If the sun had shone for the Rosary on the Coast, we’d have said we had God’s blessing. But it rained instead, so we said God was challenging us to persevere. I joined a crowd of about 50 in Brighton. We huddled together in the bandstand above the beach and sang lustily: “Ave, ave, ave Maria!” It was freezing. It was exhilarating. I wish we could do it every Sunday.
The world’s first border rosary was held in Poland last year, and was denounced by the media as excessively Christian and nationalist – even though the two are in strict contradiction. Yes, this lay-inspired event was partly about Britain, and you’ll have to forgive us for loving our faith and our country. The occasion showed that both defy stereotypes. Catholicism cuts across a diverse British Isles: groups gathered to say the rosary from Jersey to the Shetlands, Aberystwyth to Lowestoft. There was a lot of chat on the bandstand about the presence of two nuns from Bromley (that counts as exotic on the Sussex coast) and the priest, the sublime Fr Ray Blake of St Mary Magdalen, cut a dash from a different era in his black cloak and hat.
The rosary was led in English, Italian and Polish, which we all agreed was a marvellous affirmation of how multicultural the faith is, until the Polish lady took the microphone and recited the Gloria in her native tongue. I never knew so many “z”s could appear in the same word. Lesson one is bring back Latin. It’s the American Express of religious languages: accepted everywhere.
Lesson two: listen to the experiences of the laity. The national event was skilfully promoted by two cousins, Brian Timmons and John Patrick Mallon, whose social media company, Sancta Familia, has done a superb job of raising the profile of Catholicism in Scotland. Their focus is on good liturgy and traditional devotions. Catholicism is about performance in the best sense of the word: not camp nonsense with bells and smells, but an outward expression of faith that’s done with great reverence.
For those who sometimes find it hard to be quietly alone with their thoughts, this sort of thing is invaluable, and the appeal of the rosary is how practical it is. Five simple mysteries to think on; 10 prayers apiece; all represented by beads, so you don’t lose count. Easy to keep in your pocket, too.
I never board an aeroplane without the rosary, and the sound of me whizzing through the beads, desperately praying that an engine doesn’t give out, terrifies the other passengers. This is why I also go to Confession before every flight: to get right with God. That way, if we go down, my soul goes up. Again, you see how useful Catholicism is?
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