Category Archives: Roman Catholics

The Sacred Hearts

sacredheart sacred-heart-of-mary For some reason I’ve been thinking about pictures of Jesus and Mary that I can remember from my childhood lately. The style I remember most from the homes of the older members of my family are all of the sacred heart of Jesus and the sacred heart of Mary, usually 8 x10 or larger hung or displayed next to each other. The illustrations here are not exactly like a remember but very similar. The prints in my memory are all very pastel, because they were all faded with age.

It struck me today how long its been since I’ve seen these once ubiquidous images. The reason is simple. I belong to a protestant church now and neither of these images are used. While protestant churches avoid pictures of Mary, they don’t use images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus either. I don’t know why as the sacred heart of Jesus is a symbol of the love of God. Anyone know why Protestants avoid the image of the sacred heart?

Our Lady Stella Maris

Our Lady Stella Maris (Star of the Sea)
Our Lady Stella Maris

This is one of my favorite modern icons, called Our Lady Stella Maris (Star of the Sea). It was recently commissioned by the  Apostleship of the Sea (GB). It was a painted by Dr Stephane Rene in neo-Coptic style. The Coptic desert fathers included St Jerome, who first recorded ‘stella maris‘ as a name for Our Lady. It has been reported on various Catholic websites that the term “Our Lady” in Aramaic could be translated as pilot, leader or guide, and that Stella Maris is the oldest of Mary’s many titles. Stars were guideposts to ancient navigators on sea or land. Lastly, we know the name. The idea that Mary is the guiding star to her son is an very old one.

An interactive icon that details the meaning of all the elements of the icon can be found here, just roll your mouse over each part. For example the boat represents the spiritual path of the individual believer and it also represents the church navigating throughout time. The four fish represent the four gospels, and are an ancient symbol for Jesus. I’ve seen a couple of Dr Rene’s icons and the four fish seem to be common.

The many missions, hostels and ships called ‘Star of the Sea’ call upon Our Lady as their patron and guide.

[corrected 4/20/09]

Attempting to Correct Tradition

The way the prayer most commonly known as the Prayer of St Francis became association with St Francis is a good example of how popular tradition is created and how hard it is to break. The Vatican is making it known again this week, that there is no evidence what so ever that this prayer was associated with St Francis of Assisi or the Franciscans. It first appeared anonymously in a French Catholic magazine in 1912. According to the Vatican’s statement this week, Pope Benedict XV had it printed  in 1916 in the midst of World War I as a prayer for peace. It was apparently still printed anonymously at this point.

France and Italy have long been the global centers of Catholic religious merchandise, though France seems to have decreased in the second half of the 20th century.  Holy cards were among the most popular products produced in large quantities and shipped globally. Holy cards were especially popular because they have always been very inexpensive and are easy to use, stuck in a prayer book, bible, or missle. With the ability to print cards rapidly, they were quickly adapted for Catholic funeral cards. Holy cards usually have a color print of a religious painting on one side and text on the reverse. At some point early in the 20th century, the prayer in question was printed on the back of a holy card with a picture of St Francis of Assisi on the other side. They were wildly popular. The most popular saint of the day with one of the most popular prayers, so fitting for two successive generations that had known world-wide war. Recall that World War I was popularly known as the War to End All Wars, and yet it was only followed by an even greater war in World War II. The generation that named the War to End All Wars would have found this peace prayer irresistible, as we still do.

These holy cards were so successful that the common people assumed so strongly that the prayer was written by St Francis that it was eventually assumed to be so. As the prayer originally appeared anonymously there was no real push to correct it. Besides, it felt right. So even though the Franciscans never claimed authorship, it was accepted until its popularity attracted the attention of scholars, who couldn’t find it in the Franciscan canon. Franciscans had known it all along, but it is a nice prayer to be credited to your patron/founder saint, so they didn’t made a fuss to correct it.

Attribution of this prayer to St Francis is an example of popular religious tradition that was generated by the laity and eventually adopted by the upper levels of the Roman Catholic church because they knew they couldn’t change it. Associating the prayer with St Francis, also accelerated its wide acceptance because it gave the prayer a veneer of tradition. Yet breaking the link with St Francis may make it more acceptable to Protestants, who have recognized its iffy attribution for some time. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer reprints it under the title “A prayer attributed to St Francis” and more recently it is often just entitled A Peace Prayer. Somehow the generic peace prayer title is unsatisfying. Ironically, at nearly a century old, it is now old enough to be accepted by most Catholics (and Protestants) as traditional without the Franciscan link. Despite the Vatican’s press release this week, you can bet it will continue to be called the prayer of St. Francis for generations to come.  Perhaps this is just as well, considering that it has been so well integrated into Franciscan spirituality. Perhaps we should just call it a Franciscan Peace prayer.

Modern prayer card from Bridge Building.
Modern prayer card from Bridge Building.

Prayer Beads: Chaplets

Prayer beads have a long tradition discussed elsewhere. Chaplets have always had a  great deal of variety in structure and the prayers used with them. Unlike the Roman Catholic rosary, chaplets have never had a uniform structure or set of prayers so while I tend to think of my chaplets as Anglican they would not be unusual for other traditions. While a full rosary or prayer rope could be called a chaplet, most chaplets are shorter than the full set of rosary, prayer rope, or paternoster beads.  The number of beads varies in all traditions including Roman Catholic. Catholic chaplets often have ten beads representing one of the decades of the rosary, with an additional one or more beads for the mysteries. On the other hand, 9 beads or more than 10 are not uncommon either. Gardens of Grace has several “tenners” (one decade chaplets) available here.

One significant difference between chaplets and other prayer beads is chaplets are almost always themed. Most chaplets are dedicated to or themed upon the Blessed Virgin Mary or one of the saints. Catholic chaplets often have a saint’s medal instead of a cross. Nine bead sets, (3 sets of 3 beads) are sometimes called ecumenical prayer beads. Anglican chaplets are also often themed on a saint, but still have a cross or crucifix. They can also be themed on a liturgical season or a concept. Some of the first Anglican chaplets were made by GiGi beads, the greatest variety of their chaplets can be seen here.

Most Anglican chaplets have seven week beads, one cruciform bead, an invitatory bead, and cross. This is really based on Roman Catholic one decade rosaries. This is in effect a one week Anglican rosary. I’ve seen some that have two sets of week beads, in effect half an Anglican rosary. I’m not sure why they do two weeks worth unless it simply to make the design simpler. It can be difficult to make a branched chaplet with only seven week beads.  They can be branched like the larger rosary, a single large loop if the cruciform and invitatory beads can be distinguished, or linear in form. It can also be made into a bracelet. I hope to put up some posts on Anglican rosary and chaplet designs. I am also adding a webpage called Bead and Book to collect posts on prayer beads.