The rosary: common myths and facts
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 1, 2022 / 02:00 am
October is designated by the Catholic Church as the “Month of the Rosary.” Here are seven common myths and facts about this devotion to Our Lady.
Only Catholics can pray the rosary.
False. While rosaries are typically associated with Catholics, non-Catholics can certainly pray the rosary — and in fact, many credit it with their conversion. Even some Protestants recognize the rosary as a valid form of prayer.
Praying the rosary is idolatry.
False. Some have objections to the rosary, claiming it idolizes Mary and is overly repetitive.
Just like any practice, the rosary could be abused — just as someone might idolize a particular pastor or priest, form of worship, or fasting. But the rosary itself is not a form of idolatry.
The rosary is not a prayer to Mary — it is a meditation on the life of Christ revealed in five mysteries “with the purposes of drawing the person praying deeper into reflecting on Christ’s joys, sacrifices, sufferings, and the glorious miracles of his life.”
When we pray the Hail Mary, we are not adoring Mary, we are asking for her intercession — just as we might ask a friend or family member to pray for us.
Second, any prayer can lose its meaning if we do not intentionally meditate on it. Focusing on the mysteries with purpose and intention is key to the rosary’s transforming power. As one author encourages: “The rosary itself stays the same, but we do not.”
You can wear a rosary as a necklace.
It depends. It is typically considered disrespectful and irreverent to wear a rosary around one’s neck, even though the Church does not have an explicit declaration against doing so.
However, Canon 1171 of the Code of Canon Law says that “sacred objects, set aside for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated with reverence. They are not to be made over to secular or inappropriate use, even though they may belong to private persons.”
It is important to treat the rosary with respect and intention. If you intend to wear the rosary as a piece of jewelry, this would not be respectful and should be avoided. It goes without saying that wearing the rosary as a mockery or gang symbol would be a sin.
But if it is your intention to use the rosary and be mindful of prayer, then it could be permissible. It is not uncommon in some cultures, like in Honduras and El Salvador, to see the rosary respectfully worn around the neck as a sign of devotion.
Rosary rings or bracelets might be a better option if you want to keep your rosary close at hand as a reminder to pray, as they are kept more out of sight and would not be as easily misconstrued to be a piece of jewelry.
The rosary is an extremist symbol.
False. A widely-shared Atlantic article this summer went viral for accusing the rosary of being an “extremist symbol.”
“Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics,” the article read.
The author also cited the Church’s stance on traditional marriage and the sanctity of life as evidence of “extremism” and claimed that Catholics’ tendency to call the rosary a “weapon in the fight against evil” as dangerous.
As CNA reported this year, popes have urged Catholics to pray the rosary since 1571 — often referring to the rosary as a prayer “weapon” and most powerful spiritual tool.
The rosary is not biblical.
Untrue! Most of its words come directly from Scripture.
First, the Our Father is prayed. The words of the Our Father are those Christ taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9–13.
The Hail Mary also comes straight from the Bible. The first part, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” comes from Luke 1:28, and the second, “Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” is found in Luke 1:42.
Finally, each of the decades prayed on the rosary symbolizes an event in the lives of Jesus and Mary. The decades are divided into four sets of mysteries: Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious, the majority of which are found in Scripture.
A rosary bead, or pea, can kill you.
Somewhat true. A rosary pea, or abrus seed, is a vine plant native to India and parts of Asia. The seeds of the vine, which are red with black spots, are often used to make beaded jewelry — including rosaries. Rosary pea seeds contain a toxic substance called abrin, which is a naturally-occurring poison that can be fatal if ingested. However, it’s unlikely for someone to get abrin poisoning just from holding a rosary made from abrus seeds, as one would have to swallow them.
Today, most rosaries are made from other non-toxic materials, such as olive wood, plastic, or glass — eliminating this concern.
Carrying a rosary can protect you.
True. The rosary has proven to be a miraculous force for protecting those of faith and bestowing upon them extra graces, such as the victory of the Christian forces at the Battle of Lepanto after St. Pius V implored Western Christians to pray the rosary.
Many great saints across history, including Pope John Paul II, Padre Pio, and Lucia of Fatima, have also recognized the rosary as the most powerful weapon in fighting the real spiritual battles we face in the world.
We know that spiritual warfare is a real and present danger: “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:11–12).
“The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin … If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors,” Pope Pius XI said.