Learning the Rosary

When Chris’ box finally arrived, it came with the Rosary beads I’d asked her to send.  Like I said before, it was small and very pretty–just right for someone who was curious, but by no means committed.  By now I’d learned some things about praying the Rosary, so with pamphlet and rosary in hand, I tried it out.

I took a deep breath and prayed that if this stuff were true, God would convince Nolan of it (even though he had no interest at this point).  Nolan is my soul-mate, the love of my life, my best friend.  Having already gone down the conservative route alone and dead-ending on it after two years, I didn’t want to do this alone.  However, I also knew that I couldn’t ignore the frustration within myself waiting for Nolan to take an interest.  So, I did what any good wife eventually learns to do, I prayed!  If this was the right direction, then I asked God not to let me go it alone.

Just before I began to actually pray the Rosary, I threw in one last petition, “Mary, if you can hear me, I hope this doesn’t offend you.”  🙂  (My Catholic friends get quite the chuckle out of that petition!)

So what, exactly, is the Rosary?  Well, there’s tomes written on the subject along with lots of pamphlets, books, booklets, notecards, etc.  If you’re around a devoutly believing and practicing Catholic for any length of time, you’ll hear something about the Rosary.  What is the fascination?  Well, I’ll do my best to explain.

First, the Rosary is made up of a combination of Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be-s.  The Our Father is the Lord’s Prayer without the “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”  The Glory Be is, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”  I know of few evangelical Christians who object to either of these prayers.  However, the Hail Mary is a very different matter.

The Hail Mary is based on Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, Full of Grace, the LORD is with thee.”  And Elizabeth’s greeting, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”  The second half the Hail Mary is, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”  We call Mary “holy” because she is holy.  She is, after all, in the very presence of God and no one not holy can be there.  (There are other reasons as well, but I’ll leave it at that for now.)  We call her the “Mother of God” because she is.  Jesus is God.  Mary is His mother.  It’s actually an important point to make as it has more to do with who Jesus is than who Mary is.  This was defined in the early Church because of heresies concerning whether Jesus was half-God, half-man, or all-God and an illusion to man, etc.  By declaring definitively that Mary was His mother and that He is God, the Church was establishing that Jesus is fully Man and fully God.

The last part comes from the belief that those who have died can still pray for us when asked, just as our friends on earth can when we ask them.  After all, nothing separates us from Christ, our Head, not even death.  Therefore, as part of the Body of Christ, Christians are never separated from one another.  (It’s not as if when someone dies that “finger” falls off the Body and another takes its place.  And remember, we’re the ones who see “as through a glass darkly” not those who have gone before us.)  Mary is asked to pray for us now and at the hour of our death.  The hour of death is Satan’s last chance to try to snatch a soul from God, so it’s always been the practice to surround a dying person with prayer.  Asking those in Heaven to pray at that time too makes sense.  (Remember, Catholics believe that we must be faithful to the end in order to enter Heaven.)

The next part that baffles those not familiar with the Rosary is the repetition of those prayers.  One Our Father, ten Hail Marys, one Glory Be; repeat five times.  Some will protest because of Jesus’ condemnation of repetitious prayer, but that ignores logic and the cultural practice Jesus was addressing.

First, it denies common sense.  Repetitious prayer is a prayer that is repeated, right?  Okay.  How many times do we pray for the same intention?  Does it really matter if we change the words just a bit?  It’s still the same prayer.  (And if I wanted to get on a soapbox about it, I think there’s more senseless repetition when someone “Father Gods” or “Dear Lords” all through their prayer than saying Hail Marys!  But, I won’t go there right now.)

Second, why did Jesus condemn repetitious prayer?  He said it was because they think they will be heard because of their many words.  The pagans of that time still held to the same practice that the false prophets of Baal did in the time of Elijah.  They called and slashed themselves and called and danced and called.  Why?  Because Baal wouldn’t have heard them otherwise!  Jesus is warning His followers that God is not like that.  Repetition is not what gets God’s attention, but humility, patience, and obedience.  However, repetition for the purpose of praise or meditation is certainly not condemned by Jesus.  If it were, the seraphim in Isaiah 6 are in big trouble!  After all, they are spending eternity crying out the same prayer over and over.

