Friday, October 07, 2011

Wearing the Rosary... redux

Is it sacrilegious?
Not necessarily.  I'm not talking about the above photo of the guy with all the rosaries on his head - which I found on a Hallowed Ground post featuring a variety of photos from World Youth Day events.  Perhaps in his case it is a bit over the top, but the idea of wearing a rosary is an old one, and once carried an indulgence - which may explain in part why many active religious orders once wore a blessed rosary as part of their habit.  ("Those who openly wear the Holy Rosary out of devotion and to set a good example may gain one hundred days' indulgence." - Secret of the Rosary: Confraternity Privileges.)  Wearing the rosary by a religious, usually on the belt, but sometimes around the neck (Ven. Maria Agreda, shown below), was seen not only as an act of devotion, it was a form of evangelization and  propagation of the devotion.

Questions regarding wearing the rosary come up every so often.  I get a little impatient sometimes when people automatically assume a pious custom outside of one's cultural experience is somehow inappropriate or sacrilegious.  Wearing rosaries, medals and relicarios is a long standing custom amongst Latinos the world over.  I believe some Catholics in Africa and India may also share similar customs, depending upon what countries the missionaries who originally evangelized them came from.
When this issue comes up I like to tell the story of the Missionaries of Charity from the hospice begun by Mother Teresa in Manhattan who gave rosaries to their patients to wear around their necks.  Some of the men either converted or returned to the faith, afterwards continuing to carry their rosary about their necks.  A blessed rosary is not a talisman or a lucky charm, nor is it superstitious.  When it is blessed, it is a sacramental, not unlike the scapular of Mt. Carmel, or the Miraculous Medal of the Immaculate Conception.  Many conversions have come about by wearing such sacramentals - accompanied by the prayers of the person wearing it, or by another - frequently an anonymous intercessor.  Saints such as Therese and Catherine Laboure 'sneaked' Miraculous Medals into unsuspecting workman's pockets, hoping for their conversion.  (I've hidden Miraculous Medals in numerous coat pockets and homes.)  Modern Catholics, and not infrequently, converts to Catholicism tend not to believe these things, or at best they simply do not understand them.

Several years ago Dolce and Gabbana featured a shirtless David Beckham wearing the designer's jeans I think, sporting a rosary they had designed, around his neck as a fashion accessory.  Madonna kind of kick-started the rosary as a fashion accessory thousands of pop-culture years before that - the idea may have come from Latino gangs.  I genuinely doubt these folks had their rosaries blessed, and I'm fairly certain that in Madonna's case, she wasn't wearing the beads out of devotion.  The silver lining in this was the fact the rosary became news - people wanted to know what it was - what it meant.  I'm quite sure there were at least a couple of souls whose interest led them back to prayer as well.  All of that aside, Catholic stores on and off line all sell a form of rosary jewelry: bracelets, rings, and so on.  They are worn as an accessory in the same way a beautiful cross or medal is worn around the neck - yet the beads can be used for prayer as well.
In St. Louis De Montfort's day these same issues arose.  He tells the story of the Spanish King Alphonso who always wore a large rosary on his belt to encourage his servants in devotion to Our Lady by praying her rosary.   Though at the time the king never prayed the rosary himself, his servants did.  The king fell ill and experienced a vision of his sins - it was shown to him that all the rosaries prayed on account of his example of simply wearing the beads outweighed his sins.  The king recovered and spent the rest of his life continuing to propagate the rosary and prayed it faithfully every day.  De Montfort has many other such stories about the graces received by those wearing a blessed rosary.

Catholics should read St. Louis De Montfort in order to learn true devotion to Our Lady.  Catholics ought to be encouraged not only to have devotion to the Rosary, but to pray the Rosary as well.   And if you feel so moved - wear it like Beckham - or not.  ;)


  1. Well written. I pray my rosary on the drive to work every day, but have a more difficult time being faithful on the weekends. I do carry my rosary w/me in my front pocket wherever I go.

