Saturday, 19 March 2011

Rattling the Beads. 

I have been inveigled into presiding over a celebration of the Mass with Rosary in a week or two.  Which naturally sent me hunting for some suitable material of an intercessory nature to use with the beads.  Online I had very little luck, as most of the stuff I found seemed to dwell almost exclusively on "my sins", "my needs".  I know it is essentially a personal devotion, but you'd have thought someone out there might have thought up a Rosary of Intercession.  I did unearth something rather more useful from my personal collection of devotional literature (or "Holy Keekh" as I call it) in the shape of a Mirfield booklet by the late Fr Harold Ellis CR entitled "A Simple Way of Prayer".  The pattern is adaptable and, allowing for it being Pre-Vatican II Anglo-Catholic in tone and language (prayers for "native clergy" sound rather odd - but, hey, they produced Desmond Tutu so...), quite OK.  But there was one sentence in it that made me pause and ponder. And here it is:

"The Rosary is the next best and safest method, after the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass, by which we can interceede for persons and causes".

Safest?  Prayer is safe?  My gut instinct is to describe prayer as anything but safe.  If it is a genuine encounter with the One, True, Living God, then safe is the last thing it is.  Exciting, disturbing, frightening.  Life enriching, consciousness deepening.  These are all adjectives which accurately describe prayer.  But "safe"?  If it's safe, then you can safely assume you're doing it wrong.  Prayer ultimately takes us out of our personal "safe space" and away from our comfort zone.  Prayer may be marked by a sense of being comforted or consoled (Ps 23); it can be a place of tears and darkness (Ps 130) or even of transcendent, near orgasmic, ecstasy (Bernini's marble "Ecstasy of St Theresa " being a stunning depiction of this). 

But safe?  Never.  Dull sometimes, empty for ages, intense for moments and dazzlingly clear for a few seconds, if you are truly lucky and blessed.  

I value the Rosary, not because it is safe, but because it stretches me, disciplines me and liberates me.  It stretches my inherited Scottish Protestantism by being so definitely and defiantly "Catholic" and by pushing me to reflect on incidents I can find utterly uncomfortable (like the Sorrowful Mysteries).  It disciplines me to concentrate on what I am praying, as I find fumbling with beads tricky and to reflect on scripture not of my choice.  It liberates me by giving me a mantra to recite to centre me and release my spirit to engage with the Divne reality in moments of meditative release.  Safety has absolutely nothing to do with praying the Rosary.

The Eucharist excels as a pattern for prayer: penitence, Scriptural reflection, intercession, self-offering and thanksgiving.  The Rosary offers a different but equally useful structure: credal grounding, imaginative reflections on gospel incidents, a mantra to focus the "inner eye of the soul" on God and a sense of praying with others of the Company of the Kingdom (particularly Mary, the Mother of God and Queen of the Saints).  It is a tool to help us pray.  One I might use from time to time as an aid to my faltering efforts.


  1. thanks for this dougal. coming from the mixed evostick background i have, i used to regard the rosary with much (ashamedly) anticatholic suspicion. now i value it and use it when i dont have the words to express all those things we offer to God in the name of prayer. i agree - safety isnt a good word here - maybe that sense of safety comes within the familiarity of the routine, not in the prayer itself?


  2. A good point Ali, which can equally well apply to the Daily Office. Familiarity isn't bad and it can be an aid to those of us who run out of words. More and more though I find silence is the way I pray, particularly when in a group. There is much we can learn from the Quakers, though I personally find icons or exposition useful too.

  3. "For there is one God and one mediator between God & men, the man Christ Jesus." I Timothy 2:5
    You cannot intercede for anyone, no man, no priest. You can only attain heaven by asking Jesus for forgiveness of you sin. We are all sinners. God bless.

  4. Proof texting (or so our NT Professor that staunch Evangelical Howard Marshall taught)is a generally pointless exercise that fails to take seriously the context and situation that the scriptural text was addressing. If intercession is not possible, then why does Paul write to the Phillipians "I thank my God every time I think of you; whenever I pray for you all, my prayers are always joyful becauseof the part you have taken in the work of the Gospel from the 1st day until now" (Phil 1:3-5)? Prayer for others is made by Christ in us and by us in Christ. We attain salvation through grace alone. The good work of praying is a fruit of the spirit and a sign of being part of the body of Christ. Literalism can be so limited and simplistic as to be un-credible to any Christian with anything resembling a theological brain Anon. I'd give it up if i were you.