This past summer, I spent eight weeks in Guatemala as part of a Spanish language immersion program where I joined twelve other seminarians for this summer adventure. Not surprisingly, one of the religious devotional sights we saw during our stay in Guatemala was the rosary being worn around the neck. Several individuals questioned me regarding my opinion on such a practice, especially when we discovered one of the Catholic bookstores sold rosaries with necklace clasps, signifying the sole purpose of the rosary was to be worn or at the very least, accommodating for a devotee to wear it.
My simple response was: Since we were in a Catholic country, I thought the people who wear the rosary also have a special devotion to the rosary and most likely pray it regularly rather than simply wearing the beads around their neck. This image of a person wearing the rosary, however, is not unpopular here in the United States either by famous celebrities, Hispanics or other individuals.
With this in mind, we arrive at the hotly debated question over the years: Is wearing the rosary sacrilegious? Many people have taken the position that the rosary should not be worn, however, in my brief research online of this question I found no articles that cite the spiritual benefits of wearing the rosary. [i] When worn for the right reason, I believe wearing the rosary can be an acceptable spiritual practice.
Christina Aguilera, Shakira, Rihanna and Madonna have recently made fashion statements by donning a rosary around their necks. Many people have found this to be inappropriate because their lifestyles or lyrics to their music may not always reflect the Christian way of life. [ii] Additionally, some schools have banned students from wearing the rosary because it is believed gang members wear it as a sign of their gang affiliation. [iii]
The wearing of the rosary in a pop cultural sense does not necessarily convey devotion on the part of the wearer, but instead, the rosary is used to make a societal statement, oftentimes construed as mocking the intercessory power of Mary implored through the recitation of the Holy Rosary. In contradistinction from pop culture, spiritually one must only turn to St. Louis de Montfort’s work The Secret of the Rosary to understand the proper reason as to why one could acceptably wear a rosary.
The Rosary as a Spiritual Weapon
St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, hailed as one of the greatest Marian teachers in the tradition, authored two classics on Marian devotion, True Devotion to Mary and The Secret of the Rosary. Many Catholics may be familiar with St. Louis de Montfort because of his formulaic Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary which is associated with True Devotion to Mary. The Secret of the Rosary, a phenomenal little book, presents anecdotal stories testifying to the power of the rosary and Mary’s intercession. Within the text, St. Louis de Montfort provides stories that testify to the power of the rosary, especially when it is worn, likening it in some ways to a spiritual weapon. Perhaps St. Louis de Montfort can lend a new perspective to this debate.
St. Louis re-tells a story of Blessed Alan de La Roche, a great promoter of the rosary. Blessed Alan knew a man who wished to rid himself of evil spirits and had tried, albeit unsuccessfully, through other devotions. The man finally…
“…thought of wearing his rosary around his neck, which eased him considerably. He discovered that whenever he took it off the devil tormented him cruelly, so he resolved to wear it night and day. This drove the evil spirit away forever, because he could not bear such a terrible chain. Blessed Alan also testified that he had delivered a large number of people who were possessed by putting the rosary around their necks.” [iv]
St. Louis tells two other stories relaying the power of wearing the rosary. First, Our Lady appeared to the King of Aragon, Alphonsus VIII, and gave him a rosary. Our Lady told him to “wear it and I promise you that none of your enemies will ever be able to harm you again.” [v] Secondly, it has been said that “Saint Dominic put his rosary around [an] Albigensian’s neck and asked the devils to tell him who, of all the saints in heaven, was the one they feared the most, and who should therefore be the most loved and revered by men.” [vi] Reluctantly, the devils confessed Mary to be the most powerful intercessor.
These three stories illustrate the power of the rosary, especially when it is worn. Wearing the rosary could thus be viewed as a spiritual weapon which wards of temptation and evil spirits in addition to providing the devotee protection from harm. Similar to the scapular, I would, however contend it is necessary for the devotee to have a devotion to the rosary, in order to maximize the most benefit from the devotion. Devotion to wearing the rosary was even promoted in The Conditions for the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary: “Those who openly wear the Holy Rosary out of devotion and to set a good example may gain one hundred day’s indulgence.” [vii]
This condition of wearing the rosary, however, is not explicitly explained, so it could be interpreted as wearing it at one’s side (similar to religious brothers and sisters) or around the neck. Regardless, St. Louis de Montfort holds the rosary up as a spiritual weapon, not only when it is prayed by the people of God, but when it is devoutly worn on their person. Perhaps, the devotee should consider wearing the rosary similar to the scapular, underneath his or her clothing, more as a personal devotion, rather than an outward expression.
It is important for us to be cautious in judging the intention of our brothers and sisters in Christ who wear the rosary around their neck. It is possible that the person is wearing the rosary as a fashion statement and does not have a devotion to the Blessed Mother while it is also possible the person wears it as spiritual armor. We must also consider the other possibility — the person wearing the rosary has never thought it to be wrong and is unaware of the controversy that erupts among Catholic circles over the outward expression of their Marian devotion.
Let us not be quick to judge the intentions of our rosary-wearing brethren, remembering Jesus’ admonition of judging, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NAB). Only the Lord and the individual are aware of the intention within the heart of the devotee but let us have confidence in Our Lady’s intercession and protection given to those who wear the rosary for all the wrong reasons.
For those who wear the rosary not as a sign of their devotion but for other reasons, let us hope that Our Lady will unlock the secret of the rosary in their heart and the person may then be able to foster a greater devotion to Jesus and Mary through this great devotion of the Church.
N.B. At the time this article was originally written, the author was unaware of a current controversy surrounding the wearing of the rosary. On September 17, the Huffington Post published an article pertaining to a school’s decision prohibiting the wearing of the rosary due to gang affiliation. You can read the article here.
[i] A few different articles against the wearing of the rosary can be found at the following links: http://churchmousec.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/the-rosary-should-you-be-wearing-it/; http://abbey-roads.blogspot.com/2010/06/wearing-rosary.html; http://www.zenit.org/rssenglish-32848.
[ii] C.f. http://www.couriermail.com.au/lifestyle/catholics-angry-as-celebrities-hijack-rosary-beads-as-a-fashion-statement/story-e6frer4f-1225890174772
[iii] C.f. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/rosary-ban-in-colorado-school-sparks-controversy
[iv] St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary, translated by Mary Barbour, (Bay Shore, NY: Montfort Publications, 1954), 67.
[v] Montfort, 75.
[vi] Montfort, 77.
[vii] Montfort, 72. It should be noted that this understanding of attaching “days” to indulgences is no longer a correct understanding of the application of indulgences.