"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 97
(NOTE: This post has been "updated" with some additional thoughts and a new question.)
By this point in the readalong, you're either sold on the rosary or not. And if you're in the former group, then this is the post you've been waiting for. Heretofore, we've been discussing what the rosary is and why we should care; from this point on, we'll get to talk about how we should say it.
. . . One single Hail Mary that is said properly is worth more than one hundred and fifty that are badly said. Most Catholics say the Rosary, the whole fifteen mysteries, or five of them anyway, or at least a few decades. So why is it then that so few of them give up their sins and go forward in the spiritual life? Surely it must be because they are not saying them as they should. It is a good thing to think over how we should pray if we really want to please God and become more holy.
Now, I'm firmly in the Chestertonian "It's worth doing badly" camp, in the sense that I don't think we should let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But the Montfortian "It's worth doing well" camp are now reminding us that we shouldn't let anything be the enemy of the good. In one of the roses we're looking at here, St. Louis de Montfort quotes what seems to be an older proverb: "A corruption of what is best is worst."
Now, St. Louis is well aware that the rosary can be a challenge. (Who else would know it best except those who do it the most?) He acknowledges that we "cannot possibly" persevere in this prayer without distractions--and that sometimes the best we can do is to avoid giving in to them. He proposes an interesting spiritual exercise . . .
. . . imagine that Almighty God and His Blessed Mother are watching you and that your guardian Angel is standing at your right hand, taking your Hail Marys, if they are well said, and using them like roses to make crowns for Jesus and Mary. But remember that at your left hand lurks the devil ready to pounce upon every Hail Mary that comes his way and to write it down in his deadly notebook. And be sure that he will snatch every single one of your Hail Marys that you have not said attentively, devoutly, and with reverence.
Well, that means the devil has at least 2250 of my badly recited Hail Marys, from that time in Grade Six when I asked God for something I can't even remember (a passing grade on the Maths exam, perhaps?), in exchange for a month's worth of rosaries. (What a sloppy understanding of prayer, aye?) Yet even today, my Hail Marys are far from perfect. When I feel my mental recollection to be at a low ebb, I try to make an anchor out of the line "Pray for us sinners," reminding Mary that a sinner like me can't possibly get it right all the time and so desperately needs her to be merciful and to accept what little I can give. Indeed, the whole point of a rosary habit is to have a real relationship with Mary.
The devil knows this, too, because when someone persists in prayer despite all diabolical efforts at sabotage, the devil tries another tactic . . .
. . . he whispers to us: "What you have just said is worthless. It's useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It's only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you're saying; half an hour's meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow, when you're not feeling so sluggish you'll pray better; don't finish your Rosary until tomorrow."
Note that he'd be most likely to do this if you actually prayed so well that he wasn't able to snatch a single Hail Mary from you for his "deadly notebook." That's a good sign!
Now I feel compelled to add that I don't actually think of the devil when I pray. With respect to St. Louis, his little exercise, when I tried it, reminded me of a wartime retort in England, whenever someone wasted something that could have gone toward the war effort: "You might as well have given it to Hitler!" (LOL!) Yes, the devil is a thief, but unless you're saying your prayers in a satanic ceremony, I'm fairly sure that Mary accepts even the drabbest blooms. But I also think, given people's comments, that our idea of drab and her idea of drab don't always overlap.
It's no surprise to anyone that the devil would be against this most Marian of devotions. What is new--at least to me--was another pitfall pinpointed by St. Louis: "the danger of not asking for any graces at all." In an earlier meeting, the issue of people who pray the rosary only because they want some "goodies" came up. It was suggested that this was the wrong motivation to have. I've been thinking carefully about that argument since it first entered the discussion, and I believe there's a bear trap in it. For it's actually very good to want graces and to strive to cooperate with them--and possibly detrimental to be disinterested in our devotions, inasmuch as devotion is a relationship. Similarly, this decade of The Secret of the Rosary is clarifying that there is no wrong reason for starting a devotion, though there are many poor ways of doing it. But being bad at doing it is not a reason to stop doing it.
