Thursday, October 19, 2017

Christians and Euthanasia

Today, Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia, spoke forcefully against the Victorian Parliament's proposed euthanasia legislation. Go to the report HERE.

Healing the Dying is the name of a book by Mary Jane Linn, Matthew Linn and Dennis Linn, first published in 1979. A friend gave it to me when it arrived in the Australian bookshops. Apart from the book itself, which is a wonderful encouragement to priests, pastoral care workers, doctors, nurses, and families and friends of those at the end of their lives, the notes following Chapter 5 contain this succinct Statement on Christian Affirmation of Life, developed by the American Catholic Hospital Association. I have shared this statement with many parishioners and friends over the years as a guide for their own instructions to medical staff, relatives and friends, and I’ve read it a number of times from the pulpit when preaching on the Gospel of Life. Here it is: 

Statement on Christian Affirmation of Life

To my family, friends, physician, lawyer and clergyman: 

I believe that each individual person is created by God our Father in love, and that God retains a loving relationship to each person throughout human life and eternity. 

I believe that Jesus Christ lived, suffered and died for me and that his suffering, death and resurrection prefigure and make possible the death-resurrection process which I now anticipate. 

I believe that each person's worth and dignity derive from the relationship of love in Christ that God has for each individual person, and not from one's usefulness or effectiveness in society. 

I believe that God our Father has entrusted to me a shared dominion with him over my earthly existence, so that I am bound to use ordinary means to preserve my life, but I am free to refuse extraordinary means to prolong my life. 

I believe that through death, life is not taken away but merely changed, and though I may experience fear, suffering and sorrow, by the grace of the Holy Spirit I hope to accept death as a free human act which enables me to surrender this life and to be united with God for eternity. 

Because of my belief: 

I, __________________________, request that I be informed as death approaches so that I may continue to prepare for a full encounter with Christ through the help of the Sacraments and the consolation and prayers of my family and friends. 

I request that, if possible, I be consulted concerning the medical procedures which might be used to prolong my life as death approaches. If I can no longer take part in decisions concerning my own future and there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery from physical and mental disability, I request that no extraordinary means be used to prolong my life. 

I request, though I wish to join my suffering to the suffering of Jesus so as to be united fully with him in the act of death-resurrection, that my pain, if possible, be alleviated. However, no means should be used with the intention of shortening my life. 

I request, because I am a sinner and in need of reconciliation, and because my faith, hope and love may not overcome all fear and doubt, that my family, friends and the whole Christian community join me in prayer and mortification as I prepare for the great personal act of dying. 

Finally, I request that after my death, my family, my friends, and the whole Christian community pray for me, and rejoice with me because of the mercy and love of the Trinity with whom I hope to be united for all eternity.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Sharing the Gospel

One night in 1989 two friends and I were on a Sydney train travelling back to where we were staying during a meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia. As happens on such occasions, there were many clergy and lay representatives from around the country in the same carriage. Across the aisle from us were two young lay representatives from the Diocese of Sydney (noted for its robust Reformed Evangelicalism). In the seat behind us was a bishop of the extreme liberal-Catholic variety, travelling with a layman from his diocese.

Near the Sydney representatives was a group of ordinary young people, clearly puzzled at the deluge of clergy who had boarded the train all at once, and they were discussing this with some amusement. One of the Sydney men looked up and said, “I can tell you what this is all about, if you’re really interested,” and he went on to say that it was a national conference of Anglican Church leaders - not just clergy, but “lay people like us, too.”   

Soon there was a lull in the conversation, and the Sydney man said, “I know what you’re thinking: how can otherwise quite sensible people believe all that stuff about God?” The young people smiled at each other, and the Sydney man continued, gently and unassumingly, “That’s O.K., I used to think that, too, until I looked into it for myself. Eventually I came to the point where I couldn’t avoid saying that Jesus is God, that he died on the cross, rose from the dead, that he loves me, and that if I wanted real life here and now, as well as in eternity, then I should join the community of his followers.” The gospel in about twenty seconds! 

