instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Rosary: Remedy for Pride

I'm sure you've heard of the humble peasant grandmother, praying her Rosary in the dim light of her little parish church, who is holier than the highbrow theologian airily holding forth from his university pulpit.

You may not have heard quite so much about the humble peasant grandmother's sister-in-law, who also prays her Rosary in the dim light of her little parish church, but who's an absolute fishwife and meaner than a wildcat in a rain barrel.

Whichever story you want to tell, though, there's no getting around the fact that the Rosary is a humble prayer. A vulgar prayer, even. Sure, people have dressed it up in all sorts of fancy ways -- see for example the "Musical Rosary" described in several posts at Orbis Catholicus -- but when you get down to it, it's a prayer designed for and sustained by the masses.

Which means it's not a prayer designed for or sustained by showing off. If you reach into your pocket or purse for something, and a set of rosary beads falls out, chances are no one who sees it will be impressed. Non-Christians will think you're one of those weird Catholic nuts; they may also be creeped out by the thought of you carrying a crucifix around with you. Protestants may shake their heads, and Evangelicals may wag their tongues, at all that vain repetition you do. Catholics who themselves carry rosary beads will think you're a bit clumsy. Catholics who don't themselves carry rosary beads (for such do exist) will think you're one of those weird Catholic nuts.

And you certainly won't come off in front of any professional Catholic as au courant, with it, or highbrow. (I'd guess even a Womyn's Mysteries Rosary is too dated these days.)

True, there is a thin slice of humanity who would think more of someone for their devotion to the Rosary. But most of those, being of the people, aren't the sort whose praise puffeths one up.

And the Rosary combats pride even if you find a retro-cool P.O.D. Catholic community in which the Rosary is where it's at. That's because, notwithstanding my constant refrain that you shouldn't worry about praying it perfectly, it can be a real challenge to pray the Rosary even half-decently.

It is a very forgiving devotion, but then, there's a lot to forgive. How many other devotions are there with uncounted numbers of pamphlets and books on how not to completely mess it up? You can't -- I insist that it's simply impossible to -- make a mental note to get a stamp for the gas bill an instant before you arrive at the "Glory Be" for the Third Sorrowful Mystery, and in that moment think you're pretty hot stuff.

In this way, the Rosary is a lot like golf, except you swear less and don't count as high.

(Speaking of counting too high, there's nothing quite like leading the group of little old ladies after daily Mass in an eleven-Ave decade.)

(Also, when I pray the Rosary in a group, I spend a lot of the time thinking, "Gosh, everyone else sounds so recollected!")

(Then there was the time someone (a little old lady, in fact, who'd prayed the Rosary daily for decades) was asked to lead the post-Mass Rosary, and after a few brave tries admitted, "I can't remember the Apostles' Creed!")

(See, the Rosary operates on a very simple and natural level, in addition to a more rarefied spiritual one.)