Through the Lens of Mary

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

As Sacred Heart Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, repeated this line over and over again, following Cardinal Francis Arinze’s lead, I could feel the humility and meditation in the air. The faces of reverence and devotion could not be denied as the parishioners followed the Rosary on a journey of contemplation and reflection. Initially, this concept was new; however, upon further reflection, I realized that I had known it all along in a different form—the camera.

Eventually it became clear to me—the physical Rosary and prayers are a means to an end, and the Rosary is nothing more than a focusing instrument. The very tradition of the Rosary was not built on the prayers themselves being the end, although they themselves are not meaningless—but the reflection and revelation by means of those prayers. Without contemplation, the Rosary is “a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas (Pope John Paul II).” Through contemplation, we are alongside Mary thorough the many scenes of the Rosary—in His life as well as His death— contemplating the beauty and love of Christ. It is through Mary, the mother of Christ, that we can better understand who man is as well as who God is. Through the lens of Mary, or the school of Mary as Pope John Paul II calls it, and the principles of the Gospel in the Rosary, one can be led to see the mysteries of Christ from a new perspective. The Rosary is very much a timeless self-devotion of the ages, highlighting God’s luminous life while cultivating holiness and drawing closer to the truth of man.

Photography, too, demands a type of deeper contemplation than the casual observer brings to his surroundings. As the photographer who captures beauty in nature contemplates the colors of a bunch of flowers in relation to the seemingly desolate landscape, or the wedding photographer who captures the gentle, playful smile of the bride to the groom, reflections of man and beauty—or radiance of love, as David Clayton (visiting fellow at The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts) states—are shown through the school of the photographer. Famous photographers such as Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange captured nature and people to convey a message of the sublime and the dignity of the human person. Just as Mary guides us to the face of Christ, so too does the photographer lead the viewer to see the world in a new perspective.

The camera, like the Rosary, is a means to an end. While holding the camera, the photographer is actively searching for beauty or a conveyed message. It keeps the artist focused on his search for beauty in reality. Without the camera, recognizing beauty is still possible, although more difficult. It is because of the camera one realizes the grace in everyday scenes. Looking through the lens of a camera leads the photographer to notice shape, color, form, and unity in a way difficult to the passerby. This attention to principle is necessary to capturing the perfect image. The photographer slows down to recognize the world for what it truly is, mediating through the lens of the camera to look past the ordinary—uncovering beauty that is seemingly obvious. In a way the photographer has the advantage of being in the world and seeing the whole of the world—a unique perspective. As the Rosary is a tool aimed at seeing a fuller picture of God, so too is the camera.

Although photography may convey a less beautiful image than the scene is in reality, one is able to analyze the physical picture to search for details less obvious in reality. So too does the Rosary aim to focus in on the details of the lives of Christ and Mary. As an example, the joyful mysteries focus on the young life of Christ—the annunciation by the Angel Gabriel, the visitation of Elizabeth, the nativity, the presentation of Jesus, and the finding of Jesus in the temple. The meditation of these specific scenes reveal to us details of the nature of Christ as well as examples of specific spiritual fruits.

The camera captures the glorious, joyful and luminous, aspects of human life—reflections of the joys of human relationships, sublime nature, and beauty of life. However, it also reflects the sorrowful aspects of human life—the inglorious aspects of human relationships, nature, and human suffering and trial. Both aim, however, at the whole of the picture—a reflection on human nature and life in its entirety. Without these scenes of awe, the camera would be of no use seeing as there is little purpose in photography without a message to be conveyed. Similarly, the Rosary aims to help us grasp a fuller picture of the life and nature of Christ.

The Rosary and the camera guide one to reflect on higher, objective truths of beauty, truth, and goodness. When reflecting on the Mysteries of the Faith, the Rosary is very structured in that it requires one to recognize the Truth of our faith in Christ through his Revelation. In reflection of nature through photography, one is led to recognize the hope we have in Christ through the relation on God’s creation (nature) and himself as a radiation of his love—Beauty. Both lead us toward a love of his Goodness.

The Rosary and the camera, our lenses of meditation, direct us toward Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, as well as a fuller picture of human life and the divine life of Christ. Both capture the awe of the most central Mystery of Faith— the Incarnation, and its relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit in one divine being.  Both instruments offer us a unique view of the world in which our focus is zoomed in on His divine life and nature.