“’Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Lk 1:42). These words, full of faith and joy and wonder, have become part of the ‘Hail Mary.’ Every time we recite this prayer, so beautiful and familiar, we do as Elizabeth did: we greet Mary and we bless her, because she brings Jesus to us.—Pope Francis today, in his Sunday Angelus reflection in Rome on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15. The “Hail Mary,” Francis says, quite clearly, is a prayer that is “beautiful and familiar.” The “Hail Mary,” of course, is the central prayer of the Rosary, traditionally recited 150 times (10 times for each of the 15 mysteries, five joyful, five sorrowful, and five glorious). So originally, the rosary “psalter of Mary” consisted of 15 decades of 10 Hail Mary’s each (150 total) as a way for lay faithful to imitate the monastic recitation of the 150 Psalms. Monks memorized all 150 Psalms and would recite them together. The rosary is a prayer which for nearly a thousand years has been recited by Catholics with deep devotion, because it is “Christocentric,” centered on Christ, centered on the coming of Christ — the “fruit” of Mary’s womb (so, really born into the world of space and time) — to save the world from the ultimate frustration of sin and its consequences, death. In this sense, it is the Catholic “prayer of life” par excellence. As St. John Paul II said on August 15, 2001, also on the Feast of the Assumption (link): “Mary’s Assumption is an event that concerns us precisely because every human being is destined to die. But death is not the last word. Death — the mystery of the Virgin’s Assumption assures us — is the passage to life, the encounter with Love. It is the passage to the eternal happiness in store for those who toil for truth and justice and do their utmost to follow Christ…”

    Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics… The rosary—in these hands—is anything but holy… In 2016, the pontifical Swiss Guard accepted a donation of combat rosaries; during a ceremony at the Vatican, their commander described the gift as ‘the most powerful weapon that exists on the market.’ The rosary-as-weapon also gives rad-trad Catholic men both a distinctive signifier within Christian nationalism and a sort of membership pass to the movement… Catholics used to be regarded as enemies by Christian nationalists, and anti-Catholic nativism runs deep in American history. Today, Catholics are a growing contingent of Christian nationalism… The “battle beads” culture of spiritual warfare permits radical-traditional Catholics literally to demonize their political opponents and regard the use of armed force against them as sanctified. The sacramental rosary isn’t just a spiritual weapon but one that comes with physical ammunition.—An article published yesterday, August 14, in The Atlantic magazine, entitled “How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-Opt the Rosary” (link) by Daniel Panneton, a writer based in Toronto, Canada

    “The Atlantic‘s hysterical piece demonizing Catholic prayer beads is a harbinger of persecution.” —A response to Panneton’s piece in The Atlantic by American Orthodox writer Rod Dreher published earlier today, August 15, 2022, in The American Conservative, entitled “Libs Tremble Before The Rosary,” at this link

    ***    

    Letter #98, 2022, Monday, Aug 15: Rosary

    Today, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, saw the intersection of three very different reflections on the role of Mary in human history, and on the meaning of prayers for Mary’s intercession in human affairs, especially the meaning of the ancient prayer of the Rosary, which is a repeated invocation of the spiritual help of the Virgin.

    The intersection of these three texts offers a glimpse into the present crisis of Western culture.

    For this reason, I offer in this letter all three of these reflections:

    (1) a reflection today by Pope Francis,

    (2) an essay published yesterday by a Toronto, Canada-based writer named Daniel Panneton, and

    (3) a response to Panneton by American Orthodox writer Rod Dreher.

     ***

    Our Western culture in recent decades has seemingly become increasingly persuaded that it must “throw off the yoke” of the Christian message and moral teaching of almost 20 centuries to bring “true freedom” to individuals under a philosophy of “secular humanism.”

