Thursday, November 13, 2003

learning to pray

My mother prays the rosary every day. I've seen her do it. She manages to kneel erect for a good 30 minutes without fidgeting without moving, as if she has found the perfect lotus position balanced on her two knees.

I myself didn't really learn the Rosary until a few years ago when my grandfather died. By Filipino Catholic tradition, the rosary is prayed every day for 9 days after the death, then on the 40th day. But my mom insisted we pray it every day for 40 days. We were too old for her to drag to church every Sunday but she knew, we'd do it for grandpa.

Now, I had heard that supposedly, the Catholic church made the rosary longer by adding a glorious mystery. My friend's sister who works in the church told him that when their mother died. His father looked at her and said "we are not doing it the 'new' way." Filipinos like church, but sometimes we like tradition better.

For those of you that don't know the rosary, it consists of (I think) 5 glorious mysteries as denoted by each of the large beads. At each large bead you say an "Our Father" prayer, at each of the smaller beads in between a "Hail Mary." There's about 9 of those after each of the large beads. In a group setting, there is usually a lead prayer who reads off each of the glorious mysteries, then says half of the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" prayers. It's basically a call and response. At the end of each, there is another prayer:

Oh, my Jesus, save us from our sins and save us from the fires of hell especially those in most need of your mercy. Grant this unto (name of person you're praying for) and may the perpetual light shine upon them. Amen.

OK, so I'm not in total agreement in the understanding of what exactly is a sin and exactly what the fires of hell mean. But there's something ridiculously comforting about asking for a perpetual light to shine upon them. There's something peaceful and gentle, as if the golden light of sunset is set upon them, that there is no night no darkness, but an unending glow. It's very angelic.

My brother is the king of rosary leading. He swept through it in 15 minutes. whew! See, usually, in order to "encourage" people to come and pray, you pray, then you get to eat. No pray, no eat. Thus, the faster you get through it the faster you get to eating. Though in my family, we've kind of broken that rule since we'd much rather have people be able to focus on the praying rather than focus on the smell of lumpia wafting in from the kitchen. I mean, you really don't want people to start saying stuff like, "and save us from the fires of the lechon," now do you?

There are ways of making it longer by slipping in all sorts of prayer just before the last amen. Usually they add the Litany which is a list of the number of ways to describe the Holy Mary: mother of God, Queen of queens, etc. The list is two pages long! After each, the group says "pray for us." I like this part too. I like the idea that this woman has so many names, identities, faces. That feels right.

The funny part of rosaries at wakes is the row of aunties that sit in the 3rd or 4th row and all they do is critique the way the rosary is being done. They might as well have score cards. "she's going too fast" "she's going too slow" "oh, see, she skipped a line." They are worst than the figure skating judges in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

I remember hearing Jaime Jacinto read his variation of the rosary's litany. I wish I had a printed copy of that poem. Instead here's an excerpt from "Heaven is Just Another Country" from the book by the same name:

Tonight, you say,
heaven is just another country,
and getting there is no harder
than that trip 40 years back,
on your first airplane ride to America
when you sang and prayed
like your own son beside you
because far below there was
nothing but blue sea
and the empty sky
that brought us here.

No comments: