Luke Briers welcomes two books which unpack the gifts of the Rosary


Philip and Anne Gray

Canterbury Press, 110pp, pbk

978 184.8256309, £9.99



Denis McBride

Redemptorist Publications, 136pp, pbk

978 0852314159, £12.95

Here are two handsome books which take the Rosary as their starting point and foundation and go on to offer not only useful tools for praying the devotion, but much more besides.

A Walsingham Rosary is a welcome new edition of a much-loved volume, updated to include the Luminous Mysteries. The book begins with a useful and attractive guide to all aspects of praying the Rosary. It would therefore be a worthy gift for somebody who was beginning to explore praying the Rosary.

The rest of the book — purposely ecumenical in tone and intent — is given over to the mysteries themselves, with suggested routes for praying the Rosary at stations in Walsingham and the surrounding area: Binham Priory, Great Walsingham and South Creake are examples of places outside of Little Walsingham which feature to good effect here. Many of the features of the Shrines (Anglican and Roman Catholic), and of Little Walsingham itself, that are known and loved by pilgrims are also given due attention. Each station is introduced by a brief history of the location and points of interest to note. Attractive maps, black and white line drawings and photos, and clear directions to the relevant sites mean that this book has value as a guide book to Walsingham and its environs, quite apart from its spiritual worth!

The meditation for each decade begins with a suitable Bible passage usually from the Gospels and sometimes quite lengthy — followed by a pause for thought. There is then an Act of Penitence. These take the form of Kyrie confessions, and so could equally be used at other liturgies, including at Mass. The same might be said of the brief intercessions that follow. Finally, there is a prayer which everyone present is invited to say together, followed by further suggestions for thought and an intention for the decade. Among its other qualities, this book is a rich liturgical resource.

Because this book is attractively presented, and because some of the prayers are designed to be said by everyone together, it would be beneficial if each member of the group had a copy of the book. However, this is not essential. And of course, A Walsingham Rosary could profitably be used away from Walsingham as well: especially by a Walsingham Cell or other groups who know and love the place.

Denis McBride’s Praying the Rosary is an equally rich volume. For each decade of the Rosary, there is a reading from the New Testament, a meditation upon it, a painting, a reflection on the painting, and a prayer. All of the written material Bible passage,
meditation, reflection on the painting — is of a length that requires a sizeable amount of time to be set aside if it is to be used in its fullness by a group praying the Rosary together. On the other hand, this depth of detail means that the book will be a wonderful resource for individuals seeking to increase and develop their own devotion. And, like A Walsingham Rosary, there is much here that can be borrowed and used profitably in other contexts.

In many ways, the real stars of this book are the paintings. Redemptorist Publications are to be congratulated on producing the book so lavishly: printed in full colour and on glossy paper throughout, it really allows the paintings to shine. McBride’s reflections draw out the depth of meaning to be found in paintings ranging from classics such as Titian’s `The Assumption of the Virgin’ and Bellini’s The Agony in the Garden’ to contemporary works such as John Collier’s The Annunciation’ and less well-known pieces such as an anonymous alabaster relief of the Ascension.

Printed on the back cover of Praying the Rosary, and as the backdrop to several pages within it, is a map of the Holy Land.

This is significant because it roots the mysteries celebrated in the Rosary in the particular context that was the Incarnation. As McBride says in his introduction, `The beauty of the Rosary is that it is a leisurely journey, through twenty episodes, of the lives of Jesus and Mary. Apart from one decade, the four sets of five mysteries focus directly on Jesus and Mary as the

principal characters in the ongoing drama’. He then invites the reader to use the praying of the Rosary — unburdened from remembering the actual prayers that are recited — to place herself in each scene and to imagine the particular circumstances of the time. In other words, to become a witness, imaginatively and prayerfully, to the extraordinary story that was the Incarnation. In so doing, the events become a meaningful part of our own lives. `Meditating on the Rosary we are invited to look and listen; then look again. We are encouraged not only to say the prayers but go beyond recital and enter the beauty and complexity of the drama’.

In these words, McBride neatly sums up why the Rosary is such a beautiful devotion, and such a wonderful gift to all Christians. Praying the Rosary seeks to unpack this gift through the riches of art; A Walsingham Rosary seeks to do so through the riches of Walsingham and its neighbours. Both are priced so as to make them eminently accessible. And both are warmly recommended.