    In this term “secular humanism,” the word “secular” refers to “this present age,” this “saeculum” (the Latin word for “this present age”), and the word “humanist” refers to all that is “human,” to all that is centered on, and in, man, placing man at the center of all things, making man’s hopes and desires and longings “the measure of all things.” This is what the term “secular humanism” means.

     In this embrace of “secular humanism,” there is an inevitable denial that there is another “non-secular” realm, another reality not of “this age” but of an age or epoch that surpasses or transcends this “saeculum,” a reality marked by the presence of the holy, the sacred, the divine, that is, by the presence of God.

    So, as we observe these recent centuries, from the Renaissance humanists through the Enlightenment philosophers who prepared the French Revolution, to the materialist communists of the 19th and 20 centuries, we see a contest between two views of reality, the “secular humanist” view, focused on the hopes of man in this material world, and the “sacred divinist” view (to coin a perhaps inadequate phrase) that proclaims there is a more profound and ultimately more liberating view of reality that transcends this saeculum and transcends the merely human, seeing in the Christian “event” — the Incarnation of the

God-Man — the compelling evidence of the truth of this sacred transcendence, evidence which offers hope of a deeper, more enduring life beyond this present material life to all men and women of every age.

    And the essays presented here have to do with this continuing contest between two ways of viewing reality.

    ***

    In Rome, Pope Francis, now 85 and in the 10th year of his pontificate, during his noon Angelus prayer today, spoke eloquently about the witness given to the Christian belief in sacred transcendence by what happened at the end of Mary’s earthly life, sometime in the middle decades of the first century of the Christian era. The Pope’s remarks are below.

    In America yesterday, August 14, on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, a Toronto, Canada-based writer, Daniel Panneton, published in The Atlantic, a journal generally considered “progressive,” an essay that depicts many Catholics who pray the Rosary (a practice which always has been animated by a devotion to Mary) as violent militants who may be dangerous to modern civil society. That essay is published in full below.

    And also today, American writer Rod Dreher, a convert from Catholicism to Orthodoxy, carefully dissects the Panneton essay, and concludes that it is a sign that those who wish the Christian message to no longer be influential in Western society are ready to marginalize and ostracize many of those who pray the Rosary and share a devotion to the Virgin Mary, and to her Son. This sign is “a harbinger of persecution,” Dreher darkly concludes.

    Here are the three texts.

    Note: All support for this free Moynihan Letter is welcome. Some readers are making a small monthly gift. Thank you.—RM

Support the Moynihan Letters

    (1) Pope Francis in Rome today

SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

POPE FRANCIS
ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square
Monday, 15 August 2022

_______________________

    Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno! Happy Feast Day!

    Today, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Gospel offers us the dialogue between her and her cousin Elizabeth.

    When Mary enters the house and greets Elizabeth, the latter says: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42).

    These words, full of faith and joy and wonder, have become part of the “Hail Mary”.

    Every time we recite this prayer, so beautiful and familiar, we do as Elizabeth did: we greet Mary and we bless her, because she brings Jesus to us.

    Mary accepts Elizabeth’s blessing and replies with the canticle, a gift for us, for all history: the Magnificat.

    It is a song of praise.

    We can define it as the “canticle of hope”.

    It is a hymn of praise and exultation for the great things that the Lord has accomplished in her, but Mary goes further: she contemplates the work of God in the entire history of her people.

    She says, for example, that the Lord “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (vv. 52-53).

    As we listen to these words, we might ask ourselves: is the Virgin not exaggerating a little, perhaps, describing a world that does not exist?

    Indeed, what she says does not seem to correspond to reality; while she speaks, the powerful of the time have not been brought down: the fearsome Herod, for example, is still firmly on his throne. And the poor and hungry remain so, while the rich continue to prosper.

    What does that canticle of Mary mean? What is the meaning?

    She does not intend to chronicle the time – she is not a journalist – but to tell us something much more important: that God, through her, has inaugurated a historical turning point, he has definitively established a new order of things.

