Home > Archives > 11 - 2004 > «Prayer of little people for big causes»
from issue no. 11 - 2004

Montini and the Rosary

«Prayer of little people for big causes»

«The tenderest stammer of a child in the name of his mother. The simplest, most tender, most childlike piety: here is the remedy to the great social ills». The young Montini’s handwritten notes on the Holy Rosary

by Gianni Valente

Paul VI in prayer before the grotto of the Virgin of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens

Paul VI in prayer before the grotto of the Virgin of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens

A recent publication throws new light on the personal devotion of Pope Paul VI to the Holy Rosary. The young Montini’s brief unpublished notes, now published in the Notiziario n° 47 of the Paul VI Institute of Brescia, with a commentary written by Don Gianni Colzani, Professor of Missiology at the Pontifical Urbanian University. A few pages of notes that the future pope set down in 1928, 1934 and 1937, using them as outlines for sermons on the Rosary.
In those years the priest from Lombardy, ordained in 1920, was working in the Secretariat of State, and up to 1933 was also National Assistant of the FUCI (Federation of Catholic university students). In the fragmentary and allusive style characteristic of the scattered notes with their many abbreviations, Montini acutely grasped the features that make the simple recital of the Rosary so precious to the faith and life of the Christian people. Beginning from the repetitivity of the formula that gives the pious familiar to the pattern itself of the human condition in its everyday quality. «Where there is bodily (human) life repetition is life», wrote Montini in his notes of 1934. And Don Colzani, in his commentary, adds: «Repetition, at times branded as monotony, is in reality explained through the dynamics of life. To such an extent, in bodily life, repetition is so fundamental as to be irreplaceable. It is breath repeated. It is the rhythm of walking». It also the monotonous rocking of the mother cradling the child. The prayer, like these ordinary gestures, has no need of original inventions. Because is not an occupation for professionals of the spiritual quest. Péguy, thinking perhaps of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, writes that when the rich man prays he speaks, the poor man asks. One prays for things that serve life: peace in the family and in the world, the healing of a dear person, health of soul and body. And that the Lord should look at us close to, showing his face. And if Jesus himself commanded us not to be «like the Pagans, who believe they are heard through the force of words» (Mt 6,7), for Montini it is precisely the repetition of formulas such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary that saves us from the temptation of transforming the prayer into wordy speeches. «Objectified, biographical contemplation of Christ», a gaze that dwells on the things done by the Lord: «His doings, some so human and ordinary, others so great and divine, are still living, close, concrete models, ours». Precisely in the repeated rhythm of its invocations the Rosary gives out «a desire to join ourselfs to those doings practically like her who joined herself most fully to them, Mary».
Montini, archbishop of Milano, at the Holy House in the sanctuary of Loreto

Montini, archbishop of Milano, at the Holy House in the sanctuary of Loreto

What strikes one in Montini’s notes on the Holy Rosary and, more in general on the Christian life, is that expressions belonging to the semantic field of ease and simplicity are the most recurrent. Christianity is a simple story. And in the enjoyment of that history those who preserve what Montini calls «the spirit of childhood and simplicity» are gratuitous beneficiaries. Those whom he himself, in the early decades of the twentieth century, had still before his eyes and called «good people; people who pray with loving piety, people healed». Those people who «perhaps know just the formulation of the mysteries».
It is in the sweet insistence of the beads they tell that the Rosary becomes «prayer of the little people for big causes» and« strange remedy for immense evils». In one of the longer notes and with implicit references to the crusade against the Albigensians, Montini writes: «One can frame the historical context in which the Virgin taught Saint Dominic to recite the Rosary: a strange remedy for great evils. It would seem that the remedy was meant to be political, warlike (as unfortunately was the case with Simon de Montfort [Count Simon IV de Montfort, 1150-1218, was particularly ferocious with the Albigensian heretics, ed] and which unfortunately is also heard magnified in sermons about the Rosary) – instead the remedy is the tenderest stammer of a child in the name of its mother. The most simple, the most tender, the most childlike piety: this is the remedy for great social ills» (note of 1937).
Insights valuable and relevant as never before at a moment full of the boding of new crusades.

Giovanni Battista Montini

Giovanni Battista Montini


deducet te [Ps 44,5]
(The beauty of the Ros [ary])
a feast for a prayer?
a prayer that is a garland of flowers?
a garland that is the life of Christ?

(The morality of the Rosary)
The virtues that this prayer requires:
– the childlike and filial spirit, simplicity
– the objective, biographical contemplation of Christ
– trust in Mary

(The theology of the Rosary)
The teachings: a) – the intercession of Mary – with the insistent prayer
b) mihi vivere est Christus [Phil 1,21]
– the cycle of His life
– and of ours, close as that of Mary was
c) – popular piety, simple, domestic

(The piety of the Ros [ary])
How to pray Rosary
Where art – freedom - tenderness reaches in prayer

(To the Holy Clares, Rome 7. X. 1928)

I Saying the Rosary
the prayer of the simple
– facility
– repetition can be life (again!
the breath
the footstep
the rose[)]

II Meditating
the prayer with the parameters
– the focused soul
– images
– to Jesus with Mary
III Imitating
the prayer of the Saints
– his life ours
– like Mary
– Joy is the rule
– Pain is the providence
– Glory is the goal
(sing and you’ll get over it)

– Usually one begins by defending the Rosary against its popular and childlike character
– Instead, not defending like that, but one must [make]
the apologia for the spirit of childhood and simplicity.

– Repetit [ion]. Where there is bodily (human) life
repetition is life.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português