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Book Review… Meditating On The Mysteries

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Donal Anthony Foley reviews The Rosary In Action, by John S. Johnson (TAN Books and Publishers), 271 pages; $16.95 paperback, $7.98 Kindle on Amazon).

The Rosary In Action is a reprint of a book originally published in the early 1950s. It was written by a Catholic layman who had served in World War I, and thus lived through both of the great conflicts which convulsed the twentieth century.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part is entitled, “The Message of the Rosary,” and in this the author gives his own personal experiences of praying and meditating on the rosary, as well as the historical background against which devotion to the rosary has spread since the thirteenth century.
A second longer part is entitled, “How to Say the Rosary,” and in this section, Johnson sets out some practical guidelines as to how best to do this, while the third, longest, part has meditations for each of the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries.
The author recounts how for a long time saying the rosary was something of a trial for him, something he persevered with because he was aware of its spiritual value rather than it being a devotional practice which he relished. This situation continued even after he joined the Legion of Mary in the 1930s, until he eventually realized that his mechanical saying of the rosary was leaving out the most important thing — that it is a prayer which should include mediation on the mysteries if it is to be truly effective.
Johnson outlines the historical background of the origins and growth of the rosary devotion, pointing out how it developed out of a number of traditional forms of prayer and devotion and only gradually assumed the form that it now has.
It is a devotion which is traditionally associated with St. Dominic, who is said to have personally received the rosary from our Lady for use in his work in helping to defeat the Albigensian heresy which ravaged southern France in the early thirteenth century.
Up to his time, beads had been used to keep track of the numbers of prayers said, and there had also been meditative exercises on the joys and sorrows of the Blessed Virgin. But these were not the rosary. As he says, “It is the enveloping sequence of meditation set into a pattern of vocal prayers told out on beads that makes the difference. This combination did not occur before St. Dominic…[but] it was not until the sixteenth century that the rosary took on the exact form it has today.”
Unfortunately, the time of peace which followed the defeat of the Albigensians — and which saw a great flowering of the Church, in terms of devotion, learning, and architecture — was followed in turn by the Black Death, which, starting in 1348, killed millions; and then, in 1378, by the Great Schism when Christendom was afflicted by rival claimants to the papacy.
The practice of the saying of the rosary suffered with all this upheaval, and it was necessary for our Lady to appear to Blessed Alan de la Roche, a French Dominican, in the first quarter of the fifteenth century, in order to prompt a rosary revival.
Johnson also outlines some of the historical incidents in which the praying of the rosary has played a leading part, including the victory at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 which saved European civilization from destruction, and the defeat of the Protestant Huguenots at La Rochelle in France in the early seventeenth century.
As he points out, the Church survived the Protestant revolt in the early sixteenth century, but the idea of Christendom itself was fatally weakened, even though it was a time of great missionary expansion, and particularly in the New World. Western society, though, has followed a steady path of spiritual decline, punctuated by revolutionary outbursts such as the French and Russian Revolutions, which have now left the world in its current perilous moral situation.
Writing in the 1950s, Johnson compared the Albigensian heresy of St. Dominic’s time with Communism; but the rosary is just as necessary today given that the “errors of Russia” foretold by Our Lady at Fatima — including divorce, abortion and the promotion of homosexuality — have now been absorbed by our own Western “culture of death,” and threaten to overwhelm what remains of the Christian moral law.
The second section, “How to Say the Rosary,” has some good practical points regarding meditating on the mysteries, and particularly about the necessity of going about this in a determined fashion. Johnson found the best way to pray the rosary was to name the mystery; make a few short pointed statements about it; and then draw some practical resolution from it.
By short pointed statements, the author means having a definite intention, a prayer we want answered through our Lady.
He then goes through the prayers of the rosary slowly, analyzing them phrase by phrase, so that the reader has a thorough understanding of them. Then he deals with meditation proper: He recommends acquiring pictures of the different mysteries so that we can study them. This can be done through suitable books, or nowadays via the Internet. He then says, “Study these pictures of the rosary mysteries until you have in your mind a definite mental image of the scene called up by the mere mention of the name of the mystery.”
Doing this, we avoid the danger of keeping the content of the mystery too much on the word level, which means it will not make a deep enough impression on us, which in turn means we will not make much progress in actually saying the rosary in a meditative way.
What really matters is that we should “make some kind of determined effort to penetrate into the meaning of the mysteries,” and that means reading the Bible accounts of Christ’s life and other books which describe the mysteries of the rosary, so that we have a storehouse of information the mind can call on when meditating. We should also “take what we see in the mysteries and apply them to our own lives, problems, needs, and conduct,” and be sure to ask for something out of each rosary we say.
The final part of The Rosary In Action, which actually comprises more than half of the book, is made up of a suggested outline of meditations, and then meditations on each mystery, which taken together, will certainly provide a wealth of material to make praying the rosary a much more meditative and fruitful process.
The end result of all this, of course, is that the rosary should be more effective in our own lives and prayed much more widely in the Church.
Johnson outlined what this would mean in the 1950s, when, after posing the question, “When, then, will the world grow better,” he said: “The very day when enough men set themselves to straightening out their lives from within . . . Communists . . . ill be converted. . . . This is the one great consolation of Fatima. When enough rosaries have been said there will be peace.”

Productive And Prayerful

This statement applies just as much to those opposed to the Church in our own day. We need to do what our Lady said at Fatima, and principally to pray the rosary every day in order to bring about peace in the world.
What gives this book special value is that it was authored by a layman who was writing about his own personal experience of trying to say the rosary more effectively, and so this is a down-to-earth work, and thus very practical.
In sum, this an excellent book on the rosary, which, if studied attentively, cannot fail to make our own saying of it far more productive, satisfying, and prayerful.

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(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related website at He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people — details can be found at:

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