THE CORONA AND THE CORONAVIRUS
Updated: May 1, 2020
The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Humanity’s best response to the coronavirus when the sacraments are no longer available
Edward R. Benet
April 13th 2020
The Italian for "Rosary beads" is the "corona del rosario" or often, simply, the "corona". This little essay looks briefly at why the Rosary is the best response to the coronavirus when we are deprived of the sacraments. Secondly, we will consider a glorious instance of what the Rosary can do for its devotees. We’re not talking about a famous example like the Battle of Lepanto here, where a Rosary crusade effectively turned the tide of history. Rather, we will look at a lesser known case where the Rosary has spectacularly preserved and protected its faithful devotees. Finally, we will make a suggestion as to how the Rosary might be prayed in response to the coronavirus. This will consist in an reflection created for reciting the first of the Joyful Mysteries in this time of pandemic (for reflections on the other mysteries, please write to us). If you’re not interested in the “why” and the “what”, then just go directly to the “how” in section three!
1. Why the Rosary is the best response when sacraments are not available
Do you wish that your life could go back to the way it was before the pandemic? Are you looking for a powerful prayer regime that can restore the securities and home comforts of the world you inhabited before the coronavirus came along? If so, you are following a false Gospel! Some of the Protestant churches promise prosperity and wellbeing in this world, but the Catholic faith has a much broader and deeper notion of salvation. Jesus did not come among us in order to solve our material problems and bring peace and prosperity. He is not the chaplain that we call on whenever we want our worldly projects to be blessed or given assistance. The Lord desires us to have eternal life. He wants us to stop depending on our own capacities and abandon ourselves as children into the arms of our heavenly Father. He longs to restore the parent-child relationship that was lost in the Garden of Eden. If Jesus came among us as a sort of personal chaplain whose priority is to do as we bid him – by supporting our very mundane projects, blessing us with health and long life, making our difficulties go away – then he would not be much of a saviour. He would be more like a national health or welfare system. What Jesus wants, instead, is the conversion of our hearts away from our own interests and fixations. He wants us to look to the Father and be filled with the spirit of sonship and daughterhood.
With this in mind, and remaining aware also of the insidiousness of the heresy that is the prosperity Gospel, it follows that the correct attitude to the coronavirus is not merely that of praying that it will go away and pleading that things go back to the way they were before. Christ saves us, not by making our problems disappear, but by inviting us to seek him in the midst of our problems. This point was made in the homily last Sunday on Vatican Radio by Fr Fabio Rosini, which can be paraphrased as follows: In our lives too, a plan of salvation is unfolding. But we spoil that plan unless, like Jesus, we live as children of the Father. Since the time of the Garden of Eden we have tried to be like God and act with complete autonomy. The coronavirus is an evil, but maybe it undermines the selfish autonomy we have always been striving for? We have the choice to follow Jesus and respond to this evil with the Father, in the Father, according to the Father. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, if we manage to live the events of our lives according to the Father, then the path of our lives becomes the plan of God, the story of our salvation. If I respond to the evil of the coronavirus with faith in God, hope in God and love for God and others, then the situation becomes an occasion of salvation. Don’t forget, the greatest evil in history, the killing of Christ, the most innocent of all people, became through faith the springboard of salvation. In these desolate days, if I can choose to make acts of faith, acts of abandonment to God, acts of fraternity with others, then all of this darkness can be transformed into light.
What Fr Rosini is saying here is that the coronavirus is not merely something that we should try to pray away. Certainly, we can and should pray that it come to an end and that the suffering it is causing should cease. It is legitimate to pray for the protection of the vulnerable and of ourselves, the alleviation of hardship and anguish, the comforting of the bereaved. But this grave situation is also a blessed opportunity to see the emptiness and fragility of material things, our need to cling to our heavenly Father, the vital necessity to reorder our priorities. The pandemic is a privileged occasion to deepen and vitalize our living faith. Praying that the old order of my life be restored is to pray, maybe, for not such a great thing! In that old life, what were my priorities? How attached was I to the Lord? How rooted was I in him? Where did he figure in my daily routine? How preoccupied was I with my own projects? More and more the pandemic is beginning to resemble a biblical flood, a time of tribulation that purifies us and turns us back to what is essential.
This is where the Rosary comes in. This unique prayer, centred on events from the lives of Jesus and Mary, is profoundly scriptural. If the pandemic is not just an occasion for praying desperately for the restoration of the previous order, but a time to deepen our relationship with the Lord, then this prayer can be enormously effective. Hopefully the suggested reflections proposed in section three of this essay will help to illustrate this point.