A few of the young people asked questions. Then the train reached the destination of the Sydney Synod reps. The one who had done all the talking quickly reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of business cards, handed them around the group, and said, “I don’t want you to think I’m being pushy, but this is my station. Here is a card with my phone number. If any of you decide you want to talk about these things, I’d be happy to meet in a cafe somewhere . . . or you could check out your nearest Anglican Church.” And off he and his friend went!    

I was moved by this spontaneous witness to the Lord, and thought how wonderful it would be if lots of laity and clergy from the Catholic tradition learned to use opportunities like that to share the Gospel. The terrible thing is that just as the train left the station, the bishop in the seat behind us complained to the layman sitting next to him, “How embarrassing! You can tell we’re in Sydney!”

Now I know that there are many ways of evangelizing. The Church as a community evangelizes just by “being” in the wider society - a kind of priestly ministry of presence, praying, worshipping, living and loving, daring to believe that in a wonderful way all this somehow unleashes waves of blessing on those who live and work around us. I really believe that! As individuals we have a ministry of presence all the time in our relationships with others. And of course, we evangelize by serving one another and those around us in times of heartbreak and tragedy, as we have seen in this country when terror or natural disasters strike. 

Unfortunately, while actions of love and service prepare the ground for Gospel proclamation and response, quite often suave liberals and certain kinds of snooty Anglo-Catholics criticise those who verbally share the Gospel, often falling back on the idea that St Francis of Assisi said “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” 

Several scholars have pointed out lately (much to my embarrassment, because I myself have occasionally attributed those words to St Francis!) that St Francis said no such thing. After all, he was the evangelist with a heart truly on fire for God who preached at length up to five times each day! (The closest the scholars say we get to those words is Francis’ Rule 1221 which is actually about preaching friars ensuring that their deeds match their words.)

The new evangelization is about the sacramental reality of the Church’s ministry of presence, and our need lovingly to persevere with hurt, wounded and suspicious people who are nowhere near an awakening of faith. It is about a new recognition of the specially gifted evangelist in the Church’s life. But it is mostly about run of the mill Christians learning to share the Gospel with others in actions as well as words.

Not far from where I grew up was a drive-in cinema. As teenagers, my friends and I could rarely afford the entry ticket. We would join the line of old cars outside the wire fence from where we could just see the screen, but, unfortunately, not hear the sound. We spent our time putting scurrilous dialogue into the mouths of the actors. We discovered that while it was possible some of the time to figure out the film based on the visual, mostly, without the dialogue we completely misunderstood it.

That’s why the new evangelisation entails clergy and laity alike being able to “make a defence to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15).

Or to put it another way, why shouldn’t Anglo-Catholics be able to lead others to Christ?

The most beautiful confirmation of what I’ve tried to share with you was written back in 1975 by Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation to the whole Church, Evangelii Nuntiand [On Evangelization In The Modern World].  

“21. Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization . . . All Christians are called to this witness, and in this way they can be real evangelizers . . . 

“22. Nevertheless this always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified - what Peter called always having “your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” - and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.”

May we as individuals and as parish communities do better at bringing others to Jesus so that they will know the newness of life to be found only in him.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Bishop Frank Weston - one of our heroes

This is my conflation and free adaptation of two historic essays on Bishop Weston - one by Desmond Morse-Boycott in Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, and the other by HFB Mackay from his Saints and Leaders. I also used H. Maynard Smith's Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar. As little as possible of the original style (which some might think quaint by modern standards!) has been altered - only what was necessary to merge passages together. It is along post . . . but it will inspire you!

Here are links to some of Bishop Frank Weston's writings:

The One Christ: An Enquiry into the Manner of the Incarnation. (1907)
Ecclesia Anglicana: For What Does She Stand?(1914)
The Case against Kikuyu: A Study in Vital Principles.  (1914)
Proposals for a Central Missionary Council of Episcopal and Non-Episcopal Churches in East Africa (1914)
Important Declaration from the Bishop of Zanzibar From the London Church Times, April 1, 1915.
The Fulness of Christ: An Essay (1916)
The Black Slaves of Prussia: An Open Letter Addressed to General Smuts (1918)
The Christ and His Critics: An Open Pastoral Letter to the European Missionaries of His Diocese (1919
Our Present Duty, Concluding Address, Anglo-Catholic Congress (1923)
In His Will: Retreat Addresses (1922)
In Defence of the English Catholic (1923)

Frank Weston appears first as a little boy in suburban middle-class surroundings, an affectionate, diffident, delicate child, very highly strung. His nerves bothered him all his life, his courage was not natural to him, but was the result of a disciplined will. He had an Evangelical upbringing and a beautiful mother. Meant for the Army, he failed to pass the eye test at Woolwich. 

