Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Techno-Devotion and other ways to strangle piety 

Zenit brings us news of a new 'electronic pocket rosary':

The electronic rosary, which has been patented, is a small gadget like a key ring. On one side it has a picture of Pope John Paul II with the inscription "Rosarium Virginis Mariae," as a tribute to what he did for the rosary, the inventors told ZENIT. "Rosarium Virginis Mariae" was the 2002 apostolic letter on the rosary. The rosary has a push-button that enables one to count the prayers automatically. After praying each Hail Mary, the push-button is pressed and there is a small vibration. When coming to the last Hail Mary of each mystery, the vibration is longer to indicate the end of the mystery. At the end of the fifth mystery, the push-button is inhibited to indicate that the rosary has finished.

If that doesn't stir the cisterns of the soul, what will?

Nothing like excessive technologization to kill the heart of authentic devotion. That online, downloadable 'virtual rosary' (which seems to be a mandated feature on any 'serious' Catholic blog) had my attention for just over twenty seconds, until - in between mouse-clicks, as I stared mutely at the AveMaria splayed across my flatscreen - I realized that, whatever I was doing, it was far short of praying. Not that one can't 'pray' with the aid of technology - but . . . why would one want to? What exactly is gained by clicking a mousepad instead of running your fingers across a string of beads? There's something remarkably barren about an on-line rosary, which is perhaps why it's called a 'virtual rosary' - you can almost imagine it's the real thing!

On the other hand, there's something very comforting, very tactile, about the feel of cold beads running through your fingers, a light weight dangling, swinging from your extended arm, or coiled within your pocket. Saying the rosary engages the senses (touch, sight, hearing, speaking, and even the olfactory senses if you have one of those ghastly scented rosaries), which is to say that it engages the whole of the person.

The 'electronic pocket rosary' is touted for being 'more discreet' than a traditional rosary. Maybe it's just me, but I generally like praying the rosary as openly as possible: it serves a sort of missionary purpose, an easily-recognized reminder of piety and devotion. The key ring also 'obviously calls for less concentration' than the traditional rosary. Wonderful. I have a hard enough keeping concentrated as it is, and I need something that allows me to become even more disengaged??

Another thing about the rosary, while I'm on a roll. I'm always causing scandal to people I pray with; even my wife gets mad at me. You see, the thing is, I don't generally pray the St. Michael invocation after the rosary. Nor do I typically pray for the holy souls in purgatory. Nor do I make it a habit of adding five or six extra prayers for the Holy Father. I don't routinely close with a prayer to my patron saint, the saint of the day, or any other saint. I don't invoke the Sacred and Immaculate hearts, I don't do the divine praises, and I don't do reparations. I mean, sometimes I do one or two of those things, occasionally I do them all. But they are not a part of my daily rosary.

They used to be. When I used to pray with the people at the Shrine, they always added the Holy Father routine, so I added it too. When I began praying with my wife, she added a prayer for the end of abortion . . . so did I. My dad always threw in a couple neat prayers from St. Louis de Montfort, so I threw them in too. After five or six years of praying the rosary, I had collected about ten to fifteen different 'add-ons' to the original prayer, to the point that I had to set allot nearly thirty minutes for the time I wanted to say the rosary, only half of which was devoted to the rosary itself. While I'm hardly one to complain about excess devotion, it started to wear on me after a while, and I stopped looking forward to praying the rosary, and eventually stopped praying it altogether.

Historians of the liturgy will tell you that this same tendency has been at work in the mass, in the liturgy of the hours, and in nearly every other devotion the Church possesses. In the Middle Ages, it became customary to add to the Divine Office - no small task in itself - additional expressions of piety - the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Little Office of the Holy Ghost, and a litany of other devotions. Although technically 'optional', a priest might be viewed as less pious of he refused to carry out the Little Office after his Divine Office. It got to a point where a cleric would spend five to six hours of his day buried in a prayer book, with only an insignificant amount of time to give to apostolic works, which are, we should be reminded, the particular charism of the secular cleric. The biographies of Martin Luther tell how he, like many monks of his day, was unable to keep up with the demands of the overly-extended office, and at the end of every day he would have to cram in six or seven of the hours at his bedside, until he collapsed in a heap and decided he couldn't take it anymore.

The genius of the great reformers of the office (think Benedict of Aniane) were to cut back on the liturgical demands of monks and clergy, not to add to them. The great liturgical chords of the tradition (the mass, the mass, the baptismal liturgy, the office) need to be brought back continually to their very heart, with the various accretions stripped away. Otherwise the accretions are too often confused with the heart itself. It was a credit to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to realize this fact (although it is a sad commentary on the Council that too many devotions and liturgies were lost altogether in the over-zealous attempt to implement this directive).

As for me, my rosary begins with the creed and ends with the last Avemaria, sandwiched by the sign of the cross. And on a string of beads, not a beeping key ring.

# posted by Jamie : 3:09 PM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

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