So, what is the purpose of all those Hail Marys?  Well, the Rosary is made up of a total of twenty mysteries about the lives of Jesus and Mary.  Here’s the breakdown:

Joyful:  1. The Annunciation  2. The Visitation (Mary to Elizabeth) 3. The Nativity 4. The Dedication in the Temple  5. The Finding in the Temple

Luminous:  1. The Baptism of Jesus  2. The Wedding at Cana  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom  4. The Transfiguration  5. The Institution of the Eucharist (The Last Supper)

Sorrowful:  1. The Agony in the Garden  2. The Scourging at the Pillar  3. The Crowning with Thorns  4. The Carrying of the Cross  5. The Crucifixion

Glorious:  1. The Resurrection  2. The Ascension  3. The Coming of the Holy Spirit  4. The Assumption of Mary into Heaven  5. The Crowning of Mary

We pray one set of Mysteries each day (certain ones are traditionally prayed on particular days).  The Mystery is announced before the Our Father, then the Hail Marys are said while we meditate on that Mystery.  Now, it takes some practice to get that down, but once it’s gotten, it’s incredibly helpful to have something for hands and mouth to do while the mind is thinking.  The Rosary beads help so you don’t have try to keep track how many you’ve done; your fingers “do the walking.”  The speaking helps keep the mind on task (although wool-gathering can still happen, as any honest Catholic will tell you!)  Prayer is hard work, no matter how you do it, the Rosary is one method that helps a person focus and stick to a designated time.

What does this prayer accomplish?  The Rosary can be offered for a specific intention and my meditation might end up being guided by that intention.  For example, if I’m offering it for a friend’s situation, I might find insight into that situation and how I might be of help or encouragement to her as I think on the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The Rosary helps to keep me grounded in the basics of the Faith when the world around me seems to have gone mad.  I am reminded that there is a bigger picture of history than my little part in it  At the same time, remember that none of these Mysteries ever made the big news of the day.  While man waged war and conquered lands, God provided the means of salvation to the world.  Not a bad way to spend twenty minutes a day.

Children of Mary

While I waited for Chris’ box to come, I started to do an amount of studying on my own.  I decided the first thing I would look into was this whole thing with Mary.  After all, that seemed the most obvious thing to disprove in all this.  Mary was only a woman who, although heroically obedient to God, was just a normal wife and mother.  Jesus was her first son, but according to Scripture Mary had other children.  Where Catholics came up with the whole Perpetual Virginity-thing was a puzzle to me.  Even more puzzling was why it had persisted for so long when it was obvious from Scripture she’d had more children.  This was to be the first time, but by no means the last, when I came face to face with how misleading assumptions can be.

So, I got out an exhaustive concordance and look up every reference to Mary.  First, of course, are all the references to Mary when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  Okay, no new information there.  What I was looking for were the other references to her and her other children and any other places she shows up in Scripture.

Mt. 13:55-56a, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?  Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?  Aren’t all his sisters with us?”

Mt. 27:55-56, “Many women were there, watching from a distance.  They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”

The first reference is from when Jesus visited His hometown and few believed He was the Messiah.  The second reference is at the crucifixion.  What struck me is what might have struck you–we’re talking about more than one Mary here and those “brothers” referred to in the first verse are not necessarily Jesus’ actual brothers, but some kind of relative.

Before the time of St. Jerome (331-420 A.D.; translated the Scriptures from the original Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew into Latin), people believed they were possibly Jesus’ step-brothers; Joseph’s children from another marriage.  Since that time, however, most have believed they were simply close relatives of some kind.  Families often lived close together often sharing a common courtyard and helping one another with work, children, etc.   If you think about the genealogies of the Scriptures, note how often someone is referred to as “son of…” when you know it would have been a great-great-great grandfather.  Our Western manner of thinking of family relationships is not how all cultures have thought of them.

My conclusion was after looking up all the verses I could find (and I invite you to do the same for your own study) was that it couldn’t be proven from Scripture that Mary had other children or not.  However, I did come across an author who pointed out two significant factors from Scripture that do point to that conclusion.

The first is from John 7:3-5, “3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that Your disciples there may see the works You do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since You are doing these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.”  (One interesting thing to note is that not all translations use “brothers” here, but “brethren.”  From my perspective “brethren” is more open-ended than “brothers.”)

Anyway, the author pointed out that in Middle-eastern culture, younger brothers would never speak to an older brother in this manner.  No matter what they thought of him, an older brother is given the utmost respect.  This really caught my attention because this was around the time of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.  I had watched an interview with some of his younger siblings and they would not criticize him.  I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but after reading the author’s comment, I had to wonder if that is not still the practice in the Middle East.

The other is John 19:26-27, “26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to her, “Woman,[a] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

If Mary had other children to care for her (as commanded by the Law), why would Jesus make provision for her with someone outside the immediate family?  For Catholics this verse has deeper meaning than simply the care of Mary, but for now just think on this and its significance.

