30 March 2014


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 95

When looking for images for the readalong, I was surprised to find audiobook "cover art" among the top images. Not being a big audiobook "reader" (though I love having an audience for "read aloud" =P), I'm a little surprised. Is anyone here using an audio copy of The Secret of the Rosary--and if so, do you think it affects how you receive St. Louis de Montfort's preaching?

I should like to give you even more reason for embracing this devotion which so many great souls have practised; the Rosary recited with meditation on the mysteries brings about the following marvelous results:

1. it gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ;
2. it purifies our souls, washing away sin;
3. it gives us victory over all our enemies;
4. it makes it easy for us to practise virtue;
5. it sets us on fire with love of Our Blessed Lord;
6. it enriches us with graces and merits;
7. it supplies us with what is needed to pay all our debts to God and to our fellow men, and finally, it obtains all kinds of graces for us from Almighty God.

There are probably a million reasons to pray the rosary, but I'm starting to think they shouldn't be presented in a list. What we should be aiming for is more of a unified field theory. For every possible benefit of the rosary is related to all the others. Taken together, they give us a much bigger picture than that of the rosary as just one of many beneficial devotions.  

The Third Decade

The readalongs I end up remembering most fondly are those which gave me an unexpected thematic hook on which to hang all my thoughts about the books. Stephen King's Pet Sematary had rites of passage . . . Michael Crichton's State of Fear had human sacrifice . . . and now St. Louis de Montfort's Secret of the Rosary has predestination.

Which naturally brings me back to The Terminator . . .

It is actually thanks to our latest read that I finally bothered to look up the Catholic understanding of predestination . . . and to learn how much it has in common with my understanding of time travel. I had been put off by the worry that it would be too difficult to understand, but now that I get it, I think it's #totallyQED. Let me explain . . .

Since God is outside time, He already knows your future: that is, He knows not just what He did to save you but also what you did to work out your salvation in cooperation with Him--even if you haven't done it as of this moment. But it is incredibly easy to go from here to making the same mistake James Cameron did when he got Kyle Reese to say in his Annunciation to Sarah Connor, "The future is not set." I mean, of course the future is set. That's #totallyDUH What is not set is the present. (The future is not set only inasmuch as it is someone else's present.) And that's why Sarah has to go through about twenty-four hours of fear and trembling in The Terminator alone. Reese's assurance that she will live long enough to have a baby does not magically protect her from the T-800 trying to kill her that very day.

That is, the takeaway from the doctrine of predestination is not that we have no work to do, but that we have to work as if our lives depend on it. Which they do. And I refer to our eternal lives.

So what is this work that we must take up? St. Louis has his own take on the answer the Church has been teaching for years . . .

The chief concern of a Christian soul should be to tend to perfection . . .

Saint Gregory of Nyssa makes a delightful comparison when he says that we are all artists and that our souls are blank canvases which we have to fill in. The colors which we must use are the Christian virtues, and our Model is Jesus Christ, the perfect Living Image of God the Father. Just as a portrait painter who wants to do a good job places himself before his model and glances at him before making each stroke, so the Christian must always have the life and virtues of Jesus Christ before his eyes so that he may never say, think or do the least thing which is not in harmony with his Model.

It was because Our Lady wanted to help us in the great task of working out our salvation that she ordered Saint Dominic to teach the faithful to meditate upon the sacred mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ. She did this, not only that they might adore and glorify Him, but chiefly that they might pattern their lives and actions upon His virtues.

Brandon noticed early on that one theme of The Secret of the Rosary is imitation of Jesus and Mary, and I finally get a sense of it here. For it is by imitating them that we do our share of working out our salvation--which is to say, our perfection. If you don't like the word "predestination," then every time you read it, just substitute the word "perfection," and the meaning will be just the same. For we are not instantly made perfect, but have our whole lives to work toward perfection by cooperating with grace. Same doctrine, same hashtag: #totallyQED

It's clear how praying the rosary is an imitation of Mary: she was the first to ponder all the mysteries of her Son's life in her heart, and those who meditate on the fifteen mysteries of the rosary can do the same.

Of course, the real deal is the imitation of Jesus, which I'm embarrassed to admit I never got until now. Despite having said, hundreds of times, "O God . . . grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain . . ." I really didn't get it. My only consolation is that I knew I didn't get it. =P It turns out that one disadvantage of loving the rosary for its own sake is not bothering to look too far beyond it. And in my case, it was compounded by an unrelated mistake of forgetting that virtue is a habit rather than a grace.

Praying the rosary is good in and of itself, but it becomes even better when it gives us a clearer idea of how to be like Jesus. But it is a whole other good to work at being like Jesus, Who is perfect--and the rosary is at its best when it feeds into that.

This decade about more reasons to pray the rosary ends with reasons to join the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary. And of course these reasons include a long and gorgeous list of indulgences. Again, as a list, they're not very impressive. But as soon as you plug them into the unified field theory, they look as amazing as they really are.

What do you think of Roses 21 to 30?

1) Have you ever seen the fruits of a devotion show up in your day-to-day life?
2) Do you prefer practicing your devotions alone or as part of a group?

Image Sources: a) The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort, read by Matthew Arnold, b) Pet Sematary by Stephen King, c) State of Fear by Michael Crichton, d) The Terminator poster


Brandon said...

I found the passing mention of Quietism in the Twenty-Fifth Rose interesting:

If only the Illuminists or Quietists of these days had followed this piece of advice, they would never have fallen so low or caused such scandals among spiritual people. To think that it is possible to say prayers that are finer and more beautiful than the Our Father and the Hail Mary is to fall a prey to a strange illusion of the devil, for these heavenly prayers are the support, the strength and the safeguard of our souls.

