Unifying Prayer at Notre Dame

December 8, 2011

Did another piece for MSPS’ Convos of Color blog on the power of prayer when it comes to race relations.  Check it out!

Prayer and faith is one of life’s most powerful unifying forces — especially at a place like Notre Dame.  Prayer offers us a unique opportunity not to put aside our differences, but rather to celebrate them coming together for a common purpose.

I saw that last week at the Asian American Association’s semestral Multicultural Rosary, at which 10 students gathered together to lead half a decade of the rosary each in a language they’ve studied or grew up with: from European (Spanish, German, etc) to Asian (Indonesian, Korean, etc) to even ancient (Latin).  It’s a tradition we revived last year, and it was touching for me last week to see how much it’s grown.  Though hosted by an Asian organization, participants included members from La Alianza and white students who had seen posters around campus.  It was a truly multicultural event.

Multicultural programming is a difficult task.  Minority students are always wondering how to reach out to other minority groups as well as to the majority.  How do we bring different people together and get them to talk so they can understand, empathize with, and support each other?

Here at Notre Dame, we have a unique advantage.  Notre Dame emphasizes faith, service, spirituality, and prayer like no other elite university.  It’s an important reason — if not THE reason — that students come here.  Prayer is one of the special ways that vastly different Notre Dame students come together.  It’s one of the special ways that diverse students can learn from each other and support each other without fear, nervousness, or awkwardness.

It doesn’t have all the solutions to fostering multicultural dialogue and understanding.  But it’s a good first step.

This’ll be the last time you hear from me this semester.  It’s been a pleasure.  Till next time, keep talking, keep thinking, and keep standing for what’s right.  Good luck with finals and Merry Christmas, all.

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Where did the Rosary come from?

December 2, 2011

Last night, I did a multilingual rosary with some friends.  The question arose:  What was the original language of the rosary?  As a well-trained Classicist, I immediately answered “Latin,” but a friend responded right after that she thought the rosary originated in Ireland.  Turns out, none of us really knew from where the rosary came, so I decided to do some quick poking around online to find out.

Apparently, the origins of the rosary are pretty hazy.  Strings of beads were definitely used in pre-Christian times as aids in meditation and prayer (perhaps as early as 1700 BC, used by the cult of Shiva in India).  Early Christian hermits also seem to have used similar methods, like Paul of Thebes, who used pebbles to keep count of his prayers.  Eventually, prayer string beads gained popularity in Christian Europe through the 15th century, when they began to be called rosaria, or “rose gardens.”  (A “rosarium” designated any collection of similar material; a poetry anthology would be called a rosarium, e.g.)

St. Dominic

Tradition holds that Mary divinely revealed the rosary to St. Dominic.  But many Catholic historians dismiss that as legend, especially since St. Dominic is not usually associated with the rosary.  Most likely, the rosary as we know it developed slowly.  It was first used by religious orders to keep track of the 150 Psalms in the Bible.  Those who wanted to imitate the monks but were not literate enough to read the Psalms used the rosary for prayers they did know, such as the “Our Father,” as they reflected upon the lives of Christ and Mary.  (Our “Hail Mary” prayer originated from this; whenever the faithful began reflecting on the life of Mary, they offered the salutation that the Angel Gabriel offered Mary:  “Hail, full of grace!”)  Eventually, these elements — the psalms, the everyday simple prayers, and the reflections upon the lives of Christ and Mary — formed the rosary as we know it today.

When did the rosary explode in popularity?  In the 1500s, Eastern Europe was being ravaged by a Muslim assault, jeopardizing Europe’s control over the Mediterranean.  In 1571, Pope Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria and asked all the faithful to pray the holy rosary to implore the help of Mary, Our Lady of Victory.  Outnumbered but flying the blue flag of Christ crucified on their flagship, the Christians won a smashing victory at Lepanto on October 7, 1571, effectively crippling the Muslim Turkish threat to dominating the Mediterranean.  The next year, Pope Pius declared October 7 the Feast of the Holy Rosary, which is observed to this day.

I grew up praying the rosary with my family, and I love praying it with dear friends.  It’s a devotion to which all Catholics should commit themselves more.  The Holy Rosary and the divine intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary bring tremendous graces, and, as the Battle of Lepanto has shown, they can work incredible wonders.

further reading: History of the Rosary by Fr. William Saunders, The Holy Rosary: Origins from Holy Spirit Interactive, and Beads and Prayers: The Rosary in History and Devotion by John Desmond Miller.

also check out the thrilling account of Lepanto, 1571: The Battle that Saved Europe by H.W. Crocker III