Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The rosaries they carried

At some point last week, I stumbled on an article on aniPod rosary for younger, hipper believers. Rather than clack your glass beads, you click your virtual beads.

Hard to believe that there are all that many younger, hipper rosary-sayers, but I do understand that a go(o)dly proportion of the younger Catholic faithful skew traditional.

One of the virtual rosaries mentioned in the article I saw noted that the beads were shaped like footballs, which I found mighty odd. But then I went to the google – from whence I could not find the original article that precipitated this focus on The Rosary – and found that there have long been physical football, baseball, basketball, and bowling rosaries – in which the large beads (the Our Fathers) are represented by, well, footballs, baseballs, basketballs, and bowling balls.  World Series-related rosaries are available in Yankee blue and white, or Phillies red and white.

All this must make Touchdown Jesus very happy – or very perplexed.

But the original article did get me thinking about the rosary business, that’s still, somehow, some way, managing to survive – likely through product marketing like the sports rosaries.

And, quite naturally, it got me thinking about my own up close and personal history with the rosary.

I grew up in a fairly religious, but non-communal-rosary saying, family.

I had friends who, every evening when the rosary was broadcast on radio, would gather in the kitchen or living room and pray the rosary. Although, even as a pious child, I found saying the rosary colossally boring, I envied these families their ultra-piety.

I also envied those who had statues in their homes, and bathtub madonnas in their yards.

For all of the deep faith of my parents, they didn’t go in for statuary.

We had some religious pictures: a Rembrandt Madonna; a head of Jesus (the one with the chalice in his hair) that hung in our living room (the housewarming gift of a parish priest); and, curiously, in our wood-paneled, Ethan Allen “colonial maple” family room, we had Dali’s Last Supper. But, if you don’t count Hummels, until I won a marble statue of the Madonna for excellence in Spanish in the seventh or eighth grade, we had none of the statues I craved. No Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) standing astride the world, one foot on a snake’s neck. No Infant of Prague, with changeable costumes tied to the liturgical seasons. No St. Joseph with lilies. No Francis of Assisi with birds. No nothing.

We did have crucifixes in the bedrooms. My sister Kath and I had the wonderful version where the front part slid up to reveal innards that contained the holy oils, candles, and (sacred?) cotton balls that would be used in the event that a priest had to come to the house to give the Last Rites to someone.

But, alas, none of the statuary I so wanted.

And no family rosary.

Other than on those occasions when one of the Rogers’ kids got to take home the family rosary beads, which circulated around the school during the months of October (rosary month) and May (Mary month). The family rosary was an over-sized set of black beads, kept in the screw-off bottom of a cheesy plastic statue of the BVM. The statue cum beads were housed (and transported) in a baize-lined, wooden casket with handle. (This had been made by the Protestant father of one of my classmates, and was held up as an example of Protestants being good.)

During rosary month, when your number came up, you toted the thing home and, that evening, your family was supposed to say the rosary en famille, with the pater familias – that would be my father – leading us, using the big black beads, while we followed along with our own pairs. (Question: why is a string that contains 58 beads plus a cross called “a pair”?)

Although he was personally very devote, my father wasn’t particularly keen on the family rosary – or any other sort of ‘family that prays together, stays together’ sort of stuff, other than going to Mass. (While my mother stayed home with 'the baby’, my father took us kids to the Children’s Mass, followed by a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts. After feasting on donuts, we drove my mother to her later Mass. We then went for a ride until it was time to pick her up.)

My mother was far more interested than my father ever was in our being the type of Good Catholic family that said grace, prayed the rosary together, and lit candles on the Advent wreathe. Every time she tried to institute one of these rituals, it petered out after a day or too. For whatever reason – as religious as we all were – we just weren’t the religious ritual type.

Perhaps it had something to do with Nanny, my father’s mother, who was, more of less, a religious skeptic, perhaps even a heretic. The only religious activity I recall her engaging in was sprinkling holy water around, like a Druid priestess, during a violent thunder storm.

At our house, the family rosary always ended poorly.

We raced through it, and never reached the end without some type of behavior blowup. Someone expressed boredom. Another demonstrated a bit of ire, perhaps pushing a kneeling sib. Someone passed gas and everyone snickered. My father yelled; my mother bemoaned. ‘Can’t we do something nice for just this once.’

Well, no, apparently we couldn’t.

But we did – at least some of us – say our personal rosaries, if not regularly, then on occasion when we were going through a particularly pious stage.

I had several pairs of rosary beads.

The clear crystal ones I received for my First Holy Communion were lost at the Plymouth Theater a few years later, when I was probably seeing The Light in the Forest, or some other Disney epic. I guess I carried them in my blue leatherette purse – the one with the little ceramic windmills on it – because I had nothing else to put in it.

Anyway, while I was exiting the theater, I realized my beads were missing.

I got an usher to check with a flashlight, but, alas, neither The Light in the Forest nor the usher’s flashlight could find my rosary  amidst the debris beneath the seats: discarded paper cups, still quasi-filled with the remnants of a sickeningly sweet and syrupy orange or grape drink; stomped in Raisinettes; stale popcorn.

My missing rosary was replaced by something that I didn’t particularly like. Then I bought, with my very own money, at a gift shop on the Cape, a pair made in Ireland. They were brown and weirdly irregular, and reminded me of an Irish crone’s teeth. (Probably those of Nanny.)

They were my favs until I received –  for my Confirmation, I think - a nice pair of Creed beads in a very pretty shade of aqua. These were my penultimate rosary beads.

The grand finale were tossed my way in eighth grade – my prize for being “the girl who won the scholarship” to the high-falutin’ Catholic girls school in my town. (This story is recounted here.)

Those lavender beads were not Creed – that much I remember.

But Creed Rosary is still in business. Still in Massachusetts. Still, as far as I can tell, going strong after 75 years. In addition to rosaries, they sell medals, and provide a handy list of patron saints, where I learned that St. Dymphna is the patron saint of insanity, family harmony, and nerves. Perhaps on those fearsome occasions when the Rogerses prayed the family rosary, we should have been directing our thoughts to her.






Anonymous said...

we DID have a plastic glow in the dark mini-Infant of Prague that creeped me out completely

Maureen Rogers said...

Thanks, I'd completely forgotten about that. But, of course, we didn't have any changes of clothing for it... That's what I really wanted.