Two weeks before Ealing Council voted to ban pro-life vigils, the local MP Rupa Huq accused the Good Counsel Network of “weaponising the rosary” as they prayed silently outside the local abortion clinic. It is interesting that this non-Catholic MP should have perceived that the rosary was being used in this way. For Catholics the rosary has indeed always been a spiritual weapon – and we should not be afraid to say so.
Many religious orders wear the rosary as part of their religious habit. For a number, such as the Dominicans since around 1475, the rosary is worn on the left hip because that was traditionally where soldiers wore their swords. The rosary is, for those religious who wear it, a protection and weapon against evil. As well as an aid to devotion, wearing a rosary in place of a sword is a powerful witness to the need for an awareness of spiritual warfare.
On October 3 the Church remembered Blessed Bartolo Longo, known as “the apostle of the rosary”. He was born in Italy in 1841 but when he went to college he drifted away from the Catholicism of his childhood and came under the influence of the occult, later being “ordained” as a Satanist priest. He also developed a deep hatred of Catholicism and sought to draw Catholics into the life of the occult. Eventually he reached a point of despair and complete mental anguish, which led him to seek the help of a Catholic priest. The priest advised him to “promulgate the rosary” in order to seek salvation.
From being suicidal, Blessed Bartolo was transformed and became a great advocate of the holy rosary as a weapon in the fight against spiritual darkness. He would have commended actions like those taken by the Good Counsel Network.
When we pray the rosary we join a great spiritual chain with Our Lady and all those millions of others who pray each day. At the Annunciation Mary joined her will perfectly to the will of God. So when we say the rosary we join our will to hers, which is to seek the will of God in all things. It is in this very submission, in our weakness, where we find the strength of the weapon of the rosary.
It is in this personal vulnerability that the rosary differs so greatly from the weapons that we are so used to in our damaged world. Using a gun or swords (or even methods of abortion) means wielding our power over those who are more vulnerable than us. In wielding the rosary we make ourselves vulnerable, for the benefit of others, by submitting to the will of God through The Blessed Virgin Mary. Obviously we do not consider it a weapon to do harm or to hurt another but by using the rosary in protest, we do as Jesus tells his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”. Matthew 10:16.
My favourite idea about the rosary is that it is ‘Scripture on a string’. It is here that the weapon finds its power. When Jesus was tempted by the Devil in Matthew’s Gospel, it was his use of Scripture which allowed him to fight and win the spiritual battle. St Paul goes on to instruct the Church in Ephesus to put on “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”. The rosary provides a good introduction to many of the events of the Gospels and it a good starting place to load our spiritual arsenal. For me it was certainly a springboard into greater immersion in the Word of God.
So in accusing the Good Counsel Network of weaponising the rosary, Rupa Huq unwittingly revealed its true purpose. If only more Catholics would return to this devotion and take up arms with Our Lady.
Fr Matthew Pittam’s new book, Building the Kingdom in the Classroom, is published at the end of October.