Anyone who had the good fortune to attend a Catholic school up to the 1950s or 1960s will remember that the recitation of the rosary and the ringing of the Angelus bell at midday were part and parcel of the school program. They were distinctly Catholic practices and punctuated the day with rich blessings falling gently like Shakespeare's "quality of mercy".
It is probably true that the rosary has by and large maintained its popularity among good Catholic families; but the Angelus bell is rarely heard these days, even in Catholic institutions. And that is a pity. There was something quite heavenly about praying the Angelus, reminding one as it did of the divine Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Incarnation of the Son of God.
It could possibly happen that the Angelus bell will one day make a comeback. Just recently, I heard of a good parish near Sydney which has installed a brand-new Angelus bell.
"Nothing rattles the gates of hell so much as the sound of the Angelus bell". I don't know the origin of that rhyming couplet but it is surely true that hell's fury knows no bounds when reminded of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Woman who crushed the head of the Serpent beneath her heel. This of course relates primarily to the Church but by a transferred sense it also refers to Mary.
With regard to the saying of the rosary, it is questionable whether many Catholics have ever fully understood the full import of this ancient and sacred prayer, much loved by the popes and saints of history and credited with astounding miraculous effects.
Sometimes the rosary can become a mechanical recitation and the words can be gabbled without much thought, so that it becomes a kind of Christian string of worry beads. The words of the prayers are sometimes recited without much thought and at great speed, or they can become a kind of elocution lesson.
The prayer, which is usually said before or after the rosary, is taken from the Mass of that feast. It is a beautiful prayer but unfortunately it is very often misquoted or even misprinted in some prayer books. The correct version is as follows:
"O God, whose only begotten Son by his life, death and resurrection has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant we beseech Thee that meditating upon these mysteries in (not of) the most holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord".
The mysteries referred to in this prayer are not the mysteries of the rosary but the three great mysteries of our Christian faith - the life, death and resurrection of our Saviour, the same three mysteries of the Mass.
From this we can see very clearly that the rosary is not a prayer to Our Lady but rather a prayer through Our Lady. Like all prayer it is addressed to God.
When we follow the popular divisions of Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries we should, as in all prayer, raise our hearts and minds to God avoiding all distracting thoughts. If we pray like this, we should find ourselves gently entering into that state of prayer called contemplative.
This will come about without any effort on our part, but through the merciful gift of God. In this form of prayer, imagination plays a very small part. Love takes over where imagination leaves off. We may at first find it difficult, even impossible, to reach this high state of contemplative prayer, but little by little we should find the curtain of faith being drawn back to let in the full light of God's love and like St Paul we may begin to see and hear what great things God has prepared in heaven for those who love Him.
Every good Catholic should be able to find time each day to say at least one rosary of five decades (that is one-third of the full rosary) and this daily practice is bound to bear immeasurable fruit. We shall be surprised at the miracles of grace the rosary can bestow. I may illustrate this with the following examples.
A Sister I knew, who always wore her religious habit, was saying the rosary quietly as she travelled in a Sydney bus. As she made the sign of the cross at the end of the rosary a lady sitting next to her quietly asked, "Sister, is that a rosary? Could you explain it to me?" The Sister said that as she was getting off at the next stop she would take the lady's name and address and send her a rosary and a leaflet explaining it.
Some weeks later she happened to be in the same bus and the same lady, quite by chance, was also in the bus. When she saw Sister she came up beaming with joy and told her that the rosary had changed her life and she was now taking instructions to become a Catholic.
The well-known Radio Replies priest of a few years back, Father Rumble, was in conversation with a man who said he strongly disapproved of everything the Catholic Church stood for. He admitted that he always carried a rosary in his pocket as a promise to his mother while he was a teenager. "If that's the case," Father Rumble told him, "I can assure you that Our Lady will never let you go!" Sometime later he heard that the man had returned fully to the practice of his faith.
It would be a wonderful day for the Church if all Catholics made their faith known to the world, not by preaching, but simply by not hiding their rosary, just as members of the Holy Name Society proudly displayed their badge in former times.
Fr Fabian Duggan OSB resides at the Lumen Christi Priory, Wagga Wagga, NSW.