Month: October 2016

The Romanov Sisters

The bulk of my personal reading time last month went to a book about Russian history: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. I’ve been wanting to read more history for awhile — and failing to. This book however has the pace and human interest of a novel. One of Rappaport’s stated goals was to bring the characters of the four daughters of the last Imperial family of Russia out of their brother’s shadow and into clear focus. She sought to extricate them as individuals from the family group and from “hagiography” that erases human vividness. To do this, she drew richly on personal letters and diaries. In the process, she also gives a wonderfully sharp portrait of their parents — and their brother too. (For me, in many ways, he even remained the most compelling character among a cast of characters each thoroughly compelling.)

I fell completely in love with the entire family. Rappaport struck me as more critical of Alexandra, the mother, than of the others, but I found her intensely sympathetic and the criticisms, one and all, beside the point.

The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the whole family. One can look at that with skepticism but I was convinced, by this deliberately non-hagiographic account, of their real sanctity. They were spiritual relatives of the Martin family (what might have happened if Louis Martin had been on earth the King he was in his daughter’s eyes). And the only possible consolation for the wrongness of their murders will be to see them reign with Jesus King of Kings forever.

Mrs. Aldertree

The Bat-Poet

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Since reading Stellaluna a few weeks ago, my girls have been on a bat frenzy. Thankfully, I found The Bat-Poet and it seems to have satisfied their longings for bat stories- They loved it.

The Bat-Poet is a  wonderful little tale about a bat who, inspired by the Mockingbird’s songs, becomes a poet (a rather good one). Randall Jarrell, who was best known for his literary criticism but was also a poet himself, subtly explores the nature of poetry through the bat’s endeavors. It’s a thoughtful story and reads aloud nicely.

Of course, one can’t fail to mention Maurice Sendak’s contributions. His illustrations capture Jarrell’s tone perfectly and bring the story to life in the way only Maurice Sendak can. Their talented alliance created the perfect addition to our fall reading list. 

-Mrs. Cooper

Rosary Booklets

From time to time in your rosary-praying life, you may experience the need or desire for bead-by-bead Scriptural accompaniment, to focus your meditations. Or if you’ve used a single book to provide such accompaniment for awhile, you may be ready for a new way of looking at the mysteries. Having used several such booklets over the years, I’m happy to share my experience with some of my favorites.

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Scriptural Rosary, published by Christianica.

This anonymously authored prayer booklet deserves to be called a classic. It is a beautiful object, a small hardcover volume, with a blue and white paper wrapper, wood-cut illustrations. There is an introduction with some of the history of the rosary and then pages devoted to each set of mysteries. For the most part, the verses cling closely to the relevant passages in the Gospels, which makes it an ideal book for beginners. I have a preference for older versions of the book, before the addition of the luminous mysteries. I find that the three older sets of mysteries “pray better” in this presentation; I love especially the 1st, 4th, and 5th sorrowful mysteries and the 4th and 5th glorious. Among the luminous mysteries, I remember liking the verses selected for the third, which included some shorter parables of the kingdom.

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Rosary of Praise, Larry and Connie London

If you are ready to add verses from elsewhere in the Scriptures into your Gospel meditations, you might consider this small volume. Gospel verses alternate with verses from psalms, prophets, wisdom literature, and New Testament epistles, all in the Douay-Rheims translation. Each day of the week is given its own selection of verses, so there are two options for each of the original three sets of mysteries. However, since, for example, the gospel story of the Nativity is “broken up” over the meditations provided for Monday and Saturday, only the meditation for Monday contains the central moment of the birth of Jesus. I found myself mixing and matching across the days to include those “central moments” for each mystery. Apart from the awkwardness of that, I loved the verses, the musicality of the translation, and the authors’ governing vision of Mary as our prayer partner in praising God.

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A Scriptural Rosary, Marianne Lorraine Trouve

This book is put out by the Daughters of St. Paul. In large part, the verses selected follow the Gospel accounts. However, a quote from a Church document or from the writings of Pope John Paul the Second introduces each mystery. You get verses from the Gospels that other Scriptural rosary books tend to pass over (for example, the prophetess Anna is included in the meditation on the Presentation). The verses chosen from other parts of the Bible subtly emphasize the nuptial dimension of the Christian mystery. The booklet is illustrated with stained-glass style pictures. Sometimes the chronological order of the events gets scrambled in the arrangement of the verses (in the 1st luminous or in the 2nd and 3rd sorrowful mysteries).

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Pearls of Peace: A Rosary Journey Through the Holy Land, Christine Haapala

This is a larger size book than the others, paperback, somewhat smaller than a magazine and about as thick. It includes photos of Jerusalem and Holy Land pilgrimage sites to go with each mystery. Apart from the introductory “Our Father” meditation for each mystery, which usually includes a verse from the relevant Gospel story, the verses for each Hail Mary are taken from the epistles. Sometimes it takes a little thinking to see the connection between the verses and the mystery being prayed. (With some of them, I still don’t see the connection!) You can hear some very beautiful harmonies across Scripture this way. Drawbacks are the use of the the NAB translation and some verses suffering from being removed from their context or not being quoted in full.

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The Psalter of Jesus and Mary, Christine Haapala

The original concept of this book was to match each Hail Mary in the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries with a verse from one of the 150 Psalms. The first Hail Mary in the first joyful mystery is assigned a verse from Psalm 1 and so on. Some of these verse choices are stunningly appropriate, others seemed forced or have a very obscure link to the mystery. The book was expanded to include verses from Proverbs for the luminous mysteries. The luminous mysteries may be my favorite set in the book! Fine antique engravings by von Carolsfeld fittingly illustrate the book and further emphasize Old Testament types fulfilled in Jesus.

-Mrs. Aldertree

Little Rosary Books

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Despite being baptized Catholic and receiving first communion, my first memory of a rosary was when my little sister was born. I was eight. A friend of the family gave my sister a large colorful wooden rosary as a baptismal gift. I was fascinated by it. What is it? I asked. I believe I shocked my mother, It’s a rosary! I didn’t know what that meant. A what?  A rosary, For praying. I had no idea how praying the rosary was done or why you needed beads for it but I stopped inquiring, I had embarrassed my mother. The rosary hung on my sister’s crib.

I didn’t learn how to pray the rosary until much later, confirmation age. I don’t remember being taught how to pray it, I learned from little booklets. The beads became a great comfort to me. I would finger them as I prayed, their smoothness soothed and their rhythmic clank seemed to croon with forgotten prayers. Yet it was these little rosary booklets that brought the beads- mysteries, to life for me. They informed and anchored my prayer. With a rosary book in hand I was able to overcome distractions and return to the sanctuary of meditating. And the good ones deepened my understanding of the sacred mysteries and my prayer life.

I have always loved the paintings which depict our Blessed Mother reading. I find these images so striking because they successfully portray Mary as a woman of prayer and study, of Meditation and action. They also render her humanity in a way bare feet can’t, Mary read. How beautiful it is to have the written word aid and center our prayer, for what are we meditating on but the Word made flesh.

And isn’t Mary’s heart not a book itself? “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” Luke 2:19.   I’ve always pictured her heart containing tender moments with the infant Jesus, the Christ Child, The God-Man,  both the joys and sorrows so close to one another! Rev. E. K. Lynch in his book The Scapular of Carmel describes Mary’s heart as a  “living library of every word that came to her from God.” This passage immediately brought to mind the poet’s, Jorge Luis Borge, words, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” And when I pray the rosary and rest a little, unassuming rosary booklet on my lap, I am looking into Mary’s heart- a book laid bare,  I contemplate it all, her Psalter.

 

-Mrs. Cooper