November 12, 2017
The Rosary (pronunciation: /ˈrəʊz(ə)ri/, Latin: rosarium, in the sense of “crown of roses” or “garland of roses”), is a form of prayer used especially in the Catholic Church named for the string of knots or beads used to count the component prayers.” (Wikipedia 12 November 2017). The rosary is prayed to the Virgin Mary and through her, to God.
There are several references in the Catholic tradition to the Virgin Mary being associated with roses, from the rosary, to the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which roses miraculously appeared as a sign from our heavenly mother.
In October of 2016, I awoke in the middle of the night and could not sleep. As I lay in bed, my mind raced as it developed a thought into a concrete plan. I rose in the dark and typed the proposal: a procession for Christians to celebrate their faith openly, by walking in a procession to the Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral in Ottawa, where a mass would be held, followed by a reception in fellowship with each other.
But soon I felt down about the idea I had just been so enthusiastic about. What would people think of me? I feared the risk of embarrassment by wearing my faith on my sleeve out in public. But I received courage, was lifted up again, and persevered.
Later in the same month, I went to the Archbishop’s annual gala (for the first time) and was seated by the organizers at a table at random. After dinner, the gentleman I sat beside introduced me to the Rector of St. Patrick’s Basilica, where my grandfather had his funeral in 1990.
I floated my proposal with him, and he put me in touch with the Director of Family Ministry at the Archdiocese. I pitched the idea to him by email and he invited me to meet. Later, he informed me that the Archbishop liked the idea, and asked if we could make it a Marian procession, that is, in celebration of the Virgin Mary. In particular, he wanted to link it to the hundredth year anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima in Fátima Portugal, which ended in 1917. We finalized the concept and the Archdiocese put the plan into action.
On Friday, October 13, 2017, everything was in place. I made my way down to St. Patrick’s Basilica, where the procession was to begin, and joined dozens of other pilgrims. We prayed in the presence of one of the original statues of Our Lady of Fátima, and then walked joyfully to the Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral with candles in our hands.
When we arrived at Notre Dame, there were hundreds of people gathered. There, we prayed the rosary out loud together to Our Lady, while being led in prayer by one of our own.
The day was getting to be long for me and throughout the rosary I was feeling distracted, not present in the moment. I had little energy to fight to keep my focus, yet, being tired, I tried what little I could to keep my mind in the Avenue, as it were.
Following the Rosary, the Archbishop celebrated mass. As we gathered and celebrated, I quietly savoured the enjoyment inside my heart of having played a small part in making this celebration a reality.
Towards the end of the Archbishop’s sermon, he described the apparition that is reported to have occurred at Fátima, Portugal on October 13, 1917, when the sun is said to have appeared to dance in the sky, spinning and shooting light of various colours. As one onlooker reported, “We looked easily at the sun, which did not blind us. It seemed to flicker on and off, first one way and then another. It shot rays in different directions and painted everything in different colors…What was most extraordinary is that the sun did not hurt our eyes at all. Everything was still and quiet; everyone was looking upwards…”
Just as the Archbishop described the apparition and I imagined it in my mind’s eye, I suddenly smelled something powerful that I hadn’t smelled the moment before. As I sniffed quietly at the new smell, it was unmistakable. I was smelling roses. It was as though someone held a wide bowl filled with the reduced essence of roses right beneath my nostrils. The more I smelled to detect and confirm what I was smelling, the more the scent became powerful and unmistakable. It was roses, and I could see in my mind’s eye a bunch of white roses very close together, as though that were exactly the thing I was smelling. As soon as I was satisfied this was what I was indeed smelling, the scent disappeared. But there were no roses around. I was overjoyed by the mystery that had just taken place.
Being scientifically-minded, I wanted to cover my bases and make sure I had reason to celebrate internally what had just occurred. So I quietly sniffed the air around me by inconspicuously leaning this way and that, to see if this lady’s perfume or that person’s hair smelled like roses. But no one smelled like roses. The scent had completely disappeared. Then I asked the young lady beside me “do you smell roses?”, to which she looked perplexed and said “no.”