Another issue that came up early on was the sense of failure some people feel when they really can't get through five decades a day. I mentioned my sense of the rosary as the prayer of a Body and not just of scattered--and occasionally gathered--individuals. It doesn't matter if you don't get through even one decade because all the rest who have the strength to power through all five (or even all fifteen!) are saying the rest for you. Mary's children aren't divided into two camps of "People who love the rosary" and "People who don't really get the rosary": we are all one Body in Christ her Son. I'm not sure if the commenter read my response, but precisely because of the way the Mystical Body works, she didn't need to: I recently saw the same insight, said so much more beautifully by someone else, quoted on her blog:
My only followup is to make this suggestion to . . . all . . . who put down their breviary to attend to Life, only to see it sitting there several hours later and realize that one never got past the second psalm of the hour, and now it's time for the next hours to be prayed. Don't try to go back and finish that earlier hour. Imagine that your guardian angel finished it for you, since that is in fact what he did. Your guardian angel, and the millions of believers all over the world. Sort of like when you get up at mass to take a child to the bathroom. You wouldn't feel you had to go back and recite the prayer's you'd missed to "catch up" to the others. No, because they prayed the mass for you. That's called the communion of saints.
I think it says a lot about the rosary that we can speak of it as we speak of the Divine Office. (The former is Mary's Psalter, after all.) And inasmuch as the Divine Office is an extension of the Mass, we can speak of the rosary and the Mass in similar terms as well--particularly when the rosary is prayed by "two or three" gathered together. Which is not to say that they carry the same weight (because they clearly don't), but that both are perfect examples of Catholic prayer for "two or three" gathered together.
St. Louis has some encouraging things to say about group prayer as well . . .
When we pray in common, the prayer of each one belongs to us all and these make but one great prayer together, so that if one person is not praying well, someone else in the same gathering who prays better may make up for his deficiency. In this way, those who are strong uphold the weak . . .
Someone who says his Rosary alone only gains the merit of one Rosary, but if he says it together with thirty other people, he gains the merit of thirty Rosaries. This is the law of public prayer . . .
Wait, shouldn't that be: "the merit of thirty-one Rosaries"? His rosary, plus those of the other thirty? =P I await the judgment of our pteropine mathematician.
It's also worth noting that the devil absolutely hates it when the rosary is prayed in a group. This isn't a reason to say it that way, of course, but a sign that it is a good thing.
UPDATE: Which brings us to a thread that has been running through both The Secret of the Rosary and this readalong: the enemies of the rosary. Now, I'm not too comfortable with the black-and-white mentality that if you're not for the rosary, you're automatically against it . . . but then I got to the Forty-Eighth Rose, in which St. Louis outlines some of arguments which rosary devotees may have to deal with, and unhappily recognised a few from my own combox . . .
"There's no need . . . of getting mixed up with so many prayers. 'A brief prayer is heard in Heaven,' one Our Father and Hail Mary will do provided they are well said.
"God has never told us to say the Rosary--of course it's all right, it's not a bad devotion when you've got the time. But don't think for one minute that people who say the Rosary are any more sure of Heaven than we are. Just look at the Saints who never said it! . . .
"Oh yes, the Rosary is all right for old women who can't read. But surely the Little Office of Our Lady is much more worthwhile than the Rosary? Or the Seven Penitential Psalms? . . . You say you have agreed to say the Rosary every day; this is nothing but a fire of straw--you know very well it won't last! Wouldn't it be better to undertake less and to be more faithful about it? . . .
Okay, we're now braced for opposition. And perhaps we're ready to fight! So what is the answer to these charges? . . . If you're a modern Catholic blogger, it's probably not the answer you've been conditioned to expect. =P For St. Louis doesn't turn apologist here and ask us to argue. Instead, he says again that the point is to persevere. No matter who tries to discourage you from praying the rosary and no matter how reasonable he sounds, just keep doing what you know is right to do. Say your rosary anyway--say as many decades as you can--and don't let anyone's "reasons" get between you and your devotion to Mary.
END OF UPDATE
St. Louis makes other practical recommendations, like the best physical position for saying the rosary. Since we should show reverence during this prayer, we should be kneeling down and have our hands clasped. I "confess" that I have been saying the rosary lying down in bed for the last decade and don't foresee changing this habit soon. I have prayed kneeling, of course, but I've had several roommates over the last few years and know that nothing can cramp up a small bedroom--or shrink a big bedroom--like one roommate kneeling down to pray. Maybe one day I'll live in more Carmelite conditions and be able to consider kneeling again.
Since this is Holy Week and I want to slow the blog down a little, I won't be writing a post for the appendices of The Secret of the Rosary. If you want to discuss them, let's do so here.
What do you think of Roses 41 to 50?
1) What is your biggest challenge when praying the rosary?
2) In what position do you normally pray the rosary?
NEW:3) What is the most convincing argument you've heard against praying the rosary? How did you deal with it?
Image Source: The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montfort, complete unabridged audiobook