December 18, 2017

A Rosary By Any Other Name … Is For What, Now?

Editor’s Note: Alan Creech is a longtime friend, sponsor and contributor to the Internet Monk community. I asked Alan, in light of recent news stories about celebrities and gang members wearing rosaries, to help us understand the true usage of this oft-misunderstood piece of Christian “gear.” You can visit Alan’s web site to see the prayer beads he designs and sells.

By Alan Creech

First of all, I want to say that I’m honored to have been asked to write a little something on the actual Internet Monk blog. I guess I have been a part of this little “family” of sorts for a while. It’s just cool to be able to put up a post.

Michael Spencer was my friend. He was always very supportive to me, and I’m grateful for that. Even though he certainly had his issues with the Catholic church and some of her belief systems, he was, as I liked to call him, the great “Pimp” when it came to my little rosary business. He went so far as to rake in quite a number of negative comments and posts written about him for his support of the “demon beads.” He was persecuted for his support of me. Thanks, Michael. Oh, and pray for me. 🙂

So – the Rosary – that’s what this is supposed to be about. Jeff Dunn asked me to write a bit on what the rosary is all about, or how it is really supposed to be used, in light of a couple of recent articles he passed my way. For some context, you might read through these two articles:

Heavens! Will this lot of crucifix-wearers enter the Pearly Gates?

Rosaries a popular gang tool, not often for prayer.

I won’t try to write a review, really, for both these articles. I did read them. The first, I didn’t care for much. The tone was a bit harsh and judgmental for me, and from someone who didn’t seem to know enough about what he was talking about to even be mild and judgmental. A rosary is not a “crucifix,” man, and a crucifix has a Jesus on it, therefore making it not simply a “cross.” A little homework might help.

And I don’t care to discuss who may or may not be going to heaven because of what they wear around their necks. I’ll say this:  it doesn’t offend me to see celebrities or whomever wear these items. I have no idea if they know what they mean or if any faith accompanies them inside the person, and neither does anyone else. I hope so, but I have no way of knowing and am certainly not in any position to pass judgment on anyone.

Maybe it’s like people who come to church only on Easter and Christmas (we see this a lot in Catholic circles). I’ve personally sat near some of them who were drunk at the time, presumably from parties they had just been too before Midnight Mass. Here’s what I think – better they come to church even with the smell of alcohol reeking from their pores. It says something:  Perhaps that they have at least some acknowledgment of God inside them. Better they are there for at least a little while, to hear His Word, to maybe feel His Presence, who knows. It could be one small part of an opening of their hearts to a real relationship with Him. Maybe it’s the same with wearing a rosary as jewelry or a cross or even a crucifix. I’d like to think so.

Rosaries aren’t typically meant to be worn as jewelry, by the way. They are for holding in your hands to use in prayer. You see them hanging from some monk or nun habits sometimes, big ones. That’s not really “jewelry.” I’m sure it’s symbolic and perhaps they actually use them for prayer. Some might wear them as a faith symbol, if even to themselves, under their clothes, but again, typically this is not how they’re used.

The other article was a bit more intelligent. Someone did a bit of research, it seemed. Of course, I know nothing of Latin gangs and how they identify themselves to each other and rival gangs. Wearing a rosary seems an unfortunate way to make yourself or your rank known as a gang member. I suppose they’re just grabbing something that’s a part of their culture, something not so obvious to police and school officials, and using it in a new and “creative” way. Was the rosary developed to be used in this way? Well – no. I think I can safely say they were not. Bad boys, bad boys, whatchya gonna dooo? Wear a rosary, I reckon. Silly.

So, what are they for – rosaries I mean? Basically speaking, the rosary is a prayer and meditation tool. That’s it. That’s what it is – what any set of prayer beads is, whether you call it a “rosary” or not. My understanding is that long before St. Dominic and his vision played a role, there were simpler forms of prayer beads developed for use by monks who were reciting the 150 Psalms… daily – used in order to count them off. They were also used by illiterate brothers and sisters in some of these communities in order for them to help pray 150 Our Fathers while the others were reading the Psalms. This is likely the origin of a set of beads known as the Pater Noster cord, “Pater Noster” meaning “Our Father” in Latin.

