13 April 2014


"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."

The Fifth Decade

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.

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


Brandon said...

I thought it was interesting that in the Forty-Third Rose St. Louis says that the rosary is the hardest prayer to pray well and persevere in. Perhaps that explains some of the trouble people have been having! The line I liked best in this decade, though, was the one you quoted above: "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." I have difficulty with group prayer, and this has been very much the principle by which I've managed to participate in it: if I'm not getting it all, at least someone else is.

I usually pray the rosary sitting; i confess, outside of church it never actually occurred to me to kneel. But there are all sorts of quirks that I end up dealing with; I semi-regularly have to pray it without beads, as well, because I seem to misplace my rosary on a regular basis. So I end up counting on my fingers or some such. And I also, because of the weirdness of my schedule have to do it in bits and pieces, when I'm actually doing it. So maybe my biggest challenge is actually being organized enough to do it properly!

Paul Stilwell said...

"...the whole point of a rosary habit is to have a real relationship with Mary."

In this regard, I have discovered that distraction is sort of a failure at conversation. Conversing with Mary is "fraught with peril" so to speak, because her humility undoes - or unties - what we are typically occupied with, and we naturally pull back - or keep ourselves in - from the prospect of being lifted to such a height (which is at the same time to go down in one's own poverty as one's real self).

I get horribly distracted while reciting with automation. But I have found (and this is the original point I was wanting to make in regard to your words about relationship with Mary) that praying the rosary before an image of Mary (an icon or statue), gazing upon the image while praying the rosary, really aids in keeping one open to that "conversation". And it is this openness through the fixation of the gaze upon the image that keeps away distraction. Of course, nothing's full proof.

Now if Quietism has problems with the rosary, one can just imagine what that slithering beast thinks of praying the rosary with the addition of gazing upon a holy image of Mary!

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- It definitely explains people's trouble! But I also think, barring special cases, that we can get better with practice and with the institution of good habits. And we get better not just for our individual selves, but also for the whole Body.

I know I've said that my word for 2014 is B**** (Ahem!), but since Lent started, a new word has suggested itself to me: LIFT. I want to lift the prayer burdens of those who cannot carry them by themselves; and there two best ways to do it, I've found, are through the Mass and through the rosary.

Stilwell -- That's a new point! When I say the rosary, I usually have my eyes tightly closed, so it didn't occur to me until you mentioned it. =P Which image of Mary do you "converse" with during your rosary? =)

Darwin said...

I finally found my book last week (someone had located it in the end and put it in the last place I expected: on the religion shelf, where it belongs), so I read through to the end to catch up with you all. And I laughed in this post about your 2250 "bad" Hail Marys, because I did the same thing when I was about the same age, praying a long series of rosaries for an ephemeral intention after my first reading of The Secret of the Rosary.

I too generally say my rosary in bed, unless I'm driving somewhere and say it in the car. Then, I usually have a built-in group and make my kids say it with me. But when I'm praying on my own, in bed, I'm almost embarrassed to be caught at it, and will tuck the rosary under the covers if someone comes in. But I too often can't find my rosary, and anyway, it just turned up with only four decades (why? why?) so counting on my fingers is about as useful there. On the other hand, there is something focusing about having the physical movement of beads through fingers, and I've been trying to at least move my lips for the prayers so that the action will anchor me so my attention won't slip away.

Something else that I've been doing that has been helpful, or at least seems to make the rosary fly by more quickly, is following St. Louis's suggestion at the end of the book to add a phrase after "Jesus" in the Hail Mary that exemplifies the decade and helps focus meditation. I haven't memorized his suggestions, and sometimes I forget, but it does give me a good hook on which to hang my prayers.

I can't remember if it was in this section where St. Louis tells the story of the three sisters whose prayers Mary critiqued, but I have to say that in this age of mercy, it jars me to read about Mary coming down robed in judgment to chastise, or to threaten the heretics with punishment unless they step up devotion to the rosary. Not that she doesn't have the right to do so, but it's not an aspect of Marian devotion, or even Divine justice, that's emphasized much these days. Perhaps in an age of more general piety it was the necessary corrective? I was struck by St. Louis's admonition of the person who says the rosary often but shallowly and wondered if there were many people in this day and age who only said the rosary socially, as it were.

It does help, in trying to say the rosary daily, to have the support of this small group here, even if we're not physically present to each other. I often think of Heaven, and how those of us who are separated in life will be joyously reunited for eternity.

Darwin said...

yeah, that's me -- MrsDarwin

Enbrethiliel said...


Your house and the little tweaks it makes to your daily life have been a source of great fascination to me ever since you moved there. Did I ever tell you that? ;-)

So you get embarrassed to be caught saying the rosary, too? I thought I was the only one! =P There's something so intimate about devotions . . .

I've also tried St. Louis's suggestion to say an extra word or phrase after "Jesus," to focus our meditations. What I like about it is that it is just an extra boost to whatever mental prayer I already have going, rather than a substitute for it (which was, you may recall, the main reason I wasn't too excited about St. Louis's unpacking of the Our Father and the Hail Mary).

Another personal "reading theme" of my April is "unfashionable" ideas from old books. I've recently finished Jean Webster's Dear Enemy, in which the heroine suspects that some of the children in an orphanage are "sub-normal" and should be raised in work camps with and by their own kind, rather than with "normal" children. It was a perfectly reasonable thought for an educated person to have back in 1915, though it's more taboo now. But I wonder whether we modern readers distance ourselves from it not necessarily because we've been convinced it's wrong but because it's simply as demode as hobble skirts and turbans? I find myself asking the same questions as I read The Secret of the Rosary. In the previous meeting, Brandon and I commented on all the martial stories. Isn't it scandalous these days to esteem the devotion of someone who prayed the rosary for victory in a brutal battle? But do we feel this way because it really is wrong or because those "foreigners" from the past have given us a jolt of culture shock?

