Pope John Paul II and the Rosary

Abstract from the original German talks given at the German Mariological Consortium on Influece of Mary on Pope John Paul II, provided by Sister M. Danielle Peters.

Marian Devotion as Integration of Contemplation and Action. The Significance of the Rosary for Bartolo Longo and John Paul II

– Imre von Gaál1

The rosary, “a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness” (RV 1) was the creative center of the life and vocation of Bartolo Longo and John Paul II. Both men highlighted the integration of action and contemplation in and through the recitation of the rosary. The union of action and contemplation in the Christian life has its harbinger in Greek antiquity and in Sacred Scripture. In a first step von Gaál examines the interrelationship of contemplation and action in antiquity as well as in the Old and New Testament. Then he studies the unity of action and contemplation in the thought and life of Blessed Bartolo Longo. Finally, the author focuses on the rosary and the union of action and contemplation in the life and teaching of John Paul II.

(1) Since Plato antiquity rated Θεωία higher than βίος πρακτικός. Because of the primate of Θεωία, Plato in his Politeia built the political life of polis on the contemplation of eternal ideas. At the center of Aristotelian thought is the individual called to action and responsibility for the common good. The citizen in the polis of Aristotle shares his βίος πρακτικός with the community. Cicero presents the most balanced union of action and contemplation with his formula otium cum dignitate. The private otium is joined by the collective otium through the spiritual attitude of virtus. Finally, Plotin advocated the absolute primacy of the vita contemplativa with the possibility of attaining the unio mystica through the fuga mundi.

(2) The people in the Old Testament experienced themselves as called by God. As people of faith they were challenged to respond to God’s call as it was revealed to them in the Ten Commandments in their circumstances. The creation of the world inherently presented them with a harmony of work and rest, or action and contemplation. As they live κατά όρθόν, they turn to their fellow men in virtue of Θεωρία. The New Testament presents an even closer connection of action and contemplation as for example in the parable of the tree and its fruit (Lk 6:43ff par Mt 7:16.19) and the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Mt 7:24ff). The synoptic texts narrate that Jesus would regularly and consciously withdraw in order to pray (cf. Mk 1:35; Mt 14:22f; Lk 6:12) and that he encouraged his disciples to do likewise (Mk 6:30-32; Lk 9:10 and 10:17). It is contemplation through which action receives its value, meaning and goal. This is highlighted in the Mary-Martha pericope (Lk 10:38-42) and in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:38-42). The focus of contemplation in the New Testament is the paradigm of Jesus Christ and the call to imitate him (cf. Mt 28:19f). Johannine theology presents contemplation and action as a participation in God’s Love and exemplified in the person of Jesus Christ.

(3) In the third part, the author reflects on the unity of contemplation and action in the life of Bartolo Longo (1841-1926). The core of Longo’s spirituality are the Quindici Sabati del Santissimo Rosario – the fifteen Saturdays of the Most Holy Rosary and the forty-five day Novena to Our Lady of Pompeii. Longo composed meditations of about two pages each for the fifteen-day rosary. They are a combination of scripture and saints’ biographies and conclude by highlighting one virtue. In 1880 Longo introduced a prayer of confidence called Supplica which since then is recited in the Basilica of the Holy Rosary on May 8 and on the first Sunday in October. John Paul II wrote about him in his apostolic letter on the Rosary: “Bartolo Longo promoted the Christo-centric and contemplative heart of the Rosary.” He also combined action with contemplation in his pedagogical approach. The children attending his school were to study “all ombra del Santuario.”

(4) Von Gaál’s final part focuses on the unity of action and contemplation in the life of John Paul II. The author observes that the following aspects influenced his personality profile of action and contemplation: his childhood’s Christ-centered devotion, the roles he played in the clandestine theater, his joining the Living Rosary as part of instruction he took with the mystic tailor Tyranowsky, the Carmelite literature he devoured, the example of Cardinal Sapieha and his confrontation with the Thomism of his Doctor Father Garrigou-Lagrange.

It is mainly in contemplation that the human person is capable of knowing and doing God’s will. However, Wojtyła does not give preference to the vita contemplativa over the vita activa. Decisive for him is the integration of contemplation and action which contributes to the integration of the human person. The preservation of integration and homogeneity is decisive for the Pope. The presupposition for it is contemplation which is proven in action. It is through contemplation of the forma Christi that an authentic human community can be generated. This was the intention of John Paul II and he exemplified it through his own life as human person, priest, bishop and pope. In the Blessed Virgin Mary he saw the icon of the perfected, integrated and thus authentic human person (cf. Rosarium Virginis Mariae 12, 28).


[1] Mariologische Studien. Volume XVIII: Totus Tuus – Maria in Leben und Lehre Johannes Paulus II. Edited by Anton Ziegenaus. Regensburg 2004, 197-221.

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