    She, small and humble, has been raised up and – we celebrate this today – brought to the glory of Heaven, while the powerful of the world are destined to remain empty-handed. Think of the parable of that rich man who had a beggar, Lazarus, in front of his door.

    How did he end up? Empty-handed.

    Our Lady, in other words, announces a radical change, an overturning of values.

    While she speaks with Elizabeth, carrying Jesus in her womb, she anticipates what her Son will say, when he will proclaim blessed the poor and humble, and warn the rich and those who base themselves on their own self-sufficiency.

    The Virgin, then, prophesies with this canticle, with this prayer: she prophesies that it will not be power, success and money that will prevail, but rather service, humility and love will prevail.

    And as we look at her, in glory, we understand that the true power is service – let us not forget this: the true power is service – and to reign means to love. And that this is the road to Heaven. It is this.

    So, let us look at ourselves, and let us ask ourselves: will this prophetic reversal announced by Mary affect my life? Do I believe that to love is to reign, and to serve is power? Do I believe that the purpose of my life is Heaven, it is paradise? To spend it well here. Or am I concerned only with worldly, material things?

    Again, as I observe world events, do I let myself be entrapped by pessimism or, like the Virgin, am I able to discern the work of God who, through gentleness and smallness, achieves great things?

    Brothers and sisters, Mary today sings of hope and rekindles hope in us. Mary today sings of hope and rekindles hope in us: in her, we see the destination of our journey. She is the first creature who, with her whole self, body and soul, victoriously crosses the finish line of Heaven. She shows us that Heaven is within reach. How come?

    Yes, Heaven is within reach, if we too do not give in to sin, if we praise God in humility and serve others generously. Do not give in to sin. But some might say, “But, Father, I am weak” – “But the Lord is always near you, because he is merciful”. Do not forget God’s style: proximity, compassion and tenderness. Always close to us, with his style. Our Mother takes us by the hand, she accompanies us to glory, she invites us to rejoice as we think of heaven.

    Let us bless Mary with our prayer, and let us ask her to be capable of glimpsing Heaven on earth.

    [End, Pope Francis’ Angelus text in Rome today]

    (2) Daniel Panneton in The Atlantic yesterday

    How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-Opt the Rosary (link)

    Why are sacramental beads suddenly showing up next to AR-15s online?

    August 14, 2022

    By Daniel Panneton

    Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or “rad trad”) Catholics. On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture. These armed radical traditionalists have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can be a weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal.

    Their social-media pages are saturated with images of rosaries draped over firearms, warriors in prayer, Deus Vult (“God wills it”) crusader memes, and exhortations for men to rise up and become Church Militants. Influencers on platforms such as Instagram share posts referencing “everyday carry” and “gat check” (gat is slang for “firearm”) that include soldiers’ “battle beads,” handguns, and assault rifles. One artist posts illustrations of his favorite Catholic saints, clergy, and influencers toting AR-15-style rifles labeled sanctum rosarium alongside violently homophobic screeds that are celebrated by social-media accounts with thousands of followers.

    The theologian and historian Massimo Faggioli has described a network of conservative Catholic bloggers and commentary organizations as a “Catholic cyber-militia” that actively campaigns against LGBTQ acceptance in the Church. These rad-trad rosary-as-weapon memes represent a social-media diffusion of such messaging, and they work to integrate ultraconservative Catholicism with other aspects of online far-right culture. The phenomenon might be tempting to dismiss as mere trolling or merchandising, and ironical provocations based on traditionalist Catholic symbols do exist, but the far right’s constellations of violent, racist, and homophobic online milieus are well documented for providing a pathway to radicalization and real-world terrorist attacks.

    The rosary—in these hands—is anything but holy. But for millions of believers, the beads, which provide an aide-mémoire for a sequence of devotional prayers, are a widely recognized symbol of Catholicism and a source of strength. And many take genuine sustenance from Catholic theology’s concept of the Church Militant and the tradition of regarding the rosary as a weapon against Satan. As Pope Francis said in a 2020 address, “There is no path to holiness … without spiritual combat,” and Francis is only one of many Church officials who have endorsed the idea of the rosary as an armament in that fight.

