Counting Those Beads

The Roman Catholic Church is very big on Marian devotion. One major feature of this devotion is the Rosary which, we are told, was introduced by Saint Dominic back in 1214. At that time, Innocent III was doing his best to resolve the problem represented by the Albigenses.

For those not up on their church history, the Albigenses were a troublesome group that held to many heretical beliefs. They believed the pope to be the anti-Christ, referred to the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon and denied that Peter ever went to Rome, among other things. There are some, Christian and cultist alike, who mistakenly believe that these folks’ only crime had to do with their differences with the RCC and its head. Not so, though there can be little doubt that these were the issues that led the popes to initiate and maintain the pogroms against them.

ALBIGENSIANISM. A heresy that flourished in the south of France in the 12th and 13th centuries. It was a revival of Manichaeism and part of the Catharist movement, which name it often bears. It taught the usual dualism, namely that there are two opposing principles, one good, the other evil, which created the spiritual and material worlds respectively; all flesh is in itself evil, all spirit good. Consequently, our Lord did not have a real human body, and his earthly life was merely an “appearance,” and there could be no resurrection of the body. They rejected the sacraments, especially marriage, which was forbidden to their initiates, called the “perfect,” among whom suicide was encouraged. The ordinary believers were simply so called and their morality was as loose as that of the “perfect” was strict… - Donald Attwater, Ed., A Catholic Dictionary, The Macmillan Company (1942), w/Nihil Obstat &Imprimitur

When Innocent III ascended to the Throne of Peter in 1198, Catharism was spreading throughout the south of France. The nobility, who were relatively poor, compared to the riches held by the Catholic Church in that region, began to separate from the RCC and to seize Church lands and properties. History records that Catharists shared in the responsibility for the horrors perpetrated in the name of religious orthodoxy during this period in European history. For example:

In 1171, Roger II, Viscount of Beziers, sacked an abbey, threw the bishop of Albi into prison, and set a heretic to guard him. When the monks of Aller chose an abbot unsatisfactory to the Viscount, he burned the monastery and jailed the abbot; when the latter died the merry Viscount installed his corpse in the pulpit and persuaded the monks to choose a pleasing substitute. Raymond Roger, Count of Foix, drove the abbot and monks from the abbey of Pamiers; his horses ate oats from the altar; his soldiers used the arms and legs of the crucifixes as pestles to grind grain, and practiced their marksmanship on the image of Christ. Count Raymond VI of Toulouse destroyed several churches, persecuted the monks of Moissac, and was excommunicated (1196). But excommunication had become a trifle to the nobles of southern France. Many of them openly professed, or liberally protected, the Catharist heresy. - H. C. Lea, Historical Sketch of Sacerdotal Celibacy, Boston (1884), pp. 120, 133; cited by Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. IV, "The Age of Faith," Simon and Schuster (1950), p. 773

Innocent III had to do something to stop the spread of Catharism and anti-Church rebellion. These were nibbling away at the very foundations of the Catholic Church, robbing the Church of property and dignity and mocking her with blasphemous travesties. Why go across the seas to Palestine to fight against infidels when there were plenty closer to home? Innocent had only been in office a few months when he wrote the Archbishop of Auch (Gascony):

The little boat of St. Peter is beaten by many storms and tossed about on the sea. But it grieves me most of all that…there are now arising, more unrestrainedly and injuriously than ever before, ministers of diabolical error who are ensnaring the souls of the simple. With their superstitions and false inventions they are perverting the meaning of the Holy Scriptures and trying to destroy the unity of the Catholic Church. Since…this pestilential error is growing in Gascony and the neighboring territories, we wish you and your fellow bishops to resist it with all your might…We give you a strict command that, by whatever means you can, you destroy all these heresies, and repel from your diocese all who are polluted by them…If necessary, you may cause the princes and people to suppress them with the sword. - O. Thatcher and E. McNeal, Source Book for Medieval History, New York, (1911), p. 209; cited by Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. IV, The Age of Faith, Simon and Schuster:New York (1950), p. 773-74

