24 March 2014


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 94

Something I didn't expect when I picked The Secret of the Rosary for a readalong was that it would also provide interesting historical details from St. Louis de Montfort's time. It confirms some big conflicts, like strong Calvinist opposition to the rosary and the brown scapular, and reveals some surprising trends among the faithful, like a distaste for traditional prayers. In a passage on the Our Father, St. Louis writes . . .

I have a word for you, devout souls, who pay little attention to the prayer that the Son of God gave us Himself and asked us all to say: It is high time for you to change your way of thinking. You only like prayers that men have written--as though anybody, even the most inspired man in the whole world, could possibly know more about how we ought to pray than Jesus Christ Himself! You look for prayers in books written by other men almost as though you were ashamed of saying the Prayer that Our Lord told us to say.

You have managed to convince yourself that the prayers in these books are for scholars and for rich people of the upper classes and that the Rosary is only for women and children and the lower classes. As if the prayers and praises which you have been reading were more beautiful and more pleasing to God than those which are to be found in the Lord's Prayer! It is a very dangerous temptation to lose interest in the Prayer that Our Lord gave us and to take up prayers that men have written instead.

What do you suppose St. Louis would have written if he had had us moderns in mind? Based on objections I have heard, I think he'd warn us not to think of formula prayer as a contrived or insincere way of talking to God, which would lead us to reject the rosary as inferior to our own words . . . or perhaps, inferior to "tongues." (I probably shouldn't insert my favourite emoticon here, aye?)

The Second Decade

In these next ten roses, St. Louis explains the three principal prayers which make up the rosary. He writes about them in great, reverent detail, showing how prayers so simple that children can understand them are also prayers so complex that theologians could discourse on them forever. This should have been right up my alley, so I was surprised that I skimmed through these passages quickly and don't really want to blog about them now. Then again, I generally don't bring a deep bucket to the wells of other people's meditations. Whenever I read about someone else's mental prayer, my takeaway averages a thimbleful.

Nevertheless, here are some of my favourite thimblefuls about the Creed, the Our Father, and of course, the Hail Mary . . . 

The Creed

I shall not take time here to explain the Creed word for word but I cannot resist saying that the first few words "I believe in God" are marvelously effective as a means of sanctifying our souls and of putting devils to rout, because these three words contain the acts of the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

It was by saying
I believe in God that the Saints overcame temptations, especially those against faith, hope or charity--whether they came during their lifetime or at their death.

Our Father

When we say this wonderful prayer we touch God's heart at--the very outset by calling Him by the sweet name of Father--Our Father. He is the dearest of fathers: all-powerful in His creation, wonderful in the way He maintains the world, completely lovable in His Divine Providence--always good and infinitely so in the Redemption. We have God for our Father, so we are all brothers--and Heaven is our homeland and our heritage. This should be more than enough to teach us to love God and our neighbor and to be detached from the things of this world.

Hail Mary

Although this new hymn is in praise of the Mother of God and is sung directly to her, nevertheless it greatly glorifies the Most Blessed Trinity because any homage that we pay Our Lady returns inevitably to God Who is the cause of all her virtues and perfections. When we honor Our Lady: God the Father is glorified because we are honoring the most perfect of His creatures; God the Son is glorified because we are praising His most pure Mother, and God the Holy Spirit is glorified because we are lost in admiration at the graces with which He has filled His Spouse.

When we praise and bless Our Lady by saying the Angelic Salutation she always passes on these praises to Almighty God in the same way as she did when she was praised by Saint Elizabeth. The latter blessed her in her most elevated dignity as Mother of God and Our Lady immediately returned these praises to God by her beautiful Magnificat.

Now, did you notice that the Glory Be doesn't get its own "rose"? (I did.) St. Louis says only that it's "very good to add" to the end of a decade--and an endnote in my edition says that the popularity of this particular "happy innovation" can probably be traced back to him! And now you know why the Glory Be doesn't get its own bead. (When you pray, do you mark the Glory Be on the same bead as the next decade's Our Father or do you say it on the string? I'm totally a string person.)

