Rorate Caeli

Seven ways the Rosary and the Traditional Latin Mass are alike

Francesco Granacci, The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1517-9
In honor of my heavenly Mother, I present this small bouquet to her on the great feast of her exaltation, body and soul, into everlasting glory.

1. Useful repetition. As all normal human beings know, and as apparently the liturgical reformers did not know, repetition is exceedingly useful and important in human discourse—as demonstrated in the rhythmic lines of poets, the intimate conversations of lovers, the lofty visions of mystics, the arias of opera composers, and the frequent requests of little children to hear the same story over again. We repeat that which is lovely to those who are beloved to us. The Rosary exemplifies this practice, but so does the traditional liturgy, whether the Mass or the Divine Office. The many repetitions here reinforce, amplify, and give expression to the thoughts and feelings of the heart. 

It was a cruel exercise of rationalism to slice out supposedly “useless” repetitions like the many kissings of the altar, the many utterances of “Dominus vobiscum,” the double Confiteor, the ninefold Kyrie, the signs of the Cross, the multiple prayers before communion, and the twice-repeated threefold “Domine, non sum dignus.” I wonder if those responsible for this deformation had the sorry lot to be neglected children who did not hear poetry or stories repeated often enough.

The only kind of repetition our Lord forbids is mindless or manipulative repetition, when one repeats vocables without mindfully intending anything thereby, or repeats words as incantations that can exercise power over some other object (including the gods, in the silly way that some pagans thought of them). Traditional Catholic piety uses repetition in an entirely different way, for the honor of God and the benefit of the soul.

2. Focus on mysteries, not on activity. The Rosary is “Our Lady’s Psalter”: it is, so to speak, the poor man’s 150 psalms. But this poor man is each of us, all of us; we are poor beggars who kneel before God’s throne, seeking His mercy and blessing at the hands of His Holy Mother. The prayers of the Rosary are themselves rich beyond measure, inexhaustible, the wellspring of a life of prayerful union with Jesus. 

Some time after the Rosary’s initial appearance, meditation on the mysteries of the life of Jesus and Mary was added as a framework for the decades. Notice how the Rosary makes us slow down and focus our attention on divine mysteries, not on the external apostolate or a frenzied activism. It is aimed more at being than at doing. The traditional Latin Mass, too, is blessedly free from our age’s strange preoccupation with utility, instant results, and new-evangelization-everything. The Rosary and the Mass form us, deeply nourish us, and envelop us in the mysteries of Our Lord, through which we are saved. This is the prerequisite for doing anything at all for God’s kingdom—and it is the goal of any work we can do. 

3. Focus on the Lord and His Mother, not on the people. The Rosary, even when recited in a group, is still a “vertical” prayer: it is not about the group, or caught up with it, or focused on ministering to its real or perceived needs, or attempting to coax or cajole some particular response. Like the Mass, it does in fact bring people together, it does minister to our needs, and it does elicit responses. But its attention, its purpose, its entire orientation, lie elsewhere. 

This is perhaps the single most noticeable and praiseworthy aspect of the traditional Mass: at every point except the homily, the Mass is manifestly an act of worship directed to Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, an exercise of the priesthood of Christ and a sacrifice of His Body and Blood. It is clearly not a social get-together in which celebrant and congregation face one another and refreshments are served.

4. School of discipline. Although there is nothing wrong with reciting the Rosary seated, many people pray it kneeling. This is tough on the knees and the back; it’s not for nothing that kneeling is considered a penitential posture in the Eastern churches, and that Catholics traditionally kneel in the sacrament of Penance. The Rosary is a prayer that invites and, to a certain extent, demands, discipline: discipline of the body, and even more, of the soul. Whenever it goes off wandering, you have to pull your attention gently but firmly back to prayer. It is a prayer of perseverance: you’ve got to stick with it, come what may. The devil certainly doesn’t want you to continue to pray the Rosary. At least in my life experience, the Rosary isn’t a prayer you “get” right away; you have to grow into it, with trust in Our Lady's promises.

The traditional Latin Mass is a veritable bootcamp of spiritual discipline. At a low Mass, it is the custom, at least in the United States, to kneel through almost the entire thing from start to finish. I can’t tell you what a help this has been for my lazy self. At high Mass, too, there is plenty of kneeling, and the entire liturgy is longer—no rushing here, and yes, God is more important than anything else you or your family might be doing at this time, so get over your impatience. If you have a bunch of children, the challenges mount.[1] The Rosary and the old Mass demand—and reward—discipline.

5. Use of tangible signs along with vocal and mental prayer. I’m convinced that one of the simple reasons we like the Rosary is that it is a physical object: a set of beads, grouped into patterns, with medals and a crucifix. Catholics ought to like physical things, because God loves them. He brought the material world into being as one of His ways of communicating with us and one of the ways in which we can communicate with Him.

So the Rosary isn’t just a bunch of words (the curse of verbosity), nor is it just a Mount Everest of mental prayer (the curse of devotio moderna gone awry), but a harmonious triad: the repeated words, the orderly mysteries, and the beads. There is something for every part of us—and, to be honest, this means that part of us will sometimes stand in for the rest of us. Have you ever noticed that there are days when it seems your fingers are doing the praying more than your lips or your mind? We need to be humble enough to be carried by our own hands. 