    Our Blessed Mother is so consoling.

  2. Could someone please clear something up for me? If you can, I'd be exceedingly grateful.
    Long, long ago, when I was in the 6th grade, the nun teaching our class told us that St Louis De Montfort suffered from a form of epilepsy.
    He suffered a seizure and died. When they exhumed his body, the nun told us, they discovered that the inside of the coffin lid was scratched up and St Louis's arms had moved.
    Like maybe, he wasn't exactly dead when they buried him...
    This horrified me. Still does.
    I would love to find out that this isn't true at all(this particular sister ended up in an Irish mental asylum the summer afterward--another story.)I'd really like to put St Louis to rest after all these years. I've never been able to think of him or read any of his works without this haunting detail.

  3. I also carry a rosary in my pocket....occasionally wear a rosary bracelet if I am not doing heavy work where it might get damaged. It helps keep me grounded and a tiny reminder, even if I don't have time at that moment to pray. When I was in Saudi many of the workers kept a rosary in their shirt pocket (to keep Our Lady close to their heart). I have noticed on occasion here in Utah Hispanics wearing them.

    Like you said--if it bring one soul closer to Our Lady, or among the Mormons encouages them to find out more, then it is an act well done.


  4. Julie - I never heard that before - I'll try to find out for sure.

    When I was in school, the nuns used to tell us things about the saints that were oftentimes just pious fantasy or hearsay. I also had a couple who could have been put in a mental hospital.

  5. Julie - I did a quick search and found nothing. Simon de Montfort had Cathars buried alive and a King Henry connected to him had epilepsy - so Sister may have gotten her stories mixed up.

    I found nothing in the biography of St. Louis to support that story.

  6. Last Sunday we were sitting next to an elderly couple at the parish picnic. One of them said, "Isn't it awful that they're outlawing kids having a rosary at school?"
    I said I hadn't heard that, it sounded like one of those internet rumors. Then later I was reading the paper and came across this story:
    I figured that must have been what started the rumor. It was about a girl wearing a rosary, as a sign of faith, similar to a cross or a medal. The school officials objected because that had been something adopted by gangs as one of their symbols. Surprisingly, the ACLU came to the girl's defense. It is too bad if we let gangs expropriate the rosary; maybe we should all wear one, and it would lose the gang connection.

  7. Julie, I heard a similar thing, only it was about Thomas a Kempis. That was supposedly why he was never canonized; because he could have given in to despair when he realized his situation. I have no idea if this is true or not; I too found it terribly disturbing. I have to believe that God in His mercy wouldn't hold someone's thoughts against them when they were in a state of blind panic.
    At least there's one comforting thing about modern funeral practices; pretty much everybody is either embalmed or cremated, guaranteeing that they are good and thoroughly dead before burial.

  8. I checked out the Thomas a Kempis story - perhaps Julie's teacher got her St.s mixed up then.

  9. Thank you Terry and Melody!
    Sister must've indeed confused those stories. (She confused a lot of things, me included)

    Ah, but if it's true, poor Thomas a Kempis...

  10. PS Mucho thanks for the YUMMY photo of David Beckham...

    Brought a bit of cheer to this rainy dreery day ;)


  11. Best part about all those rosaries on that guy's head - they look like the glow-in-the-dark kind.

    Over a decade ago, I was told that Andy Warhol always carried a rosary in his pocket. I don't know if this is true or not, but I figured if it was good enough for Andy Warhol, then it was good enough for me, and I have always carried one since.
    And yes, it is prayed.

  12. E - Warhol was very religious - did you ever see Trash? There is a scene in there regarding his struggle.

  13. E - Andy Warhol was a daily communicant.

    I wear a crucifix and medals of the Madonna and my guardian angel on one chain around my neck. Lately people have been asking if I'm Catholic.

  14. honeybee3:00 PM

    I'm right there with 3puddytats!
    Mmm-mmm-mmm; what a *fine* bit of God's creation!


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