I’ve got a teenaged niece who wears her grandmother’s rosary like a necklace. I’m pretty sure when Nana Bea died she didn’t mean for her hipster granddaughter to wear that rosary “ironically.” I told my niece that the rosary is meant to be prayed not worn, but she continues to wear it like a pretty piece of jewelry. I told my sister, her mom, that I thought she should take it away until she’s older and more mature about handling an heirloom like that. It drives me crazy to see people wearing rosaries like jewelry and it’s especially irritating that my niece is doing it. How can I convince her that she shouldn’t be wearing Nana Bea’s rosary?
I tell you what, wearing a rosary like a piece of jewelry used to be a huge pet peeve of mine. Like you, I viewed it as disrespectful. Then one day while talking with a friend of mine I was reminded that not only is the rosary a powerful tool for prayer, it’s also a powerful tool for evangelization and, most importantly, conversion.
This friend, a Catholic deacon, worked in the ER and saw folks from all walks of life. He noticed quite a few people would come in wearing religious jewelry and rosaries. Eventually he started to ask his patients wearing rosaries if they were Catholic and he noticed most of those who did wear them were not. David Beckham’s Dolce & Gabbana rosary and Nicole Richie’s rosary tattoo defined the rosary as a fashion accessory in popular culture instead of the powerful spiritual weapon that it is. Now he could have let this blatant religious appropriation bother him, like it would have bothered me, but he decided to turn those moments in the ER into moments of evangelization. He bought a bunch of rosary holy cards and kept them in his pocket to hand out. If a patient had a rosary on but wasn’t Catholic he’d ask them if they would like to know how the rosary is really used. If they said yes, he’d give them the holy card. St. Dominic would have been so proud.
Another friend of mine openly prays the rosary every morning on his metro commute. He said he’s often asked about the rosary by fellow commuters and has started carrying extra ones with him to give out. You know what prompted him to start this habit? Seeing another commuter wearing a rosary as a necklace. He thought he’d take his out and pray it so the other passenger could see the rosary’s proper function.
The rosary was also important in my own conversion. Back in the day, when I was a holy tongues of fire Pentecostal, a little old Dominican nun gave me a rosary and a pamphlet on how to pray it. I started to pray the rosary every day with Mother Angelica on EWTN and a year later I was on my way to converting to Catholicism.
My point is, instead of trying to convince your niece to give up her Nana Bea’s rosary, offer to teach her how to pray it. If she declines, then pray your own rosary for her conversion. Also consider that your niece is wearing the rosary to feel close to her Nana. Talk to her about that. Maybe she just misses her grandmother. If that’s the case then offering to teach her the rosary can be a way for her to feel connected to her grandmother.
There’s a lesson in here for everyone. Don’t assume a person wearing a rosary as a necklace is doing so out of disrespect or even ignorance. In fact, a lot of very devout and practicing Catholics of Hispanic heritage wear the rosary in the same way that most of us wear medals and the crucifix around our necks.
If you see someone wearing a rosary around their neck let that be an opportunity for evangelization. If that’s outside your comfort zone then pray for the wearer’s conversion. Never underestimate the power of the rosary and the intercession of Our Blessed Mother.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Is it alright to wear a Rosary around your neck?]