On the Rosary

The Vision of St. Dominic, by Bernardo Cavallino, ca. 1640.

May is the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary and this is the third post of May 2020 related to the Blessed Virgin (not a series, just a post). Tonight I’m going to share a few passages from a book about the Rosary that a friend of mine shared on Twitter. (For the life of me I can’t remember if it was Mike or someone else now, sorry! When I find out, I’ll update this note.) The book is The Rosary Guide for Priests and People, by Fr J. Procter, FI, S.T.L., published in 1901. I do ❤️ good, old, Catholic books!

Now I’ve read before about the word “bead” coming from the word bede, meaning to pray. (I do tend to look up the etymology of words, a habit from when I got my first dictionary in the fourth grade, a red Thorndike-Barnhart hardback that I read every day after school. I wonder if it’s still around here somewhere. But I digress.) I knew that way back in the far distant past, people counted prayers by means of pebbles and by things resembling our modern day rosaries. (Or the beads connected by string or metal. The Rosary proper refers to the prayers and meditations, not really the beads.)

But the author mentions some things I didn’t know or at least don’t remember reading before. 

Bede is “the past participle of the Saxon word biddan, which means to pray. We have a relic of it to-day in the Flemish ‘bidden fur uns’ so familiar to the ear of the Saxon in his visits to Belgian churches, and in the German ’bitten’ and ‘bitte.’ A ‘bead’ was originally a prayer. To ‘bid the beads’ was to say one’s prayers. A ‘bede (or bead)-roll’ was a list of those to be prayed for. A ‘bead- house’ was an almshouse for beadsmen, a ‘beads man’ living there on condition of his praying for the soul of the founder. A’ beadsman’ might also be one who voluntarily prayed for another. In the ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ Proteus says to Valentine:

"When thou dost meet good hap; and in thy danger,
If ever danger do environ thee, 
Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers,
For I will be thy beadsman, Valentine."

When the custom sprang up of counting prayers by means of pebbles or little perforated balls loosely joined together, the word ‘bead’ was applied to the counting instrument, which was called a ‘bead-string,’ or an ‘Ave-bead,’ or a ‘Pater-bead’ or simply ‘the beads.’ Consequently, the word ‘bead’ existed before the Rosary was promulgated…When, in course of time, the word ‘Rosary’ was invented to particularise this Devotion to the Mother of God, the people applied it to the counting instrument, as they had formerly applied the word ‘bead.’

And this about devotions in general and the Rosary in particular:

The voice of the Son of God is heard in the teaching of His Vicars, in the definitions of His infallible Church, and in the devout practices and devotional exercises of the Church’s faithful children. The instinct of the Church is guided by God, and the devotions of the Church are the outcome of this divinely guided instinct and of the promptings of the Divine Spirit within her. These ‘promptings’ come consequently at the proper times and in due seasons, they meet a definite demand, and respond to a distinct call. Arianism ‘sprang up in a night,’ as S. Jerome expresses it; in the morning loyal devotion to the Divinity of our Lord has sprung up by its side to counteract the evil heresy. Nestorius denies the true humanity of Jesus Christ and refuses to give the title of ‘Mother of God’ to Mary; from Ephesus, the city of the Apostle who ‘took Mary to his own,’ there comes at once and spreads throughout Christendom the profession of faith in the Godhead of Jesus and the Divine Motherhood of Mary, and a devotion more intense than before to the Incarnate Word. The world’s revolt against truth is the Church’s opportunity. When truth is denied or called in question, then come the Church’s definitions of dogma; from the Church’s doctrines, her devotions spring. We may use Dryden’s word in an accommodated sense:

”Devotion is born in distress.”

It was so with the Devotion of the Rosary. The days of S. Dominic were days of ‘distress,’ and in these distressful days the Rosary was born, born then because the days were distressful. The Rosary was the antidote to the poison of error, the light in the darkness of heresy, the pillar of fire in the night of impiety, the pillar of a cloud by day to keep men from unbelief and to prevent them from wandering from ‘the way of peace.’ Arians and Nestorians and Manicheans had come to life again in that twelfth age. The three heresies had combined and formed themselves into an alliance, offensive and defensive, against truth. Those who joined this unholy alliance were called Albigenses. The Albigenses were in reality the Arians of the fourth century, and the Nestorians of the fifth, and the Manichaeans of S. Augustine’s time come to life again. Their heresy was a réchauffé of errors and heresies, a combination of false creeds. ‘Albigensian’ spells ‘Manichaean,’ and Albigenses and Manichaeans alike, with their dual principle of good and evil, were in fact, if not by profession, Arians and Nestorians. The dual principle ‘dissolves Christ,’ practically, if not professedly, and renders the hypostatic union, in fact, if not avowedly, an impossibility. They held not the true belief either in the divinity, or the humanity, or the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ. Although the Third Council of Lateran, held under Pope Alexander III. in 1179, took cognisance of the false tenets, there needed no Council to condemn them. They had already been condemned as Arians at Nice, and as Nestorians at Ephesus, and as Manichaeans centuries before. All that was called for was a new Apostolate to protect, and to proclaim the condemnation of the error, and to preach the gospel of truth. This Apostolate was the Rosary.

Urban VIII. calls it ‘the propagator of Christianity’; Gregory XIV., ‘the destroyer of sin’; S. Pius V., ‘the power which banishes the darkness of heresy’;Paul V., ‘the treasury of grace,’ in which ‘sinners find life and the just find it more abundantly.’So is it. The Rosary is an inspired preacher teaching the ways of God in truth. It is a protest against Arianism and Nestorianism, proclaiming as it does, by its mysteries and its prayers alike, the true humanity and true divinity of Jesus Christ. When we take our beads in our hands and set our minds to think of the mysteries of grace,

The veil is raised; who runs may read;
By its own light the truth is seen.
And soon the Israelite indeed
Bows down t' adore the Nazarene.

I’ll share more of this book as time goes on and I have a chance to read more. Here’s a screenshot of the Table of Contents for Part I of the Guide.

TOC for Part I of the Rosary Guide for Priests and People

I also got another book recently that I haven’t begun to explore: Devotion to Our Lady: the Marian Life as Taught by the Saints, by Fr. Stefano M. Manelli, FI. I got a used copy and I can hardly wait to dig into it. So many books, so little ability to manage my time. ;)

Thank you for visiting and reading. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out the Rosary Project, the Devotions pages, or the Resources pages. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well. May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+

Notes and Links

Image: The Vision of St. Dominic, by Bernardo Cavallino, ca. 1640. Wikimedia, public domain.

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