That was the first stroke of his discipline; he felt it keenly. Weak sight hindered his reading and baulked his games. In all this, I expected the big round-shouldered, short-sighted, rather awkward Dulwich schoolboy was going through much more self-discipline than people knew. We are told that he went up to Trinity College, Oxford, old for his age, solemn, shy, and rather repelling in manner, all signs of inward suffering.

“Honestly,” he said afterwards, “I have never conceived it possible that anyone would care to like me.” With this agonizing diffidence about himself he combined an almost aggressive certainty about the validity of his beliefs.

But as often happens, the awkward, uncomfortable freshman found himself at Oxford, and grew into a keen, attractive, thoughtful, serious undergraduate. He and his friends formed a debating society, the Moles, and debated all objects under the sun. Frank became a Christian Socialist.

Then came a great night when Bishop Smythies, of Zanzibar, king among men, stood in the pulpit of St. Barnabas, and pleaded for Africa. Weston volunteered next day and was turned down by the doctor.

He spent three years in Oxford, reading theology, overworked desperately, got a good First in the schools, and went to the College Mission at Stratford in London’s East End in the spirit of adventure. Here his powers of leadership began to appear. He had a strong, quiet manner which won the confidence of the bigger boys who called him the Cardinal and made him their confidant.

It was the heyday of Christian Socialism and growing Anglo-Catholicism. Frank went from the College Mission to St. Matthew’s, Westminster.

Two sayings had always stuck in his mind.

When he was a boy at Dulwich, the Headmaster, one day said to him, a propos of nothing, “Weston, if Jesus Christ asked you to give Him your overcoat would you go and fetch Him your shabbiest?” Weston said, “No, sir,” and he proved as good as his word. And when he was at Stratford and was speaking one night in Oxford about the Anglo-Catholic desire to “build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land,” a Don said to him, “Weston, do you believe in the heavenly Jerusalem?”

“Yes,” said Weston.

“I wish I did,” said the Don; “and if I did I don’t think I should talk about anything else.”

The saying shook Weston’s mind into a new perspective. After sorting his ideas, praying and meditating and developing his work as a priest in the orderly devotional atmosphere of St. Matthew’s, he volunteered again for Central Africa, was accepted and went out to Zanzibar.

He went out with the highest ideals, and with theories to put to the test of experience. When he got out he found himself dissatisfied at every turn. He thought the life and discipline of the mission was too relaxed. He was to train some of the teachers for ordination under conditions which he thought impossible.

He disliked the tendency to Europeanise the Africans, for he had come out intending to help the Africans to plant an African Church and develop through its power an authentic African civilization. Some people would have come home, other people would have submitted, others, again, would have begun to question their own judgment. Weston did none of these things. He attacked everything he objected to and started to build a theological college. At the same time, it became clear that he was ill suited to the climate, and so his labours were interspersed by sharp bouts of fever.

All that side of Weston which had made him a red hot socialist at Stratford gave itself to the Africans. To the Africans he became an African to an extraordinary degree. Not only was he the first Swahili orator and scholar, but he came to think in Swahili, which latterly affected to some extent his English style. Many men who have given themselves to be Africanised have deteriorated, but when he died the British Administrator at Tanga wrote, “I think the Bishop was the very impersonation of our race at the highest to which it can attain.”

Frank enjoyed looking after the Small Boy’s Home. They were delightful and most affectionate children, but at once he had to face huge moral problems in a form which wrung his heart. It was not difficult to make these children religious, it was very difficult to keep them at all decent in conduct, and it was immensely difficult to make them see that the one had anything to do with the other.

