Is the Use of the Rosary Scriptural?
MILLIONS of professed Christians have never given any serious thought to their use of the rosary. They have taken it for granted that there is nothing objectionable about counting prayers with a string of beads. They believe that this is a Christian practice.
Many are therefore surprised to learn that the same practice is common among Hindus, Buddhists and Mohammedans. Its earliest origins are, in fact, non-Christian. Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen acknowledged: “Prayer beads . . . were probably first used by the Buddhists. Both Buddhists and Moslems make use of them in their prayers.” But none of the apostles of Jesus Christ nor their fellow believers in the first century used a rosary.
Is there anything objectionable about its use today? To determine this, we do well to consider what is involved in the use of the rosary and to do so in the light of Bible principles.
The rosary that is commonly used by many Roman Catholics consists of five groups of ten small beads, marked off by four larger beads and joined by a medal bearing an imprint of Mary. From this medal hangs a pendant or small chain consisting of three small beads between two larger beads and terminating in a crucifix.
As to the procedure for saying the rosary, this varies. The booklet The Fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary (published in the United States) outlines the following: The person using the rosary blesses himself with the crucifix and, at the same time, says: “Incline unto my aid, O God, O Lord, make haste to help me.” He then proceeds to recite the “Apostles’ Creed,” one “Our Father,” three “Hail Marys” and one “Glory be to the Father.” These prayers, said on the small chain or pendant, are optional. Those recited as the remainder of the beads are fingered, however, cannot be omitted. First, the “Our Father” is recited. This is followed by ten “Hail Marys.” The “Glory be to the Father” brings the decade to its conclusion.
All the other decades call for the repetition of the identical words, with the exception that a different mystery is reflected upon. After having completed the decades of the rosary, the “Hail Holy Queen” and the “Litany of the Blessed Virgin” may be recited. To say the complete rosary of fifteen decades requires going around the usual circle of beads three times.
The saying of the rosary attaches the greatest importance to Mary, as most of the prayers are directed to her. Is this in harmony with the teachings of Jesus?
On one occasion a woman, moved by emotion on hearing Jesus’ teaching, exclaimed: “Blest is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Is this not the sentiment that is given greatest prominence when the rosary is said? But did Jesus go along with this emotional expression? No. “‘Rather,’ he replied, ‘blest are they who hear the word of God and keep it.’”—Luke 11:27, 28, the Catholic New American Bible.
Jesus Christ never showed any special favoritism toward Mary. He did not imply that she should be given special honor. When she and her other children* interrupted his teaching, sending word that they wanted to speak with him, Jesus responded: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And extending his hand toward his disciples, he said: ‘Look! My mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”—Matt. 12:48-50.
Mary, too, showed a humble attitude. When the angel Gabriel revealed to her God’s purpose regarding the birth of his Son, she replied: “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38, the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible) Her attitude was much like that of the angel before whom the apostle John prostrated himself after receiving the revelation. That angel cautioned John, saying: “All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who have the work of witnessing to Jesus. Worship God.”—Rev. 19:10.
Is not the saying of the rosary contrary to the angelic admonition, “Worship God”? Are not most of the prayerful expressions directed to Mary? Yet that is not all.
Advocates of the rosary are forced to admit that many gain no benefit from it. Observes the publication The Fifteen Mysteries of the Holy Rosary: “Many . . . reduce the Rosary to a mechanical recitation of Our Fathers and Hail Marys with the result that it becomes a tedious practice especially for young people.”
Truly a tremendous amount of repetition is involved in saying the rosary. To go through the fifteen decades of the rosary calls for saying the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer,” as recorded at Matthew 6:9-13, fifteen times. The following words of the “Glory be to the Father” are likewise said fifteen times: “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.” Ten times as often the words of the “Hail Mary” are spoken: “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 our death. Amen.”
Is such repetitious saying of prayers in agreement with the Bible? Note what Jesus Christ said: “In your prayer do not rattle on like the pagans. They think they will win a hearing by the sheer multiplication of words. Do not imitate them.”—Matt. 6:7, 8, New American Bible.
Is not the saying of the rosary a “sheer multiplication of words”? Does it not imitate the pagans who were using the rosary long before professed Christians began to do so?
There can be no question, therefore, that the use of the rosary is unscriptural. It is out of harmony with Jesus’ words about prayer and is contrary to the admonition to “worship God” alone. Instead of continuing to use the rosary, persons seeking divine approval need to make heartfelt expressions in prayer to God through his Son Jesus Christ.
For the evidence that Mary had other children, see Aid to Bible Understanding, pages 262 and 263.
[Picture on page 259]
A Hindu sadhu praying in Mahalaxmi Temple in Bombay, using prayer beads