Wills dispenses with the diatribes against the Catholic hierarchy in Papal Sin (2000) to offer reverent reflections on the practice of the rosary.
Over the centuries the rosary became a sometimes-controversial emblem of Catholicism, especially in its association with indulgences (a linkage relegated to obscurity by recent pontiffs). In the post-Vatican II era, it has been regarded in some quarters as a quaint relic. Against this background, Wills defends the rosary in its purest form. In an age of confusion that has renewed interest in meditation, he notes, the rhythmic repetition of these beads invites practitioners “to retire into that secret of our deeper life in Christ, to reflect on his actions and their private meaning for us, and to do this at our own pace, seeking our own peace.” Pope John Paul II added a set of five “luminous mysteries,” or mysteries of light, to go with the traditional three sets: the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. Wills analyzes what the episodes associated with each mystery signify in the life of Jesus. In particular, he affirms the special status of Mary—accepting yet concerned about her son’s mission—against those who see her as a distraction from understanding Christ: “From the early struggles with heresy, it was her role to stand between some who thought Christ not fully human and some who thought him not fully divine.” When not sensitively explaining the rosary’s use in times of spiritual struggle, Wills employs vivid imagery, as in this description of a painting of the Annunciation by the Renaissance master Tintoretto: “The dove of the Holy Spirit plunges like a dive bomber, trailing a squadron of fighter angels.” The pretentiousness and sarcasm that sometimes marred Wills’ prior religious writings take a back seat here to his considerable erudition and eloquence.
A miniature masterpiece of biblical exegesis. (28 pp. of full-color illustrations)