"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 92
Just when you thought that Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear and St. Louis de Montfort's Secret of the Rosary would have absolutely nothing in common . . . because, admit it, you did think that . . . and by "you," I mostly mean "I" . . . the ever-amazing "Two or Three" Book Club members proved us wrong by turning a discussion of the Ecology of Thought into a debate about which Catholic traditions we could probably afford to lose. And while it's true that "small-T traditions" like the rosary don't have the weight of "big-T Traditions" like the Assumption of Mary, the question remains of what it would mean for us if the "mystical rose tree" that is so abundant all over the Catholic ecosystem were to become endangered . . . or even to go extinct.
Good and devout souls, who walk in the light of the Holy Spirit: I do not think that you will mind my giving you this little mystical rose tree which comes straight from Heaven and which is to be planted in the garden of your soul. It cannot possibly harm the sweet smelling flowers of your contemplations; for it is a heavenly tree and its scent is beautiful. It will not in the least interfere with your carefully planned flower beds; for, being itself all pure and well-ordered, it inclines all to order and purity. If it is carefully watered and properly attended to every day it will grow to such a marvelous height and its branches will have such a wide span that, far from hindering your other devotions, it will maintain and perfect them.
. . . this mystical rose tree is Jesus and Mary in life, death and eternity; its green leaves are the Joyous Mysteries, the thorns the Sorrowful ones and the flowers, the Glorious Mysteries of Jesus and Mary. The buds are the childhood of Jesus and Mary, and the open blooms show us both of them in their sufferings, and the full-blown roses symbolize Jesus and Mary in their triumph and glory.
The ecosystem model would make St. Louis de Montfort the "Johnny Appleseed" of the rosary. If you smile at that, you're a Catholic. For there are some other Christians who might classify the rosary as an invasive species doing great damage to the good and true ideas of Christianity. But as I recently learned, there are more than just a monolithic "Catholic" way and a monolithic "anti-Catholic" way to see the rosary . . .
The main reason it has taken me so long to start this discussion is that . . . I'd already started somewhere else. =P That is, Sheila and I have already been discussing the rosary for the last couple of days. Our individual understandings of it are more different than I expected, which got me wondering if there actually isn't one way to see the rosary--at least not in the sense that there is one way to see the Mass.
It all started when I told her that the Luminous Mysteries make me sad because I don't pray them and feel feel a sense of separation from those who do. To me, it is as if the Mystical Body has been torn. With her permission, I quote from her reply:
. . . I just think some things are helpful for some, and not others. I thought the Luminous Mysteries were a dumb idea when I first heard of them, because they mess up the days-of-the-week thing and the 150 Hail Marys for the 150 Psalms. But if someone likes to pray them, how is that different from them choosing to pray the chaplet or the St. Joseph prayer or anything else I don't personally choose to do? They pray to the same God, and I feel in union with them in intention even if the details of our prayers are not the same.
When I told her how the Church in the Philippines reacted to the publication of Rosarium Virginis Mariae, she was a little surprised. And when she told me how the Church in the US took the news, I got another dose of the same culture shock I first had soon after moving to New Zealand, when I suddenly felt weird for publicly reading a book with Pope John Paul II's face on the front cover.
But her questions about the Luminous Mysteries seemed to be questions about the rosary itself. How is "the rosary" different from the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or even St. Joseph's rosary? And do the details of our personal devotions have to be the same? Now, I will never have much authority in the world, so take what I say as lightly as possible, but my understanding of the rosary has always been that it is indeed special and that its particulars do matter. And although this view was informed by my unique context, I daresay that it is also universal.
Praying the rosary may not be an obligation or a mark of the Church, but it has become a more deeply rooted part of objective tradition than any other devotion you could name. There's a sense in which every Catholic can pray the rosary: priest or parishioner, religious or layman, man or woman, Trad or Lib, cradle or convert, from every country in the world . . . and even from many centuries. Without ever being mandated by a Pope (though John Paul II could have fooled me . . .) it has become a sign of Catholic unity--that is, a sign that we recognise ourselves as children of Mary. And inasmuch as it is handed down from generation to generation, it has also become a shared way of knowing Jesus and Mary that may be secondary only to reading the Scriptures.
In short, whether you think the rosary really was personally given by Mary to St. Dominic or organically developed from monastic traditions of prayer, you have to conclude that it is more than just one of many good devotions we can feel drawn to and order our lives with. Personally, I don't think the rosary could have managed a tenth of its enduring popularity if only "natural causes" were driving it. I believe it mirrors the Virgin Mother whom it honours, being highly favoured by God and blessed among all other devotions. And I agree with St. Louis de Montfort about what this should mean to us . . .
So please do not scorn this beautiful and heavenly tree, but plant it with your own hands in the garden of your soul, making the resolution to say your Rosary every day. By saying it daily and by doing good works you will be tending your tree, watering it, hoeing the earth around it.
Eventually you will see that this little seed which I have given you, and which seems so very small now, will grow into a tree so great that the birds of Heaven, i.e., predestinate and contemplative souls, will dwell in it and make their nests there. Its shade will shelter them from the scorching heat of the sun and its great height will keep them safe from the wild beasts on the ground. And best of all, they will feed upon the tree's fruit--which is none other than our adorable Jesus, to Whom be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. So be it.
According to the Introduction of my copy of The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis believed the rosary was so important to the Christian life that he wanted it established in every parish where he preached. And he was tireless about it. To him, it was not just another good devotion, or even a really great devotion, but probably the last and strongest lifeline given to us by God.
And so he alludes to one of the Fifteen Promises attached to the rosary in his special dedication to sinners:
If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins "you shall receive a never fading crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in Hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practise black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and save your soul, if--and mark well what I say--if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.
As a devotee of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, I can't help but point out that those for whom daily recitation of the rosary is still too heavy a yoke, there is one last desperate way out . . . but I don't want to steal too much of the rosary's thunder right now. =P
During the last meeting, when I announced that The Secret of the Rosary would be our next book, I mentioned that I had just read St. Louis's Preparation for Total Consecration. What I didn't say was that it was a struggle for me to accept its more unabashedly Marian passages. I was surprised at how easily the Protestant objections to Mary sprang up in my mind, like border patrol officers determined to keep St. Louis's counsel out. It should really have been the other way around, you know? And maybe it now is, because I felt no urge to play advocatus diaboli with the paragraph I've just quoted and only vaguely realised that it might give non-Catholics conniption fits.
What do you think of the Dedication?
1) Which of St. Louis's four special dedications spoke to you the most?
2) If someone were to ask you what you get out of praying the rosary, what would you say?
Image Source: The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort