It's been a while since I've written about Christianity. Instead, I have been blogging about politics and current events on pretty much a daily basis at WizBang. I enjoy it, but lately it has become very draining emotionally. There is so much bad news out there, and so much to be critical of, and writing about it every day can -- and will -- affect your attitude and your spiritual health.
So I have decided to spend some time focusing on the Gospel and on the life of Jesus Christ. Since Lent is a season of prayer and reflection, and since millions upon millions of Roman Catholics will be praying the Rosary during Lent, I have decided to write about the Rosary prayers from a Protestant point of view. Hopefully my audience will find my ruminations edifying. I am also hoping that Roman Catholic readers will not find them to be overly simplistic or misguided.
I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene in southeast Texas. I grew up in a community that was, culturally, very Roman Catholic. There were lots of Cajuns, Hispanics, and later on thousands of Vietnamese in our community. This probably made the Protestant fundamentalists feel somewhat isolated and defensive. I was raised in a very strict Protestant fundamentalist home and we attended a church that was very much traditionally fundamentalist with an emphasis on "holiness." Without getting off-topic and into a lengthy discussion of "Nazarenedom," I'll just say that our tradition very heavily emphasized temperance of all kinds (alcohol, tobacco, dancing, movies and worldly entertainment, profanity and all aspects of the "sexual revolution) and taught that salvation was a two-step process: step one was "getting saved" by confessing and repenting of one's sins, and step two involved "entire sanctification," whereby the Holy Spirit would completely purge sinful desires, thus enabling a disciplined Christian to lead a sinless life. Of course if you sinned again, you were obligated to confess it immediately and ask God for forgiveness; if you did not do so and you unexpectedly died with "unconfessed sin on your heart," you would go to Hell. Of course, anyone who had not formally confessed their sin to God and received forgiveness for it was automatically destined to spend eternity in Hell.
My immediate family (and most fundamentalist Christians that I knew) took a very dim view of Catholics -- they drank alcohol, they smoked, they worshiped little plastic statues of Jesus and Mary, and they could sin all they wanted and then their priest would tell them that everything was okay. They said funny prayers over and over again, and they observed all of these strange rituals that were supposed to guarantee them entrance into Heaven. Lent, of course, was one of those rituals. It was meaningless, of course, because we all knew that Catholics wallowed in sex and alcohol during Mardi Gras, only to feign repentance and sorrow during Lent. And after Easter, they would all go right back to boozing it up again.
Needless to say, my appreciation for the Roman Catholic faith has grown considerably over the years. With the help of Roman Catholic friends (many of whom possessed a spirituality and an understanding of the Gospel that would put most Protestant fundamentalists to shame), and the writings of G. K. Chesterton, Richard John Neuhaus, Henri Nouwen, Carlo Caretto, Oscar Romero, and others, I have been profoundly impacted by the traditions and teachings of the Roman Catholic church -- which after all, was "The Church" until the sixteenth century's Protestant Reformation.
This Lenten season (a religious observance that I have now come to cherish) I will be focusing my personal devotions on the Rosary, which is a series of prayers used for meditation and reflection on the mysteries of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, and as homage to The Virgin Mary. As I am not Catholic, I will ask your forgiveness for using Wikipedia and the Web for most of my source material on the Rosary.
According to Wikipedia, the Rosary is usually recited with the help of a string of beads that is attached to a small crucifix. As each prayer is uttered, the individual slides their fingers along the beads, and uses them as a placeholder of sorts during the recitation of the prayers.
The most common series of Rosary prayers is:
- A sign of the cross on the Crucifix and then the "Apostles' Creed";
- An "Our Father" on the first large bead;
- A "Hail Mary" on each of the three small beads with the following intentions (the theological virtues):
- For the increase of faith
- For the increase of hope
- For the increase of charity
- A "Glory Be to the Father";
- Announce the mystery
- An "Our Father" on the large bead
- A "Hail Mary" on each of the adjacent ten small beads;
- A "Glory Be to the Father";
- Again an Our Father on the next large bead, followed by ten Hail Marys on the small beads, the Glory Be to the Father, (and Fatima Prayer); all for each of the following decades
- In conclusion, "Hail Holy Queen" and a sign of the cross.
There are four sets of Mysteries, each with five themes:
- The Annunciation. Fruit of the Mystery: Humility
- The Visitation. Fruit of the Mystery: Love of Neighbor
- The Nativity. Fruit of the Mystery: Poverty (poor in spirit), Detachment from the things of the world, Contempt of Riches, Love of the Poor
- The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: Purity
- The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: True Wisdom and True Conversion.
- The Agony in the Garden. Fruit of the Mystery: Sorrow for Sin, Uniformity with the will of God
- The Scourging at the Pillar. Fruit of the Mystery: Mortification
- The Crowning with Thorns. Fruit of the Mystery: Contempt of the world
- The Carrying of the Cross. Fruit of the Mystery: Patience
- The Crucifixion. Fruit of the Mystery: Salvation
- The Resurrection. Fruit of the Mystery: Faith
- The Ascension. Fruit of the Mystery: Hope and desire for Heaven
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Mystery: Holy Wisdom to know the truth and share with everyone
- The Assumption of Mary. Fruit of the Mystery: Grace of a Happy Death and True Devotion towards Mary
- The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fruit of the Mystery: Perseverance and Crown of Glory
- The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Fruit of the Mystery: Openness to the Holy Spirit
- The Wedding at Cana. Fruit of the Mystery: To Jesus through Mary
- Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Fruit of the Mystery: Repentance and Trust in God
- The Transfiguration. Fruit of the Mystery: Desire for Holiness
- The Institution of the Eucharist. Fruit of the Mystery: Adoration
That's a lot of praying. A lot of praying.
What I plan to do in these posts is to explore the major prayers and creeds that make up the Rosary sequence (The Apostle's Creed, Hail Mary, The Lord's Prayer, Glory Be To The Father, Hail Holy Queen, and the Prayer of Fatima). That means, of course, that I will be writing quite a bit about the Virgin Mary, which admittedly is a bit awkward for a Protestant. I will then write about the Holy Mysteries and, consequently, the Gospel as I understand it.
I've never before committed myself to such a deep study of the Gospel over a limited season such as Lent. My life won't slow down around it either, yet I am confident that I can see it through. And I will be prayerfully petitioning God for an increase of understanding and devotion as I contemplate these prayers and mysteries.
I'll begin in my next post -- thoughts on repetitive or meditative prayer.