    In mainstream Catholicism, the rosary-as-weapon is not an intrinsically harmful interpretation of the sacramental, and this symbolism has a long history. In the 1930s and ’40s, the ultramontane Catholic student publication Jeunesse Étudiante Catholique regularly used the concept to rally the faithful. But the modern radical-traditionalist Catholic movement—which generally rejects the Second Vatican Council’s reforms—is far outside the majority opinion in the Roman Catholic Church in America. Many prominent American Catholic bishops advocate for gun control, and after the Uvalde school shooting, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, lamented the way some Americans “sacralize death’s instruments.”

    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. Their social-media accounts commonly promote accelerationist and survivalist content, along with combat-medical and tactical training, as well as memes depicting balaclava-clad gunmen that draw on the “terrorwave” or “warcore” aesthetic that is popular in far-right circles.

    Like such networks, radical-traditional Catholics sustain their own cottage industry of goods and services that reinforces the radicalization. Rosaries are common among the merchandise on offer—some made of cartridge casings, and complete with gun-metal-finish crucifixes. One Catholic online store, which describes itself as “dedicated to offering battle-ready products and manuals to ‘stand firm against the tactics of the devil’” (a New Testament reference), sells replicas of the rosaries issued to American soldiers during the First World War as “combat rosaries.” Discerning consumers can also buy a “concealed carry” permit for their combat rosary and a sacramental storage box resembling an ammunition can. In 2016, the pontifical Swiss Guard accepted a donation of combat rosaries; during a ceremony at the Vatican, their commander described the gift as “the most powerful weapon that exists on the market.”

    The militarism also glorifies a warrior mentality and notions of manliness and male strength. This conflation of the masculine and the military is rooted in wider anxieties about Catholic manhood—the idea that it is in crisis has some currency among senior Church figures and lay organizations. In 2015, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix issued an apostolic exhortation calling for a renewal of traditional conceptions of Catholic masculinity titled “Into the Breach,” which led the Knights of Columbus, an influential fraternal order, to produce a video series promoting Olmsted’s ideas. But among radical-traditional Catholic men, such concerns take an extremist turn, rooted in fantasies of violently defending one’s family and church from marauders.

    The rosary-as-weapon also gives rad-trad Catholic men both a distinctive signifier within Christian nationalism and a sort of membership pass to the movement. As the sociologists Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry note in Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, Catholics used to be regarded as enemies by Christian nationalists, and anti-Catholic nativism runs deep in American history. Today, Catholics are a growing contingent of Christian nationalism.

    Helping unite these former rivals is a quasi-theological doctrine of what Perry and another sociologist, Philip S. Gorski, have called “righteous violence” against political enemies regarded as demonic or satanic, be they secularists, progressives, or Jews. The hostility toward liberalism and secularism inherent in traditionalist Catholicism is also pronounced within Christian nationalist circles. No longer stigmatized by evangelical nationalists, Catholic imagery now blends freely with staple alt-right memes that romanticize ancient Rome or idealize the traditional patriarchal family.

    Some doctrinal differences and divisions remain. Many radical-traditional Catholic men maintain the hard-line position that other forms of Christianity are heretical, and hold that Catholics alone adhere to the one true Church. Christian nationalism’s nativism and its predilection for “Great Replacement” theory alienate some radical-traditional Catholics who are not white or who were not born in the United States, and deep veins of anti-Catholicism persist among far-right Protestants.

    Yet the convergence within Christian nationalism is cemented in common causes such as hostility toward abortion-rights advocates. The pro-choice protests that followed the leaked early draft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, led to a profusion of social-media posts on the far right fantasizing about killing activists, and such forums responded to Pride month this year with extremist homophobic and transphobic “groomer” discourse. Rad-trad networks are also involved in organizing rosary-branded events that involve weapons training.

