From left: Mari Loli, Conchita and Jacinta in ecstasy lead a rosary procession.
Padre Pio once said: "If the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes and the Immaculate Heart at Fatima so strongly recommended praying the rosary, does that not mean that this prayer has an exceptional value for us and for our times?"
One can hardly doubt that the rosary has "exceptional value." Battles, both physical and spiritual, have been won by its pious recitation, and it has been praised by saints and popes alike. Sister Lucia, the sole surviving seer of the Fatima apparitions, has gone so far as to say that we can obtain whatever we ask for through devoutly praying the rosary.
At Garabandal, even though the Blessed Virgin appeared as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a title associated with the brown scapular, she nevertheless gave great importance to the rosary. In fact, such great emphasis was given to the rosary at Garabandal that one could rightfully say it represented a "rosary renewal," since Our Lady taught the visionaries (and all of us) how she wants it to be prayed.
The emphasis on the rosary at Garabandal was evident from the first time the Blessed Virgin appeared since the visionaries prayed it with her - she said all the prayers only to teach them - on that day and in almost every apparition thereafter. And Conchita informs us that she didn't just ask them; she "commanded" them to say it.
A Pious Village Tradition
If a new emphasis on the rosary was to come from above, San Sebastian de Garabandal was as worthy as any place to receive it. Regarded as the most religious village in the region, every day at dusk, except on Sundays when it was said earlier in the day, the rosary was recited by the townsfolk in the village church.
The one who usually led the rosary was Conchita's Aunt Maximina who was well-suited to the task with her strong, clear voice. For the past several years, Maximina has lived part of the year in an apartment in Santander, but she still leads the rosary when in the village during the summer months.
In 1983, Dr. David Doyle of Ireland and I visited with her and her son and daughter in Santander. On the subject of the village rosary, she told us that at the time of the apparitions, no one in the village knew the mysteries. When they prayed the rosary, they would simply announce the Joyful, Sorrowful or Glorious Mysteries and then say one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and one Glory Be, five times. It seems that Father Marichalar who was pastor of Cosio but also served Garabandal, was not strong on instruction and did little else than celebrate Mass and hear confessions when he went up to the village on weekends. Conchita once said that he hardly ever gave them a catechism lesson.
"Glory Be! Glory Be! Say the Glory Be, since you have already said ten Hail Marys!"
So when the villagers heard the visionaries praying the rosary in ecstasy pronouncing each mystery before the decades, they were amazed since no one in the village knew them. It was, of course, part of Our Lady's instruction to teach the girls the mysteries.
Our Lady Does the Counting
In the beginning, that is July of 1961, the visionaries prayed the rosary kneeling in ecstasy in the calleja, the rock-filled lane (former riverbed) leading out from the village up the hill to the Pines, and rosary beads can be seen in their hands in photos taken those first days. However, in late July when the ambulatory ecstasies began with the girls moving through the village, the rosaries were replaced by small crucifixes that the Blessed Virgin asked them to carry instead. This was done so the seers could offer the crucifix for veneration to the onlookers.
However, it did not mark the end of their praying the rosary in ecstasy, but only the end of the usual means for counting the prayers. They had no need, and probably never did, as the Virgin would indicate to them when to say the Glory Be. In the hundreds of times they prayed the rosary in ecstasy, there is not one recorded instance of them ever making a mistake. And attempts were made to try and disrupt them.
Fathers Manuel Anton, Victor Lopez and another priest from Leon went up to Garabandal on July 28, 1961, to witness the events. On this particular day, Mari Loli and Jacinta were asked to lead the rosary for the large crowd assembled in the village church which they did kneeling on a step facing the altar. Father Anton saw this as a great opportunity to make some tests. The following excerpt is taken from She Went in Haste to the Mountain.
Father Manuel Anton managed to find a place close to them and in front of them, with the altar at his back, in order that no detail would escape him. He found a place for Father Victor Lopez beside the girls. The rosary was being recited as usual when suddenly toward the second mystery a trembling developed in the girls, and with the typical sudden movement that many were familiar with, they became totally transported, with their heads tilted back facing upwards. Father Manuel could observe them at will and certified that they were truly extraordinary. Since they continued to lead the rosary while in ecstasy, he was able to make tests with regard to their insensibility, immobility, loss of normal ocular reflexes, etc. The most interesting test was this: he saw that the girls did not count the Hail Marys either on the rosary beads or with their fingers.
