Rosary Come To Life

I did not become Catholic until I was 30 years old, and I did not pray the Rosary with much enthusiasm until “Praying with the Padres” during the Covid pandemic shut-downs. Praying with Fr. Brian, Fr. Chas, and their frequent guests helped me understand how to finally get the hang of it. But it wasn’t until the amazing pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visiting the locations of the mysteries in person that praying the Rosary became three-dimensional. It became so vivid and real. Sort of like Dorothy stepping out of the black-and-white world of Kansas into the colorful land of Oz; I stepped out of the limited images of a rather dull Rosary into the vibrant and very real mysteries of Christ Jesus and the Blessed Mother. I’d like to share just a few of the images that may help you to visualize the mysteries with a new reality.

First of all: think mountains. Almost every mile of the Holy Land is within view of large rolling hills or mountains. Mary going to the “hill country” to meet Elizabeth: visualize a caravan of merchants and travelers moving with difficulty along the up and down mountain roads from the tiny village of Nazareth to the wealthier mountain suburbs outside of Jerusalem. The grand hill that leads to the very site of the visitation was something like 800 feet of steep incline. Mary surely would never have travelled alone, most probably Joseph or other men from the extended family made the five day journey with her, then came back for her three months later. The wind is steady and cool in the mountains, making high temperatures bearable and pleasant.

When you visualize any of the homes in New Testament times, picture a small square stone structure covered with a whitewashed sort of stucco. Maybe a thatched roof of tightly woven palms or reeds. Many of the houses were partially cut out of caves, with stone additions built up against the white limestone rock. The site of Mary’s house, the Annunciation in Nazareth, looks like a cave. So did the remains of what is believed to be the Holy Family’s living space. There was typically only one large room and a smaller back room for the animals. Mats and bedrolls were spread out on the floor for sleeping. Cooking was done outside; there was nothing like our modern kitchen.

The preaching of the word and the sharing of the Gospel took place on the side of the Mount of Beatitudes, running down sharply to the beautiful waters of the Sea of Galilee. This huge, hilly region is not barren with harsh rocks, but green with plant life. Northern Israel is remarkably lush: trees and bushes and grasses and flowers everywhere. Vast farm fields stretch out in the flat lands, that wind through the forested mountains. The dry desert is found in the area of Jericho and Jerusalem and further South. Israel’s desert regions (the wilderness as Scripture calls it) is not sandy but rocky. No dunes but white limestone and huge boulders. The air in the South hangs heavy with heat. The sun pounds on the white limestone, at times blindingly bright.

The Jordan River of the baptism is an allin-all unimpressive river. Reedy and weedy at the banks, the water is not powerfully swift or dangerously deep. It is murky and muddy with sediment and soil that it carries down to deposit into the Dead Sea. Clear, sparkling water may be in the paintings of the Baptism of Jesus, but the Jordan of reality is brown and murky.

Everywhere you look there is stone. Natural rock and mountains abound, and inside stone structures there would be stone columns, stone statues, and stone furnishings. Jesus was surrounded by rock during the entire passion, except for the brief time spent near the twisted wood of the olive trees during the agony in the garden. Jesus is taken down and over stone walkways, up the stone steps, to the stone structure of the priest Caiaphas. After the illicit trial at night, perhaps Jesus was restrained in a stone cistern for a time, only to be marched back and forth along the stone steps and walkways to Herod and back. Scourged at a stone pillar. Led through the stone streets. Brought up to the stone mound of Golgotha. To be inhumanely affixed to wood. The contrast of that wood, that tree of crucifixion, must have been stark.

Mt. Calvary, Golgotha, Calvary, the site of the crucifixion, may have looked like a skull at one time. It was literally a stone’s throw from the new garden tomb that Joseph of Arimathea had just purchased. From the mouth of that stone tomb, looking up towards Golgotha, you could easily see the location where Christ was executed. Mary, John, and the women at the cross would have actually stood some forty feet below, looking up to the iconic scene of three crosses.

I’m not sure how much of that helps to paint a picture for you… words are hard to come by. But I will never pray the Rosary the same old way ever again!

Todd Gale

Director of Faith Formation