19 March 2014


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 93

Where did I ever get the idea that the rosary was "everyone's devotion"? Since Lent started, I've been running into devout Catholics admitting that they're just not that into it. Now, I don't think the rosary's popularity is a case worthy of The Emperor's New Clothes, but there seem to be a significant number of Catholics spending forever trying to get that mystical rose tree to take root in their souls, compared to the Catholics basking in the scent of its blooms. And this inspires the reasonable question of why you'd persist with the rosary when there are so many other beautiful and traditional devotions you could pray instead.

Early in The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort reminds us of St. Dominic's reasons for persisting . . .

. . . Our Lady appeared to him, accompanied by three Angels, and she said:

"Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?"

"Oh, my Lady," answered Saint Dominic, "you know far better than I do because next to your Son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation."

Then Our Lady replied: "I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter which is the foundation stone of the New Testament. Therefore if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter."

St. Dominic's use of the rosary as a spiritual weapon resonates with me. It's similar to the reason that got me started. I wanted a tool that would let me focus my prayer, and the rosary was as good as a laser. Although I actually hadn't known the full story of how St. Dominic received the rosary until I read it here (hashtag believe it or not), I picked up the basic principle anyway from my family, my school, and probably my entire culture. For I do know where I got the idea about "everyone" and the rosary, the keyword being "where": the Philippines might as well be called Mary's Sunny Rosary Islands.

The First Decade

So what about that other question? Why should anyone persist with the rosary when not all of us are Dominicans and there are so many other prayers in the treasury of the Church? Now that the Albigensian heresy has been licked, is there a reason other than personal predisposition or cultural tradition to keep at this devotion?

Well, there's the Marian reason . . .

Our Lady has shown her thorough approval of the name Rosary; she has revealed to several people that each time they say a Hail Mary they are giving her a beautiful rose and that each complete Rosary makes her a crown of roses.

The well-known Jesuit, Brother Alphonsus Rodriguez, used to say his Rosary with such fervor that he often saw a red rose come out of his mouth at each Our Father and a white rose at each Hail Mary. The red and white roses were equal in beauty and fragrance, the only difference being in their color.

I admit that when I started praying the rosary, I didn't feel close to Mary at all. I meditated on the Mysteries of her life as if they were spiritual symbols, almost Platonic ideals, of what happens in every Christian's soul, rather than events which really happened to another human being who lived before me . . . and who loved me. It was only very recently that I started feeling that Mary and I had a relationship. A relationship that is actually quite tender and loving.

There really does seem to be a personal element to all of this. St. Louis de Montfort emphasises as much in the stories he chooses to share. In them, Mary steps in, speaks up, and otherwise shows herself a mother.

Another reason to pray the rosary is that it will probably keep you out of hell . . . 

Alphonsus, King of Leon and Galicia, very much wanted all his servants to honor the Blessed Virgin by saying the Rosary. So he used to hang a large rosary on his belt and always wore it, but unfortunately never said it himself. Nevertheless his wearing it encouraged his courtiers to say the Rosary very devoutly.

One day the King fell seriously ill and when he was given up for dead he found himself, in a vision, before the judgment seat of Our Lord. Many devils were there accusing him of all the sins he had committed and Our Lord as Sovereign Judge was just about to condemn him to Hell when Our Lady appeared to intercede for him. She called for a pair of scales and had his sins placed in one of the balances whereas she put the Rosary that he had always worn on the other scale, together with all the Rosaries that had been said because of his example. It was found that the Rosaries weighed more than his sins.

So how exactly does the rosary work in the plan of salvation? It's certainly not on the level of baptism. I guess it's safe to say that praying the rosary predisposes us to virtue (which will keep us habitually choosing the good) and draws down graces for us (which let us participate more fully in the divine life) . . . but that's too safe, you know? What about that personal element I've just mentioned? The explanation I've just given is very general and could apply to any spiritual exercise performed faithfully. But the rosary isn't just any spiritual exercise.

Seriously, what other devotion makes roses fit for the Queen of Heaven mystically fall from our mouths and outweigh even the worst of our sins? I think that only almsgiving, which goes beyond devotion and into charity, has had been revealed to have this sort of mystical value. But of course, when it comes to alms, we are paying tribute directly to Jesus.