The comparison with the traditional Latin Mass is not far to seek. It is much more saturated with physical signs of the sacred, from start to finish, giving us more “pegs” to hang our prayers on. It blessedly allows a great latitude for meditation: you are not constantly being expected to do this, say that, “all together now!” There is silence to rest in, chant to expand with, ceremonial to watch, time and space to pray, and, when God favors us, a timeless connection with Him that nothing else can bring. The old Mass is not too cerebral or verbose, as if it were a lecture aimed at morally improving the faithful (often a vain effort, even at the best of times). It is an act of worship to which one can yield oneself, in which one can find God.

The well-thumbed daily Missals of those who assist at Mass, and the veils worn by women, are, like the Rosary beads, tangible reminders of what we are doing. It is enough to glance at an antiphon or a page from the Order of Mass to bring our wayward thoughts back to the central mystery.

6. It is received as something basically unchanged for centuries. The Rosary has been around for a long time—and we dare not fool with it.[2] We don’t suggest a “reformed Rosary” from which all “useless repetition” has been removed. We don’t turn its received form inside-out to make it more acceptable or amenable to Modern Man. We don’t scrap it as a medieval accretion or a superseded relic of credulous Mariolatry. No; we keep it, we cherish it, we preserve it, we hand it down unchanged to our children. 

The logic, the attitude, the spirituality is the same when it comes to the Holy Mass. In its classical form, the Roman Rite in Latin has been developing organically for 1,500 years—with its development slowing down in recent centuries because it had achieved perfection of form, perfectly proportioned to the glorification of the Triune God and the needs of the worshiping community. We are humbly privileged to receive this immense treasure. We love it and we will hand it down to our children.

7. Our Lady is invoked, by name, many times. This is obviously true in the Rosary, which makes this devotion a healthy corrective to the Protestant rationalism that would reduce prayer to addressing God alone, ignoring His Mother and all His offspring, the saints, and thereby insulting Him and sinning against His providential dispositions.

In like manner, the traditional Mass fittingly exalts Our Lady by mentioning her many times—in the unchanging prayers alone, 10 or 11 times, depending on the day.[3] In this frequent honoring of the Holy Theotokos, the Roman Rite shows its kinship with all other authentic Christian liturgies, such as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. In contrast, the architects of the new Order of Mass sought to downplay Our Lady for "ecumenical" reasons. Her Holy Name, the terror of demons and the consolation of sinners, is reduced to 1 to 4 mentions; in practice, at daily Mass, a single mention only.[4]

The traditional liturgy, like the Rosary, never tires of recalling the memory and invoking the intercession of the all-glorious Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

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Perhaps part of the reason for the Rosary’s continuing popularity is that it nourishes the spiritual life in many of the ways the traditional Latin Mass used to do (and still does, wherever it exists). This may also explain the natural fit between attending a Low Mass and praying the Rosary. While praying the Rosary during Mass may not be the ideal form of interior participation in the riches of the sacred liturgy, we know that the Church nevertheless does not prohibit or discourage it at a Low Mass, and I am simply pointing out that there is a kinship between the quiet offering of the public prayer of the Church and the quiet praying of the chaplet of Our Lady.

There is consolation in this fact. For, if I am correct, the praying of the Rosary is preparing a large contingent of Marian Catholics to rediscover and return to the ancient Mass, so deeply and purely Marian in its spirituality.[5]

Hail, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary! Hail, Our Lady of Victories! Pray for us sinners in this vale of tears, and obtain from Thy Son the longed-for restoration of the great and beautiful liturgy of the Roman Church. Amen.


[1] See my article Ex ore infantium: Children and the Traditional Latin Mass” and the links provided there.

[2] Of course, the Luminous Mysteries are a sort of innovation, but the idea of using alternative mysteries from the life of the Lord goes back many centuries and is recommended by the very apostle of the Rosary, St. Louis Marie Gringnion de Montfort. Hence, I respectfully disagree with my traditionalist brethren who reject these mysteries and suggest that they need to familiarize themselves with the breadth of the Rosary tradition. This is not to say, however, that Catholics must adopt the Luminous Mysteries; even John Paul II presented them as optional.

[3] The variation is caused by the difference between a Low Mass and a High Mass. Here are all the places where the Holy Name of Mary is mentioned: (1-2) in the priest's Confiteor; (3-4) in the server's Confiteor; (5) in the Creed; (6) in the "Suscipe, sancta Trinitas" of the Offertory; (7) in the Roman Canon; (8) in the "Libera nos" after the Lord's Prayer; (9-10) in the Confiteor before communion; (11) in the Salve Regina of the Leonine prayers after Mass; (12) in the collect after the Salve Regina.

[4] In the Novus Ordo, the name of Mary is mentioned (1) in the Eucharistic Prayer, (2) in the Creed, where called for by the rubrics; (3) if the optional Confiteor is used, which is not common in daily Masses; (4) if the rarely-used Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is employed, there is an additional mention of Mary at the start of it.

[5] Something quite like this, of course, was happening in a spontaneous and organic way in the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, until its fresh vitality was brutally suppressed in the name of postconciliar uniformism. We see a parallel in the nefarious efforts made after the Council to suppress Marian devotion. Both forms of iconoclasm, the anti-liturgical and the anti-Marian, are born of Satan's hatred of the Incarnation.