An article published August 15 in The Atlantic magazine suggests the rosary has become a symbol of violent, right-wing extremism in the United States.
The article set off a frenzy of reactions among Catholics, ranging from amusement to grave concern over what some see as anti-Catholic sentiment.
The magazine later changed the article’s headline from “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol” to “How Extremist Gun Culture is Trying to Co-Opt the Rosary.” Among other edits to the text, an image of bullet holes forming the shape of a rosary was replaced with a picture of a rosary.
These editorial changes, nonetheless, left the article’s thesis that there is a connection between the rosary and extremism intact. The author’s contention was based, in part, on his observations about the use of the rosary on social media and rosaries sold online.
“The rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics,” writes Daniel Panneton of the sacramental used in prayer by Catholics for centuries.
“Militia culture, a fetishism of Western civilization, and masculinist anxieties have become mainstays of the far right in the U.S.—and rad-trad Catholics have now taken up residence in this company,” writes Panneton, whose article includes three links to Roman Catholic Gear, an online shop that sells rosaries.
He describes photos of rosary beads “made of cartridge casings, and complete with gun-metal-finish crucifixes,” along with warrior-themed memes and content catering to survivalists.
Dominican Father Pius Pietrzyk of the Province of St. Joseph told CNA, “The article is a long-running stream of inaccuracies, logical fallacies, and distortions.”
The author, he said, fails to understand that “the notion of ‘spiritual combat’ has been with the Church from time immemorial. Recall that a traditional view of Confirmation is that it made one a ‘soldier for Christ.’”
“The problem is that The Atlantic does not seem to understand what metaphor means. In no wise, does the notion of rosary as ‘combat’ imply physical violence,” Pietrzyk added.
The rosary, first promoted by the Dominican Order by the 16th century, is a form of prayer based on meditations on the life of Christ. The beads are a tool to help keep track of prayers that are recited before and after the meditations.
Since 1571, popes have urged Catholics to pray the rosary. In doing so they have often employed military terms for these prayer “weapons.” In 1893, Pope Leo XIII saw the rosary as an antidote to the evils of inequality born of the Industrial Revolution, and during World War II Pius XI urged the faithful to pray it in hopes that “the enemies of the divine name (…) may be finally bent and led to penance and return to the straight path, trusting to the care and protection of Mary.”
More recently, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have recommended the rosary as a powerful spiritual tool.
By Zelda Caldwell
This article has been edited for length.
Image Source: AB/Lawrence OP on Flickr