I visit my grandma and come home late. I see her sitting in the dark, staring through the window waiting for me, rosary in hand.
Seeing grandma with her rosary late at night reminds me of the spinsters of fate. In Greek, mythology, three spinsters weave, tie, and cut string. In doing this, they influence the destiny of mankind. Disney’s Hercules has a depiction of these spinsters. The movie shows that when one of the spinsters cut a sting, a human dies on earth. My Grandma, like one of the spinsters, goes down a string of rosary beads praying for her family and trying to better their fate. I guess I’ll be worried if I ever see her with a pair of scissors.
When I was in Catholic Saturday school, called catechism, our teacher once made us go into to the main church and say an entire rosary out loud. When she announced this in the beginning of class there was an immediate outcry of “The WHOLE thing?!” She hushed our complaints marching us straight over to the church and onto to the kneelers. Between the incense making my nose run like a faucet (I had bad allergies and asthma as a kid), having only one soggy napkin to try to catch aforementioned running nose from dripping down my mouth and chin, my teacher angrily hissing at me to pay attention and keep up, and the endless, endless Hail Marys, this still stands out in my mind as one of the most miserable experiences of my childhood. It took the entire class time, an excruciating 60 minutes, to get through the rosary. Right now, my nose is starting to run just thinking about it. Ah, the rosary.
The next year I had a different catechism teacher who was wonderful. For a class project, she had us make our own rosaries. All the girls got light pink see-through beads that could pass for crystal until you touched them and found they were warm and plastic. At first, everyone in the class was frustrated since the beads were slipping through the knots we had tied to act as spacers. The beads were even slipping past double and triple knots. You see, on the rosary the Hail Mary beads have to be separated from the Our Father beads. That way, you know what prayer you’re on just by touch. It’s like Hail Mary/Our Father braille. With a properly tied and spaced rosary any experienced Catholic, like my grandma, can pray through the entire sequence in the dark.
After catechism, I took the rosary project home and redid it with waxed dental floss. The wax and thicker string kept the beads in place. The next week, my teacher brought different, thicker sting for the class but was really proud of me for finishing the project so well on my own. After everyone fixed their rosaries we all got to take them to the priest who blessed each one with a dab of holy water. I loved that rosary. My new pink dental-floss rosary helped me get over my first miserable rosary experience. I started praying the rosary on my own.
Remembering all this makes me want to make another rosary for myself and make more to give away to my Catholic friends. I can make some for my husband and his family too since Muslims also use prayer beads. Their prayer beads are called a Misbaha or Tesbih. A Tesbih is made of 99 beads. Muslims say “Subhan Allah (Glory be to God) recited 33 times followed by followed by “Alhamdu lila” (translation: Praise be to God) then “Allahu Akbar” 33 times (translation: God is the Greatest. Even if there is more beads, this is so much shorter and faster than the Catholic Rosary. Makes me kind of jealous actually. Maybe I’ll make a Tesbih for myself too. Many other religions use prayer beads including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Bahai. I wonder which religion has the least number of beads.
The family connection part of the rosary is major for me. My grandma has been praying the rosary for years. Like me, she probably learned it from her parents and from growing up in the Catholic Church. Prayer is something a parent teaches their child and it’s taught usually before bedtime. At least, that is how it happened during my childhood. I remember my grandma’s black rosary, the statue of Jesus sitting on the shelf in the walk-in closet, and a glow-in-the dark a crucifix hanging on the bedroom wall. During bedtime, these objects would be cast in dark shadows and we would ask what they meant. We would ask about heaven, God, and all those things we didn’t know and wanted to know before we went to sleep. My grandparents and parents would explain God to me. As Catholics, they used these objects- the cross, the statue, and the rosary- to try to reach my young mind in understanding the great beyond. I imagine it was just like their parents and grandparents explained God to them… and their parents did for them… for generations and generations.
How long have generations in my family been doing this? My family on my mom’s side is Filipino and Catholicism was brought to the Philippines in 1521 so that’s about 500 years, more or less, of my family being Catholic and praying the rosary. Long time. When did the Catholic Church start using the rosary? The rosary itself was started in the 3rd Century. That is when St. Dominick started the practice after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary who told him to introduce the rosary to the Church.
Some Christians criticize the practice of praying the rosary as being too Mary-centric. After all, its 50 out of 59 beads for Mary. In addition, there are points on the rosary where one is to remember the different biblical stories-called “mysteries” which are significant biblical stories featuring Mary and Jesus. So that makes the rosary even more Mary-centric. Because of the focus on Mary, when Christians separated from the Catholic church during the Protestant Reformation the majority of Christian denominations dropped the rosary practice. When I started going to Christian Church in High School and asked one of my teachers about the rosary she told me we should not be praying to Mary since she was a human and is not God. Besides, who knows if the Mary sighting that St. Dominick reported is really true. Critics point out how people during that time had a desire for “goddess worship” since the religions of that time had prominent female goddesses. Mary and the rosary conveniently filled this void. These days, many modern sightings of the Virgin Mary, like Mary’s image found on a piece of toast, are often just hoaxes.
It appears to me that the Catholics’ aim in giving Mary such a prominent role is to show the love a mother has for her child. No matter if you’re Catholic, Christian, any religion or no religion at all, everyone can understand that titanium-strength bond that is the love between a mother and her child. It does not matter if the child is God himself, a prophet, or just another human being. For a mother that child is the most precious being in the world for whom she would lay down her own life. In the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a scene where Jesus is dragging his cross and he stumbles and Mary rushes to comfort him. A flash-back scene is played that shows Jesus as a child falling down and Mary running to comfort him. When mankind can start to imagine this love-the greatest love and bond that we humans can experience- we can then attempt to imagine God’s love for us.
The purpose of the rosary is simple: it is something to feel in your fingers while you pray. The beads of a rosary, or any prayer beads, are something to feel in your hand as you attempt to connect with the divine. Although we can pray or meditate without any objects having something to see and touch can be helpful. The rosary can be a physical tether, or an umbilical cord between heaven and earth. If you Catholic, you can imagine whoever taught you the rosary like your teacher or parent. Then you can imagine who taught them- their teachers and parents. This can reach backs for generations and generations and centuries and centuries. Soon we go all the way back to the third century when the rosary was invented. When you touch the beads saying the same prayers that your parents, grandparents, teachers and priests have prayed before knowing that the tactile feeling of bead between your fingers is the same feeling they that had it is as though they are praying with you. Millions of people. Your whole family, past and present, your friends, your church, the saints all connected in a web of rosary beads and string. All us thinking now or having thought long ago of our own lives, of family members, friends and the world and wanting everyone to be safe and well.
This makes me think of people in other religions who use prayer beads. For me, I feel that they are also part of the web when I pray. They also call to God with an open and loving heart. They have that same tactile feeling of beads and string as they meditate on God and wish blessings on their family, friends, neighbors and the world.
Here another rosary story. It is 10 years after making the pink rosary and I am 20 years old. I am at my grandpa’s funeral. My uncle concludes the service by leading us in reciting the rosary. It’s been awhile. I’m grateful for learning how to pray the rosary in Catechism so I can keep up with everyone else. I find the repetition extremely comforting and beautiful. On that terrible, sad day the rosary perfectly tied everything together: tradition, family, grief, life, death, God and eternity. Everything was all tied together with rosary beads and string.
The rosary can be a powerful thing. A powerful thing that can give you much needed strength and comfort at a funeral, at the bedside of a sick loved one, or during any difficult time in your life. The rosary can also just be for those everyday nights. Those nights when you are waiting by the window for your child, now grow up, to come home.