While I do think it's possible to approach the rosary superstitiously and to think, "If I just do this, I'll be free and clear" . . . I also think that Mary will intercede to the end for anyone who truly identifies as one of her children, and that we can take that to the bank.

So now that I've mentioned the two best reasons to persist with the rosary, it must be mentioned that it is not a sin to stop persisting. St. Louis de Montfort is very clear that the duties of our state of life and even our health come first. There have been saints who prayed the rosary when they were too sick to do anything else, but I guess they just wanted to make the rest of us look bad. =P It's not even a mark against a devotee if he completely forgets to say the rosary, or just decides not to do it because he feels a bit lazy one day. But if we happen to be personally drawn to this devotion, we will forfeit many graces by not saying it; and if we've made a personal commitment to it besides, we risk becoming as neglectful in great things as we are in little things.

What is a sin, St. Louis writes, is to have "formal contempt" for the rosary, to the point that you discourage others from praying it.

What are your thoughts on Roses 1 to 10?

1) What was your introduction to the rosary? How has it shaped the way you see this devotion today?
2) Can you think of a third really good reason to pray this devotion?

Image Sources: a) The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort, b) St. Dominic receiving the rosary from Mary


r said...

In America, there's a lingering stereotype of the Rosary as being "for old ladies". Growing up it always did seem too feminine for me, so I ignored it. At some point, however, my reading brought me to realize that all the serious Marian visionaries and popes and the like who promoted the Rosary were men. Female visionaries are more associated with things like the Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, etc. that come from direct visions of Christ.

While any of these devotions works for any sex, there really is a particularly manly element to Marian devotions, that comes from the same place that makes chivalry so appealing to men.

More prosaically, its association with a set of physical prayer beads is really nice. I like physical things I can carry around.

Sheila said...

So I can just *wear* a rosary, and that will outweigh my sins just like saying it would? Where do I sign up? ;)

Well, that reminds me of the scapular and the rather extravagant promises attached to it. Or the total consecration, which I've done twice. (Sadly, I did not speedily rise to great perfection. Perhaps I didn't do it right, or didn't do it every year like I think you are supposed to.)

I think the point of all these is that *devotion to Mary* will benefit your soul .... and get you special "goodies" outside of the usual rules, because Mary is the sort of indulgent mother who doesn't mind spoiling us a little. Does it really matter which devotions we do? I kind of doubt it.

Brandon said...

I suppose it makes sense that the primary reason for a devotion that largely involves asking for the intercession of Mary would have as its primary reason Mary herself as intercessor. And it explains Montfort's point about formal contempt: formal contempt for the rosary would be a sin because it's a direct attack on the doctrine of Mary's intercession.

I'm struck by the fact that St. Louis has at least three times now insisted that imitation is a major part of the rosary.

(1) White Rose for Priests: "We ought to pattern ourselves on Our Blessed Lord, Who began by practising what He preached. We ought to emulate Saint Paul who knew and preached nothing but Jesus Crucified. This is really and truly what you will be doing if you preach the Holy Rosary. "

(2) First Rose: "So the Rosary is a blessed blending of mental and vocal prayer by which we honor and learn to imitate the mysteries and virtues of the life, death, passion and glory of Jesus and Mary."

(3) Sixth Rose: The rosary is arranged by three "[t]o imitate the Church Triumphant, to help the members of the Church Militant and to lessen the pains of the Church Suffering"

(And we have several more triads the rosary symbolizes. I like the Luminous Mysteries on their own, but until reading this book I never realized just how much they mess with the symbolism of the prayer.)

mrsdarwin said...

I'm a cradle Catholic, but we never prayed the rosary until I was ten, when my parents were trying to get more serious about Catholicism. We started off only saying one decade at a time. I remember that I didn't know that the Hail Mary was generally said call-and-response style until I went to Mass with my grandma and wondered why most of the church wasn't saying the first part of the prayer along with me.

I actually didn't learn my Hail Mary until I was preparing for my first communion. I got a Cinderella sticker in my book when I memorized it. :) One of my parenting goals has been to ensure that my children know their prayers before that age! Although we don't often say the family rosary, we do pray three Hail Marys every night as part of our bedtime prayers.

I think a third good reason to pray the rosary is that we are told to ask and we shall receive, and throughout the rosary we demand Mary's help, over and over again: "pray for us... pray for us... pray for us." We're tugging on her skirts like little children, and that works for me because I feel like I haven't even passed a child-like level of prayer -- and I don't mean that in the approving sense that Jesus does when he speaks of being child-like.

Also, it can't help but do good to be constantly turning our thoughts to the life of Christ.

One of my commenters recommended 31 Days, 31 Ways as a good tool for building devotion to the rosary, so I'm following it for the rest of Lent.

Enbrethiliel said...


R -- That's an interesting point! My impressions of "rosary people" have obviously been different. If were were playing Family Fortunes and the category were "People most likely to say a daily rosary," I'd expect "Consecrated religious" to be #1 on the board and "Catholic school students" to be #2. The stereotype of the uber-devotee little old lady also exists, of course, but it's not the dominant one.

I also hadn't noticed how the sexes stack up, but I think that if we actually did a tally, you'd be right by a long shot!

Sheila -- Apparently, you can just wear a rosary if you get others to say it instead of you. LOL! Sold? ;-)

I think that if you're determined to find reasons not to pray the rosary, then you will find as many as you need. But there is a whole lot of evidence that the rosary comes with special graces that the other Marian devotions don't and that Mary herself greatly favours it. This doesn't take away from any of the other devotions, as they're not in competition with each other and there will never be an undisputed "best." I respect that you're not drawn to the rosary (and even associate some trauma with it), and no matter what other people's reactions have been, that's really fine. But as valid as your experiences are, I think it's unfair to want the rosary objectively diminished in order to reflect them.

Brandon -- I haven't been picking up on the idea of imitation (though I'll definitely pay more attention now!), but that
says more about my own approach to the rosary than the devotion itself. I think I'm more likely to hope Mary's receptivity and obedience would leach off onto me than to remind myself to imitate her as I actually muddle through life.

As for the Luminous Mysteries, I pray them only as an act of mortification. =P I have no "formal contempt" for them, but they really just don't seem to fit. The Luminous Mysteries may turn out to be Pope John Paul II's most pointless idea. =(

Mrs. Darwin -- The "tugging on Mary's skirts" element is the whole point, but my own personal stumbling block is feeling that that is not enough. I want to be as recollected as possible so that the rosary can double as good mental prayer and not just be a childlike petition over and over again--and this sometimes causes me not to say the rosary. (St. Louis has something to say about that in a later chapter!)

I can't remember when I learned to say the Hail Mary, but I remember when my brother learned. He was four years old and had just been diagnosed with leukemia, so the family started a nightly rosary for him. He was really fascinated by this new addition to our routine, and tried saying the prayers along with us. After a couple of nights, he was a pro! ;-)

mrsdarwin said...

You know, I try to say the rosary in a recollected manner, and then the three-year-old walks in and says, "I wet my sleeper, Mama," and then strips down naked and wanders around chatting until I dress her. So I figure that's what St. Louis means when he says that attending to your vocation is more important than saying the rosary. In the "good intentions" camp, I found myself directing my saying of the rosary to the baby, without the benefit of beads, as I changed him and folded clothes. He doesn't know what I'm telling him, so I might as well say the Hail Mary at him as well as calling him "Mr. Squdgepot Bubs".

That's a sweet anecdote about your brother. Those rosaries are having their eternal effect now.

Sheila said...

I don't mean to disparage the rosary when I say other devotions might be as good. I mean, the scapular supposedly keeps you from ever going to hell! (Though every priest I ever ask says no, it doesn't do that all by itself.) And the First Saturdays devotion is supposed to get you no more than six days of purgatory, because Mary herself will come get you the Saturday after your death.

Sometimes I think Jesus just had to wave "treats" in front of us to get us to care about his mother and give her honor!

But I still feel that doing these things in the hopes of a get-out-of-purgatory card isn't quite right, even if it's sufficient, like imperfect contrition is sufficient. I think it's better to honor Mary for her own sake, rather than what she can get you.

And both in respect to spiritual benefits, and actual honor it gives to Mary, I can't see what makes the rosary *better* than other devotions. Honoring Mary is honoring Mary, right?