The Orthodox also use prayer beads in sets of different numbers, usually used to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner.” There are different forms of that prayer, some even more simple. It’s a wonderful, simple, meditative prayer to use to focus your mind on Christ and Who He is to us.

Many Anglicans also use a form of the rosary of their own. I believe this is a much later development. The full Anglican rosary is set up in four “weeks” of seven beads each, separated by four “cruciform beads,” named so because they form a cross when connected as you look at them. There are several ways to pray the Anglican rosary.

The Catholic rosary, typically, is a set of five “decades” (sets of ten beads), separated by “Our Father beads.” There is a crucifix, usually, at the end of another section of two Our Father beads and three more standard beads. On these decades, on each bead, is generally prayed the Hail Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the our of our death. Amen.” While praying the decades, one is supposed to be meditating on the story of the Gospel, the life of Jesus. These are called “mysteries.”There are “sorrowful mysteries,” meditating on particular sorrowful events in the life of Christ, “joyful mysteries,” and several others. So, as I said, it’s a tool for prayer and meditation.

Another interesting factoid:  Catholics are in no way obliged to pray the rosary. It’s a very popular devotional tool, approved by the Church, but it’s not something we have to do. Some Catholics are rosary people and some aren’t. And so, though there may be a set way to pray the rosary, in general, you may use the tool in a number of ways.

I’m a fan of using it in a very abbreviated way – not necessarily saying all the little prayers in between the beads or even necessarily using the “mysteries,” although they are a very helpful thing. I have no problem asking for the Blessed Mother’s intercession, for myself or for someone else as I pray for them too, so yes, I pray the Hail Mary. The Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer) is something I believe we can all agree on, thinking about what we’re saying as we pray. And I love the Glory Be: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” I personally use a one-decade rosary that I keep in my pocket, and that’s how I pray it. Sometimes I start as if I’m praying the Divine Office – “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help us.” Then to the Glory Be, the Our Father, the ten Haily Marys – Our Father and Glory Be again. Sometimes I use the Jesus Prayer on the ten beads – again, a great meditation prayer.

I hope that was at all helpful in sorting out what rosaries, or any prayer beads for that matter, are for. Like any kind of devotional practice, some can and will become a little too fixated on that one thing as the greatest way of all to pray, etc. Whatever the tool we’re using to help us pray, we should probably avoid such fixations. Balance is a good thing. There are many ways to pray, and many tools to help us pray and focus our minds and hearts on God. The use of prayer beads is one of them, and a good one for many of us.

In conclusion, let us pray something we can all pray together, I hope…

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

Comments

  1. Denise Spencer says:

    Yes, Alan, Michael loved your beads, and so do I!

    One interesting fact I recently learned: A sister told me that when she wore a habit years ago, her order wore beads that people thought were rosary beads. But they were actually “dolor beads,” a chaplet in honor of Our Lady’s sorrows. That was something new to me.

  2. Alan, the prayer beads I got from you (Anglican style) have greatly benefited my prayer life. I like your description of them as tools for meditation. They do help one keep focus.

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      From what I understand, the Anglican style beads was something an Episcopal priest developed in the 1980’s as an way to provide ecumenical prayer beads. I really like the intentional symbolism of them as well as the flexibility of devotions used with them. I found a site once that has a whole list of suggested devotions for use with the Anglican/Ecumenical Prayer Beads. I should have bookmarked it!

  3. Alan, thank you, I really appreciate what you said. I have also found a blog that has a good description of the Rosary: http://anamchara.com/mystics/formation/the-rosary/ On this blog they reference a PDF file that has the Catholic way of using it: http://www.newadvent.org/images/rosary.pdf

    I am in no way affiliated with that blog, so please don’t consider this an endorsement of it.

  4. another beggar says:

    I thank Michael Spencer for many things, and expanding my appreciation for other faiths and introducing me to Alan are just two. So, thank you Alan for your thoughtful explanation of the rosary. I’ll be blessed by mine even more now.

