Effie Caldarola: The real power of the rosary

When I was a child, my family began the practice of praying a rosary together in the evening.

By Effie Caldarola

It was a rural Irish practice, but even though we were of Irish heritage, I don’t think that had anything to do with it. Instead, I think my mother, who was a convert, was eager to promote any Catholic tradition.

It was my suggestion, and she embraced it, much to my little brothers’ chagrin. They, and visiting cousins, would often doze off as the prayers droned on. When I was the leader, in my childish scrupulosity I often added to the length by slipping in an extra Hail Mary or two in case I’d skipped one of the 10 in the decade.

One night, Dad interrupted me, kindly.

“Ahem … you’re on number 16.” Whoops. Well, moving right along.

And life did move along, and over the years so did my wavering and complex relationship to Marian devotion. In college, I grew away from the traditional sacramentals that I love now — the candles, the prayers to saints, the rosary.

As my faith evolved, I think there were years when the rosary meant little to me.

But now, I keep mine under my pillow and sometimes cling to it like a drowning woman clings to a life preserver. I see it as the church sees it, as a powerful prayer that defends us from evil and leads us to slow down and ponder the mysteries of Scripture.

So, I was disturbed to see an article in The Atlantic magazine about how the rosary is being weaponized — literally — by some Catholics. It was surprising to see a secular publication writing about the sacrilegious treatment of this ancient Catholic devotion.

But apparently there’s a small-scale industry making militaristic rosaries, some from cartridge casings. And according to author Daniel Panneton, you can buy “a sacramental storage box resembling an ammunition can.”

The frightening thing about this weaponized approach to Mary’s prayer is its dangerous combination of nationalism with America’s love of guns and violence. It’s so far removed from the Mary of the Magnificat and the rosary. Rather than the self-surrender demanded of our faith, it offers a narrow, militaristic self-sufficiency. And a politicized one at that.

The rosary has always been a source of strength and power to devotees. But not the kind of power in an AK-47. Rather, it offers the moral power of Jesus who showed us a God who was love, and offered a peace that the world cannot give. And it reminded us of the God who “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

A parish I once attended hosted a women’s hour where someone from the community would speak on a topic of spiritual interest. A potluck luncheon followed. Perhaps the most popular presentation was by a parishioner who talked about her Marian devotion. It was amazing how many women in the group felt a closeness to Jesus’ mother, and still kept their own mother’s rosary or slept with a rosary under their pillow.

Today, I often say the rosary when I go for an evening walk. Sometimes, I contemplate the mysteries. Other times, the words flow forth as a mantra as I lift up my friends and family who need prayer. Usually, it’s a combination of both.

And Dad would be happy to know I am no longer obsessed with the exact count. Sometimes, I count the prayers on my fingers, and sometimes I don’t count at all.

I just let the inner peace and strength of the rosary wash over me.

Top photo: Bigstockphoto.com

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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