The Catholic missionary bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. From the children at Kilimani the young missionary began to receive the wound in the Sacred Heart. He led a very ascetic life with his theological students when he got them round him. He found, like St. Francis de Sales, that he must make the Blessed Sacrament the centre of their lives. When he told us that we must fight for our tabernacles he spoke out of this experience. He instituted the service of Benediction and drew his students into a real love of the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

Weston was constantly being called upon to give missions and retreats, but  the high personal cost (as we would say today) as well as the loneliness and weariness of his ministry can be felt in a rare comment: “Nobody does anything for me.”

After a while he was made Principal of the elder boys’ school at Kiungani. His fellow-priests here, like himself, were anxious to try their vocation for the Religious Life, and they petitioned the Bishop to allow them to do so, but he refused.

Weston was a great success at Kiungani and had happy years there. He dominated the whole place, and the boys were devoted to him. But he returned from furlough in England to find a sort of revolt going on against his authority, and a layman in his place. The layman soon retired, and Weston resumed work, but this was a bitter trial. The boys had wavered and Weston thought his fellow-missionaries had turned against him. It was not really so, but he was shy and sensitive and formidable, a difficult combination.

During this time he lived very much to himself among the Africans, whose company he preferred to the Europeans. As it turned out, this was all part of his training. It was his Gethsemane in which he came especially close to our Lord, and from henceforth his special devotion was the loneliness of Christ. In it he found his way deeper into the African heart and mind.

The period ended by his being made Canon and Chancellor of the Cathedral, with charge of the educational work of the diocese, and the duty of lecturing to the European residents in Zanzibar.

It was after this that he visited England to appeal for men, and made his great speech at the Livingstone Commemoration in the Senate House at Cambridge. It was a great occasion, the Vice-Chancellor in the chair, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Public Orator, many of the great personages of Cambridge present. Weston’s speech was a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit. The entire audience more deeply moved. The Bishop of Manchester, who also went over from Oxford, says that he was still trembling when he got into the train to go home. Nothing but the spirit of a life of martyrdom can so shake strong men.

In 1907 Frank Weston was consecrated Bishop of Zanzibar. He landed on November 6th and was enthroned that afternoon. Next day, the Bishop sang Pontifical High Mass in his cathedral; before him stretched a brilliant mass of colour, white and black people mingled together in brilliant garments. Next day the Bishop delivered his charge, and on the days following he presided over the Synod. He issued a Pastoral in Swahili to the African people beautifully suggestive of Apostolical times, and soon began his episcopal visitation of the vast tropical diocese on foot; in one six months he walked nine hundred miles. His Apostolic labours were truly like those of St. Paul.

He fought with witchcraft in various forms and came up against forces which are sometimes said to lie latent and suppressed in countries of Christian culture. This contest with the principalities and powers St. Paul talks of drew out forces in the Bishop’s personality. Things happened such as are recorded in the lives of saints.

After walking all day through country which was leafless, remember, because the sun had withered up the leaves and in which, after rain, the grass grew twelve feet high, the Bishop would pray under the stars half the night. “Of all that he taught me,” said an African priest, “of all that I watched him do, this was the greatest wonder to see how he prayed.”

We are not surprised then at the tale that when he was confronted after mass by a non-Christian chief who implored him to pray for rain, he gathered the Christians together and prayed in the presence of the chief, and that day torrential rain fell; and that when he prayed vehemently by a woman far gone in death, her soul was drawn back and she confessed her sins and was absolved, and then died. When the Catholic life is lived in its fullness and in the power of the Holy Spirit, such things, explain them as you will, occur.

As Bishop Frank had to sit as judge, hear cases, and impose public penance. But he always did so with such a love of souls that he became the father and consoler of all his black children. There is a story of a rebellious sinner and his excommunication from the altars of the Church. The awful ceremony proceeded, the lighted candles were hurled down on the ground and extinguished, and the Bishop came to the final sentence, “We do hereby cut you off-” and then burst into a torrent of tears, and amid the sobs of the Bishop, priests and people, the church bell tolled out the news that the doom had been pronounced.

A Bishop must expect to find his work imperilled by the assaults of the Devil; he ought not to have to encounter the assaults of the Bishops and Priests of his own communion, but such was Bishop Weston’s lot, and the result was his battle of Kikuyu and his battle with Modernism.

The Church, the Apostolic Succession and the Sacraments were at stake in the Kikuyu controversy, in which the Bishops of Mombasa and Uganda had sought to establish a conclave with the various protestant denominations working in the region. Using arguments from Scripture and the ancient Fathers (similar to those we have had to use with regard to the “ordination” of women), Weston won his chief points, and we like to think of his departure from the second Kikuyu Conference to the sound of his opponents’ cheers. His presence, speech and charm were irresistible.

With regard to Modernism (what today we more often call “liberal theology”) - in which the issue was the Person of our Lord - Bishop Weston was in a position to see where it would lead. The Muslims of Cairo were deluging Zanzibar with proselytising tracts in which they pointed out that the liberal Anglicans in England were teaching a doctrine of our Lord’s Person indistinguishable from Mohammed’s view of Jesus, and that the Church’s learned men were now making it perfectly clear that Mohammed had been right all the time!

The Anglican world was startled by a document which Frank Weston pinned upon the door of his cathedral in Zanzibar, announcing that he and his diocese were no longer in communion with John, Bishop of Hereford, and all who adhered to him. Here was a first-class crisis.

Dr. Perceval defended himself in the columns of The Times, and gravely rebuked a junior bishop for being a junior. In a headmasterly manner he went out to rap the knuckles of an irresponsible schoolboy, not realizing that to point to the youth and inexperience of his opponent was merely to trail a red-herring across the track.

Then, to Frank Weston, came the crowning blow. Dr. Hensley Henson - one of the leading liberal theologians of the day - was made a bishop, after a stormy protest by many Churchmen. Modernism had seemingly triumphed.

Frank Weston replied by writing his book Christ and His Critics, and began to think of retiring from his See to live a simple Christian life among his African friends.

Most people at home, whipped up by the press, assumed that he was a firebrand, in love with excommunications and anathemas. They called him the Zanzibarbarian.

In reality he was far more complex: he had the heart of a little child, the mind of a master theologian and the courage of a Christian warrior.

Then the War broke out, and the Bishop, who was in England, got back to his people. He discovered that he was cut off from the greater part of his diocese, which was in German territory. The disorder which war brings had reached Zanzibar; two of his African priests had to be deposed for immorality. This nearly broke the Bishop’s heart, for he found it to be of long standing and concealed from him by the many of the others. The Bishop flung himself into the work of the cathedral, saying the Masses, hearing the confessions, preaching most of the sermons.

Then came a press gang searching for porters; the Africans fled and hid, but the Bishop rose and said, “I will get you porters if I may command them.” He was given leave, and the men flocked to him, Christians, Muslims, heathen. The Bishop drilled them and took them to the mainland.

Experienced officers used to gape in amazement at the way in which he controlled an awkward squad of two thousand men. Whatever he was commissioned to do, that he did. He received the O.B.E. Yet it was only through the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury that he received his war medals. He was a constant fighter of injustice.

“Truly our Lord Bishop is a great man,” wrote an African afterwards, “for he came over the sea with us, and when we reached the mainland he marched with us, he slept with us, he ate with us, and when we lay down at night did he not pray with us? And when we rose in the morning did he not pray with us again? At the end did he not take us into camp? Truly he is a great man.”

The Muslims were deeply affected; they realized that the Bishop was a Holy Man, such a Holy Man as could lead a Holy Way among themselves, and for the first time they got a glimpse of the supernatural character of Christianity.

The war left the Bishop two battles to fight which cost him more than those terrible marches. He fought the people who wanted to return her colonies to Germany, in a pamphlet called The Black Slaves of Prussia, and he fought his own country when he feared that England was going to treat his beloved native Africans with vengeance, in another pamphlet called The Serfs of Great Britain. In the end Winston Churchill had to issue a despatch which satisfied the Bishop!

At the Lambeth Conference in 1920 Frank Weston came into his own. This followed the first Anglo-Catholic Congress in which he had played a seemingly insignificant part, but the unforgettable scenes which took place in the Albert Hall, when a vast number of men and women pledged themselves to the service of Christ, and cast jewels and riches into the alms-sacks, renewed his confidence in the Church of England.