  5. Most Evangelicals won’t be able to get past the “Hail Mary” prayers which form the five decades, but as I studied this a few years ago, for me the deal breaker was the conclusion of the Glorious Mysteries. Before the Luminous Mysteries were added by John Paul II, I found the best way to explain the different emphases of the rosary is in terms of the Shakespeare plays we all did in high school. You had Act I, scene i; etc., and in many ways the Mysteries are like a play with three acts, and five scenes in each.

    The Joyful Mysteries (the coming and birth of Christ) and the Sorrowful Mysteries (remembering the passion week of Christ) are fine, but when we get to the Glorious Mysteries (or as I call it, Act III) we find Jesus’ resurrection, His appearance to His disciples and his ascension into heaven. But the last two (scenes iv and v) are “the assumption of Mary,” and “the coronation of the blessed virgin.” And the Biblical references for those last two are… what again? Plus the rosary’s narrative ends with the emphasis on Mary. To use my Shakespeare analogy, she is the one who is center stage in the final scenes and taking the bow as the audience stands to applaud.

    So for Evangelicals at least, at that point all bets are off, and the rosary becomes somewhat guilty by association.

    Which is too bad, really, because some kind of tactile prayer focus is not, in and of itself a bad thing. A few groups have even tried to develop substitutes, though they’ve never caught on in a big way. But the basic rosary, as taught in the Catechism, wanders into that territory that Evangelicals would say is ultimately more reflective of a Marion faith than of first century Christianity.

    • “And the Biblical references for those last two are… what again? ”

      “On your right stands the Queen, clad in gold of Ophir”

      😉

      Paul, you are correct that the Rosary is indeed a Marian devotion. However, as Alan said, you can be a perfectly good Catholic and never recite a decade in your life. Or if the Marian-themed mysteries are a scandal to you, recite the ones that are not. The Assumption and Coronation are the gratituitious and gracious pouring out of grace, not some kind of “Mary is more important than Jesus” finish. But yes, devotees can forget the proper emphasis.

      And now I am going to be very naughty, and link to a picture of the Coronation of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, because it links in to the discussion of sacred art on the “Big Butter Jesus” post, because of the Trinitarian emphasis (the cleric who commissioned it made it particular that the figures of God the Father and God the Son should be identical):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Enguerrand_Charonton_001.jpg

      • Meditating on Mary’s death, Assumption, judgment and life with the Trinity is a way for us to meditate on the end our own lives and the promises of the Kingdom.
        Rick

      • TRUE Marion devotion always leads us to Christ !

  6. Thanks for clearing that up. I was born and raised penecostal, having no clue about the rosary. I like how you said the rosary was a tool for prayer and meditation. Many of us use other tools to help us communicate with God. Church is one of them. I feel like your writing helped break off some false beliefs that I had about the rosary.

  7. Another Mary says:

    Thank you for your input. I love the openess of this site.
    I think there is great value in prayer tools. As you say, they help people to focus their thoughts and return to that focus when their mind starts to wander.
    I have found in some Baptist style Protestant churches that I have attended, a sort of fixation on the avoidance of anything like that. I guess it’s origin was to make it clear their separation from “dead works” “Papism” etc. But it seems to me it has become a kind of pride in its own right. The result that I have seen is often a ‘make it up as you go’ kind of praying that can still manage to become repititious. Please understand, I am not criticizing praying from the heart. but, I am tired, so tired of hearing formalized prayer being put down as ‘dead.’

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Another Mary,

      I know exactly what you mean about many evangelicals (not just certain kinds of Baptists, either, by any means) viewing formalized prayer as “dead.” My roommate, an ex-Catholic evangelical , told me that he could never attend the Reformed Baptist church where I was once a member, because the church had formal, congregational prayers, and he saw that characteristic as being “too much like the Catholic Church.” I was almost in disbelief, as this R.B. church was actually very, very opposed to Catholicism, considering it a “false Gospel.”

      In light of my roommate’s ex-Catholicism and suspicion of anything that (to him) resembles Catholic services, I am very, very blessed that he is still allowing me to be his roommate– because yesterday, I told him that I have resigned my membership at our non-denominational, “Reformed-leaning” evangelical church to return to the Catholic Church (which I angrily and ignorantly left almost fifteen years ago). I ask for prayers for wisdom from IM readers as I seek to honor God in my continued relating to my roommate. Oh, and speaking of intercession….

      Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a sinner. 🙂

      • God’s Grace be with you in this most recent part of your journey, Christopher. It is certainly not always an easy road.

      • Prayers for wisdom for you both…and congratualations. 🙂

        • Christopher Lake says:

          Thanks so much, Alan and Margaret. As a former, fire-breathing, anti-Catholic, Reformed Baptist, I am amazed and surprised to be at this place, but God has led me here, and I cannot deny Him. It may shock (or simply perplex) many of my Baptist friends, when I say that the Bible played an important role in convincing me of Catholic claims, but it is true. I appreciate your prayers!

  8. Christiane says:

    I have a story about my father’s mother, my memere, of blessed memory, and her rosary.
    My Memere wore simple ‘house-dresses’ and an apron over them. In later life, she spent most of her days in one of the rocking-chairs in the kitchen by the black stove; her hand in her pocket. She prayed the rosary daily from the time I first remember her.

    Memere died of cancer. At the end, when she could do nothing more and no longer had the strength to speak, her hand moved over the beads of her rosary, and although her lips did not move, she fingered her beads, one after another, slowly.

    What had comforted and strengthened her in life was there for her as a part of its ending.
    I have no doubt that at the last hour she was conscious, the words . . . ‘pray for us, now, and at the hour of our death ‘ brought her full circle and helped her to go Home.

    I have no doubt.

    • Thank you for posting! Lovely!
      My dad passed in November. He prayed the rosary faithfully for many many years with a group of friends. We prayed with them before his funeral Mass. Yes! This devotion is not “dead formalized prayer”.

  9. For me, the Rosary is a warm place of refuge: at those times when I may not know what to pray, its cadences provide a refuge from the turmoil of the day, allowing me — if I pray it each day of the week, to fully contemplate the total Gospel narrative with regularity. Contrary to some of the sources cited, Mary is not the focal point of the Rosary. Here, too, as she does throughout all we know of her from the Biblical texts, Mary points us to her son and the story of salvation. We, His followers, received her from Him at the cross and are comforted knowing that she prays for us as do others among cloud of witnesses.

  10. I have noticed as I have prayed the “Hail Mary,” (as a non-Catholic), that after doing it a number of times and thinking about the words, that my mind has focused on the Incarnation. Everything in the Hail Mary but the very last line is taken from Scripture, and when you get to the part which says, “Holy Mary, Mother of God,” that is a statement of the Incarnation. It actually has to do with Christ more than with Mary; the whole thing is focused on Christ.

    • Christiane says:

      There exists a wonderful icon showing a pregnant Mary comforting a weeping Eve.

      • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        Oooh! Got a link?

        • I love this mosaic of Jesus sitting with his arm around his mom. You can’t see it in this pic but the apostles are standing to the sides.
          http://www.traveladventures.org/continents/europe/trastevere11.shtml

          This is the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome, one of the oldest churches in Rome and perhaps the first where mass was openly celebrated with the basic floor plan dating about to about 340 A.D. Well worth a visit if you’re there.

        • It’s a modern icon, Isaac, and funnily enough, when I went Googling for an image link, guess where one showed up?

          http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/mary-consoles-eve

          Michael himself had a post on it back in December 2008. 🙂

          Here’s a mediaeval Irish poem about Eve (translated by Kuno Meyer, 1911):

          EVE’S LAMENT

          I am Eve, great Adam’s wife,
          ‘Tis I that outraged Jesus of old ;
          ‘Tis I that robbed my children of Heaven,
          By rights ’tis I that should have gone upon the
          cross.

          I had a kingly house to please me.
          Grievous the evil choice that disgraced me,
          Grievous the wicked advice that withered me !
          Alas ! my hand is not pure.

          Tis I that plucked the apple
          Which went across my gullet :
          So long as they endure in the light of day
          So long women will not cease from folly.

