For anyone living abroad, coming home is a lot about things you used to do as a child: the Sunday visit to your granny (if she’s still alive), the Saturday night pint in the pub, doing the shopping on a Wednesday. It might be going to the Panto at Christmas, or putting money in the Trocaire box during Lent. It could be bringing in the hay or feeding the pigeons or cutting turf. Whatever it might be, these rituals of old anchor us to a place and take us back in time. And in a world of constant change, it’s nice to have something that has remained pretty much unchanged.
My security blanket, the thing that makes me feel most at home, is driving in a car with my parents at night. In mid conversation, apropos nothing that has gone before, one of them will utter the words:
Thy Lord shall open my lips.
And the rest of us will take our cue and respond en masse:
And my tongue shall announce His praise.
And the rosary will be given out, all five decades of whatever mysteries fall on that particular day. The Joyful mysteries are said on Monday and Saturday, the Luminous on Thursday, the Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and the Glorious on Wednesday and Sunday (with this exception: Sundays of Christmas season – Joyful; Sundays of Lent – Sorrowful). But we’re still sticking to the old ways in our house. Joyful on Monday and Thursday; Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and Glorious on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.
When I asked why we hadn’t made the move over, an analogy was drawn between popes and captains of golf clubs: both have to do something new to leave their mark during their tenure. There might be some truth in that. Years after the updating of the standard prayers, I’m still struggling to master the words. It was 2002 when Pope John Paul II introduced the ‘new’ rosary – but I suspect in many rosaried homes, they remain a flight a fancy.
The Rosary is supposed to offer time for reflection, but we race through it, chant-like, as if time were running out and we had someplace more important to be. I’ve sat through community rosaries in Malta, in Hungary, in Italy, in the UK, and in Ireland, and reflection is something no one seems to have time for. It’s always well paced – singsong-like. As kids, we would kneel down at the couch and try to keep keep count as we made our way through our decades without giggling. I remember going through a particularly bad period of stammering and having a terrible time getting out my Ms in the Hail Mary. But the name Rosary comes from the Latin Rosarium or crown of roses and ideally the prayer should be said as if you were strolling (not running) through Mary’s garden of roses
Word has it that the Rosary was given to St. Dominic in 1214 AD, so by Catholic standards, it might well equate to being modern, particularly as it wasn’t made an ‘official’ prayer until 1569 when Pope Pius V legalised it. For a time I would say it every night knowing that if I fell asleep before I finished it, the angels would finish it for me. Ah, the beauty of stories.
Today, rosary beads are often worn as necklaces, something that gives me the heebie jeebies. In my day, rosaries were hidden, used discreetly, the 59 beads carried in a purse or pocket and only taken out at mass or at wakes. I had a penal rosary (Irish: An Paidrín Beag) that had just one decade’s worth of beads and was easily hidden. I’d move the ring from one finger to the next, beginning with the thumb, to count the mysteries. Then, and now, it was a stark reminder of the Penal times, a time when we were not allowed to practice our religion, among other things. The more major of the laws included:
- Catholics were excluded from holding public office such as Judge MP solicitor Jurist or barrister, civil servant, sheriff, or town councillor.
- No Catholic could vote or be elected to office.
- Catholics could not own land.
- Catholics could not lease land for longer than 31 years and the rent was to equal two-thirds of the yearly value of the land.
- Catholics were not allowed to hold arms nor be members of the armed forces nor own a horse worth more than £5.
- If a Catholic landholder died, his estate could not be passed to the eldest son unless that son was a Protestant. Otherwise it was to be shared by all the surviving sons.
- Catholics and Protestants could not intermarry.
- Catholics could not be an orphan’s guardian.
- Catholics were barred from living in many provincial towns.
- Catholic clergy were to be registered and required to take an oath of loyalty, but friars, monks, hierarchy and Jesuits were to be exiled.
- Clerics could not wear distinguishing clothes.
- Places of worship could not have a steeple nor display a cross.
- Catholics and dissenters were required to pay tithes to the Anglican Church of Ireland which was the Established Church.
- Catholics could not establish schools or send their children abroad for education.
Okay, so it was more than 300 years ago, but persecution is still alive and well and thriving in the world today. And how sad is that.
It’s been an interesting week – one that started in a Hungarian village and ended in an Irish one, with lots of towns, cities, and catch-ups in between. I’m grateful for the security offered in coming home, something denied to many as they no longer have homes to go. I’m grateful for the rituals that knit the fabric of Irishness in me. And I’m grateful for the reminder to appreciate all that I have.
A reminder of what the Grateful series is about.