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin -- When I grimly ponder my yet-unmarried state, my main consolation is that I have all the time I like to say any devotion that draws me. Oh, luxury! And I hope that when I get to be distracted left and right (Oh, but when? When???), I'll have a good sense of perspective about that other state of life, too.

Sheila -- I'm all about disinterested do-gooding myself, but I really don't think it works that way when we're talking about devotion to her. She really seems to like giving us stuff--to the point that it goes against the spirit of devotion to want to be the only one giving her anything. The more I think about actually being in a relationship with her, the clearer it is to me that if we honour her without taking anything she wants us to have in return, then it's honour she doesn't really care for. It doesn't reflect the bond between a mother and a child.

Of course, it's possible to be opportunistic about it. For instance, I'm sure there are who wear brown scapulars out of superstition, wanting the benefits of the devotion without actually being devoted. And that's just wrong. But going to the other extreme and being disinterestedly devoted seems like another sort of mistake.

I don't think anyone can ever say, definitively, that the rosary is better. Happy now? ;-) I think everything that recommends the rosary to us is nothing to sneeze at, but they're obviously not what you're looking for.

But now I'll put the ball in your court. What would you recommend to someone who really wants to honour Mary but also doesn't care for the rosary?

Sheila said...

Apparently I wasn't clear. I didn't mean we shouldn't accept graces from Mary, just that shouldn't be the main reason we do things. Also, I wouldn't assume that we will *only* get graces like that from specific prayers; I believe anyone truly devoted to Mary will receive her help at the end of their life. Wouldn't it be silly for her to pass by the little girl who prayed a heartfelt prayer to her in her own words every night, to get the person who'd absently said a daily rosary without a whole lot of thought? I think she'd fetch them *both* into heaven because both asked for her help! She's a mother .... and if she's anything like me, she doesn't withhold anything her kids really need because they didn't "ask right."

In answer to your question, I try to talk to her every night, and I think everyone should -- whether they say the rosary or not. Reflecting on her life is good, but even just telling her your troubles is something she is bound to appreciate. And it's awfully comforting, anyhow. One boarding-school habit I did like was the way we would all stop by Mary's statue every night to say good night. Sure, we'd prayed rosaries and angeluses and all kinds of other things. But we all missed our mothers, and there she was, so ..... it was a natural thing to do.

Also, she is the person you should turn to when you have sinned and feel unworthy to talk to God. Sometimes when God seems too scary or far away, Mary can help bridge the gap. She is the best advocate for sinners and those who feel trapped far from God.

Enbrethiliel said...


Of course Mary would help anyone who asked her, no matter what words he used, but she herself has made it clear over and over that there are specific words that especially please her and to which she has attached specific graces. This isn't something I'm assuming, but something that has been repeated by many witnesses the Church has found reliable. (Let's not forget the indulgences added by the Church Herself!) All prayers are good, but they are just not all equal; and if I were the mother, godmother or teacher of the little girl in your scenario, I would do all I could to get her in the habit of adding the Hail Mary to her conversations with Mary.

I think it would be nice to have a special image of Mary around to greet every day. I pass by a giant statue of Our Lady of Peace on the way to work, and it's nice to say, "Good morning, Mama Mary," when I do. =)

Spoiler alert! We're actually anticipating the next readalong post, which is about the prayers of the rosary. ;-)

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm back to add that I'm uncomfortable with this sentence in your last comment:

"I didn't mean we shouldn't accept graces from Mary, just that shouldn't be the main reason we do things."

While I kind of agree with it, I think it carries the wrong implication that if wanting graces happens to be someone's only reason for practicing a devotion, than that person should stop. I don't think anyone should stop! Even if I knew that the only reason that someone was wearing a brown scapular was that he wanted a "Get-out-of-hell Free" card, while not really bothering to amend his life, I still wouldn't say that he shouldn't wear it.

It would also be a pity if someone didn't begin a devotion because he thought he had the wrong reasons for wanting to do it. Devotions are so good in and of themselves that there actually isn't a wrong reason to practice them.

Paul Stilwell said...

Being that the first words of the Hail Mary are directly linked to the salutation of Saint Gabriel at the very moment that the Incarnation, the pivot of all history, occurred, which became the pivot and purpose and meaning and the all-in-all of Mary's life, then one can easily see why the words of the Hail Mary would be the most highly desired by our Holy Mother.