A May Address to the Union of the Holy Rosary

by Stewart D. Headlam, in The Church Reformer, Volume: XI, 1892.

WHEN I spoke to you last May, I ventured to suggest to you that you might well add to your devotional duties the practical one of endeavouring to get the Angelus rung in some of the parish churches of England. I fear however that my words were of little weight, and that your Society has not yet done much to bring about that most evangelical bell-ringing. And, indeed, I have no right to lay any duties upon you, but as I have been asked again to speak to you, you must allow me again to suggest this to you: to ask you collectively and individually to think it over and to see whether He, from Whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, has no message for you on this matter.

In our Board Schools, the People's Common Schools, there is a poem of Longfellow's which is very popular for recitation, "King Robert of Sicily." You probably all know it: if you do not, you would find it well worth reading: for its teaching is quite in harmony with that of your little Society: the whole story indeed is founded on our Lady's Magnificat, and. especially on that revolutionary verse in it, "He hath put down the mighty from their seat " -- and the ringing of the Angelus forms an important episode in the story. But when talking to some Bethnal Green children about this recitation of theirs, I found to my dismay, that though they thoroughly understood what the Angelus was, how the Bell was rung, and what was said, and that they were able to sing the Magnificat to me beautifully, they were under the impression that the ringing of the Angelus was merely a Roman Catholic custom. I was of course easily able to explain to them that there was no connection between the Roman claim to English jurisdiction and this evangelical custom, and that the doctrine of the Incarnation was not the private property of. those Catholics who have submitted to the Papal obedience: and they, dear children, promised there and then, to ask their parochial clergy to have the Angelus rung in their various parish churches; but I fear that their request has had no better luck than mine to you last year.

Now I find, my friends, from a study of your Manual, that there are three great virtues which you hope to develope in yourselves and others by means of your Union of the Holy Rosary: Holy Joy, Compassion, and Reverence. Holy Joy you connect with the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation and Finding in the Temple. Compassion you connect with the Agony.in the Garden, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the carrying the Cross, and the Crucifixion. Reverence you connect with the Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Ghost, the Assumption of our Lady and her Coronation. And, further, I find that you are instructed to strive to develope in yourselves and others five special virtues from the contemplation of the five joyful mysteries. five from the contemplation of the five sorrowful mysteries, and five from the contemplation of the five glorious mysteries: and that you use beads of different sizes and arranged in a certain orderly way to help you. Now this seems to me to be an excellent way of learning and teaching some of the main principles of religion and morality: a better way than the usual Protestant way of giving to people -- simple and busy people and children -- the whole of that collection of Hebrew literature which we call the Bible, and telling them to get their religion and morality as best they can from it. And if it be true, as I learn from your Manual, that St. Dominic was much troubled by a revival in his day of that damnable heresy called Manichaeism, and that he brought the Holy Rosary into use with a view of counteracting it, then I think he shewed himself to be a very wise man, not only because a proper reverence for our Lady is the best way of bringing the great Anti-Manichaean doctrine of the Incarnation into prominence, but also because the use of these little beads in worship is so excellently unspiritual, so usefully mechanical and arithmetical, so offensive to those who deny the sacredness of what is outward, visible, tangible. And if St. Dominic in the 12th century had a battle to wage, and waged it in this way, against Manichaeism, you surely in this 19th century are not to be blamed if, when the heresy is again rampant, you not only do all you can to bring prominently forward the great doctrine of the Incarnation, but once again in England use these little beads in worship.

Think for a few minutes what are the principles of religion and morality which you inculcate. The first five mysteries all teach you to rejoice, tell you that joy in living should be a human characteristic, that pessimism is a sin. The Annunciation tells you of the joy of humility; you contemplate our Lady as the simple Jewish maiden, receptive, gentle, disinterested, teachable; the beauty of this virtue has been shewn in many a picture: is to be seen more or less in every true woman. The Visitation tells you of the joy of neighbourly charity: you can see it in any London slum; when you pray for it in the largest sense, you are praying for Christian Socialism. The Nativity tells you how He Who was rich for our sake became poor, and you found on it the social morality of St. James: "Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted, but the rich in that he is made low". The Presentation tells you of the joy there is in obedience: shews you that there is nothing slavish or degrading in it: that it is one of the highest human characteristics. The finding in the Temple tells you how you must, how you are bound to, be about your Father's business: that the Service of the God Whom Jesus Christ revealed is indeed perfect, joyful freedom.

This is the morality you learn from the religion of the five joyful mysteries.

In the contemplation of the second, the sorrowful mysteries, of the Agony in the garden, the scourging, the thorns, the cross-bearing, the crucifixion, you have aroused in you generally the spirit of compassion, and you are taught the virtues of prayer, penance, courage, patience, and self-sacrifice: that being in an agony, Christ prayed the more earnestly; that the :flesh must be subdued to the spirit, the sense to the soul: that you must train yourselves to be strong enough in spirit to hold your own against the opinion and jeers of the world, whether civil or ecclesiastical: that you must be willing to wait, to appear to be utterly beaten, even to feel God-forsaken, for the sake of any cause which is the cause of God.

