|A simple Rosary or Paternoster found on the wreck of the Mary Rose|
CHAPTER 18 Roses and Prayers
No human who has ever sent roses to a friend in token of affection, or ever received them with gladness, will be alien to the story of prayer. And a deep instinct in humanity makes it associate roses with joy. Pagan peoples crowned their statues with roses as symbols of their own hearts. The faithful of the early Church substituted prayers for roses. In the days of the early martyrs - "early" because the Church has more martyrs today than it had in the first four centuries - as the young virgins marched over the sands of the Colosseum into the jaws of death, they clothed themselves in festive robes and wore on their heads a crown of roses, bedecked, fittingly, to meet the King of Kings in Whose name they would die. The faithful, at night, would gather up these crowns of roses and say their prayers on them one prayer for each rose. Far away in the desert of Egypt the anchorites and hermits were also counting their prayers, but in the form of little grains or pebbles strung together into a crown - a practice which Mohammed took for his Moslems. From this custom of offering spiritual bouquets arose a series of prayers known as the Rosary, for Rosary means "crown of roses".
Not always the same prayers were said on the Rosary. In the Eastern Church there was a rosary called the Acathist (Akathistos), which is a liturgical hymn recited in any position except sitting. It combined a long series of invocations to the Mother of Our Lord, held together by a scene from the Life of Our Lord on which one meditated while saying the prayers. In the Western Church, St. Brigit of Ireland used a rosary made up of the Hail Mary and the Our Father. Finally, the Rosary as we know it today began to take shape.
From the earliest days, the Church asked its faithful to recite the one hundred and fifty Psalms of David, This custom still prevails among priests, who recite some of these Psalms every day. But it was not easy for anyone to memorize the one hundred and fifty Psalms. Then, too, before the invention of printing, it was difficult to procure a book. That is why certain important books like the Bible had to be chained like telephone books; otherwise people would have run off with them. Incidentally, this gave rise to the stupid lie that the Church would not allow anyone to read the Bible, because it was chained. The fact is, it was chained so people could read it. The telephone book is chained, too, but it is more consulted than any book in modern civilization!
The people who could not read the one hundred and fifty Psalms wanted to do something to make up for it. So they substituted one hundred and fifty Hail Marys. They broke up these one hundred and fifty, in the manner of the Acathist, into fifteen decades, or series of ten. Each part was to be said while meditating on a different aspect of the Life of Our Lord. To keep the decades separate, each one of them began with the Our Father and ended with the Doxology of Praise to the Trinity. St. Dominic, who died in 1221, received from the Blessed Mother the command to preach and to popularize this devotion for the good of souls, for conquest over evil, and for the prosperity of Holy Mother Church and thus gave us the Rosary in its present classical form.
Practically all the prayers of the Rosary, as well as the details of the Life of Our Savior on which one meditates while saying it, are to be found in the Scriptures. The first part of the Hail Mary is nothing but the words of the angel to Mary; the next part, the words of Elizabeth to Mary on the occasion of her visit. The only exception is the last part of the Hail Mary, namely, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen." This was not introduced until the latter part of the Middle Ages. Since it seizes upon the two decisive moments of life: "Now, and at the hour of our death," it suggests the spontaneous outcry of people in a great calamity. The Black Death, which ravaged all Europe and wiped out one-third of its population, prompted the faithful to cry out to the Mother of Our Lord to protect them, at a time when the present moment and death were almost one.
The Black Death has ended. But now the Red Death of Communism is sweeping the earth. In keeping with the spirit of adding something to this prayer when evil is intensified, I find it interesting that, when the Blessed Mother appeared at Fatima in 1917 because of the great decline in morals and the advent of godlessness, she asked that, after the
"Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," we add, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell; and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy."
It is objected that there is much repetition in the Rosary because the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary are said so often; therefore it is monotonous. That reminds me of a woman who came to see me one evening after instructions. She said, "I would never become a Catholic. You say the same words in the Rosary over and over again, and anyone who repeats the same words is never sincere. I would never believe anyone who repeated his words, and neither would God." I asked her who the man was with her. She said he was her fiance. I asked: "Does he love you?" "Certainly, he does." "But how do you know?" "He told me." "What did he say?" "He said: 'I love you'." "When did he tell you last?" "About an hour ago." "Did he tell you before?" "Yes, last night." "What did he say?"" I love you.'" "But never before?" "He tells me every night." I said: "Do not believe him. He is repeating; he is not sincere."
The beautiful truth is that there is no repetition in, "I love you." Because there is a new moment of time, another point in space, the words do not mean the same as they did at another time or space. A mother says to her son: "You are a good boy." She may have said it ten thousand times before, but each time it means something different; the whole personality goes out to it anew, as a new historical circumstance summons forth a new outburst of affection. Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of the woman he loves, is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into a different word. So the heart takes one expression, "I love you," and in saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe. That is what we do when we say the Rosary, we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: "I love you, I love you, I love you" Each time it means something different because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour's love: for example, from the mystery of His Love which willed to become one of us in His Incarnation, to the other mystery of love when He suffered for us, and on to the other mystery of His Love where He intercedes for us before the Heavenly Father. And who shall forget that Our Lord Himself in the moment of His greatest agony repeated, three times within an hour, the same prayer?