While the rosary is not a requirement for practicing the Catholic faith, the importance of this Marian devotion to the faithful is profound. With praying the Rosary come graces, indulgences and a powerful weapon against the Devil. What faithful son or daughter of the Church wouldn’t want to pray the rosary every single day?
Guilty as charged.
As an adult revert from a not-very-devout family, I never prayed a rosary – or, for that matter, was exposed to any sort of Marian devotion – until I came back to the Faith. My one and only rosary, a white one I got for my First Communion, languished until recently in the back corner of various jewelry boxes.
Let me say up front that I’m good with Mary, with all the doctrines about Mary, with her appearing to shepherd children and fishermen and whomever else she chooses. I will defend the Catholic devotion to Mary to any detractors. If you don’t believe me, read this.
But the modern rosary, with its multiple prayers and rotating schedule of Mysteries on different days of the week, never worked for me. Of course, it doesn’t help that I don’t appear to have a single contemplative bone in my body. That, coupled with the attention span of a gnat, just made what should have been a prayerful experience into a pop quiz I was repeatedly failing.
And despite having done a fair job of re-catechizing myself, that made me feel like a failure as a Catholic.
But the devotion I do have, have had since childhood and through all of my wanderings around the spiritual landscape, was one to St. Francis. He’s always been my favorite saint; he’s my confirmation saint (spelled Francis, not Frances); and the more I learn about him, the more he inspires me.
And, hey, Pope Francis? He had me even before “hello.” Just ask the person I was on the phone with when the name was announced, who’s still trying to recover the full hearing in one ear.
So, when Googling around one day doing book research, I came across something entirely new to me, the Franciscan Crown rosary, or Seraphic rosary. On first glance, it can look like any other rosary, except that it has seven decades, not five – one for each decade in Mary’s life, plus two more Hail Marys, since tradition says she lived to 72.
The “Our Father” is prayed on the big beads, and “Hail Mary,” on the small beads. That is the sum total of the required prayers. Of course, people are free to toss in the “Glory Be” or any other prayer they like – I can’t recommend adding the popular “Peace Prayer of St. Francis,” because there’s no evidence he wrote it, and it can’t be traced any earlier than 1912 in France – but the two prayers known by heart to every practicing Catholic are all that’s needed.
Each decade also commemorates a joy from Mary’s life – The Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple; the Appearance of Christ to Mary after the Resurrection, and the Assumption and Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven.
The Joys are announced before each decade, but adding Scripture readings or meditation is up to the individual.
The stem leading to the crucifix usually contains the two extra small beads to make the 72, and then one small and one large bead. These are for saying an “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” for the intentions of the pope.
The Franciscan Crown rosary dates to the early 15th century, when a novice Franciscan who may have been named James was heartbroken when he discovered – for reasons lost to history – that he couldn’t be in the Order and also keep up his longtime practice of weaving a crown of flowers for a beautiful statue of Mary every day.
The novice decided to abandon his vocation, but Our Lady appeared to him and urged him to remain in the Order. Then she told him an even better way to honor her. Rather than flowers, which wilt away, the Virgin requested a crown of prayers and taught him how to pray the Crown of the Seven Joys of the Blessed Virgin.
This devotion would not only please her but yield graces for him and anyone else who joined in. Some versions of the tale also include a vision by the novice master in which he saw an angel weaving a crown of roses and putting it on the novice’s head.
Praying the (for short) Franciscan Crown soon became known across the Franciscan Order, which officially established the devotion in 1422.
The idea of this version of a rosary appealed to me, but I didn’t want to jury-rig a regular rosary (although that would still work fine, if you don’t mind circling back for a couple extra decades). So, I hunted around the Web and found a shop on Etsy with beautiful handmade ones.
My choice has earth-toned freshwater pearls for beads, a St. Francis medal in the center and a San Damiano crucifix (a Romanesque rood cross Francis was praying beneath in a ruined chapel when he heard the Lord’s command to “rebuild my church”).
Both the medal and the crucifix are decorated on the back with the TAU cross, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which looks very much like a “T.”
St. Francis was known to paint the TAU at places where he stayed and signed his writings with it, turning it into his personal symbol.
Also, on the back of the crucifix is the Latin version of Francis’ blessing to Brother Leo. In English, it’s, “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord show His face to you and be merciful to you! May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace! God Bless You!”
When I now pray this rosary, the only thing I add in is a reading of the blessing, in what is almost certainly not the correct Latin pronunciation.
Of course the materials and symbols on the rosary reflect my taste. Some Crown rosaries I’ve seen have medals for Francis’ acolyte St. Clare and other saints, and some have a TAU cross or a TAU crucifix.
I even saw one online with beads of bone and horn, with a rose carved from jasper instead of a crucifix.
So, if you want to add a devotion to the ones you already have, or, like me, the traditional rosary doesn’t mesh with your personality or how your brain works, the papacy of Francis might be the perfect time to resurrect this ancient treasure of Franciscan spirituality.