2. The Rosary preserves and protects its devotees
The following true story is recounted by Fr Paul Ruge at https://www.bluearmy.com/the-incredible-story-of-the-miracle-at-hiroshima (paraphrased below).
On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The bomb exploded half a mile from the Jesuit Church of Our Lady’s Assumption. More than 100,000 people were killed instantly and thousands more died later from the effects of radiation. However, the church building and eight Jesuit priests stationed there survived. On the morning of the bomb, Fr Hubert Schiffer had just finished Mass, went into the rectory and sat down at the breakfast table. He had just begun to eat when there was a bright flash of light. Then, in the words of Father Schiffer: “Suddenly, a terrific explosion filled the air with one bursting thunderstroke. An invisible force lifted me from the chair, hurled me through the air, shook me, battered me, whirled me around and round like a leaf in a gust of autumn wind.” The next thing he remembered, he opened his eyes and he was lying on the ground. He looked around and saw that the buildings in all directions were levelled to the ground. As far as he could tell, there was nothing physically wrong with him. Hundreds of thousands were killed or maimed by the explosion. After the war, army doctors and scientists explained to him that his body would begin to deteriorate because of the radiation. Many of the Japanese people had blisters and sores from the radiation. To the doctors’ amazement, Father Schiffer and the other priests had no radiation or ill-effects from the bomb. When asked to account for this incredible situation, in which he and his companions were spared, he said: “We believe that we survived because we were living the message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the Rosary daily in that home.” In Nagasaki, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Franciscan Friary was also unharmed. The brothers there also prayed the daily Rosary and they too had no effects from the bomb. Father Hubert Schiffer died in 1982, 37 years after that fateful day. He gave his account of the atomic bomb at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976. At the time, all eight members of the Jesuit community from Hiroshima were still alive.
This is just one story among many that could be cited. There can be no doubt that Our Lady shows special protection to those who are devoted to her Rosary. But, hold on a minute! Didn’t we say in the last section that the use of religion for protection and a return to our normal, pre-coronavirus lives, was a false Gospel? If it is a false Gospel, how can it still be legitimate to pray the Rosary with trust in Mary’s maternal protection? How can these apparently divergent statements be reconciled? The answer, as always, is that it is the state of the person’s heart that makes the difference. If I rattle off prayers as an attempt to ward off disease, and the real desire of my heart is that my materialistic pre-pandemic lifestyle be restored, then I am following a false Gospel. If, on the other hand, this pandemic prompts me to turn away from the futile things of this world, abandoning myself to God’s mercy and providence with conviction that my relationship to him that is the only thing that matters, then I am following the true Gospel. In this frame of mind, recitation of the Rosary with devotion is guaranteed to secure the protection of our heavenly Mother. This does not mean that Our Lady will restore my life to its state before the pandemic. It does not mean that I will have no hardships to endure or sacrifices to make. What it does promise is the loving solicitation of our blessed Mother, and who could ask for more? Jesus promised this maternal solicitation from the cross to all who take Mary into their homes.
3. Reflection on the first of the Joyful Mysteries, the Annunication
Five mysteries of the Rosary should be prayed each day at a minimum, but the recitation of the mystery of the Annunciation by itself makes a great morning offering!
Our Father, who art in Heaven. . .
- At the Annunciation, Mary, you received the word of God with openness and humility – I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done onto me. Pray for me that in this time of pandemic, I may look with the eyes of faith on the things that are happening around me. That I might see that the saving word of the Lord is being spoken to me through these events. That, like you, I might receive this word with openness and humility. (Hail Mary, full of grace. . . two times)
- The way in which you received the word of God and acted upon it, Mary, is what makes you blessed among women – Blessed is she who believed that the word spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled! Mary, I feel overwhelmed by the trauma of these events, by the sea changes to my lifestyle and work. That I might trust that these changes represent nothing less than the operation of God’s life-giving word. Help me today to follow you in your humble adherence to this word. (Hail Mary, full of grace. . . two times)
- At Cana, Mary, you exhorted us: Do whatever he tells you. In other words, “That we might receive the word that Jesus is speaking to us in this pandemic and act upon it faithfully.” (Hail Mary, full of grace. . . two times)
- That reflection on the Annunciation might be an occasion of self-offering for me in the distress of this pandemic. Today, Mary, the Lord will be speaking his word to me, just as he spoke it to you. That I might receive it humbly! That it might bear fruit in me! Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12,24). (Hail Mary, full of grace. . . two times)
- Woman behold your son! Son behold your mother! (John 19,26-27). Mary, just as you formed the Son of God in your womb according to the flesh, may we in the midst of this tribulation be formed by your intercession and example into images of God according to the Spirit. (Hail Mary, full of grace. . . two times).
Glory be to the Father...
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy.