The Anal-Erotic Origins
of the Rosary
In one of the many critical essays that he wrote on popular Catholic devotions, Herbert Thurston, S.J, ( 1900d, 403) called the Rosary "the most widely spread and the most highly prized of all our modern popular devotions." 1 A later Catholic commentator, though just as willing as Thurston to be critical of some Rosary traditions, nevetheless felt compelled to begin his own study of the Rosary with an even more elegant panegyric: "The Rosary ... is the most satisfyingly complete form of Christian prayer outside the Mass and the Divine Office ... Every Catholic knows it, and probably most Catholics say it ... It is a staple prayer, the daily bread of devotion, on which the humble faithful nourish their spiritual lives ... It is a golden chain of praise and petition by which we go to God as God came to us, through His Blessed Mother" ( Shaw 1954, vii). In her survey of the twenty-three most popular Catholic prayer books published in the United States in the period 1770-1880, Taves ( 1986, 24-5) found that virtually all of them mentioned the Rosary, and that no other devotion came close to being mentioned as often as the Rosary. 2 As recently as the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was common practice in many Catholic elementary schools throughout North America for the students to say the Rosary collectively at least once a day. 3 It was also common (and in some places still is) for Rosary beads to be entwined around the fingers of Catholic corpses lying in state, so that "praying the Rosary" was for many Catholics — at least superficially — their very last religious devotion. Finally, terms like "bead‐ snappers" and "bead-clackers" have long been used to denigrate Catholics (at least in the United States and Canada), thus indicating that non-Catholics also recognize, however unintentionally, the importance of the Rosary to lay Catholics. Like so many other popular Catholic devotions, the Rosary has declined in popularity since Vatican II. But even as late as the 1970s a survey conducted among a national sample of us Catholics found that 36 per cent of those surveyed had prayed the Rosary in the preceding thirty days (see Gallup and Polling 1980, Table H).