He gave Father Victor the task of precisely counting the number of those they recited to see if the Glory Be came exactly at the end of each decade. Meanwhile he did everything possible to confuse them; at various times during the mysteries, he would lean toward them and shout in their ears: "Glory Be! Glory Be! Say the Glory Be, since you have already said ten Hail Marys!"
"The efforts were ineffective," he told me [Father Eusebio]. "They said all the Glory Be's at the right time, without a single mistake."
PHOTO: During the first apparitions in the lane (calleja), the visionaries had rosaries in their hands. (The priest close to Conchita is trying to hear what she is saying since they could not always be easily heard while in ecstasy.)
Garabandal was unique among Marian apparitions in that the onlookers, although not able to see the Vision, were able to participate in the events. One of the ways they did this was to join in | the rosaries led by the visionaries in ecstasy. Father Ramon Andreu in his report tells us: "One day the Virgin advised one of the visionaries to pray the rosary in the church after the ecstasy, but the girl found the church locked. So she started to pray at the door and entering again into ecstasy, she was told by the Virgin to pray louder so the people could answer her. It was a beautiful rosary through the streets of the village, the girl in ecstasy marching ahead, leading in a loud voice, and the people answering. The girl did not count the Hail Marys that were being said but she did not err on the number for any mystery, for the Virgin told her when it was time for the Glory Be."
Faustino Gonzalez lived in Obeso but grazed his cattle on the heights above Garabandal. Here is what he told Dr. Celestino Ortiz about praying the rosary with the girls in ecstasy: "Those of us who graze cattle in the mountains come down to the village on Saturdays to pray the rosary with the girls. We take care of the cattle earlier than on other days so that rosaries like these won't be missed. They are worth a thousand of those we've said before in the church."
"Isn't that a little exaggerated?"
"No, doctor. Not at all. In the church we are distracted many times; but here we pray and go on thinking."
Of one of these ecstatic rosaries, Maria Josefa Lueje of Colunga said: "She [Loli] led us to the courtyard of the church, where we recited a rosary as I think I have never recited one in my life."
The rosary procession led by the visionaries in ecstasy on Saturday, October 7, 1961, feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, was especially noteworthy. "It had all the elements of perfect prayer: measured and rhythmical vocal prayer as only the seers in ecstasy could pray, meditation on the mysteries, and heartfelt hymns. The rosary that day lasted two and a quarter hours, but no one present felt the length to be burdensome, especially the visionaries caught up in heavenly contemplation." (She Went in Haste to the Mountain)
The French have a saying that "to sing is to pray twice." At Garabandal, the Blessed Virgin ordered the visionaries to sometimes sing at least part of the rosary and even at times all of it.
The first time this happened was March 25, 1962, feast of the Annunciation. Jacinta's father, Simon, was particularly moved as he told Dr. Celestino Ortiz: "I thought something exceptional would occur that day since it was such a distinguished feast day. And so it happened. The three girls, Conchita, Loli and my daughter...sang the whole rosary. At the beginning of the apparition, only a few of us were with them, but the people began to come out of their houses, and finally, I think the whole village was there.
PHOTO: Marl Loli, left, and Jacinta in ecstasy leading the procession.
"I felt a tremendous joy, since I know my daughter and how bashful she is. For her to be singing like that, I thought to myself, she had to be seeing something very great. On that day, my joy or emotion couldn't have been greater without seeing the Virgin herself."
Another witness on this very special day was Maximina who wrote to the Pifarré family in Barcelona: "The greatest thing was on Sunday, the feast of the Annunciation. The ecstasy began at 9:30 in the evening and finished at midnight. I can hardly explain what it was like. They began singing the rosary. Later they mentioned that the Virgin said all the people should join in. I can assure you we all sang with tremendous emotion. I don't know if you can imagine what it was like."
Maximina added that the visionaries said: "Oh, how happy the Virgin is that there are so many people! How she smiles and looks at us all!"
Another moving spectacle related by Maximina to the Pifarrés occurred on July 22, 1962: "Saturday was extremely moving. There were many people and the four girls had an apparition. They went separated in pairs. As there were so many people, it was better that way: some in one direction and others in another. The four girls sang the rosary together in different places. While we were with Loli and Conchita up at the Pines, the singing of the people following the other two girls through the village could he heard perfectly. All were singing at the same time up above and down below. It was thrilling."