For all its ancient integrity, the rosary has embraced additions over the years. Some fit as if they had always been there, like the Fatima Prayer. Some seem to miss the boat, like the Luminous Mysteries. (But I'm not biased or anything! =P) Although every Catholic knows exactly what "the rosary" is, I'm sure that if you got two random Catholics to say one together, they'd each rub up against at least one weird tweak. (In case anyone is wondering, I like to add that extra Hail Mary for the Pope at the end and to say the Memorare after the Hail Holy Queen. The first is something I read about somewhere and the second is what the rosary procession group in my former village used to do.)

Anyway, after I was done filling my thimble to the brim and trying not to slosh anything over the sides, I found myself fascinated by another idea that St. Louis touches on: the reality of predestinate souls.

Blessed Alan de la Roche, who was so deeply devoted to the Blessed Virgin, had many revelations from her, and we know that he confirmed the truth of these revelations by a solemn oath . . . the first, that if people fail to say the Hail Mary . . . out of carelessness, or because they are lukewarm, or because they hate it, this is a sign that they will probably and indeed shortly be condemned to eternal punishment.

The second truth is that those who love this divine salutation bear the very special stamp of predestination . . . (Blessed Alan, chapter XI, paragraph 2)

Strong words, aye? And you can bet that St. Louis knew how they sound: a few paragraphs later, he admits that he cannot explain how something so "terrible but consoling" (or as I like to say, "crazy") could also be true, but that his experiences alone have been enough to convince him. Admittedly, private revelations like Bl. Alan's are not something Catholics are required to believe and even holy and learned men like St. Louis may be subject to what we call "confirmation bias." But you know what? Every cell in my advocatus diaboli body is screaming that they got it right.  

To be clear, no one is saying that failing to pray the rosary or reciting it carelessly will get someone thrown into hell. The assertions are that real devotion to the rosary is a sign that someone is actively cooperating with God's plan of salvation, providing some moral certitude that he'll persevere to the end . . . and that the aversion to the Hail Mary in particular is a sign that someone is currently not cooperating with grace, providing no similar certitude about the hour of his death. Now, signs are not and can never be the final word on who is saved and who is lost: salvific grace can be rejected after it was received and received after it was rejected. But in the meantime, signs can give a lot of peace to the faithful and a lot of insight into souls.

So let's add that to the reasons to pray the rosary: it's a great sign of predestination.

What do you think of Roses 11 to 20?

1) Do you find it easy to say formula prayers? Apart from the rosary's "Big Three," what other formula prayer would you recommend to as many people as possible?
2) How have you or your community "tweaked" the rosary?
3) Do you agree that it's possible to tell something about someone from his approach to the rosary?

Image Source: The Secret of the Holy Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort


Paul Stilwell said...

"I'm totally a string person."

That's just weird.

Weird, like the time I saw someone "pushing" the beads out from between thumb and forefinger, rather than "pulling" the beads in.

It's when you realize, "Oh, wait a minute. I've never really observed anyone's particular method before. There must be a plethora of styles I'm not aware of. In fact, I might be the weird one."

Enbrethiliel said...


Yeah, you are definitely the weird one. ;-)

As paradoxical as this may sound, the "plethora of styles" may reflect the universality of the rosary more than anything else does.

Brandon said...

I don't usually find it easy to pray formula prayers; my attention usually wanders in and out. I think the biggest difficulty is praying the formula without the prayer itself being merely formulaic. One formula that I do like and recommend is the Jesus Prayer -- some version or other of "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

One thing I liked about Montfort's roses this time around is the association of different aspects of the Our Father, if said sincerely, with acts of virtue. We don't usually think of prayer as training for virtue, but, of course, that's one of the secondary things that it's supposed to be.

Sheila said...

I once knew a person who moved from one bead to the next in the *middle* of each prayer! How confusing! My inlaws used to say about a dozen prayers after every rosary; I could never keep up with it. And at boarding school we said the whole litany of Loreto, which I loved, but boy did it take me a long time to memorize it!

Apparently I am going to hell, though. How comforting. :P I don't believe in predestination, though, thank goodness.

My favorite formulaic prayer is the Memorare. When I don't know what to say, I pick that.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- I love that you're picking up on different things in this book! I also really like the idea of prayer as training for virtue. Thank you for putting it so well here because it totally flew over my head when I was reading the actual text!

Sheila -- How did that person keep track of how many Hail Marys to say? If she prays in a group, does she throw everyone off?

The "rosary group" in my current parish likes to say the Litany of Loreto after the rosary as well. Then, since our parish's patron is St. Joseph, we say the prayer to him which begins: "To you, O Blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of your thrice holy spouse . . ."

