Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Fr. Edward Looney about taking a litany approach to the Rosary
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What if praying the rosary could bring down Boko Haram? What if it could bring peace the world? What if it could bring Christians closer to Jesus? Would you pray it every day? And would you really truly focus? Before May ends, considering how to make the rosary a priority anew would be a good thing to do.
Pray the Rosary. The Blessed Mother has asked this. It’s a surefire way to get thinking about the Savior who is our only and eternal hope. But we are busy and don’t always. Fr. Edward Looney, ordained a priest in the Diocese of Green Bay a year ago this June 6, wants to do something about this, with a renewed focus on and during the prayer. And so he’s put together a new little devotional, A Rosary Litany: Renewing a Pious Tradition.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What is different about your Rosary Litany?
Fr. Edward Looney: A Rosary Litany offers nothing new, per se, but simply develops a tradition of praying the rosary which has been lost in our contemporary era. In The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort, he offers a shorter method on praying the rosary (as compared to his longer recommendation) in which a devotee inserts a phrase related to the mystery into the Hail Mary after the name of Jesus. For example, “. . . thy womb, Jesus Incarnate, or Jesus Sanctifying, or Jesus Born in Poverty were the recommended phrases for the first three Joyful Mysteries. St. Louis de Montfort believed this method would curb distractions. Both Bl. Paul VI and St. John Paul II recommended this practice, but to my knowledge at the time, and affirmed by people who use the devotional, many did not know about it. A Rosary Litany develops this method of praying the rosary because I have extended it to each Hail Mary bead of the rosary, which progressively unfolds who Jesus is in the mystery. The difference between A Rosary Litany and, say, a scriptural rosary is that in the scriptural rosary the phrase from scripture precedes the Hail Mary, whereas, in this method, a pious phrase is inserted into the prayer itself.
What made you think this was needed?
Fr. Looney: A friend of mine listened to a talk by Edward Sri on one of the Lighthouse Catholic CDs, and Sri drew attention to this method because of John Paul II’s reference in Rosarium Virginis Mariae. My friend was one who did not have a great devotion to the rosary. But he said he used the method Sri referenced, and he enjoyed praying the rosary. To this day, when he prays the rosary, this is the way he prays it. After he shared it with me, I too started to use it, and found that it enhanced my rosary meditation. As I started using the method, I wrote down the various phrases I used, and shared with people about the method, who subsequently asked for the pious phrases. This is how A Rosary Litany came to birth.
What is so important about the rosary?
Fr. Looney: I believe the rosary is a tried and true method of sanctity. Many of the saints prayed the rosary. If it was good enough for them, it is good enough for me. There is something to the fact that it allows us to meditate on the life of Jesus. For the typical Catholic, would they meditate on the life of Jesus on their own? I think the rosary offers the best and most concrete way to do this. St. Louis de Montfort says that meditating on the life of Jesus surely will spur us on to conversion. That we cannot meditate on Christ’s passion and not be moved to change our lives. Lastly, I think the rosary is important because Mary herself in various private revelations has emphasized it. In Fatima, she insisted on the daily recitation of the rosary for peace in the world. A Nigerian bishop, Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme, received in prayer a vision that the rosary would bring an end to the extremist group Boko Haram. The rosary is powerful and efficacious.
Do people today have any kind of appetite for pious customs? Why is the rosary’s renewal important?
Fr. Looney: I believe people are always looking for new ways to reinvigorate their prayer. There is an adage that everything old is new again. Lots of things that the saints said are still relevant today. Many people might not have the time to read St. Louis de Montfort, or the writings of Paul VI or John Paul II, but because of my involvement in the discipline of Mariology, I am immersed and entrenched. I like to re-propose the writings of some of these saints in digestible chunks. In the theology, there has been a movement of going back to the sources. When we go back to the sources, renewal ensues.
Why are you a “Marian enthusiast”?
Fr. Looney: I remember the simple witness of my grandmother praying the rosary as a young boy, and that intrigued me. I became fascinated with the stories of Mary, especially her various apparitions. As a teenager, I started serving Daily Mass during the summer, and would often pray the rosary with the ladies after Mass. I have always had an affection for Mary in my heart. With St. John Damascene, I can say, “She has captivated my mind; she has kidnapped my tongue! I gaze on her in my thoughts, waking or sleeping. She, who is the mother of the Word, has become the patron also of my words; the offspring of a barren woman is the one who makes barren souls fruitful.” I am her enthusiast because she has touched my heart, and now I share how she has done that in my writing and preaching. Mary can only lead us closer to her son Jesus.
Pope Francis mentioned Thomas Merton when he was speaking to Congress last fall. You’ve written about the Marian Spirituality of Thomas Merton. What was the Marian spirituality of Thomas Merton and how important is that to understanding him? How is it relevant in this stage of American history?
Fr. Looney: Merton’s Marian devotion was strongly present in his early monastic life, as recounted in Seven Storey Mountain and The Sign of Jonas. He had a great devotion to Our Lady of Cobre (patroness of Cuba) and made a pilgrimage to that shrine. His writings also show how Mary serves as an intercessor and mediatrix of grace, which is pertinent to current discussions in Mariology. Regarding the rosary, he shows that it is valid to pray the rosary while traveling, something he often did, but also, he offered a wonderful affirmation of the Marian devotion par excellence. He said, “I would never do without the rosary.” His Marian spirituality was highly influenced by his monastic life, through the Marian antiphons such as the Salve Regina, but he also gave many reflections on various antiphons from Mass, which he thought about for days at a time. Merton’s Marian devotion, I think, shows a balance of Marian piety in the spiritual life which is something important for our period of American history. Many admire the writings of Merton, and so if he found a place for Mary in his spiritual life, his devotees should as well.
How can Mary help us understand the Trinity?
Fr. Looney: Mary can help us to understand the Trinity through her relationship with the Trinity. She is the daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit. In her we see how she was in a relationship with our Triune God, and how we should be, too. We are beloved children of the Father. We have communion with Jesus every time we receive Holy Communion. Just as Mary dialogued with Jesus each day of her life with Him, we too do that through prayer. And all of us are temples of the Holy Spirit. We have received the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation, and thus enjoy a closeness to the Spirit.
You’re fairly recently ordained a priest. What has surprised you about the priesthood?
Fr. Looney: One thing that has surprised me is the impact a priest can have. When I am called to the hospital, nursing home, or someone’s home to anoint them when they are close to death, I do what the Church asks of me. Sometimes I feel like I made no contribution, and wonder what I did for them. Later they always share how important and helpful it was that I was there. I am also surprised by how many people turn to the Church for help, especially when they fall on hard times. It’s difficult always to assess their need, but you meet people sometimes in very low places. Lastly, while not surprised by this, we need more priests. I celebrated 5 Easter Masses (1 vigil, 4 Easter day). On any given weekend I celebrate five or six Masses. Pray for more priests.
To read more in Aleteia about Fr. Looney and A Rosary Litany, click here.