This leads me to think that perhaps a major reason for the Rosary, as practiced in modern times, is precisely to eliminate the temptation to Quietism, which is the heresy that the only true prayer is stillness before God, so that one should give up all desires, hopes, imaginations, and sensible devotions and just let God move in one. And looking at some of the propositions condemned in Coelestis Pastor (which condemned Quietism), you can see how the Rosary is in opposition to the Quietist idea (sorry for the length, but they are all relevant):

18. He who in his prayer uses images, figures, pretension, and his own conceptions, does not adore God "in spirit and in truth."

20. To assert that in prayer it is necessary to help oneself by discourse and by reflections, when God does not speak to the soul, is ignorance. God never speaks; his way of speaking is operation, and he always operates in the soul when this soul does not impede him by its discourses, reflections, and operations.

27. He who desires and embraces sensible devotion does not desire nor seek God, but himself; and anyone who walks by the interior way, in holy places as well as on feast days, acts badly when he desires it and tries to possess it.

30. Everything sensible which we experience in the spiritual life, is abominable, base, and unclean.

34. To give thanks to God by words and by speech is not for interior souls which ought to remain in silence, placing no obstacle before God, because he operates in them; and the more they resign themselves to God, they discover that they cannot recite the Lord's prayer, i.e., Our Father.

35. It is not fitting for souls of this interior life to perform works, even virtuous ones, by their own choice and activity; otherwise they would not be dead. Neither should they elicit acts of love for the Blessed Virgin, saints, or the humanity of Christ, because since they are sensible objects, so, too, is their love toward them.

36. No creature, neither the Blessed Virgin nor the saints, ought to abide in our heart, because God alone wishes to occupy and possess it.

So instead of Quietism we have a prayer whose very nature is anti-Quietist: it's (a) a sensible devotion (b) consisting of verbal discourse (c) emphasizing human imagination, conception, and reflection (d) based on recitation of the Lord's Prayer (e) and on keeping the Virgin Mary in one's heart.

One reason I find it interesting is that while it's easy to talk about something's being a heresy, it's often harder to see what to do about it. But here we have one way in which heresy can be defeated (and Montfort himself emphasizes exactly this aspect of the rosary, without considering Quietism in particular, in the Twenty-Ninth Rose). And it's not a way you would ordinarily think of. At the same time, I think it shows why the rosary seems so very, very, very Catholic, and to sum up everything Catholic. In the context of modern life, the constant temptation is Quietist -- live a life that's 'spiritual but not religious', or deal with God in the abstract or in a purely interior way without any of this fuss of sensible signs and pageantry. And the rosary is a major weapon the Church uses to fight this aspect of the Spirit of the Age, so in a sense it serves as a distinctive mark of the Catholic approach to God.

Enbrethiliel said...


WOW! You should be leading the readalong, Brandon. You're a million steps ahead of me! =D I had never thought of the "spiritual but not religious" crowd as Quietist before (though I used to describe myself as "religious but not spiritual" in reaction to them), but it really fits.

I also love the idea of the rosary as a guardrail that can keep one from falling into doctrinal error. St. Louis says as much in the Twenty-Ninth Rose: "For never will anyone who says his Rosary every day become a formal heretic or be led astray by the devil. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood."

The introduction to my edition also quotes St. Louis as saying, "Let me but place my rosary around a sinner's neck, and he will not escape me." (When I read that, I had a vision of myself "lassoing" people through my own prayer of the rosary, though I might not actively encourage them to take the habit up themselves . . . but I'm less evangelical than St. Louis!)

Belfry Bat said...

When I read that, "... he shall not escape me" (in your comment, just now) I thought of the second encounter between Father Brown and Flambeau: "I
caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread." Which is getting the chronology backwards. I wonder if it was part of what Uncle Gilbert had in mind.

Enbrethiliel said...


When I first read that in The Queer Feet, I assumed that Flambeau had been hooked all along, but that Father Brown was the one with the privilege of reeling in the line at last.

Brandon said...

I study seventeenth-century French philosophy, and Quietism comes up on occasion, so it just caught my eye. I'm sure there's a spectrum among 'spiritual but religious' people, but the idea certainly does seem to tend toward Quietism.

It occurs to me that when we talk about the benefits of the rosary we mostly talk about individual spiritual benefits in praying it. But the idea of the rosary as a guardrail against heresy also suggests another way of looking at it: what benefits does the Church as a whole gain from there being a general culture of Catholics praying it?

Enbrethiliel said...


In a previous discussion, I mentioned having recently become aware that I pray the rosary not in isolation (although I usually do pray it by myself) but as part of a body. I think it did me well to know throughout my formative years that even though I couldn't (or wouldn't!) say this prayer, others continued to say it all the same . . . and I daresay that it does all Catholics some good to know that even when they slack off or simply aren't interested, other devotees are still growing strong.

My heart is similarly moved by traditions which live on in other Catholic cultures, although they do not really touch me personally. I'd be devastated if Irish Catholics forgot their devotion to St. Patrick. Despite my not being Irish at all and wearing green (and gold!) only for St. Joseph.

And this doesn't even touch on the objective good such traditions do for the whole Church!

But as I've been discovering through other people's comments, this sense of the rosary as something the Mystical Body does--rather than just something individual members happen to do--often puts a lot of pressure on people to do something the Church doesn't actually require. I find this problematic inasmuch as it turns people off from the rosary . . . but I don't think the main problem is (as the subtext implies) those pushy, pushy devotees. =P In fact, I'm starting to wonder if a bit of it is due to personal frustration that the Mystical Body often goes in directions that one finds puzzling or even painful.