In her Message of October 18, 1961, the Blessed Virgin asked for penance. One way she required the seers to fulfill this injunction was for them to get up early in the morning and pray the rosary in the calleja. In this regard, Father Eu-sebio commented: "No one could understand better than Our Lady what was entailed in getting up at that hour and in that time of year [November] for those four normal young girls, prone to sleeping in like all young children. But she asked it for the express purpose of aiding poor sinners this way."
On December 18, 1961, Maria Josefa Lueje witnessed an ecstasy of Loli at 4:00 in the morning. Afterwards, as they were returning to their lodgings they met Jacinta accompanied by her father going to pray the rosary in the calleja as they did early every morning. (Loli was permitted to go a bit later than the others.) Mrs. Lueje wrote: "It was something to see those thinly-clad creatures with their knees on the snow in the freezing temperature at such an early hour. In Garabandal at the time, there was real devotion and real penance. I can never forget all these things. They did me much good; they brought me closer to God."
Conchita's mother, Aniceta, recalled one night when the weather was very bad - "a horrible night" as she put it - when she accompanied her daughter in ecstasy to the cemetery where they prayed a long time at the gate for the departed souls. Then coming back to the village, still walking alone in ecstasy, Conchita started to run down the streets and alleys singing the rosary, to which her mother responded the best she could. (She said that Conchita ordinarily sang poorly, "almost as bad as Father Valentin," but while in ecstasy she changed and sang magnificently.) Finally some people came out of their homes and joined them. (She Went in Haste to the Mountain)
Our Lady's Teaching on the Rosary
Having shown how the rosary was an integral part of the Garabandal events, let us consider the Virgin's teaching on how to pray the rosary. The following excerpt from She Went in Haste gives a good summation.
The Virgin took special attention to teach the girls, who were lacking human instruction, to form the habit of praying with the greatest care and concentration. She told them to pray the rosary...but in order to instruct them practically on the way of doing this, she told them on Friday, August 18,1961: "I am going to pray first, and you should follow me." And the Virgin, states Conchita, prayed very slowly. The girls then repeated word by word what she said first, trying to copy her manner, tone and pronunciation. The exercise followed completely the usual way of praying the rosary but, Conchita tells us, "very slowly; and at the Salve Regina she told us to sing, and we sang it."
There are tape recordings of the recitations of these prayers. The Hail Mary is said very slowly in a voice both intense and slightly trembling; the words are pronounced very distinctly. Likewise with the Our Father: Hagase tu voluntad (Thy will be done) is said with special emphasis.
In his book, Father Eusebio states that it was hearing a tape recording of the visionaries praying in ecstasy that most convinced him that Garabandal was authentic.
It should be stated that once the girls learned how to say the rosary properly, the Blessed Virgin only joined in at the Glory Be.
So, what we can gather from the above is that Our Lady wants us to pray the rosary slowly, thinking about the words. But does the way she taught young girls apply to everyone? On separate occasions two of the visionaries, Mari Loli and Jacinta, were asked if the teachings they received from the Virgin at Garabandal were meant for them at that time when they were girls or for all time. They both responded without hesitation that what Our Lady taught them was meant not only for then but (even especially) for later life. And it wasn't meant just for them but for everyone.
Meditation is also an important part of the rosary but should not interfere with the prayers directed to God or the Blessed Virgin. It can come either before each decade or between the Hail Marys such as is done in the scriptural rosary.
In conclusion is an excerpt from a letter written by Mari Loli to Father Jose Ramon Garcia de la Riva dated May 26,1962:
The apparitions continue the same. We see the Virgin almost every day. You said I should tell you some of what she told me. Well, I cannot say anything; nothing more than what, as you know, she tells us every day: that we should be very good, and visit the Blessed Sacrament often and recite the rosary every day.
Saint Pio and the Rosary
Padre Paladino (one of the Friars at San Giovanni Rotondo) reported that he asked Padre Pio how many rosaries he said each day. The answer was: "About 30, a few more, never less."
"How do you manage it?"
"What else is there to do during the night?"
On another occasion Padre Pio admitted that he managed to do three things at the same time: "Pray, hear confessions and wander about the world."
Padre Lasenzaniro, another one of the Friars, said that when he was helping Padre Pio to wash his hands in the morning, he could do only one hand at a time as Padre Pio would not not put down his rosary.
Padre Parente asked him why he said so many rosaries and not other prayers. Padre Pio told him that Our Lady had never refused a grace requested by means of the rosary.
Reprinted with permission from Garabandal Journal September-October 2003, By Barry Hanratty