April 14, 2019 - Pastor Message05/19/2021
THE YEAR OF PRAYER PART 12: CHAPLETS
“With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones” (Ephesians 6:18). The term “chaplet” refers to a string of beads used to keep track of the number of times specific prayers or specific arrangements of prayers are said.
The term can also refer to the collective number and arrangement of prayers for which the beads are used, for example, the Divine Mercy Chaplet. A more common term for chaplets is rosaries, though today that term is generally understood to mean only the well-known Dominican Rosary, with its arrangement of beads into five decades of an Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s, and a Glory Be. Chaplets need not observe this particular format, however, and different chaplets employ their own arrangements of prayers and beads.
The practice of using beads or other devices, such as knotted cords, to keep an accurate count of prayers predates and goes well beyond Christianity. It emerged fairly quickly and naturally within the Church, particularly among monks, as seen in the 4th century by Abbot Paul of Egypt, who used small pebbles carried in his robe to keep the count of his daily prayers. Strings of beads became popular in some places in response to the development of penitentials, rule books used by confessors beginning in the eighth century that prescribed specific, sometimes very high, numbers of Our Fathers as penances. The Bollandists record that in the tenth century a wealthy patroness of a religious house in Coventry, England, donated a circlet of precious stones that she had used in prayer, and this type of chaplet, similar to today’s rosary, grew in popularity over the next few centuries. Religious orders especially adopted the use of such chaplets, their lay members using them to pray specified arrangements of prayers at certain times of the day as their way of honoring the Divine Office that was prayed by clerical members. Religious communities also began the practice of wearing their chaplets as part of their habit, and others began wearing them as signs of penance or while on pilgrimage.
The use of chaplets remains popular today, especially the Dominican Rosary. This prayer form helps to unite our minds and bodies in prayer, calming and focusing us. Like novenas, however, we need to approach chaplets with the proper understanding and to avoid magical or superstitious thinking. We cannot manipulate God or the saints by saying a certain type or number or arrangement of prayers. Chaplets are composed, not to change God, but to change us, to enkindle and deepen our faith in the truths on which we are meditating and through that to draw us closer to God. Next week we will look at how we can do that by praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Fr. Marc Stockton