    Catholics are taught to love and forgive their enemies, that to do otherwise is a sin. But the extremist understanding of spiritual warfare overrides that command. To do battle with Satan—whose influence in the world is, according to Catholic demonology, real and menacing—is to deploy violence for deliverance and redemption. The “battle beads” culture of spiritual warfare permits radical-traditional Catholics literally to demonize their political opponents and regard the use of armed force against them as sanctified. The sacramental rosary isn’t just a spiritual weapon but one that comes with physical ammunition.

    [End Atlantic article]

    (3) Rod Dreher today, in response to the Panneton article of yesterday

    Libs Tremble Before The Rosary (link)

    The Atlantic‘s hysterical piece demonizing Catholic prayer beads is a harbinger of persecution

    By Rod Dreher

    August 15, 2022

    In both Orthodoxy and Catholicism, today — August 15 — is the feast of the transition of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, into eternal life.

    Catholics call it the Assumption, because they believe she was “assumed” (taken up) into heaven at the end of her earthly days without tasting death; Orthodox call it the Dormition (falling asleep), because we Orthodox believe that she died, like every other human being. (A brief discussion explaining the theological distinctions between the Assumption and the Dormition can be found here; it has to do with the different ways the Christian East and the Christian West think of original sin). Both traditions share the belief that God took up to heaven the body of Mary, which is why there is no tomb for her anywhere in the world.

    Here is the standard Orthodox icon for the Dormition. It shows Jesus Christ at the deathbed of His mother, receiving her body into His arms. The fact that Jesus receives her body indicates that she did, in fact, experience death, like all humans; you wouldn’t see anything like that in a Catholic depiction of Holy Mary’s transition into eternity:

    My son Matt left at 4:30 this morning for the airport, to return to Louisiana for his final year of undergraduate study. I was so sleepy that I slept right through Orthodox liturgy for the feast, so instead I went to a nearby church right after noon to pray this akathist (like a cross between a hymn and a litany) to the Virgin on this, the great feast of her falling asleep. I had the place all to myself, except for the occasional visitor who would come in to say a prayer.

    Before I went to the church to pray, I had been re-reading a wonderful Orthodox book about St. Paisios the Athonite and spiritual warfare, titled, The Gurus, the Young Man, and the Elder Paisios. In it, the author talks about how he would visit the great elder on Mount Athos (St. Paisios is to the Christian East what St. Pio (“Padre Pio”) of Pietrelcina is to the Christian West), and the elder once gave him a prayer rope and taught him to say the Jesus Prayer on it. The elder compared those prayers to firing “bullets” at the demons. It reminded me of how, when I was a Catholic, I would pray the rosary in the same spirit. Though I pray the Jesus Prayer on the chotki, or prayer rope, now, I recognize that the Rosary is a very powerful way of praying. I have experienced this myself on a number of occasions.

    So when I read this hysterical anti-Catholic screen against the rosary in The Atlantic, the journal of middlebrow-elite liberalism (yes, there is such a thing as middlebrow elite), my first thought was not outrage, but satisfaction: Goodthe enemies of God know what they’re dealing with. 

    But my second thought is that this is a remarkable escalation in the culture of hatred against Christians and Christianity that the Left is generating and perfecting.

    It is impossible to imagine that a magazine of The Atlantic‘s stature would produce such a piece condemning a venerable prayer practice of any other religion.

    Here’s how the magazine presents the piece on its website:

But then they tweaked the headline after criticism:

    I don’t see a meaningful distinction, but I wanted to show that there was that change. I’d like to point out that The Atlantic‘s copy editors are so religiously ignorant that they refer to the rosary as a “sacrament.” It’s telling that you don’t even have to have the most basic knowledge of Catholic theology to edit and approve a piece comparing the rosary to an AR-15.

