Is the Rosary Christian?
It is claimed that saying the rosary has won battles against heretics and infidels. And one pope, Leo XIII, wrote twelve encyclicals exhorting Catholics to recite the rosary. But—
“BIGGEST Rosary in Japan.” Thus the Nippon Times, March 10, 1953, described the rosary illustrated above. While it did not state the exact size, the picture does at least give an idea as to how long this rosary is. Concerning it we are told that “the devout villagers believe they can keep off disasters from the village by reciting short prayers a million times with this rosary.”
This may cause one of our Catholic readers to exclaim: “I never saw a rosary that looked like that!” True, perhaps, but you sadly err if you think that there are only Catholic rosaries. Says The Catholic Encyclopedia: “In almost all countries, then, we meet with something in the nature of prayer-counters or rosary-beads.” Rosaries were used in ancient Nineveh and are being used by Moslems and Buddhists. In fact, Catholic missionaries, upon their first visiting India, Japan and Mexico, have repeatedly been surprised to find the rosary being used by the people in those lands.
Today the Catholic Church is urging increased use of the rosary. Spearheading the campaign is the “Family Prayer Crusade,” directed by priest Patrick Peyton. Among other things, in large cities this crusade sponsors mammoth rosary rallies, which draw as many as fifty to seventy thousand Catholics. The rosary is also advertised in the press and by the use of billboards.
Not just “Anglo-Catholics,” but even some Protestant clergymen urge the use of the rosary. For example, there is Rudolph Wissler, who says in the Rockland, New York, Independent, February 7, 1957: “Some sort of Protestant rosary would be an impetus to the deepening of faith.” Arguing for Protestants’ using the rosary, he points to the fact that Moslems and Buddhists also use the rosary.
To encourage reciting the rosary liberal indulgences are offered. Plenary or complete indulgence is to be had by reciting the rosary once a day for nine days, making a “Rosary Novena.” Depending upon the kind of rosary used, one may gain as much as 27,000 days of partial indulgence each time one recites the rosary.
Doubtless the foregoing raises a number of questions. Just what does a rosary consist of? What prayers are involved? And what about its claimed benefits? Does reciting the rosary find support in the Scriptures? Is the rosary Christian?
THE ROSARY AND ITS PRAYERS
The term “rosary” means “garland of roses.” Thus the German name for rosary is Rosenkranz, literally “rose-wreath.” It is claimed that the present form and use of the rosary was a gradual development beginning with repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer. “It was only in the middle of the twelfth century that the Hail Mary came at all generally into use as a formula of devotion,” says The Catholic Encyclopedia. The one most prominently associated with the history of the rosary is the founder of the Dominican order of monks. However, according to this authority he neither originated the use of the rosary nor developed it to its present form.
Strictly speaking, a rosary is a chain consisting of fifteen “decades” or sets of ten small beads, each set marked off by one larger bead; usually it also has a crucifix and a medal. What is popularly known as a rosary is technically merely a “chaplet,” or “pair of beads,” one third as large. It is a chain of five sets of ten or decades of small beads, marked off by five larger beads. The ends of this chain are joined by a medal bearing the imprint of Mary. Hanging from this medal is a short chain having three small beads, one larger one and a crucifix. (See illustration.)
In the use of the rosary the following recitations are involved: The “Apostles’ Creed,” our Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and five “Mysteries.” Optional is the adding of the prayer of “the Lady of Fatima” and the concluding prayers. The so-called Apostles’ Creed, which starts off the reciting of the rosary, doubtless is familiar to most of our readers,* even as also is our Lord’s Prayer. (Matt. 6:9-13, Dy) The Hail Mary is based on the words of angel Gabriel and Elizabeth to Mary, to which have been added a prayer to Mary composed by Catholic theologians: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of death, Amen.” The Glory Be consists of the following words: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.” The Mysteries, of which there are three sets of five—”Joyful,” “Sorrowful” and “Glorious”—are references to events or claimed events in the lives of Jesus and his mother Mary and are said on certain days. For example, “The first Joyful Mystery—Mary Consents to be the Mother of the Son of God.”*
Reciting the rosary begins with repeating the “Apostles’ Creed” as the crucifix is fingered. Then for each large bead the Lord’s Prayer, termed the Paternoster—from the Latin words meaning “Our Father”—is recited and for each small bead a Hail Mary. The cycle begins with the announcing of one of the Mysteries and concludes with a Glory Be. At the end of each cycle the Mystery announced at its beginning is to be meditated upon. In all, reciting the rosary involves fifty-three Hail Marys, six Paternosters, five Mysteries, five meditations on the Mysteries, five Glory Bes and one repeating of the “Apostles’ Creed.” Unless hurried it takes some fifteen minutes at least.
