"I believe in one God,..." Though it is optional, most people begin their rosary with that ancient summary of faith known as the Apostles' Creed. And I think this is right and good. Because the Creed is a summary of the whole Catholic faith, of the whole teaching of the Apostles. And it is important that we recognize that the rosary is an act of faith. The Creed summarizes the entirety of our beliefs in twelve articles. So also the rosary zooms in, as it were, on the heart of the Creed, and summarizes the life of Jesus in twenty mysteries. When we profess the Creed, we hear again the teachings of our Savior that his disciples first heard and passed on to us. When we pray the rosary, we watch again with Mary as our Lord lives out that teaching in his deeds. As St. Luke tells us, we focus on the things Jesus has done and taught (Acts 1:1). We meditate on his deeds in the rosary, and on the core of his teaching in the Creed.
This hearkens to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on revelation, in its dogmatic decree Dei Verbum. There the Council addressed a concern that had arisen in theology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: does God reveal himself in the words of Sacred Scripture, or does he reveal himself rather in the deeds of sacred history - the Exodus, the Babylonian Captivity, the Incarnation, etc. As you might imagine, this controversy produced more heat than light. However, the Council Fathers cut through the mess, and pointed out that God reveals himself both in deeds and in words: the words explaining the deeds, and the deeds confirming the words.
We see this too in the conjunction of the Creed with the rosary. The Creed is the profession of our faith, the core of the doctrine which we believe, the content of the promises we made at our baptism. It is the summary of the word of God. The rosary is a meditation on the deeds of the Word made flesh. The Creed enshrines the words; the rosary commemorates the deeds. And so it is fitting that they are so often joined together. Because it is easy when one meditates simply on the concepts of our faith to get lost in ever-greater theoretical abstraction, losing sight of the fact that faith makes demands on our will, not just our mind. And it is easy also for the meditation on the life of Jesus to become either rote mumbling or (to my mind worse) gross sentimentality, where the measure of the meditation is the emotional effusion it produces. When emotion is the entire content of my meditation, it is easy to slip into superstition. And we know that many have accused devotees of the rosary of exactly that.
And so the rosary makes the Creed speak to my heart. It calls to the very center of my being, demanding that I make an existential commitment. It must be a commitment that involves my very will and identity, a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, not just a set of formulas. The Creed elevates that commitment into the realm of supernatural mystery, so that it does not become simple emotivism. The Creed disciplines our commitment by a rule, by an objective standard, so that we do not speak only of my faith and your faith, as if it were only a matter of opinion, but rather also of the Faith. My faith is not only judged by how strongly I feel it. It is also judged by whether I believe everything that God has revealed through the teaching of the apostles and handed down through the Catholic Church.
This points to the old theological distinction between the fides quae, those doctrines and dogmas which we believe, and the fides qua, the act of faith we make in believing those doctrines. They are distinct. There is the teaching of the Church, and then there is my adherence to that teaching. We cannot commit to nothing. On the other hand, it does us little good to know all the teachings of the Church if we do not also believe them!
And now we come to Mary, the woman of faith. She too listened to her Son. She too learned from the apostles. She too heard the words of God and pondered them in her heart. Mary is one of the greatest examples of faith we have. She burned with fides qua, with a personal commitment to the truths God revealed. As we pray with Mary as we pray the rosary, we can mediate on the faith with which she believed - believed as she listened to Gabriel, believed as her Son began his ministry, believed as she stood at the foot of the Cross, believed as she waited with expectation on Holy Saturday. As we pray to Mary, asking her intercession, we can especially ask for a share in that faith of hers, for it is living faith that justifies, living faith that saves, living faith that transforms the words of the Creed and the mysteries of the rosary from mere words and images into a power that shakes our hearts - it is living faith that, as St. John says, conquers the world (1 John 5:4). And without living faith it is impossible to please God. So as we begin each rosary, and as we begin these meditations on the rosary, let us recall that the rosary, which begins with the Creed, must be a prayer of faith.