Now, you know that your going to hell is not what St. Louis is saying! I was extra careful with my penultimate paragraph because the Catholic understanding of predestination is tricky, but perhaps one can't be careful enough.

It's probably worth adding that St. Louis, for all his experiences, never met someone who had difficulty with the rosary because of abuse. There's a scene in the movie Sleepers which shows someone having difficulty praying the rosary as an adult because he was forced to say the rosary while being sodomised as a teenager. I think the only strong words St. Louis would have about such a person's response to the rosary are those about millstones around necks. Or perhaps I'm just projecting my own thoughts here . . .

After you mentioned your own traumatic experiences with the rosary, I went back and reread all your Regnum Christi posts. This time, it was easier to see the diabolical and malicious elements and not just to accept your story as an account of narcissistic people exploiting a bureaucracy. The damage they did to countless souls can never be undone and I agree with you that the entire organisation should just disappear now. I think it's obvious that the founders never had a charism anyway and I wonder how current members can recruit new people and still sleep at night. We can always judge a tree by its fruits, and I think that one of the worst fruits of their abuse of you and others was making beautiful things ugly in your sight. After what you went through, I think it's an incredible grace that you remained in the Church at all and are as committed to your faith as you still are. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that that is the great sign of your predestination, Sheila, and that we can all be morally certain that you will persevere in your final hour as you are doing now.

And if anyone tries to insinuate otherwise, send him to me and I'll set him straight! (That will always be an open offer.)

Sheila said...

Haha, I know all too well I am not predestinated .... I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling like everybody else. I read an article today that's been blowing up the Catholic internet, in which a bride-to-be boasts that she and her husband will never get divorced or cheat on each other -- she is morally certain of it, because they are good Catholics and pray together. Of course that's nonsense, we all have free will! And I think you stand a better chance of preventing these things from happening because you know they *could* happen and so you know to work to prevent them. In the same way, I don't dare slack off on my faith, no matter how difficult I find it, because I know full well I could wander away and never come back. We all could.

Thanks for your kind words. I go back and forth about whether RC/LC is demonic in origin or just the result of human sinfulness .... but usually I settle on demonic. Even Maciel never intended to lead so many souls away from God as he did. He wasn't directly out to hurt the Church -- and yet the Church was harmed about as much as it is possible for one person to harm it. The number of people I have known to completely abandon the faith -- people who were absolutely on fire for God back when they joined RC -- is staggering. It's hard to counsel these people. I just remind them that God still loves them, he understands why they can't bear to walk into a Church, and they can wait on him to help them find a way back to him again. What else can you do?

The Legion of Christ has had a general chapter and thus declares itself "fixed." Even though it does not appear they have changed very much .... but even if they had, how do you make up for having been founded completely as a fraud to enable a criminal?

The St. Joseph prayer that's popular in these parts is "O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so powerful, so prompt before the throne of God...." I don't know it all; I didn't grow up with it and it sounds a little sappy to me. "I never weary contemplating you," in particular .... perhaps that's an aspiration, but in reality we all get tired of praying, even if we wish we didn't!

Sheila said...

I should add that I don't know if I would be saying the rosary today if I'd never been in contact with RC. I was always most comfortable with using my own words, and I can't help but think God likes to hear what I actually think. But I would kind of like to at least be *able* to. There are so many practices and devotions I avoid now, and things that bother me that probably shouldn't. Every time I hear a sermon about "how much God loves you, and how little you've done for him" I want to run screaming from the Church. It just seems so *manipulative*! But I don't think those priests are trying to manipulate anybody. It just sounds that way. Sigh.

Enbrethiliel said...


Just so no one thinks I'm being Calvinist about this (The Horror!), I want to point out that the Catholic understanding of predestination fully embraces free will. It isn't at all about God creating some souls for Heaven no matter what crap they pull on earth and some souls for hell no matter how much they love Him here. Nor does it mean that we have no real choices or agency in our lives. But if we believe that God is outside time and omniscient, then we must believe that He already knows the future, including which souls used their free will on earth to cooperate with His grace. So when we speak of "signs of predestination," we mean that someone seems to be cooperating with salvific grace, giving us some "moral certitude" (Yeah, I had to look that up, too. Apparently, it's a thing!) that he will do so until his death. Of course, we can never know for sure, unexpected events can turn the tide, appearances can be faked, and there will never be official signs of predestination that we can take to the bank; but as I said, I think the idea can be a source of peace and consolation to those who may be struggling now.