Despite this letter, and many other efforts, Catharism continued to grow and flourish. In 1204, Innocent fired his ineffectual legates and replaced them with a religious named Arnaud, the head of the Cistercian monks. Arnaud was given extraordinary powers to conduct an inquisition throughout all of France and to grant indulgences and other ecclesiastical favors to the king and nobles of France if they would help suppress the Albigenses. As an added inducement, the pope promised to give to the king the lands of all those nobles who refused to join the struggle against the Albigenses. Not even this was effective. (Lea, Op. cit., p. 139).

Enter a Spanish monk named Dominic. Catholic hagiology claims that Dominic traveled to France with his bishop and was heartbroken by the “ravages of the Albigensian heresy.” He founded a convent to

…rescue young girls from heresy and crime. Then a company of apostolic young men gathered around him, and became the Order of Friar Preachers. Lastly came the Tertiaries, persons of both sexes living in the world. - John Gilmary Shea, Ed., Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, Benziger Brothers (1894), pp. 412-13; w/Imprimitur

Dominic and his fellow preachers reportedly brought many back into the Catholic fold by virtue of their effective preaching. They might eventually have ended the Albigensian troubles by preaching had the nobles, hungry for land and riches, held back.

As the struggle continued, the Virgin Mary took a hand, or so Rome would have the world believe. According to the legend, Dominic had been praying fervently for three days and three nights. Finally, he swooned and, in this condition, Mary showed up.

At this point Our Lady appeared to him accompanied by three angels, and she said: 'Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?…Oh, my Lady,' answered Saint Dominic, 'you know far better than I do because next to your Son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation.' … Then Our Lady replied: 'I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter (Rosary) which is the foundation stone of the New Testament… Therefore if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter' - St. Louis De Montfort, The Secret of The Rosary

Dominic must have been a heck of a preacher. Catholic fantasy tells us that Mary would whisper in his ear as he preached. Some inventive hagiographies report that Mary gave the Rosary to Dominic and

Beads in hand, he revived the courage of the Catholic troops, led them to victory against overwhelming odds, and finally crushed the heresy. His nights were spent in prayer; and, though pure as a virgin, thrice before morning broke he scourged himself to blood. His words rescued countless souls, and three times raised the dead to life. - John Gilmary Shea, Op. cit

Whatta guy! With Mary whispering in his ear he won battles, rescued a bunch of lost souls and three times brought dead folks back to life. Way to go! All this must be true. After all, the book in which this fascinating little tale is found carries the Imprimitur of two archbishops. Well, maybe that is no guarantee that what is found in the book is true, but at least we can be assured that it does no harm to Catholic faith and morals, for whatever that is worth.

And what was the Psalter that ghostly Mary suggested to Dominic? It wasn’t the collection of prayers and mysteries so familiar to many Catholics these days. Actually, it seems that, as far back as Apostolic times, some Christians would recite the Psalms – all 150 of them – daily or weekly. Those lacking the Book of Psalms or the ability to recite them from memory began substituting other prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer. I suspect it was difficult to keep track of one’s place while praying 150 Our Fathers in a row. Likely some folks began to use counters of some sort to help them keep track of where they were. Pebbles would work. Or a string of beads. Or tick marks scratched in the dust. Whatever. By medieval times, folks had settled down to praying 150 Our Fathers while meditating on the lives of Christ and Mary.

3.The Mysteries of the Rosary were not fixed as they are now. Even in the 15th century in the time of Alan de Rupe, O.P., who was responsible for the revival of the Rosary devotion 250 years after the time of St. Dominic, the Rosary he preached was the Marian Psalter of 150 Hail Marys and 150 mysteries. These were divided into three groups of fifties dedicated to the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries. The fifteen mysteries in use today were officially established by Pope Pius V in 1569. - Paul A. Duffner, O.P., In Defense of a Tradition, in "The Rosary Light & Life," Vol 49, No 5 (Sep-Oct 1996)

And change is still in the winds that blow through the religious entity with the motto Semper Idem – Always the Same. Some time ago, American bishops suggested the Rosary be updated with a new collection of mysteries. Since then, some Catholic writers have proffered suggestions.

