Those of you who follow this blog have already figured out that I love chaplets–prayer beads like the Dominican, Franciscan and Anglican Rosaries. (I also love malas–prayer beads used by Hindu and Buddhist devotees for chanting mantras.)
My older daughter just took up lacrosse this past spring, and if you’ve ever seen girls’ lacrosse, you know about “cradling”–the constant side-to-side twisting of the stick the player must do in order to keep control of the ball, women’s sticks not having the deep pockets that men’s sticks do. I think of the prayers associated with each bead as a similar thing–a sort of mental “cradling” that keeps the ball in the air, as it were–keeps me focused and allows my spiritual faculties to work unhindered (or, to be honest, a little less hindered) by my chattering mind. I also use the familiar Dominican Rosary (what most people mean by “the Rosary”) and the similar, but less familiar Franciscan Crown Rosary as aids to intercessory prayer, about which you can read more here. I also use the even less familiar, but wonderfully uplifting Holy Spirit Chaplet[i] for that same purpose, and for the many people who are strangers to this devotion, here’s how it works.
The rosary consists of a medal of the Holy Spirit. three small preparatory beads, and six sets of two large beads each, enclosing five sets of seven small beads. Like the Dominican and Franciscan Crown rosaries, each set of beads is associated with a "mystery" to be contemplated whilst reciting the prayers: 1) Jesus is Conceived by the Holy Spirit, 2) The Holy Spirit Descends Upon Jesus at Baptism, 3) The Holy Spirit Drives Jesus into the Wilderness, 4) The Holy Spirit Empowers the Church at Pentecost, and 5) The Holy Spirit Dwells in the Souls of the Righteous.The traditional way of praying this chaplet is a little complicated; as I am prone to do, I’ve simplified it. (In fact, in some places I’ve outright changed it; you can learn the traditional method here if you wish.)
ON THE HOLY SPIRIT MEDAL
Almighty God, to You all hearts are open, all desires known, and from You no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Collect for Purity, Book of Common Prayer. I begin all my Christian chaplet devotions–with one exception, about which more below–with this prayer.)
ON THE THREE PREPARATORY SMALL BEADS
Breathe in me, Holy Spirit, that all my thoughts may be holy;
Act in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy;
Draw my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may only love what is holy;
Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy;
Guard me, Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. (St. Augustine)
ON THE FIRST OF EACH OF THE FIVE SETS OF TWO LARGE BEADS
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name;
Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. Amen.
ON THE SECOND OF EACH OF THE FIVE SETS OF TWO LARGE BEADS
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you;
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen
ON EACH OF THE SEVEN SMALL BEADS BETWEEN THE SETS OF TWO LARGE BEADS
Glory to God, Transcendent Majesty, Incarnate Word, and Indwelling Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen. (Traditionally, this is the familiar “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit," etc. I prefer this version because it is not only more gender-neutral, but also more beautiful and, because it is longer, it allows more time to “hold in the light” each person for whom I am praying. It also just makes the whole exercise a little less like falling down the stairs.)
In the traditional version, one recites the Apostles’ Creed and the Our Father on the last two large beads, but I prefer to maintain the Our Father/Hail Mary pattern.
One other chaplet I am fond of is the Adoration of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament Chaplet. This one, as it turns out, I actually pray in the traditional manner–but not in the traditional circumstances.
This simple chaplet consists of a medal of the Blessed Sacrament[i] and thirty-three beads, one for each year of Jesus earthly life. It is traditionally prayed during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, when the consecrated communion bread is exposed to view in a vessel call a monstrance, and the faithful pray in the presence of Christ in this form.
As Eucharistic Adoration is not part of my tradition, I most often pray this chaplet when, for whatever reason, I find myself in a Roman Catholic church rather than and Episcopal one. Since I, as a non-Catholic, am forbidden to receive Communion in a Catholic church, the chaplet gives me something to do while the other worshippers are communing. (I find this far more edifying than my former practice of sitting there and being resentful.) Here’s how the devotion works:
ON THE BLESSED SACRAMENT MEDAL
Oh, my Jesus, as I cannot now receive You in Holy Communion, come spiritually into my heart and make it Your own forever.
ON THE BEADS:
Lord Jesus, ever present in the holy sacrament of the altar, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.
For reasons that I will write about later, I have found myself becoming ever more dependent on structured devotions like chaplets, and the more I practice them, the more satisfying they become. If you find it difficult to sit in utter silence during your contemplative prayer time, you may find rosary practice as fruitful as I have.
Not to be confused with the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit Chaplet, which is different.[i]
The Eucharist, or Holy Communion
Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy temple;
praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts;
praise him for his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the blast of the ram’s horn;
Praise him with lyre and harp.
Praise him with timbrel and dance;
Praise him with strings and pipe.
Praise him with resounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
Let everything that has breath
Praise the Lord. Hallelujah!
(Psalm 150, Book of Common Prayer translation)
There is a classic formula for Christian prayer whose acronym in ACTS: Adoration, Confession,
Thanksgiving, Supplication. (Some versions include a separate category for Intercession, which
Is otherwise included as part of Supplication–or as I prefer to call it, Petition.)
I have never really understood the need for Adoration. “Why does God need our praise?” I
wondered. Surely such a thing is superfluous. Which, of course, only illustrates how easy it is
(for me) to know something without bringing (my) knowledge to bear.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. (Ps. 145:3)
Earlier this week, while preparing for intercessory prayer with the Franciscan Crown Rosary (a
practice I wrote about in my last entry) I decided that my usual modes of address at the
beginning of a prayer were becoming more than a little pat. So I cast around for some other ways
to address the Eternal: All-Pervading Energy, Ground of Being, Source of the Universe, Fountain
of All Being…there were many more, but I can’t remember them now because I very quickly
entered an exalted state as my efforts to put God’s reality into words brought me a fresh, vivid
sense of the unfathomable vastness of that reality. Praising God–which any meaningful form of
address to the Divine will almost necessarily be–brought home to me the hitherto purely
intellectual knowledge that “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Here’s an example: I used to require students–non-music-majors–to attend a live musical
performance and describe what they heard. Most often, whet I got instead of descriptions were
labels: heavy metal, techno and the like. When I’d insist on actual descriptions of musical
parameters like volume, rhythm, melody and timbre, they’d object that, as non-music-majors,
they weren’t able to talk about music in that way. This, I maintained, is untrue; you needn’t have
access to specialized jargon–just use your own words.
Over Thanksgiving break, my wife’s godfather opened two bottle of red wine and removed the labels, offering each for sampling and our estimate of what they were. “That tastes like a Chianti,” I said of the first. My wife, who’d been listening to me bitch about my student’s papers all morning, shouted from the next room, “That’s not a description–that’s a label!” “I don’t speak wine!” I rejoined. “You tell your students they don’t need to speak music,” she answered.
She had me there, so I applied myself to describing what I tasted without recourse to jargon.
“Well…on top, it kind of tastes like flowers.”
Holy Moly, I thought: Distinct floral notes!
“But underneath, I can taste herbs.”
Hey—would that be “herbal undertones”?
Two remarkable things were happening as I tried to describe what I tasted: 1) I paid closer
attention to what I was drinking, and 2) the argot of professional wine critics began to make
sense for the first time. Phrases that had previously washed over me like some foreign language
suddenly yielded up their meaning as I verified their accuracy by experience.
That’s what praising God does: sharpens our attention to the Divine, and elucidates the
descriptions used by those who have gone before us. "The old words of grace are worn smooth
as poker chips,” wrote novelist Walker Percy, “and a certain devaluation has occurred, like a
poker chip after it has been cashed in." Groping for our own words restores the texture of the
I used to wonder why we should praise God, because I had forgotten a cardinal rule of prayer, as expressed by C.S. Lewis: “It doesn't change God- it changes me.” The more we dwell on God, the more surely we come to share in the Divine nature. “What we think,” said the Buddha, “we become.” And surely this is why Paul exhorted the Christians at Phillipi, saying:
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Phillippians 4:8)