          There would be no ice in any place,
          There would be no gHstening windy winter.
          There would be no hell, there would be no sorrow.
          There would be no fear, if it were not for me.

    • That’s a great way to look at that prayer, Rebecca. When I pray it, I find myself stopping in the middle – the center, if you will – “blessed is the fruit of your womb… JESUS.”

  11. Thanks for the great, and honest, comments, folks. I certainly realize that everyone isn’t going to jump on the rosary bandwagon – that’s fine. Again, it’s a tool, and should be used as such, and not everyone uses it in the same way. If it’s a tool you can’t, either literally or figuratively, get a grip on, then there are many other tools out there, I’m sure, that can help you in your prayer life. The whole “guilt by association” thing is unfortunate I think. I’ve made a ton of rosaries for plenty of people who aren’t standing up and clapping for Mary as opposed to Jesus. A whole bag O’ things can be looked at in that way, and then… well, and then you don’t get to have any fun. 🙂 Peace.

  12. Which religion uses beads?

  13. Many religions use beads for prayer and meditation purposes, Rani. Christianity is one of them. Some Muslims use prayer beads, as well as Buddhists. There may be others.

  14. I have enjoyed the beads — they are a great meditation tool for me at work or any time I’m on a walk.
    I bought 2 for my for my 4 & 6 year olds & they have been using them for there night time prayers. I believe it helps them focus on Jesus & understand who they are praying to. peace

  15. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    I often use my one-decade Alan Creech Rosary to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, especially when I need an extra helping of peace and mercy from God. It’s a short chaplet on regular beads, so it fits well. I keep it in my pocket as I go throughout the day. I think I’ve kind of abused it though, as the crucifix may fall off soon! When it does, I’ll be taking another visit to Alan’s site!

  16. Speaking of other tools for prayer, just last Sunday I walked a labyrinth for the first time. What an experience that I can’t even put into words. It was for me a metaphor for life on many levels as well as an experience that helped me focus my thoughts on God. I so often find that my mind jumps around when I try to focus on God, and walking the labyrinth kept bringing my mind back and centered me again and again on God and my relationship with God. I look forward to going again and again.

  17. dumb ox says:

    There are several protestant variations on the Rosary. The “Lutheran” rosary has been very helpful for me. I’m not sure how it got the name, “Lutheran”. It used to be on the now-defunct orthodoxlutheran website.

    http://www.wikihow.com/Pray-the-Lutheran-Rosary

    Protestants, in this age of Christless, gospel-less, moral therapeutic deism, should try to rediscover the Rosary, because it is pure gospel.

    Regarding the last two glorious mysteries, I have substituted them with return of Christ in Revelation 19:11-16 and the appearance of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:1-4. I actually don’t have a problem with the original mysteries. The assumption reminds us that Christ is returning to raise each of us from the dead, that death will not have the final say, that body and soul, physical and spiritual, will be reunited again at Christ’s return. The crowning of Mary reminds us that each of the saints receive a crown. But it really carries the rosary full-circle: Mary, who humbly received the news of the angel and bore the scorn of virgin birth, who held the shattered body of son at the foot of the cross, is given a crown of honor in heaven. I know the whole storing up treasures in heaven can become a works-religion, but I think this mystery draws us back to the words of Christ: the last will be first. It also reflects the cross: true glory comes through humility, weakness and brokenness. Mary’s story ends where it begins: full of grace.

    The Infinite, which the universe could not contain, chose to dwell fully in the womb of Mary. We, too, bear Christ in us through the Holy Spirit to a dying world in need of a Savior.

  18. Jonathan Blake says:

    Thank you Alan for clearing up some questions and helping me to understand how I can fully appreciate this tool. My wife was raised southern baptist (we are both Assembly of God pentecostals and I’m in school to be a missionary now) and she had some issues with me getting and using a rosary. This post really cleared the air in our home and made her much more open to the idea. Thank you so much and I’ll be visiting your store soon 🙂
    Grace and Peace
    Jonathan

  19. no matter how you use a rosary, whether you hold it in hands for prayers or wrap it around your hand or neck for fashion, a roasay is a rosary and i think it should get the due repect it deserves