What is the Purpose of Rosary Beads

Anne Stricherz

Is Mary Actually Being Loved When You Wear The Rosary?

Even though it was over thirty years ago, I remember a lot from the day I received my First Holy Communion. I processed into St Mary’s Church with my classmates to the song “Morning Has Broken.” I wore my mother’s veil and recall that many in the congregation understood how very special that was. Upon receiving our Lord, I prayed a prayer that I still say to this day. The liturgy was beautiful and I realized —even then that the word “liturgy” is a fitting one for our gathering of the Word and the Eucharist. Liturgy means “celebration” and that sentiment continued at my home with family members from near and far!

I still have many of the gifts that I received for my First Holy Communion: a bottle of holy water from Lourdes, a beautiful candle with an Irish Blessing embossed on it. My aunt gave me a small statue of the Jesus, the Good Shepherd and another gave me a book about the Lives on the Saints. I got a scapular, and one of the most beautiful rosaries I had ever seen.

Looking at the variety of gifts I was given, I appreciate the way so many of these gifts not only shaped my faith but also have also strengthened and sustained it. And that is exactly what sacramentals ought to do.

In “What Does It Mean to Be Catholic?,” Jim Heft writes

Catholics see sacraments as "close-ups" or clearly focused instances of God's presence and love. Our liturgical celebrations use many signs and symbols such as bread and wine, oil and water, vestments and candles, crucifixes and statues. We make many symbolic actions, such as touching and blessing, bowing and genuflecting, incensing and anointing. Through such symbols, Catholics recognize the presence and power of God. We call them sacramentals.”

Sacramentals remind us that we can avail ourselves to God’s grace both in Church and when we leave. And we should.

Ignatius of Loyola urged his companions to “Find God in All Things.” No wonder another Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins was inspired to write the poem “God’s Grandeur.” He understood that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” It is. The sacred surrounds us and sacramentals can be a part of that experience, not separate from it.

In “Catholicism,” Richard McBrien explains that this holistic approach distinguishes Catholicism from other Christian traditions. He writes, “Catholicism is characterized, therefore, by a both/and rather than an either/or approach. It is not nature or grace, but graced nature; not reason or faith, but reason illumined by faith; not law or Gospel, but law inspired by the Gospel; not Scripture or tradition but normative tradition within Scripture; not faith or works, but faith issuing in works and works as expressions of faith; not authority or freedom, but authority in the service of freedom; not unity or diversity, but unity in diversity. In a word, Catholicism is catholic.

I love that the Catholic tradition allows for a rich, varied, historic and multi-cultural way to connect, express, and increase my faith. In short, my First Eucharist was a day to celebrate the sacrament, enriched by sacramentals.

One gift I still use to this day is the Rosary I received from my Godmother. I know that she chose this particular Rosary for me, because she knew me. Even as a child, I loved jewelry. I was fascinated by my mother’s jewelry box; I tried to make one just like it! I wore jewelry to school and in family photos.

After my First Holy Communion, I wore a beautiful gold cross I was given for that special day around my neck for weeks on end. I had a pin of the Holy Spirit. I carried my new rosary in a special jewelry pouch and yet, I knew it was different. In spite of the fact the beads on the Rosary looks like crystal, I had an understanding that the Rosary is to be prayed and not worn. Why is that?

Ginny Kibityz Moyer captures an answer quite well. She says, “The rosary isn’t jewelry; it’s a sacramental, which is an object meant to help bring about spiritual effects through the prayer or devotion it inspires. (Sacramentals don’t have any sort of magic power in and of themselves; the positive graces come through the prayers.) Many people argue that if you wear a rosary around your neck, you are treating it more like a fashion accessory than a sacramental and are thus distorting its intended purpose.”

Ultimately, only the one who wears the Rosary can speak to why he or she is wearing it, but I think it’s important to understand—although a distinction: between jewelry and sacramental, it is an important one. Rosaries are never mere jewelry or “fashion accessories” and yet, I can understand how there might be some confusion and/or need for clarification.

For example, when I went to purchase a gift for my God daughter’s First Holy Communion, one gift I considered was a Rosary ring or bracelet. Both include ten beads; they can help people count the decade of the Rosary as they pray. As one who often “prays on the go” both pieces of jewelry (which they are) can serve as helpful prayer resources.

Again Kubitz Moyer adds some insight. She writes, “The only official Church document I could find that addressed this, even obliquely, was the Code of Canon Law, which says, “Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons.” (1171) So it seems that it all depends on the intent of the wearer. If you’re wearing it as a way to deepen your prayer life, there shouldn’t be any problem with that.”  

Catholicism, in its “both/and” approach allows us to find the sacred in everyday things. And yet, that outlook doesn’t mean to compromise what is in fact sacred. This may be a tension for some, but ultimately, I see it as an invitation to probe deeper into the mystery of God…to love the Incarnation…to connect with Our Lady and pray as you go—Rosary in hand or around my heart.

Works Cited
1. “What Does It Mean to Be Catholic?,” by Jim Heft, SM; 2.“Catholicism” by Richard McBrien; 3. “Can I Wear a Rosary Around my Neck?” by Ginny Kubitz Moyer, BustedHalo.com