Many authors have taken the 1973 suggestion of the American bishops and proposed new mysteries for the rosary. Bishop O'Rourke suggests five mysteries dealing with Christ's public life: Baptism, Cana, Sermon on the Mount, Prodigal Son, and the Transfiguration. Fr. Robert E. Stein proposes a Scriptural rosary intended for Eucharistic devotion: the Wedding Feast of Cana, the Feeding of the Multitudes, the Great Teaching, the Passover of Our Lord, the Emmaus Eucharist. For working people with families, Stanley J. Konieczny develops the five "Ordinary Mysteries" 1) Making a Living; 2) Raising a Family; 3) Being a Good Citizen; 4) Practicing Religion; and 5) Balancing Responsibilities. Finally, Lois Donahue suggests five mysteries for a "Woman's Rosary": Mary the Woman, Mary the Wife, Mary the Mother, Mary the Neighbor, Mary the Friend. - The Mary Page, The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton

Alan de Rupe? Where’d he come from? He was a Dominican, a Master of Sacred Theology, who lived in the middle of the 15th century. He founded the Rosary Confraternity in 1470 and did a lot to spread the Rosary. Father Duffner tells us that

There must be some basis for his claims that St. Dominic’s connection with the rosary is proved ‘both from tradition and from the testimony of writers.’” (Paul A. Duffner, Op. cit

Duffner, himself a Dominican, then tells his readers that he “finds it hard to believe” that Alan simply created this assertion from whole cloth. After all, Duffner informs us, “He was not a dreamer.”

There’s something I surely would like to see – a Catholic theologian who is not a dreamer. And I am not alone in this, at least as far as Alan de Rupe’s fanciful support for the founder of his order. There is a little group of Jesuit scholars, known as the Bollandists, whose job it is to maintain and publish the Acta Sanctorum, which deals with the life of Christ and of the saints included in the liturgical calendar. The Bollandists were set the task of re-writing the lives of the saints, preserving what could be proved from historical sources, and eliminating the fanciful stuff. They eliminated the link between Dominic and the Rosary.

This group concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to support the tradition of St. Dominic and Rosary, that this tradition stemmed only from the testimony of Alan de Rupe, O.P. (d. 1475), and that his claims (written 250 years after St. Dominic) cannot be substantiated by any documents dating from the time of St. Dominic. - Paul A. Duffner, Op. cit.

There are many, other than Dominicans, who reject the rejection of the Bollandists, which they charge is an argument from silence. In other words, the simple fact that there are no contemporary documents linking Dominic to the Rosary should not be viewed as evidence that he wasn’t. Some of these argue that such documents once did exist but were destroyed by the Huguenots, or the Black Plague or the ravages of war. I would brand their position an argument from fanciful desperation. Just because there could have been such documents does not mean that there actually were such documents. Sheesh!

To put this foolish defense of a dream in perspective, I wish to proclaim to all that I really am the King of England. Of course there aren’t any documents to prove my claim, but there could have been. The supporting documents could have been destroyed during the Nazi bombings of London, or maybe they were eaten by rodents. Ridiculous? Sure, but no more so than the claims of those who obstinately use arguments of fancy to counter what they call arguments from silence. Get a life, guys!

There are a number of blessings, indulgences and other rewards available to those who properly pray the Rosary, meeting all the several conditions for such benefits. I won’t list them all here, for they vary with the grantor and the particular indulgence. Those who are really interested can ask their own priest. He might even know the answer.

When praying the Rosary, the beads play a vital role. As is sometimes pointed out, Rosary beads are similar in form and purpose to strings of beads used by other religious groups. This would be of little importance, were it not for one feature that separates Catholic Rosary beads from the others. But I’ll deal with that a little farther along in this article.

