A recent article by The Atlantic, a newspaper in the USA made waves for its anti-Catholic bias as it tried to claim that the Rosary has become a symbol of radical extremism and Catholics are quickly becoming a dangerous group. This isn’t the first time the Rosary has been targeted by anti-Catholic bias. It’s true. In 1649, anti-Catholic sentiments had taken strong hold in England. Oliver Cromwell was sent from England to Ireland to begin a brutal suppression of the Catholic faith. His plan was to enforce Penal Laws that essentially outlawed being Catholic.
Catholics were banned from holding public office, so they could not make laws to save themselves or hold positions of power. They were banned from serving in the military, so that the military would be wholly loyal to the Protestant government and enforce the persecution. They had to pay hefty fines for not attending Protestant services. Catholic clergy were banned from the country and faced execution if discovered. Any practice of the Catholic faith, including praying the Rosary, would result in execution.
Catholics had no power, their very existence was illegal, and yet they were determined to survive. They moved their seminaries to France, where brave young men would go to study for four years before making the dangerous journey back home to Ireland to minister for as long as possible before being found and executed. Catholics would gather at night in the middle of the woods to celebrate Mass.
Most bold, clever, and dangerous of all, however, were the “Penal Rosaries.” The Catholics knew the power of the Rosary and simply could not live without it. Instead of stringing five-decade rosaries, which would be too visible, Catholics tied a string of eleven beads and a crucifix to a ring. They would place the ring on their thumb with the cross hidden up their sleeve and offer the Rosary that way. It was harder to discover (and report on) an Irishman praying the Rosary with this method. Though the practice of the Catholic faith has long since been legalized in Ireland, the Irish Penal Rosaries remain a symbol of resistance to religious persecution and the strength of the Irish Catholics of that era who refused to give up devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Never take for granted our freedom to pray the Rosary daily and practice our faith. It is a gift hundreds of thousands of Catholics who have gone before us have lived without. Show off the beauty of Our Lady’s Holy Rosary by praying it often and with others. Let’s pray together today for the conversion of all sinners, world peace, and growth in charity.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us!