I haven't read the article by that bride-to-be, so I can't really comment on it, but it reminds me of a very personal sense of the future I had many years ago and still kind of have today . . . When I was a teenager, I read a book in which a young woman described a conversation with an older married lady, who said to her: "I feel sorry for any woman who doesn't know what it's like to have her husband as her only lover." (I paraphrase, but that's totally the gist.) That really struck me, because it is a different sense of knowing from the experiential sense that we're used to. She wasn't talking about the quality of sex, but about the idea of perseverance in goodness and virtue: that is, she had in the present the assurance of the future that she was doing the right thing, and that if she kept at it, she would not regret it. And knowing something like that now can be a great motivator to keep going until then. You don't want to lose your prize; you want to keep running.

Anyway, I don't know what will happen in my future. I don't know if I will even get married and get to be in the same position as the older woman in the story. I don't know what temptations and crosses will come. I can't even say what I will do in response. And perhaps, at the end of my life, everyone will think that I wasted every last opportunity I got for "fun" and "romance"--not to mention children! (The age of barrenness rapidly approaches . . .) But I am very certain right now that choosing chastity is always the right thing to do and I am morally certain that I have already been given what it takes to keep choosing chastity. So I have no excuse to fail. This doesn't mean that I will never fail, just that I can know that sticking to this decision is something I won't ever regret.

mrsdarwin said...

Okay, now that you've got the next post up, I have to post on this one. Someone cleaned up the house last weekend and moved my book and I can't find it anywhere. I kept waiting to leave a comment in hopes that it would turn up, but such is the danger of living with other people, or with not doing all the cleaning oneself.

Anyway, since I didn't finish the section, I can only talk about the ephemeral bits of the post

I say the Glory Be on the bead. The string? That's just crazy talk.

Another formula prayer I say is the "Come Holy Spirit" prayer and the Morning Offering, as morning prayers with the kids. Sometimes if I can't sleep at night, I say the Divine Chaplet or "Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner," (changing out the name of the sinner based on who pops into my head -- I've prayed for you that way too!).

I say the first Our Father of the rosary for the Pope, and the three Hail Marys for faith, hope, and love, and I say the Fatima prayer after each decade, the Hail Holy Queen at the end, and the little prayer that starts "O God, by whose life, death, and resurrection thou hast purchased for us the rewards of eternal life..." I don't have that one perfectly memorized, though, and keep getting it mixed up with the Angelus prayer that starts, "Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord..." As for community tweaks, I know some people who sing "Ave, ave, ave Maria" (x2) between each decade, but that starts to seem like overkill to me. I confess that I generally start the rosary right at the mysteries, skipping the opening prayers.

mrsdarwin said...

Gah -- someone cleaned up and lost my book more than a week ago, and I've been waiting until I find it to leave a comment, but you've already got the next section up, and I had a nice long comment but the internet just ate it... Anyway, I'm still thinking along with you, even if I'm not reading until I find my book. And I say the Glory Be on the bead -- the string? That's just madness.

Enbrethiliel said...


The Internet may have eaten your comments, but Angels miraculously sent them to a folder where I was able to rescue them! ;-)

I'd wager that the majority of the prayers I say are formula prayers, from the morning offering I borrowed from St. Therese of Lisieux to the Anima Christi I say after Communion. I "ad lib," too, of course--but even these eventually develop a rhythm and a repetition of their own. I'm afraid I'm not very interesting or original in my prayer life! =P

There are times when I skip the introductory prayers of the rosary, too, and go straight to the mysteries. But it doesn't always feel right to jump in like that, so I either "warm up" with a Memorare or tell myself something like, "It's Sunday today and you said the Creed and the Our Father at Mass. That's introduction enough!" (Perhaps this is more of that crazy, crazy Glory-Be-on-the-string madness.) And you're not the only one who mixes up the last prayer of the rosary with the last prayer of the Angelus! ;-)

Thanks for your prayers. I've remembered you and your family in mine as well. (This feels so intimate to say!)

PS -- There are some online copies of The Secret of the Rosary, if you don't mind reading from a bright screen.