On this particular day, before he made his way through the cube farm to his desk, Josh stopped by my carpeted cell on the way.
“Last night, my wife and I went to a Catholic funeral, and there are a couple of things I want to ask about it.” Was his introduction, without a “Hi” or anything first, so, this way clearly important to him.
I inquired, “A Catholic funeral at night? Where was this held, and what do you want to know about it?”
He responded that it had been held at a particular funeral home and the celebrant didn’t seem to pay any attention to the woman, one of his wife’s former co-workers, at all. The fellow leading the prayer session said a few words about the woman, and then just kept repeating the same few prayers over and over.
Christ Told Us Not To Babble
Josh expressed concern that Christ had told us in the Book of Matthew not to babble endlessly like the pagans do, and he was afraid that this is what was happening.
I comforted Josh by telling him that it was not a Catholic funeral he had gone to but a wake with a recitation of the rosary. I asked if he had noticed that any of the people near him seemed to be using prayer beads during the series of prayers. He indicated that some of the people near him were using beads, some appeared to be counting on their fingers and some didn’t seem to know what was going on and were just there, not really taking part.
I started by telling him that a Catholic funeral service is most often held at a Catholic church as part of a Mass. Then, depending on local tradition, following the Mass, there is a procession to a cemetery where the are additional graveside prayers, and then, perhaps the group will gather at a home of one of the attendees, the church hall or some other location for a meal, celebration of life, remembrance, etc.
The service he went to was simply a wake where the friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors could go to say their goodbyes to the deceased, bring comfort to the family, and pray. Wanting to prevent any issues before they arose, I told Josh that we do not pray to the dead, but rather for the dead. This is a tradition that has been in place since the Old Testament and appears in deuterocanonical books that appear in the Catholic bible but had been removed as part of the Protestant Reformation.
While the answer about prayers for the dead seemed to be acceptable to him, I wanted to explain the “prayer beads” he had seen some others use. I reached into my pocket, pulled out the purse containing my rosary and I handed it to him.
When he unzipped the purse, the first thing that he took out was a small stone about 1″ tall, 3/4″ wide and 1/2″ thick. I told him to just ignore that for a moment and we would get back to that shortly.
While he was taking out the rosary, I mentioned to him that several Protestant denominations also use a variation of the rosary. “Really?” was his startled response.
“Yes, Anglicans, Lutherans, some Presbyterians, and a few Baptists have been known to use a rosary,” I explained that in many cases, the construction is different, the Catholic rosary is made up of five groups of ten beads, and many of the Protestant beads are four groups of seven beads, the prayers may be different, the Jesus Prayer, or the Our Father, but, the pattern is the same, the prayers are repeated as an aid to meditation.
I continued, “Yes, Josh, Christ said not to babble like pagans and repeat tons of words ad nauseum, but, let’s look at a couple of examples. I told him that the really big example was at the Agony in the Garden, Christ went off by himself to pray, came back and found the Apostles asleep, he woke them and went off to pray again. He prayed for a total of three times that way, it would be difficult to believe that He used totally different words each time He prayed, so, He must have repeated a few words a bunch of times.
The Prayers of the Rosary
Then, we can look at Paul, who shortly after he fell off the horse ( a few months, a few years, whatever ) told the church to pray without ceasing. Clearly, if we are going to pray without ceasing, there is going to be some repetition going on. Speaking of repetition, I continued, the Book of Revelation says clearly that the beings in Heaven repeat day and night “Holy, holy, holy.” Twenty-Four-Seven-Three-Sixty-Five ( which, of course, I know does not exist in Heaven ) hearing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ may be a bit repetitious.
The prayers of the rosary are most often biblical in origination, the Hail Mary contains the angel’s words to Mary and then Elizabeth’s words as well. The Our Father comes from Christ Himself, and that appears in the rosary on those beads between the clusters of ten beads.
At the wake last night, as the deacon or priest was leading the prayers, the people in attendance were keeping place on their beads, or counting the number of Hail Mary’s on their fingers. In either case, the prayers are there to help the people praying the rosary to reflect on or meditate upon the various mysteries of the rosary which mainly come from Christ’s life or Ministry. These are divided into groups of five for each grouping of mysteries, the Sorrowful for example includes the Agony in the Garden, the Crowning with Thorns, Carrying the Cross, etc. Then there are the Joyful, Glorious and Luminous Mysteries as well, each group is designed to reflect upon an aspect of Christ’s Ministry.
Now about that stone, you recall when Christ was brought the woman who had been caught in adultery and the crowd wanted to kill her? His response was, in essence, let the guy who is without sin throw he first stone at her.
I said, “That stone is a reminder to me that I have a VERY long way to go before I can get ready to throw it.”
Josh asked, “Do all Catholics carry stones like that?”
I answered, “No, but wouldn’t it be a better world if all Christians did?”