Prayer beads, including Rosary beads, are basically tools for keeping count of multiple prayers. What follows is a representative sample of the “rosaries” of a few major religions:

* The Orthodox folks used knotted ropes, called komboskini by the Greeks and chotki by the Russians. These come in three forms: 100 knots, 50 knots and 33 knots. They are used primarily to keep count of recitations of the Jesus Prayer (O Lord Jesus Christ, Son Of God, have mercy upon me a sinner!)

* Muslim prayer beads come in two sizes – 33 beads and 99 beads. They are used in two ways: (1) when saying the Prayer of the Tasbih: "Subhana-llah" (Glory be to Allah), 33 times; "Alhamdu-li-llah" (Praise be to Allah) 33 times; and "Allahu akhbar" (Allah is great) 33 times. (2) Or pray the 99 names of Allah.

* Buddhists use a string of 108 beads for counting mantras, usually the name of the Buddha (om mani padme hum)

* Hindus also use a string of 108 beads plus 1. The 108 beads are for the 108 names of God, while the extra one is used to mark the beginning of the prayer cycle.

* The Anglicans have a rosary, consisting of 33 beads, one for each year of Christ’s life. The beads are arranged in four sets of seven beads each, called 'Weeks'. The weeks are separated by five large beads, called Cruciform beads, which are intended to call to mind the centrality of the Cross.

* Folks reading here likely are familiar with the Catholic Rosary, which comes in several forms – withs 5 or 15 or even 20 decades. Sometimes, smaller strings of beads, called chaplets, are used to keep track of all the Hail Mary’s and other prayers of the Rosary. The Dominican Rosary is not the only string of beads used by Catholicism. There are chaplets of St. Bridget, of the Seven Sorrows, of the Five Wounds, of the Immaculate Conception, the Camaldolese chaplet of our Lord, the Franciscan crown of our Lady, and the Byzantine rosary.

I know many Catholics who faithfully pray five decades of the Rosary every single day. Some of them are really good at it. I have a sister-in-law who can go through a full five decades in less time than it takes to boil water for a cup of tea. I suppose her god can understand her rapid-fire utterings. I sure can’t. Thing is. She believes she is conforming to the teaching of her church and gaining indulgences for herself and for her intentions for others, living and dead, for whom she prays. That ain’t the way it works, of course, but that is between her and her pagan cult.

In all but the plenary indulgence of In Articulo Mortis, at the moment of death, a plenary indulgence mentioned below MUST be accompanied by the three prerequisites of a plenary indulgence.

1. Sacramental Confession,
2. Communion, and
3. Prayer for the intention of the Holy Father, all to be performed within days of each other if not at the same time.

Thus the formula for obtaining a plenary indulgence are the three constants mentioned above plus any one of the variable works mentioned below as being worthy of a plenary indulgence.

...48. RECITATION OF THE MARIAN ROSARY. (The following is verbatim.) "A PLENARY INDULGENCE is granted, if the Rosary is recited IN A CHURCH OR PUBLIC ORATORY OR IN A FAMILY GROUP, A RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY OR PIOUS ASSOCIATION; a partial indulgence is granted in other circumstances. "Now the Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of fifteen decades of 'Hail Marys' with an 'Our Father' before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption. "The name 'Rosary,' however, is commonly used in reference to only a third of the fifteen decades. "The gaining of the plenary indulgence is regulated by the following norms: "

A. The recitation of a third part only of the Rosary suffices; but the five decades must be recited continuously.
B. The vocal recitation MUST be accompanied by pious meditation on the mysteries.
C. In public recitation the mysteries must be announced in the manner customary in the place; for private recitation, however, it suffices if the vocal recitation is accompanied by meditation on the mysteries.
D. For those belonging to the Oriental rites, amongst whom this devotion is not practiced, the Patriarchs can determine some other prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary (for those of the Byzantine rite, for example, the Hymn 'Akathistos' or the Office 'Paraclisis'); to the prayers thus determined are accorded the same indulgences as for the Rosary.
- The Enchiridion of Indulgences, Originally published by Liberia Editrice Vatican, Vatican City, 1968, online version at Catholic Online, © 2007 Catholic Online