He went from the Albert Hall to dominate and sway the counsels of the bishops assembled at Lambeth. He entered the assembly a suspected and discredited prelate. He chose a seat, and sat, and listened. He rose at length to speak. One can picture the solemn prelates of every clime and country leaning forward to see and hear the tiresome enfant terrible, in anticipation of a storm of wordy criticism. They were given the surprise of their lives. Here was no thin-lipped, harsh, narrow-minded bigot, intent on grinding a diocesan axe in and out of season, but a bronzed and finely built man who spoke as never man spoke before.

There was something about him which made them listen and learn. He addressed them with learning, common sense, humour and a friendly tenderness which took their breath away. He spoke to them, some of them aged, and most of them steeped in the spirit of autocracy, as a father might speak to his sons, but with such a winning gentleness that they were impelled, in the end, to see a vision and send out the famous appeal for unity. He left them under a spell.


A few years passed by, and he was back again, worn out, but engrossed with the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923. Here he became the leader of the Anglo-Catholics, such a leader as the movement lacked since Newman had left the Church of England. His musical voice could be heard all over the Albert Hall (there were no microphones in those days).

Every gesture he made evoked a storm of cheering. Many who saw him there speak in terms of coming face to face with an Apostle.

None but he could have sent the famous telegram of greetings to the Pope and survived it.

“Sixteen thousand Anglo-Catholics in congress assembled offer respectful greetings to the Holy Father, humbly praying that the day of peace may quickly break.”

The next day he was torn to pieces not only by the press, and the Protestant underworld, but also by mainstream Anglicans and even friends, but he never regretted his action.

“I am very tired,” he said, as he went back to Africa. He died not long afterwards, on November 2, 1924, at the age of fifty-three. There has been none like him for Apostolic unction in the history of the Catholic Movement within the Anglican world, and since his passing none has led as he.

That is the man Anglican Catholicism must resemble; it must be persevering and dauntless, and not afraid of making mistakes; it must do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently; it must be great-hearted, whole-hearted, eager-hearted; it must be to the end of a life of self-sacrifice and many disappointments, it must retain the heart of a child. That is the charm of Frank Weston. He never lost the simplicity and joy of a child. 

He died on the march, marching and working with the illness on him which caused his death. At last it struck him down, but twice he rose from his death-bed to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Next day he could rise no more. It was all very simple, merely the next thing to be done in a life lived to the glory of God. His priests came to him and gave him the last Sacraments, and in four hours he passed away.

“Crowds of people,” says the African account, “all crowded up, Christians and those not Christians, that they might see the face of the father for the last time. Then arose an exceedingly great lamentation. It was a wonder.

“Everyone you looked at - he was crying, but we returned to the church afterwards to thank the God who had given us a good father, and had now carried him to a place of greater peace that he might rest from the trouble of the world.”

But one of the little black schoolboys of the Kiungani, writing of him after his death, had a clearer vision.

“You will know that he is a loving man, for his mouth is always opened ready for laughter, for he is still laughing, and he will laugh for ever.”

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Praying the Rosary - a guide for beginners

Today we celebrate the special Mass of Mary, under her title "Our Lady of the Rosary." This post will help you if you are a beginner in the Christian life or have just recently discovered the more Catholic dimensions of it! (This article can be downloaded as a printable pdf document HERE.) 

The Rosary is a traditional way of praying with the Lord Jesus and his Mother Mary that takes us right through the Gospel. It can be used individually or with others. Some Anglican parishes have groups of people who belong to the Society of Mary, and they meet regularly to pray the Rosary together.

For a while it looked as if the Rosary was going out of fashion among Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike. But, over the last twenty years or so there has been something of a revival of its use. I know this because during that time I have been approached by a constant stream of people wanting to learn how to pray in this way. Some have come out of curiosity; others as a result of being embarrassed in a prayer group using this traditional devotion and not knowing the mechanics of what to do.

So, the following is the simplest of explanations, reflecting the most common way the Rosary is prayed. It also includes the “Luminous Mysteries” (“Mysteries of Light”) which Pope John Paul II added to the Rosary on 16th October, 2002.