Anyway, yes, the story of the three sisters is in this decade. I confess it didn't bother me too much--perhaps because I've been the third, neglectful sister. =P But also because I wish Heaven would send down a little tough love to some others I could think of. Last Sunday, for instance, I got to church later than I normally do and it was so crowded that I opted to stand outside rather than to squash my way in. I ended up next to a family that wasn't even trying to be reverent. The mother and her adult children had a jar of nuts that they kept passing back and forth and eating. Perhaps they thought that since they weren't actually inside the sanctuary, it was okay. =( Since I'm not at all good at being confrontational, I didn't try to talk to them; instead, I prayed that God would let my own struggle to be attentive merit graces for them, too. (Well, well, well. I guess my word for 2014 really is LIFT.) But while I'm becoming more aware that we all pray as one Body and that the strong can lift up the weak, I also think it would be great if those who don't really have to be weak could see what their contributions look like. For their own sake as well as ours.

Brandon said...

The new question is an interesting one. I think the most plausible argument is that it encourages mere wordy repetitiousness -- all words. And part of it is that I think the way it is often prayed does strongly tend in that direction; speed-praying the rosary, and the like. And while St. Louis insists that the heart of the devotion is in some sense repeating the lives of Christ and Mary in one's mind and heart, I think there's a good argument that this tends not to be what most people praying the rosary spend their time focusing on -- although perhaps that's a bit pessimistic.

Obviously that's not the way it has to be, but it's pretty clear from St. Louis's discussion that even he recognizes the potential problem, and recognizes the difficulty of overcoming it. Perhaps part of the problem is that it's always taught as if it were such-and-such number of prayers followed by such-and-such number of prayers, with the Mysteries almost thrown in on top, when it's actually supposed to be meditation on the Mysteries using the decades as ways to help you reflect on them.

Enbrethiliel said...


Happy Easter, Brandon! =)

That's a good point. And I suspect I've run into quite a few people who say 150 Hail Marys a day with a lot of devotion but don't really think of the Mysteries behind them. This isn't a bad thing, though it can give the wrong impression to those who don't have the rosary habit yet. I recall Sheila saying that it sometimes seems to her that all we get out of saying the rosary is the sense of accomplishment that comes from having completed a long, difficult task--but not necessarily a closer relationship to Jesus and Mary, or some other spiritual value. If this were the case, it wouldn't be much of a devotion, would it?

During Holy Week, however, I got the strongest sense I've ever had of all devotions as either an imitation of Christ or training in the imitation of Christ. I wish that they had been presented to me this way much earlier in life. The rosary, in particular, seems like a handrail that I can use to support myself while walking: not a break from the usual tasks of my day, but something that ties into them and helps me to do them better.

Thanks so much for joining the readalong this month, Brandon. =)

Brandon said...

Happy Easter! I enjoyed this readalong quite a bit.

Paul Stilwell said...

I have three icons I painted sitting on my dresser. Some of my first ones. You've seen them - at least their digital versions. It's the head-and-shoulders image of the Theotokos, the Pantocrator and St. John the Baptist. For the Glory Be I look at either the Pantocrator or St. John (that is, for the "second half" after bowing). For the Oh my Jesus I look at the Pantocrator.

I'm very much aware of the flaws in the icons, yet I don't think I would replace them with any icons I'm making now or later.

Since you asked earlier about personal things that people do/add in praying the rosary...I often pray the Hail Holy Queen in orans. Then I pray the St. Michael (sans orans), then I name three or so saints to pray for us, then ask our guardian angels to protect us. That's it.

Happy Easter!

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm not a very visual person, so I don't usually pray with icons or images; but last Good Friday, while praying the rosary with in a procession, it really helped to be able to look up from time to time and to see a statue of Mary as the Mater Dolorosa swaying gently on the carosa in front of me.

Paul Stilwell said...

It's more beautiful in that instance - to be in a living Catholic culture (more or less, maybe you know which way it's going) where such images tend to greet one by way of large groups such as in procession. More so than here, where one has to do some "home-spinning" so to speak to provide it. Though that's not the reason why I paint the icons. (Nor do I regard it as homespun!)

I should say that I don't pray with images all the time - maybe in fact not even half the time. I often pray with my eyes closed too.

But I wonder though. What is it for someone where you live to say that she's not that visual (as regards devotions, her faith) compared to someone here saying that he often prays before images?

Do they perhaps equal out after all things considered?

When you were in New Zealand did you notice any dearth? Sort of like the converse of some mid Western American not knowing how much he was starving culturally until he visited dying Europe?

Enbrethiliel said...


Interesting question! In one sense, the images you get also depend on where you are. My current parish church happens to be quite "ornate" when it comes to stained glass windows, mosaic Stations of the Cross, statues of the saints (both inside and outside!) . . . and now I feel that I'm bragging. =P

But before my family moved here, we lived in a gated community that had special permission to have Mass celebrated in the local clubhouse rather than the parish's main church. The space was readied for worship by the setting up of a portable altar, and the hanging of a large crucifix and an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Meanwhile, the main church was basically a big white cavern, where there was little either to distract from or to complement the gigantic risen Christ with a levitating crown too big for Him behind the altar. (Ahem!)

Even a non-visual philistine knows which is the better deal. ;-)

But it's also very common to run into evidence of popular piety, from Santo Nino statues in shops to rosaries dangling from taxis' rear view mirrors. And yes, you'll occasionally get caught in a traffic jam because you hadn't known it was the memorial of a nearby church's patron saint. (That last sentence implies a procession.) It was this rather than church design that I really hungered for in New Zealand: the spillover from the churches to other corners of the culture.