He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Fair Questions: Why do I have skull beads on my rosaries?

As I've mentioned before, there are multiple ways to pray the Rosary.  I've prayed the Rosary in many of those ways, and found them all beneficial.

Initially, I didn't set out to customize the Rosary's prayers.  I was perfectly content to pray it in the quite beautiful forms it had already taken, whether the more ancient Dominican or popular contemporary form.

I first changed the way I prayed the Rosary by appending a prayer to the end of the Rosary, inspired by the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that connected the decades of my rosary beads with one another.  This is a prayer I composed:

"Lord, just as You allowed Your Sacred Heart to be pierced by human suffering because You so loved the world, please help me to allow my heart to be pierced by Your divine love because I so love You."

The prayer helped me to connect the visual artistry of the rosary with the spiritual purpose of the Rosary.  I began to realize that the artistry of the rosary beads, crosses, and medals was not only valuable for instruction in the spiritual life and a practical aid for counting the prayers, but also a means of inspiring deeper prayer and deepening one's understanding of theology.

As a result, I began to pray the Rosary in different ways that were also new, though I hope and pray that they flow authentically from the ancient Christian theology and traditions in which I have steeped myself the last few years.

Listed below are a few of the ways I pray the Rosary.  These are only the ways I pray the Rosary in English, but I pray it in much the same way in Spanish.

The Celtic Blood Rosary

What I call the Celtic Blood Rosary is based on the quite ancient Dominican way of praying the Rosary.  The only difference is an added prayer between each of the decades and at the end of the final decade.

"Lord, as I remember Your death upon the cross when You poured out your precious blood for us, the same blood of the new covenant which you give to us in the Eucharist, please help me to remember my own death, that I might be given the courage to pour out my life for You."

This prayer is inspired by the Celtic cross which depicts the chalice consecrated by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus filled with Christ's precious blood under the appearances of wine.  It also draws upon Sacred Scripture and Christian mystical theology.

The Sister Death Rosary

The Sister Death Rosary is inspired by the Franciscan-style rosary with the San Damiano icon cross.  I pray with this rosary in the more popular contemporary form, though I pray an additional prayer when I come to each skull bead (there are 6 of them).

"Lord, please help me to welcome Sister Death, just as your holy servant St. Francis of Assisi welcomed her at the hour of his death."

Those familiar with St. Francis of Assisi know that he had a tendency to refer to everything as Brother or Sister (i.e. Brother Sun, Sister Moon).  Those familiar with the story of his death know that he greeted his own death by the appellation Sister Death, whose embrace he understood to be both inevitable and natural, not something to be feared.

The Remembrance of Death Rosary

The Remembrance of Death Rosary was inspired by the Rule of St. Benedict's instruction to "Keep death daily before one's eyes." and my reading of St. John Climacus' The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which devotes an entire chapter to the remembrance of death.  I pray this Rosary according to the Dominican form, though I add an additional prayer when I arrive at each skull bead between the decades.

"Lord, please help me to remember my own death, and to keep it daily before my eyes."

The crucifix is in a Benedictine style, with a medal of St. Benedict embedded in the structure of the cross.  Around the image of St. Benedict is printed the Latin phrase: Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur!  It is a prayer asking for his presence at the hour of our death, because, like St. Joseph, he is regarded as a Patron Saint of a Happy Death.

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Ancient Christianity has placed a great emphasis on the importance of a holy death, and also on the importance of a holy life.  The holy life, which is established by regular prayer and works of love, builds the habits of mind and heart necessary for us to choose a holy death at the appointed hour.

Facing our fear of death over and over in prayer while meditating on the salvific events of Christ's life disposes us to have a more healthy attitude toward death as people of hope, people who can welcome death when it comes, not because it is an escape from suffering, but because it is for those who die in friendship with Christ an embrace of the Lord's presence in the Beatific Vision.

Note:  The above is an image of my rosary which has the Sacred Heart of Jesus depicted in the medal which joins the decades to the crucifix.

The large rosaries with silver-finished skull beads are from Rugged Rosaries.  I highly recommend them for custom rosary designs that are both beautiful and extremely durable.

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