Well, I started this post in September and am now only finishing it.  I think I’d better quit reading other people’s blogs and work on mine! 🙂

My First Rosary

In the conversation with Chris, we covered a lot of ground!

First, I found out that a Marian Conference was, indeed, about Mary.  Second, I learned that the main speakers were a couple by the name of Larry and Joetta Lewis.  Larry was a former Methodist minister (whose father had been an Assemblies of God minister) who had become Catholic.  (You can read his story here:  http://chnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/mary.pdf.)  When Chris first told me that the speaker had been a Protestant minister, I assumed he must’ve been Lutheran or some other, more liberal, denomination.  Surely no truly Bible-believing pastor could become Catholic!  It was certainly a surprise to me to learn that someone raised Assembly of God would even consider the Catholic Church (they’re traditionally known to pretty anti-Catholic).  However, our conversation dealt a lot with Mary, as I’ve written before.

One reason I was so interested in Mary was because she was the most controversial figure for me and because of rosaries.  The Christian bookstore in my hometown used to have rosaries to sell.  I was rather intrigued by them because they were so pretty, but I never saw any Catholics wearing them.  I hadn’t known they weren’t necklaces, but rather an aid to prayer!  I learned that at the prayer service of a friend.

Raymond had been a good friend in Montana.  Nolan worked for his son and had come to think a lot of their whole family.  When Raymond was diagnosed with cancer, Nolan visited with him in the hospital.  The cancer went rather quickly and he was soon called to his eternal Home.  Because of the way rural parishes often run, the priest asked that someone else take care of leading the prayer service the night before the funeral.  The family asked Nolan to do it.  It was one of the greatest privileges he’s ever had.  Nolan agreed, but said anything that was specifically Catholic someone else who have to do as he had no idea.  They were happy to do that and asked another friend, Mike, to lead the Rosary.

When the time came, everyone knelt to pray.  I stayed sitting because I wasn’t sure what to do and figured it’d be best not to kneel if I had no idea why.  Mike knelt at the front of the church facing the crucifix, so Nolan turned and knelt as well since he was sitting up front.  However, he soon realized a problem–he had no idea when he should get up again!  His back was to everyone and couldn’t see what was going on.  After a few glances over his shoulder at pauses, one of the sons caught his eye and gestured to him to just stay there and indicated he’d signal him when to stand again.  We sure get a chuckle over it now!

As everyone around me prayed I couldn’t quite tell what was being said.   Mike would pause here and there and say as he announced something and then everyone started up again.  (Now I know he was announcing which part of Jesus’ or Mary’s life, called “Mysteries,” was to be meditated on while praying.)  It really intrigued me because, although I couldn’t catch all that was being said, it was very powerful for that many people to be joined in prayer together verbally, not just mentally.  And, whatever the prayer was about, they obviously believed it was important to do together at the time of death and on their knees.

After the service was over, I asked Mike what it was they’d said.  He pulled a little pamphlet out of his pocket that explained what it was and how it was prayed.  He said I could have it and I still do.  I thought it amazing that Catholics spent so much time specifically meditating on the life of Christ.  It was also obvious that out of the fifteen mysteries presented (there have been five more added since then), all but two were focused on Jesus.  (For further explanation, look here:  http://www.rosary-center.org/howto.htm.)

So, as Chris explained about Mary and I asked her questions, I ended up asking her to send me a rosary.  She had offered to send me a Catechism which would explain Catholic teaching and a few other things to better answer the questions I asked her.  I didn’t think it would be a good thing for anyone to see me buying a rosary.  Although I was only curious, I didn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.

After we hung up, I started thinking up other questions and e-mailed them to Chris.  John often ended up answering them because Chris’ time was limited with small children.  As I started learning more, I had more questions and started looking things up online.  I wrote Chris and told her I was doing this and she cautioned me to be careful as there is a lot out there contrary to Catholic teaching.  “Just remember,” she told me, “even if it’s written by a saint, if it isn’t in the Church’s official teaching it isn’t necessarily correct.”

I was also waiting for my package to come.  Even though it was coming Alaska, I didn’t think it should take so long and wondered if it’d gotten lost.  Finally, a month later, it came.  With it was a letter from Chris saying that she had purposefully delayed sending it.  She said that someday when we looked back on this time of learning about the Catholic faith, she didn’t want anyone to ever think they had taken advantage of us in our time of sorrow to try to push us into the Catholic Church.  Then, as now, it always amazes me how seriously the Catholic Church takes Jesus’ command to count the cost before deciding to follow Him.