The Rosary

On my desk is a faded page from The London Tablet 18 June 2016.

It’s still there because I identified with a Mercy Sister’s concern about a prayer added after each decade of the Rosary: ‘O my Jesus forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in most need of God’s mercy’

Sr Olive McConville of Co. Down says that meditations on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus should fill us with peace and gratitude, not fear of punishment by a vengeful God who has to be appeased.

I totally agree with her.

The Rosary for me is a beautiful familiar road and this bleak addition is a huge pot-hole in it. It has nothing to do with the God I know, who holds us in unconditional love.

There was no mention of hell in the Old Testament. In the Gospels, hell is parable based on Gehenna, the big rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. It burned day and night and was a horrible place. Corpses were thrown on it, and sometimes, people who were not dead.

Those images of Gehenna were carried over in the early church to extract obedience and social order from the faithful. But in effect, they created a false God.

Today we see hell as the egoic state of mind that locks us into a prison of selfishness. Hell, for us, comes from a failure to love, a failure to forgive. Our remedy for the ‘hell’ we know, is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Praying the mysteries of the Rosary also takes us out of that self-absorbed state. The decades are about a God who loved the world so much he chose to become one of us. “As the Father has loved me, so I love you. Remain in my love.”

Do we dare to use human standards to question or even try to measure God’s love?

So yes, I do cringe when I hear the beautiful Rosary turned into a fear-filled lament to a small, punitive God.

Recently though, I’ve found a book that brings the traditional Rosary to a larger place. This is “Praying the Rosary – a journey through Scripture and art” by Denis McBride CSsR. It is published by Liguori Publications.

It is a book of beauty, appropriate for the greatest love story ever told. Each decade has a reading from the New Testament followed by a meditation. There is a fine reproduction of a classical painting illustrating the mystery, a note about the painting and, finally, a prayer.

It doesn’t matter if we are new to the Rosary, have had a life-long devotion to it, or see it as ‘old hat.’ Denis McBride uses scripture, prayer art to take us directly to our heart space, and like Mary we feel ourselves pregnant with God. This is a life-enhancing book that takes us and the Rosary to a new class in life school.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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