The rules for obtaining the indulgences linked above are quite specific and at times rather silly. In 1967, Paul VI published a detailed list of what was required. In addition to all the expected pious acts and attitudes, in order to obtain a partial indulgence, one of the following also is required:

* Raise one’s mind in humble prayer to God while fulfilling one’s responsibilities and enduring the trials of life;

* or give oneself or one’s goods as a charitable act to assist people who are in need of spiritual comfort or instruction or those who are in need of material assistance (donation of time and resources to the Church are, therefore, indulgenced);

* or voluntarily deprive oneself of what is lawful and pleasing, such as fasting or giving up dessert or a favorite TV program, while maintaining a positive attitude. - The Summary of Norms for Gaining Indulgences for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (#45a), Issued by Pope Paul VI on January 1, 1967,

I can see offering humble prayer or performing charitable acts, but give up pecan pie or a night of watching Dallas Cowboys football …? That’s something else again.

And now to that thing about the Rosary beads that I mentioned earlier on. I was not able to find anything that specified that, in order to be effective in earning indulgences, Rosaries had to be prayed using beads that had been properly blessed. However, I indeed was able to find a Catholic source that declares the indulgences won’t be forthcoming if the beads aren’t blessed.

If a friend uses my beads, must they be blessed again for me?

Your friend gains no indulgences from your beads. If used without your permission the beads retain the blessing for you. If you lent them to have your friend gain the indulgences, all the indulgences ceased. If lent merely to oblige a friend, the beads retain all the indulgences. - C. F. Donovan, Our Faith and the Facts, Patrick L. Baine (1927), p. 631: w/Nihil Obstat & Imprimitur

Roman Catholicism is so incredibly rich in nuances. If you lend your Rosary beads to a friend so he might gain a few days off from Purgatory by using them, he not only doesn’t get what he wants, but the indulgences are flushed away from the beads. On the other hand, if you lend your beads to a friend just to make her happy, she still gets no indulgences, but the beads are unaffected.

What happens when the cat plays with the beads and a few are lost? Does that render the Rosary unclean or something? Naah.

The indulgences are on the beads; when several beads are lost, it is allowed to put new ones in their place without affecting the indulgences. Ibid., p. 611

Indulgences attached to prayers are lost by any addition, omission or alteration; those attached to objects of devotion (rosaries, etc.) only cease when the objects themselves cease to exist or are sold. - Attwater, Op. cit., p. 267

Pious objects blessed and indulgenced do not lose the blessing or indulgences by being broken and repaired, or by being given away or lent to others, but only by being totally destroyed or sold. (Ibid.., p. 64

Well, I guess that solves the problem of what to do with an old rosary you no longer want but can’t figure out how to get rid of without running the risk of breaking some obscure rule of Catholicism. Not even burning will totally destroy it, nor will running it through the garbage disposal. Just sell the thing to someone and, presto, no more blessings or indulgences to worry about.

With all the rules and requirements for obtaining indulgences from praying the Rosary, which include saying at least a full five decades, one wonders how much influence the RCC has over Catholic faithful. Personally, I think the whole idea of droning dozens of prayers over and over is foolishness.

Does it do any good? Of course not.

You don't need all this confusion and superfluity of rules and regulations. All one needs to be saved is God's call and the gift of saving faith. That's it.

All this mumbo jumbo, this posturing and ritual folderol may make a good show for one’s friends and neighbors, but it doesn’t fool God, Who condemns empty ritual and vain prayer.

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
- Matthew 6:5-8, KJV

Don't believe me? Spend some time in your Bible. The Gospel of John is a great place to start.

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