BUT IS IT CHRISTIAN?
Does God’s Word authorize such repetitious praying? No. Jesus said: “But when praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So, do not make yourselves like them, for God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” How well Jesus knew the human tendency to want to repeat prayers! And, in view of his warning, the fact that the use of the rosary is widespread among the people of the nations carries no weight with it whatsoever!—Matt. 6:7, 8.
Apologists for the rosary try to rob Jesus’ words of their effect by pointing to Revelation 4:8, in which the word “holy” appears three times: “Holy, holy, holy.” But it is quite different from repeating one word twice in a prayer for a total of three words to repeating the forty words in Hail Mary fifty-two times for a total of 2,120 words, not to say anything of the other repetitions involved. Repeating a thing twice for emphasis is done throughout the Scriptures and makes sense. Thus when Jesus was faced with his greatest test he prayed three times to Jehovah his Father. Likewise Paul three times asked God to remove a certain “thorn in the flesh.” There is nothing, however, in the Scriptures to indicate that Jesus and Paul had memorized these prayers or had used them at some other time in their lives. These prayers were born out of the serious trials they were undergoing.—Matt. 26:39-44; 2 Cor. 12:7.
But trying to remember all the various recitations required in saying the rosary and to repeat them in their proper order makes saying the rosary a memory test rather than a spontaneous expression of heartfelt prayer. Besides, one’s mind cannot help but wander when one has to say the same forty words fifty-three times in one prayer. Such repetition is but a variation of the prayer wheel of certain Oriental religions. It consists of a cylinder in which written prayers are placed. Each time the cylinder is revolved the prayers in it are supposed to have been repeated.
Nor is that all. The Hail Mary is said nine times as often as the Paternoster, or “Our Father,” fifty-three times as compared with six times. Is the prayer composed by men and directed to Mary nine times as important or effective as the prayer taught by Jesus and directed to God himself? The fact is that, look where we will in the Scriptures, not once do we read of anyone seeking access either to God or to Jesus by way of Mary.
As for the benefits of indulgences promised those reciting the rosary: How can anyone gain such benefits when, look where we will in God’s Word, not a word do we find about a purgatory? On the contrary, we are plainly told the following: “The wages sin pays is death.” When man “goes back to his ground, in that day his thoughts do perish.” The dead “are conscious of nothing at all.” Man’s hope lies in a resurrection from the dead, “of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”—Rom. 6:23; Ps. 146:4; Eccl. 9:5; Acts 24:15.
And regarding the forgiveness of our sins, we are assured that it is “the blood of Jesus his Son [that] cleanses us from all sin.” And “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:7, 9.
The repeating of fifty-three Hail Marys every time the rosary is recited flies in the face of Jesus’ express condemnation of saying the “same things over and over again.” Its widespread use outside of professedly Christian lands argues that its origin is pagan. And the same must also be said regarding its associated features, the exaltation of Mary, the offering of indulgences for saying the rosary, the crediting of victories to it and its claimed power to decrease purgatorial suffering. None of these find any support in the Scriptures, but they do find parallels in pagan religions.
In view of all these facts, can the rosary be said to be Christian? It cannot!
See Awake! March 22, 1957.
Joyful Mysteries: 1. The Annunciation. 2. The Visitation of Our Lady to Elizabeth. 3. The Nativity of Christ. 4. The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple. 5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Sorrowful Mysteries: 1. The Agony in the Garden. 2. The Scourging at the Pillar. 3. The Crowning with Thorns. 4. The Carrying of the Cross. 5. The Crucifixion. Glorious Mysteries: 1. Christ’s Resurrection. 2. Christ’s Ascension into Heaven. 3. The Descent of the Holy Ghost. 4. The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven. 5. The Coronation of Mary in Heaven.”—Religion: Doctrine and Practice, Cassily.