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Tuesday, March 12, 2019


I admit that the name of this blog, “ivyrosary,” is strange. Here is how it came about.

I used to have a website, but the service that supported it, AT&T, quit its support sometime in the early 2000s. I tried to find a free website platform, but none of them fit what I wanted. The process was so complicated that I gave up on the website idea. 

I discovered an alternate way to publish things, the blog. There is a free service called “blogspot.” I decided to use that and needed a name for my blog.

Back in my days of studying theology in Teutopolis, Illinois, my classmates nicknamed me “Ivy.” I think they were kidding me about my tendency to be in an ivory tower. They must have been onto something, because shortly thereafter my superiors sent me to an Ivy league school, where I took courses from the all-time ivory-tower sociologist, Talcott Parsons.

You can tell from this blog that I do a lot of ivory-tower thinking.

The rosary has fascinated me for several reasons.

First of all, it was part of my family’s life. My mother, father, brother and I started praying it kneeling by our parents’ bed. My dad was allowed to slouch over on the bed, and I, with the privileges of the eldest son, got to join him. My younger brother had to join my mother kneeling upright at the end of the bed, where there was a footboard that kept them from slouching. After a while we all yielded to nature and moved to easy chairs in the living room.

The rosary involves beads. Beads are physical, and are used in more than one world religion. By the time I set up the blog I had several sets of rosary beads. One was my mother’s. It has two small medals attached, which I am sure my dad attached for her. One medal was from the shrine of Sainte Anne de Beaupre in Montreal, which we visited when I was in college. The other is a “miraculous medal,” a very popular medal featuring an image of Mary. She kept the rosary in a metal case, on whose inside cover I can barely read the numbers “1928,” the year my parents were married. Was the rosary a wedding gift?

Another rosary I got from my dad’s older sister, my Aunt Mary, shortly before she died. It has large beads, much larger than any that are seen on rosaries sold today. Its crucifix opens from the back to reveal a set of relics. I had it for years before I noticed how worn the crucifix was. It had obviously been handled enough to wear smooth the metal figure on the cross. Then I remembered a story that my dad told about this Aunt Mary. When their mother died, my dad was twelve years old. His mother had given him a little drum, but in the aftermath of the funeral and relocation of the family, Aunt Mary threw away the drum, which my dad never forgot.

It struck me that Aunt Mary may have been entrusted with the family’s possessions after their mother died, and that this rosary might have been her mother’s, and possibly even older than that. Somehow its crucifix had seen a great deal of use, enough to wear smooth a metal figure.

That’s what physical beads can mean.

Then there are the mysteries of the rosary: three sets of five, the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. The five Joyful Mysteries are all focused on the infancy and childhood of Jesus. The Sorrowful ones are focused on his passion and death, and the Glorious ones on his resurrection and its aftermath.

That seemed to me to overlook all the events of the public life of Jesus, so I invented a set of five “public mysteries” and used them. This happened before Pope John Paul II had the same idea and composed a set of what he called the “Luminous Mysteries.”

Then there are the repetitious Our Fathers and Hail Marys that make up the oral part of the prayer. People have commented on the value of repetitious oral speech as an aid to meditation and prayer. But that has never appealed to me, and in fact kept me from using the rosary until about 20 years ago. After I began reflecting on the ideas I presented above, I started linking the mysteries to psalms in the daily “Liturgy of the Hours,” the prayers that priests and religious have prayed for centuries, 90% of which prayers are psalms. When I do this, my mind often wanders, just as it did when I prayed Our Fathers and Hail Marys, but as I keep returning to the stories recalled by the mysteries, I relive the scenes from the life of Jesus that the mysteries recall. I use the beads to count of verses of each psalm.

That is how “ivy” and “rosary” became my blog title.