Prayer as a Scary Weapon

Prayer as a Scary Weapon August 23, 2022

The Atlantic Magazine has published an article expressing alarm at the rosary, the beads Catholics use to keep track of their prayers, calling it an “extremist symbol” and associating it with the AR-15 rifle.

The essay by Canadian writer Daniel Panneton was entitled How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol.  (Later, after widespread ridicule, the Atlantic changed the title to the more diplomatic How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary.)  The first paragraph gives the thesis and the fevered tone:

Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics. On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture. These armed radical traditionalists have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can be a weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal.

Now Catholics who are conservative theologically are going to use the rosary, and Catholics who are conservative politically are going to support the 2nd Amendment.  Catholics who are conservative in both ways are likely to have both rosaries and AR-15s,  though they are unlikely to say that the latter is a “sacred object.”  They may even put pictures of both their rosaries and their AR-15s on their websites.  Catholic right-wingers may believe in “conspiratorial politics,” be “survivalists,” oppose the LGBTQ movement, reject feminism, and hold to other positions that alarm progressives as “extremists.”  But, though progressives often like to scare themselves with religious bogeymen, they really do not need to be afraid of rosaries.

Panneton makes much of teachings from popular Catholic piety–including from the non-extremist, non-right winger Pope Francis–that the rosary is a “weapon.” That is a metaphor, signifying that prayer helps to defeat sin and the Devil.

Responses to the Atlantic article, such as that of The Federalist‘s Thomas Griffin, stress that the rosary really is a potent weapon, not against people as Panneton implies, but against the powers of darkness.  Though those powers can use people and infect cultures.

That the rosary inspires so much fear among progressives and such impassioned defense among devout Catholics might make us Protestants wish that we had something like that.  (Indeed, rosaries are reportedly flying off the shelves after that article was published.)

The Catholic rosary is centered on devotion and prayer to the Virgin Mary, who allegedly revealed it to St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order, in 1214.  See the Wikipedia article for more information about the rosary, including the prayers said with each of the 59 beads.  In addition to the veneration of Mary–though not all of the prayers are addressed to her–Protestants would be concerned about Jesus’s warnings of “vain repetitions” in prayer (Matthew 6:7), since so many of the brief prayers are repeated over and over.

There is, however, a Lutheran rosary.  Actually, several different kinds, the rosary being an example of the “prayer beads” used in many religious traditions.

There is a version similar to that of the Catholics that substitutes Biblical texts and prayers, including ones that are already frequently used in Lutheran worship and devotions (the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Gloria Patri, the “Jesus Prayer” of the early church [“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner,” portions of the Magnificat).

Another, the Wreath of Christ, a.k.a. The Pearls of Life, from Sweden, has only 18 beads, connected to 18 brief prayers and spiritual meditations.

Martin Chemnitz, the chief theologian of Lutheranism after Martin Luther and formulator of Lutheran orthodoxy, is pictured holding a set of prayer beads.  The Chemnitz rosary is based on praying the Catechism, as are other versions.

Other Lutheran prayer beads are based on the Lord’s Prayer and the days of Lent,

You can see and learn about the various Lutheran rosaries–and buy them–at Lutheran Prayer Beads.  Or you can get one from LCMS art site Ad Crucem.  I like these “prayer chaplets” from Kelly Klages, which consist of only seven beads, plus a cross and a larger element, and which can be used for different meditation cycles on various themes, as described here.  See also how to bead a Lutheran rosary yourself.

Do you think there is anything wrong with this?  Too Catholic?  Still a problem with “vain repetition”?  Or would that not apply when the prayers derive from the Word of God?  Have any of you used any of these Lutheran rosaries?  Would you recommend them?

In any event, the point about rosaries, however they are conceived, is that they involve prayer.  And prayer, which does not need beads, is indeed a weapon.  One that we should wield more than we do.


Photo:  How to Pray the Lutheran Rosary from Wikihow, Creative Commons



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