Prayer is the work of God the Holy Spirit within us, inspiring us, enlightening us, and making us one with the great and eternal movement of love between God the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. It is COMMUNION and COMMUNICATION - a personal relationship that involves our hearts as well as our minds.

Sometimes we pray with effortless spontaneity, while at other times we use the inherited language of the Christian community.

There are also times of real difficulty in the spiritual life. 

Two thousand years of Christian experience teaches us that being sincere and open to the Holy Spirit, loving God from the depths of our being and wanting to be close to him does not guarantee that prayer will always be easy. Luke 4:12 says that Jesus himself was “led by the Spirit into the desert . . . being tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-2), struggling with evil just as we do, but winning in the end. Hebrews 5:7 refers to the struggle of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane - and undoubtedly other times as well - when it says that “in the days of his flesh” he “offered up prayers and supplications, with strong cries and tears.”

When WE find prayer difficult, traditional forms are really useful. They act as a kind of “scaffold” to the spiritual life; their well-worn words, hallowed by centuries of use, give shape to our aspirations and our yearnings; they help us to remain aware of God’s presence. The rhythm of their recitation delivers us from captivity to our fickle emotions.

A particular problem we all face from time to time is how to deal with distractions when we are praying. Some distractions come from outside ourselves, like the noise of the traffic or the television in the apartment next door. Many distractions, however, actually come from within ourselves, and - paradoxically - it is not until we get away from external distractions that we discover how noisy we really are on the inside! Our minds wander onto all sorts of things, and we find it almost impossible to be still. For hundreds of years Christians have found the Rosary to be a means of giving our minds something to think about, while at the same time helping us to be calm and recollected in God’s presence.

But set forms of devotion such as the Rosary are not just for when we find prayer difficult. In the same way that all our human relationships combine structure and spontaneity, it is natural that our intimacy with God should work the same way. Along with other set forms of prayer, regular use of the Rosary has been a means of great blessing to many who have incorporated it into the rhythm of their spiritual lives.

Like any boy in his cultural and spiritual tradition, Jesus learned a whole lot of prayers off by heart, including many of the psalms and other devotions that Jewish people say quietly or out loud to this day. We can also imagine him sitting at his Mother’s knee, like any toddler, repeating what Mary taught him over and over again. 

The Rosary is built around four familiar Christian prayers that many people have known since childhood - the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be - repeated in a particular order. The beads help us to remember where we are, and which prayer is coming up next.

Repeating these prayers quietly (or even silently) helps to still the noise in our heads, while the movement of fingering the beads can help us stop fidgeting and be still. 

The therapeutic value of this was brought home to me a few years ago when an elderly parishioner’s doctor told me that in his opinion her habit of saying the Rosary each day while using her beads was the secret of her swift progress in recovering from a stroke!

Our minds can be occupied as we make a picture or think of some words from the Gospels to do with the lives of Jesus and Mary. There are twenty episodes commonly used that are given the name “Mysteries of the Rosary.”

We call these episodes “mysteries”, not because they are complicated and confuse us, but because they are about the Lord Jesus Christ, all he did to save us, and his continuing presence with us now. St. Paul wrote to the early Christians: “The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory” (Colossians 1:25). So, while the glory of Jesus is revealed to us in the Church as we pray - and most of us can only glimpse a little of it at a time - praying the Rosary takes us behind the words of the Gospels which paint a picture of Jesus, enabling us to ponder those saving truths which undergird our spiritual lives. In this way so many Christians have grown in faith, hope and love.

If you have never prayed the Rosary before, or if you find it strange and awkward, practise praying the Rosary by following this diagram. It is not complicated. Before long you will find yourself being drawn into contemplation of the mysteries, and you won’t need to worry about the diagram any more!

The Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be repeated throughout are like the background music of a film which helps us to feel the mood of what is happening, but without drawing attention to itself. These prayers do the same thing by calming and relaxing our minds and hearts to meditate on the mysteries.

When we pray the Rosary alone, we say the prayers right through. When we pray the Rosary in a group, the leader starts off the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. This adds to the sense of rhythm and community participation.

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God
the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge
the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the Communion of Saints,
the Forgiveness of sins,
the Resurrection of the body,
and the Life everlasting. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father,
who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
But deliver us from evil. Amen.

