The rosary in the photo is the one I took with me on the Long Retreat - next to my journal adorned with sticky notes, ready to see my director. This must be early on in the Exercises, since by the end, the journal was bulging at the seams with various inclusions.
St. Pachomius was St. Anthony's (not the Anthony of lost objects, but the Father of Monasticism Anthony) mentor in the ermitic life. One legend about the prayer ropes is that the devil kept untying the knots that St. Anthony tied, so Mary (or the archangel Raphael in some tellings) taught Anthony in a vision (or dream) how to tie the crossed crosses, which the devil could not untie.
This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 16 September 2010.
My times are in Your hand — O save me from the hand of my enemies, my pursuers. — Ps. 31:16
I’ve lost my rosary. Well, one of them at any rate. I had it when I went for a walk last week, but later that day, when my fingers sought out the smooth olive wood beads in my pocket, they came up empty. All afternoon, their loss nagged at the edge of my consciousness.
In my life, rosaries are a bit like socks. I’m always finding them in odd places around the house; I’m always missing some, and I always have extras, just in case. So why was I so bothered by the loss of this particular round of beads? After all, I could keep count of the 10 Hail Marys I was about to say on my fingers, and dig a spare set of beads out of the drawer when I got home.
Perhaps it was because the rosary I lost was, for once, not a replacement for a rosary I’d misplaced, but for one I’d given away to a friend for her sister who is ill. That rosary, which had accompanied me while I made the Spiritual Exercises two winters ago, was soaked in the prayers of those 30 days in silence. So when Marilyn sought prayers for her sister after Mass one Saturday evening, I surrendered my rosary. It carried with it not only my prayers, but Marilyn’s for her sister, and through the Augustinian friar who blessed it again for Peg’s use, those of the entire Church.
Every time I picked up the rosary in my pocket after that, I offered a quick prayer for Peg. When I saw her at Mass a few months later, she told me that even when she could not say the rosary, she found solace in just holding it — it was as if she had a handful of prayers cupped in her palm. I told I held her in prayer each time I held my own rosary, our prayers crisscrossing through these beads.
Legend has it that St. Pachomius, who founded a community of desert hermits in the fourth century, taught his monks to count their prayers by counting off knots tied in a rope. The purpose was not to say a certain number of prayers, but to use the rope as a reminder to be faithful to your prayer time, to hold you to the practice of keeping God in your mind and heart at all times.
Orthodox monastics still carry prayer ropes, sliding the intricately tied knots — seven tightly intertwined crosses in each — through their fingers when they pray. Even when they are not praying, the ropes are to hand, worn on their left wrists. Like Peg, they hold prayer in their hands, even when not counting the prayers.
I suspect I missed not the ability to keep count of my prayers, but the rosary that reminded me to be accountable to prayer. The rosary that reminded me, like the knots in the prayer rope, that our prayers are intertwined. The rosary that reminded me that we are held, at all times, in the prayers of friends, in the prayers of the Church and indeed in the very hand of God.
In memory of the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and in honor of the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ and mother of the Church, may those who devoutly use this rosary to pray be blessed, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen — from the Blessing of Rosaries