have grown tall as a Palm in En-Gedi, as the rose bushes in Jericho” (Eccl. 24.14). The word “En-Gedi” is understood as “on the shores.” As such, the children of God are also exhorted to “grow like the rose planted on the shores of a watercourse” (Eccl. 39:13). This is typical of Our Lady, the “Mystical Rose.”
Like the Bible, our tradition has always linked the rose to mothers. For us, this remains our favourite gift this month to our Blessed Mother. As it is beautiful to see a child offering a pink rose to his dear mother; so also, it becomes exceedingly beautiful to crown our Lady completely with the 20 decades prayers of the Holy Rosary this month of May in which we devout ourselves to her. The word rosary itself comes from the Latin “Rosarium,” meaning “Garden of Roses.” Therefore, whenever we pray the Rosary, we offer to Our Lady, the “Mystical Rose” herself, the honour due to her by placing on her head the complete crown of roses. Understanding the Holy Rosary this way would make it easier for us all to pray the 20 decades with ease. In one of the WhatsApp groups I created for clarifying and teaching the Catholic faith, one of the members asked me, viz:
“Fr. Chinaka, if one is battling with praying the full rosary, but can pray 10 decades very well with full concentration, will the person lose any blessing or grace? Or let me ask this way: is there any special grace that goes with a higher number of decades prayed?”
In responding to the question, I took her back to the true meaning of the Rosary – “Garden of Roses.” Below was my response:
“The Rosary (Latin – Rosarium, meaning “garden of roses”) was originally made up of 150 decades. It predates St. Dominic. In those days, illiterates who couldn’t read the Book of Psalms used to pray the 150 decades of the Rosary as a substitute. It was only in the year 1214 that it handed down in a chaplet form to Saint Dominic by Our Lady. The number 150 corresponded to the number of the Psalms. The Psalms as we know, prophesy the coming of Christ. That is the connection with the Rosary. Thus, before 2002, we talked of the full rosary as comprising of 15 decades, whereby when each Hail Mary is said meditatively, a beautiful rose flower is said to issue from our lips and rest on the head of Our Lady in an attempt to form a crown. Thus, 150 ‘Hail Marys’ made a complete crown of red roses on her head. While the 15 ‘Our Fathers’ made a complete crown of White Roses on the Head of Jesus. This I learnt many years ago at the ‘Block Rosary Crusade’ through the teachings contained in the Book ‘Secret of the Rosary’ by St. Louis Maria de Montfort. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has always inspired the Church, leading her to the complete truth. As such, in the year 2002, Pope John Paul II added an extra 5 decades at the beginning of the twenty-fifth year of his Pontificate as Pope, making it 20 decades. Hence, 200 ‘Hail Marys’ are now expected to make the complete Crown of red roses on the head of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while 20 ‘Our Fathers’ would make the complete Crown of White Roses on the Head of Christ. Therefore, when we talk of the Rosary, our minds should first go to the 20 decades, and not the five decades or anything less. It is as a result of the fact that we may find it difficult to say the prayer that the Church commenced by asking us to start with the 5 decades. Nevertheless, the Church has often encouraged us to try and meet up with 20 decades. The five decades or anything less than 20 decades do not make a complete crown. Therefore, if you want to receive the full blessings and graces of the Rosary, you should pray the full rosary (20 decades). Whereby you cannot make it, you may pray lesser decades, but the graces won’t be the same with another who meditatively prays the 20 decades. The Rosary is indeed a powerful weapon dreaded by satan. Importantly, one Hail Mary prayed meditatively is far beneficial and better than 100 decades prayed in a haste/rush without meditation, it is just a waste of time.”
To understand Our Lady better as the “Mystical Rose, she eventually revealed herself as such, and the image of the Mystical Rose became very popular. According to the story, it all began in northern Italy, in the region of Brescia, where a very simple woman from the people, named Pierina Gilli (1911-1991), had some visions that were discerned by the Church as edifying. The first cycle of visions took place in the late 1940s, while the second cycle was in the 1960s. Our Lady’s (Rosa Mystica) messages to Pierina always pointed to three fundamental themes: prayer, sacrifice and penance, represented respectively by white, red and yellow roses. The white rose points to the need for prayer to make reparation for the sins of all male and female religious who do not live in a manner consistent with their vocation. The red rose recalls the need for a sacrifice of reparation by religious who live in a state of mortal sin. Finally, the yellow rose is a reminder of the need for reparatory penance by the priests who are betraying their vocation and especially so that they are more and more holy. Put differently, the purpose of these spiritual practices is to make reparations for the offences committed against God, mainly by “consecrated souls,” but also by all the baptized.
Dear friends in Christ, invoking Our Lady as the “Mystical Rose” helps us identify her as the mystical flower in the garden of God. She is not the nectar of salvation, nor a goddess, but the power of her beauty and flamboyance as a rose flower can attract all “bees and hummingbirds” (humanity) to the “Garden of God.” Our Blessed Mother has been making efforts to attract us not to herself but to her divine Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, through her various apparitions calling us to repentance. But would we allow ourselves to be attracted by her?
I will like to conclude today’s reflection with part of St. John Henry Newman’s thoughts on Our Lady, the “Mystical Rose”:
“Mary is the most beautiful flower ever seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God’s grace that from this barren and desolate earth there ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory, and Mary is the Queen of them all. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers; and therefore, is called the Rose, for the rose is called of all flowers the most beautiful. But, moreover, she is the Mystical or Hidden Rose, for mystical means hidden.” (cf. Newman, John Henry. “Rosa Mystica”, Meditations and Devotions, 1893)
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you adorned your Blessed Mother with the beauty and flamboyance that surpass the Rose flower in order to attract humanity to you. May we be welcomed into the ‘eternal garden of mystical roses’ prepared for us before the foundation of the world through a humble and profound devotion to your Mother (Mystical Rose) by the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary. Amen
Oh “Mystical Rose” (Rosa Mystica), pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?
I am always inspired by your reflections. I am a seminarian of Owerri archdiocese. God bless you.