    The piece touches on how some fanatical right-wing Catholics have mixed rosary devotion with firearms culture, in a way that the author thinks crosses a line from metaphorical to literal.

    I wouldn’t say he’s entirely wrong there, but I would point out that the people who think this way are on the far fringes of Catholicism, and in no way represent the vast majority of Catholics who pray the rosary.

    But then, Daniel Panneton sees manifestations of the progressive’s ideas of demonology every time he looks rightward. In this piece from May, Panneton, a self-described “public historian” (whatever that means), uncovered what he regards as the white-supremacist roots of Canada’s pro-life movement. Ah ha! Scratch a Canadian Catholic who prays her rosary for the lives of the unborn, find a closet Klucker! So says Daniel Panneton, who also describes himself as a “hate researcher,” and who back in February published a piece in the Globe & Mail accusing the protesting truckers of being in league with antisemites, Islamophobes, and, yep, white supremacists.

    In his Atlantic piece, Panneton writes:

Catholics are taught to love and forgive their enemies, that to do otherwise is a sin. But the extremist understanding of spiritual warfare overrides that command. To do battle with Satan—whose influence in the world is, according to Catholic demonology, real and menacing—is to deploy violence for deliverance and redemption. The “battle beads” culture of spiritual warfare permits radical-traditional Catholics literally to demonize their political opponents and regard the use of armed force against them as sanctified. The sacramental rosary isn’t just a spiritual weapon but one that comes with physical ammunition.

    Message to Atlantic-reading liberals and progressives: if you see a Catholic on the street praying a rosary, know that they are probably stockpiling guns back home, and that they will probably shoot you — and gays, transgenders, Muslims, Jews, dwarves, two-spirits, vegans, foot fetishists, and anyone who qualifies as the Sacred Other in the left’s pantheon.

    OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. The uncomprehending hostility that North American elites, especially media elites, have for Christianity allows them to publish such a farrago of bigotry and foolishness, and think they are virtuous. Consider that in the Muslim world, beards are an outward sign of inward piety; the Muslim adviser at Penn told The New York Times in 2011 that generally speaking, the more conservative you are as a Muslim, the more likely you are to have a beard. This piece led a writer at the Middle East Forum, a site critical of Islam, to pen a piece explaining to people that “the Muslim beard bodes trouble.”

    I wonder what The Atlantic would say if a writer approached its editors and proposed writing a piece about how big beards on Muslim men are a tip-off that they might have terrorism in mind? Actually I don’t wonder that at all. We know exactly what The Atlantic would say — and they would be right to do so! Now, a longer, more thoughtful piece discussing how things like beards and prayer beads, which have long been a central part of religious traditions, have been weaponized in political or cultural struggle, would be understandable. That’s not at all what the Panneton piece is. It’s pure ignorant fear-mongering from a professional leftist who sees menace everywhere to his right. What he is doing, whether he realizes it or not, is catechizing people into knowing whom to hate, and to know that by seeing a sacred symbol of Catholics as possibly an indicator of violent terrorist potential. The innuendo is extreme: Panneton cites a Catholic retailer’s selling of a replica of the World War I “Combat Rosary” the US Government issued to Catholic doughboys as a sinister sign.

    The one to worry about is not Daniel Panneton. There will always be ideologues selling anti-Christian, anti-Catholic polemics. The one to be concerned about is The Atlantic magazine, which by publishing such a sloppy and hysterical propaganda piece, is preparing the ground for persecution. They may not know what they’re doing, but the rest of us have no excuse not to.

    In any case, if you are Catholic, you should take this as an inadvertent sign of respect. The enemy knows what’s what. Do you? They’re scared of the rosary. So pray it — not to own the libs (though that might be a fun side effect), but to strengthen the forces of Good in the spiritual battle raging all around us.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By LiesThe Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Leming—as well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

Facebook Comments