I. A Beautiful Devotion
AMIDST the rich variety of Catholic devotions, there is one of world-wide popularity, which appeals in a particular manner to every Catholic heart. It is a devotion that has grown with extraordinary rapidity in the Church of Christ; a devotion which was scarcely proclaimed when it already flourished in various Catholic countries; a devotion that is now, like the Church itself, universal. The devotion of which I write is known as the Rosary.
From our tenderest years we have fondly loved the Rosary. Scarcely had we learnt to lisp our prayers at our mothers’ knees, when the beads were placed in our hands, and, though we were yet unable to grasp all that the Rosary implied, our Catholic instinct already prompted us to cherish it, and to recite it before the image of our heavenly Mother. We were taught to treasure Mary’s chaplet as an emblem of our faith, and in one of our earliest hymns we professed fidelity to the Rosary unto death—
“I love my cross, I love my beads,
Each emblem of my faith;
Let foolish men say what they will,
I’ll love them until death.”
As the years passed by, the Rosary gradually became more familiar to us, and charmed us with its beauty and sweetness. We beheld our devoted pastor reciting it Sunday after Sunday in the presence of his flock; we saw our pious mother pouring forth her soul in prayer while the beads gently and silently slipped through her fingers; we recited the Rosary frequently with our school-companions; and the closing act of each day was to cluster around our parents, and murmur fervently that sweet devotion which is so suitable as a family prayer.
The Rosary is cherished alike by the learned and the ignorant, by the priest and the layman, by the rich and the poor. The Sovereign Pontiff derives from it supernatural strength to bear his tremendous burden, and light and grace to discharge the duties of his exalted office with Christ-like fidelity; the priest finds in his Rosary solace and courage in the trials which beset him, and the grace to remain faithful to the superhuman obligations which he has voluntarily taken upon him; the nun draws from this wondrous devotion grace to persevere in the life of angelic purity which she has embraced in imitation of the Immaculate Virgin; the mother rises from the recitation of the chaplet with renewed strength to carry on her unselfish and even heroic life, it may be amidst suffering and poverty, on behalf of the tender children whom God has entrusted to her; the soldier on the battlefield communes with Mary on his beads, and knows full well that the Mother of God will bless and protect him in life and in death; in fact, we cannot mention any class of persons who do not receive the most abundant graces and the sweetest consolation from this heaven-sent devotion—
“Sweet, blessed beads! I would not part
With one of you for richest gem
That gleams in kingly diadem;
Ye know the history of my heart.
“For I have told you every grief
In all the days of twenty years.
And I have moistened you with tears.
And in your decades found relief.
“Ah! time has fled, and friends have failed,
And joys have died; but in my needs
Ye were my friends, my blessed beads!
And ye consoled me when I wailed.
“For many and many a time, in grief.
My weary fingers wandered round
Thy circled chain, and always found
In some Hail Mary sweet relief.
“How many a story ye might tell
Of inner life to all unknown;
I trusted you and you alone.
But ah! ye keep my secrets well.
“Ye are the only chain I wear—
A sign that I am but the slave.
In life, in death, beyond the grave
Of Jesus and His Mother fair.”
The Rosary has been productive of marvelous fruits in the Church of God. It was the powerful weapon that St. Dominic used so successfully against the pestilential heresy of the Albigensians; it has accounted for the manifold graces of conversion that have accompanied the preaching of zealous missionaries; it has been one of the secrets of Ireland's constant fidelity to the faith that Patrick planted on her soil. The bright light of faith has continued to shine in all its pristine splendor, within the shores of Erin, despite the cruelest and most tyrannical persecutions, for, although despotic rulers could hunt down her priests like wolves, and murder them as they offered the adorable sacrifice on the mountainsides of the Emerald Isle, such tyrants could never tear from the hearts of Erin’s faithful children their tender, undying love for Mary Immaculate, and, when those heroic Catholics were unable to partake of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and were deprived of the ministrations of the priest of God, they assembled in their cottages, around an image of the Mother of God, and recited with childlike confidence the holy Rosary.