The Hail Mary
Hail, Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death.

The Glory Be
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit; 

As it was in the beginning, 
is now and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen

There are fifteen mysteries that draw us into the birth, life, suffering and death of Jesus. There are two mysteries that belong to the time before his birth, and there are three that take us into the life of the Church where we, like Mary (who is not just our Mother, but also our Sister in Christ) share in the Holy Spirit and journey expectantly to the glory of heaven.

The twenty Mysteries are arranged in four sets of five:

The Joyful Mysteries
1. The Annunciation
2. Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth
3. The Birth of Christ
4. The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
5. Jesus found among the Teachers of the Law

The Luminous Mysteries
1. The Baptism of the Lord
2. The Wedding of Cana
3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
4. The Transfiguration
5. The Institution of the Eucharist

The Sorrowful Mysteries
1. The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
2. The Scourging of the Lord
3. The Mocking and Crowning with Thorns
4. The Carrying of the Cross
5. The Death of the Lord at Calvary

The Glorious Mysteries
1. The Resurrection of the Lord
2. The Ascension
3. The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
4. The Assumption of Mary
5. The Coronation of Mary 
and the Glory of the Saints

We can pray as many or as few of the Mysteries as we like. But in 2002 when he added the Luminous Mysteries, Pope John Paul recommended this pattern:

Joyful Mysteries:         Mondays and Saturdays
Sorrowful Mysteries: Tuesdays and Fridays
Luminous Mysteries: Thursdays
Glorious Mysteries: Wednesdays and Sundays

It is quite common for Christians to use the Rosary as a means of praying for particular people or special needs. The leader announces the forthcoming Mystery like this:

“The third Glorious Mystery: The Coming of the Holy Spirit. We offer this Mystery for all preachers of the Gospel, especially those who are labouring in poverty-stricken countries. (Pause) Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”


“The fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist. We offer this Mystery for those who at this time are preparing for their first Holy Communion. (Pause) Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”

When we pray the Rosary privately, we can offer each of the Mysteries for specific people in our lives.

It is an old custom to say these prayers at the end of praying the Rosary:

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy;
hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy towards us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Leader: Pray for us, O holy Mother of God:
All: That we may be made worthy 
of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

O God,
whose only-begotten Son
by his life, death, and resurrection,
purchased for us the reward of eternal life;
Grant, we pray,
that as we meditate upon these Mysteries
in the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary
we may imitate what they contain,
and obtain what they promise;
through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Why not go and buy a Rosary if you don’t have one? You will be able to use it in so many different ways - privately, in a prayer group, or even when you are travelling. If you learn to pray the Rosary you will not only join yourself spiritually to the prayer life of literally millions of Christians all over the world, you will be following the example of many great saints down through the ages.

Many Anglicans who honour Our Lady belong to The Society of Mary. Originally an Anglican society, this fellowship has included Christians from other churches for many years. The Superior-General of the Society of Mary, Bishop Robert Ladds, writes:

“Our Society seeks the glory of God revealed in Our Lord Jesus Christ, born for us as Perfect Man and Perfect God. Christ was given to us through Mary, His Blessed and Ever-Virgin Mother.  As Members of the Society of Mary, we love and honour Her, who is shown to us in the Bible as ‘Blessed among Women’ and who was loved and honoured by Jesus.  
“What does this mean in our everyday seeking to live out the Christian life and our calling? Our prayer and devotion to Mary constantly reminds that, through the Incarnation, Christ lives in us and we live in Him. This directs us to seek Jesus in worship; through a deepening of our spiritual lives;  in our relationships with one another and with those around us;  in every aspect and dimension of the world. We are made deeply conscious of our fellowship with another and, most especially, with the Communion of Saints and the great company of all who have gone before us in faith.  
“The Society provides for us to meet together in friendship and enjoyment of one another’s company and mutual support. We come together in worship and so share in the ‘beauty of holiness’.  We have the privilege of sharing our experiences and the good things of our beliefs with others.”

For further information about the Society of Mary, go to the web site:
from which an application for membership form
may be downloaded

Australians should email their Regional Secretary:
or write:
12 Luck Street, Slacks Creek,  QLD  Australia  4127