And in the contemplation of the glorious mysteries, those mysteries. which, all put together, arouse in you a spirit of reverence, of awe, of holy fear: you are taught -- especially from the Resurrection, Faith; from the Ascension, Hope; from the descent of the Holy Ghost, Charity: from our Lady's Assumption, Devotion for the Mother of God; and from her Coronation the virtue of Perseverance. Faith, that is to say loyalty to Jesus Christ, Who conquered sin and death. Hope, which saves you by enabling you when there is but one star to see in it the pledge of perfect light. and but one string to hear on it in imagination the full sounding music. Charity, which by the universal inspiration of the Holy Ghost, the Church is destined to spread throughout the world. Devotion to Our Lady in heaven, a natural devotion to so good a mother; and the final virtue of Perseverance from the contemplation of her coronation, symbolical of the final crowning of humanity, enabling you to work and wait for the time when it shall be realized that the Tabernacle of God is with men and the kingdoms of this world shall be fully revealed as the kingdoms of our God and His Christ.

Now these, my friends, are the mysteries, mysteries not in the vulgar sense of puzzles, but in the ecclesiastical sense of the revealed secrets, the sacred principles of our religion; the joyful, sorrowful. glorious mysteries which you are in the habit of contemplating: these are the moral virtues of joy, compassion, and reverence, which you are in the habit of associating with these mysteries.

The reciting of this rosary, then, ought to have a very excellent effect on your life and character. All moroseness and gloom should disappear from them; insolent self-assertion should find no place; cut-throat competition, whether in trade or private life; the attempt to get rich at any cost; Titanic rebellion against God's revealed order for the world; dark notions about God, and forgetfulness that in serving men you are serving Him -- against all these, you are telling your beads regularly and punctually.

Everything which tends to make you isolate yourselves, to shut yourselves up in yourselves, to divide society into classes, to keep up the exclusiveness caused by some being rich and some poor, to say of any class or profession, "stand by, I am holier than thou ": to attempt to hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and to hold at the same time respect of persons: against this you tell your beads; against grumbling instead of praying; against allowing the flesh, so good in itself in its proper subordinate place, to lord it over you; against the cowardice which worships public opinion instead of Christ; against hastiness, irritability, and the assumption that God and His cause cannot go on without you: against all these vices you tell your beads. May you not tell them in vain.

Everything which tends to make you forget God and think little of man: to sneer and jeer at virtue, to boast of the nineteenth century, to swagger because we know a little science, forgetful that though the Dwarf on the shoulders of the Giant can see further than the Giant he is not therefore the greater man -- against all this you pray. Against disloyalty to Christ, against despair, against hardness and narrowness against that miserable, meagre Protestantism which would make it a virtue to ignore our Lady; against that giving-up at the end which would make your past virtues vain. Against all these, with Creed, and Our Fathers, and Hail Marys and Glorias, you tell your beads.

I say, see to it, you who are in the Union of the Holy Rosary, you who use it regularly and punctually, see to it that you make it a reality; so indeed will you grow in the principles of religion and morality.

And above all, avoid the danger of letting this devotion, which should make you think of others, come to you itself as a temptation to self-glorification. It is for all, not for a select few, that our Lady is wanted.

And so I begin as I ended. Can you not try before next May to do something to get that Angelus rung, telling far and wide the fact of the Incarnation and causing many as well as your own select selves to bless her name through whom the Son of God derived His human nature.

I plead to you for the people: and especially for the children whom the clergy, many of them, are so disgracefully neglecting: joy, compassion, reverence -- in their zeal to keep in their own hands the teaching of arithmetic to the few, they neglect to give this needful teaching to all

I plead to you for the people in this matter: if you by your bead-telling have obtained for yourselves some. measure of the spirit of holy joy, of compassion, of reverence, then you must be anxious to share these things, to give emphasis to the fact of the Incarnation, of God being born of a human Mother and all that that means to humanity: you must be anxious, I say, not to keep these things to yourselves but to bring them home to the people. To bring them home, too, to the children, so many of whom, now neglected by the clergy, left helplessly to pick up what religion they can from the Bible, have never learnt what you have learnt and who, to quote the words of one official who had to examine them in Board School religion, "gave prominence in their answers to the idea that the Deity was an avenging one, and that one was to do right because of the fear of eternal punishment." "I would venture to submit," the examiner goes on, " that children should be taught that God is love." Not an overbold submission, one would think, but too bold for the Scripture Committee of the London School Board, who got him promptly to withdraw it. I plead for the children, therefore, that the Angelus should tell them of the love of God. And for all the hard toilers and wayfaring men -- take pains, I ask, to let them realise the truths which you have learnt and found so precious. Don't keep them to yourselves, but tell them out, morning, noon, and night, to factory and workroom, to hospital and theatre, up hill and down dale; strive to tell out to all the good news of the Incarnation, that God is born of a human mother.


"We want our Lady not to change Christ's mind toward us but our minds towards Him -- to compel us to realize His perfect Humanity, to lead us to Him, the source of mirth and joy and beauty, the sanctifier of human affection, the complete ideal Man. When they wanted wine it was the Mother of Jesus who said unto Him 'they have no wine,' A narrow religion, a cruel theology, a vindictive eschatology are impossible for those with whom our Lady is a real power," -- Stewart Headlam, in The Church Reformer, Volume X, 1891.