Hail Mary: The Rosary and Why I Keep Praying by Marie Cartier

MarieCartierforKCETa-thumb-300x448-72405My mother-in-law is currently in hospice and expected to cross over any time now. My wife is with her. Those two sentences alone—since I am a woman writing this blog—signify historic/herstoric change. I am a woman and I am writing about my mother in law and I am writing that my wife is with her. We are in a sea change regarding gay marriage. I will be allowed bereavement to go with my wife, when the time comes, for the services.

What has not changed in my life is my dependence on traditional prayer. Although I am a witch/Wiccan, have done all kinds of meditation from Transcendental Meditation, and Buddhist chanting, to visualization, spell work, and New Age affirmation—when push comes to shove as they say, I get out the Rosary.


Is it because I am Catholic? Well, of course—or else I might not pray the Rosary at all. But I have dual citizenship with the United States and Ireland. My heritage is both Irish and Canadian. I grew up deeply Catholic—educated in Catholic schools until 10th grade—when I had to leave because of what it costs versus public school (I think that was the reason anyway, not having been given a choice at the time).

I adored the nuns.

And I adored church for the most part—the incense, the rituals, the singing…I was in choir, and I appreciated the form it all gave to my daily life. As an Irish person with a large extended family of relatives (my grandmother came from a family of 17 children born from two mothers) we had no shortage of relatives who were nuns or priests. My uncle was a missionary in the Philippines and China. Family gatherings might have someone in the crowd in religious habit.

My grandmothers both prayed the Rosary. My Irish grandmother had the glow in the dark version on her night post so she could find it easily.

One of the first gifts I remember getting was a purse with a Rosary in it for my first Communion. I remember my Canadian grandmother who was a member of the group of women who cleaned the Church every week, made fresh the flowers, etc. and who then chose to pray the rosary with her friends after their duties were done. And now, as a board member of the Ministry of Gay and Lesbian Catholics at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church—when I do go to Mass (which is not often) I am moved by the women who after Mass choose stay, to pray the Rosary together.

The prayers themselves—the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory be to the Father  —all contain phrases that I find objectionable to my feminist sensibility. For one thing—what is sin? And I don’t believe in a Lord. And the phrase, “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” …? I don’t actually “believe” that I am a sinner. I don’t really believe in “sin” per say and have spent a lot of time analyzing the category sin… who gets to make that category and how harmful categorizing “sin” was/is to LGBT people (Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology Before Stonewall )

Yet—as my mother in law, a wonderful woman who I wish could stay with us longer, goes into her last days, I find myself praying the Rosary. It is comforting. It feels like I am “doing something” when there feels like there is nothing to do. I pray for her to be with us and without pain for a few more days. I pray for closure for my wife. I pray for consciousness and the ability for a little more time together.

In the end—that’s what we want—just a little more time.

I also have been known to drop to my knees in an earthquake and start praying. This does not mean that I don’t have altars to goddesses. I do. I am being ordained in the Southern Californian Temple of Isis this spring…and dedicating myself to the goddesses Freya (Norse warrior Goddess and Goddess of sensual love), Yemaya (Mother Goddess of the Ocean) and Elen of the Ways (the Green Lady and the mysterious guardian of the leys/the only horned goddess, wearing reindeer antlers and a female equivalent to the Green Man). It doesn’t mean that I don’t mediate—I do and have for years, using a variety of forms—most recently a mantra from my yoga teacher. I began meditating my first year in college, and to this day have never told anyone my first mantra as so instructed by my first meditation teachers in Transcendental Meditation.

So—again, why the Rosary? It’s obvious that I have other ways to connect to the sacred—and that I am connected to/ “believe” in other forms of the sacred.

rosary- jewel stonesWhat the Rosary means for me, I think, is that when the big major issues come—I want the Rosary. I turn to it—perhaps like a child. Perhaps in that kind of faith I was taught. . Perhaps like “lighting a candle in the darkness.” Perhaps that is cultural; perhaps it is habit; perhaps it is my heritage; perhaps it is example set by elders at a time when I was very impressionable—and in the end, I’m not so sure I want to even question “the mysteries” of the Rosary too much. Why? I guess, because…often they seem to work.

There are benefits of the Rosary, according to the Virgin Mary – for whom I was named (after my grandmothers). My Irish grandmother’s name was Mary, but I was named “Marie” which is Mary in French to also honor my Canadian grandmother. And, I have always felt close to Mary. As a Catholic school girl we were told Jesus and God were busy—so we should appeal to Mary first. Although this may sound very un-feminist—God is busy! Pray to his Mother!– the idea that praying to Mary can have benefits is hotly contested. I believe the nuns were feminist in many ways for their time—and praying to Mary was a feminist statement for many. It certainly, in retrospect, was for me.

So—I decided to refresh my Catholic school girl theology. What are the supposed benefits of praying the Rosary?

There are officially fifteen. Among them are receiving graces, special protection from the Virgin Mary, “powerful armor” against hell, obtaining for the “soul the abundant mercy of God,” and also the praying soul “recommends itself to Mary by virtue of the Rosary and shall not perish.” Additionally praying the Rosary is supposed to give one the help that one is “never [to] be conquered by misfortune,” and in death the soul will remain “in the grace of God.” Finally, if you pray the Rosary, the Virgin Mary promises that “You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the rosary,” and you “shall be aided by me.”

In terms of God being busy, the Virgin Mary promises that all those who pray the Rosary shall have as their “intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.”

There are misconceptions about the Rosary.

And they are not explicated in the hotlink above to encourage praying the Rosary! This blog is for me an honest appraisal of my own survival strategies. But there are the misconceptions…and there are “official” Church answers to those misconceptions. However the answers that I was searching for were those that analyze how the Rosary is in fact, yes, meditative prayer—and delivers all of the benefits that “meditation” supposedly delivers.

The earliest monks and nuns found that while their hands automatically tossed away a certain number of pebbles, their attention stayed focused on the words of the prayers that they were addressing to heaven, to the exclusion of the world around them, while their minds stayed free to meditate on God’s goodness. Later, people started using strings of beads, which eventually took the form of the rosary beads we know today. Passing a bead through your fingers at every repetition helps ensure that you don’t get lost in hours of meditation, and running out of beads gives you a gentle signal that it’s time to get back to another kind of daily prayer, the prayer of work.

The Rosary is not contradictory to the Bible. Not that I would mind if it was—but as a feminist religious scholar (not however a Biblical scholar) I have witnessed much feminist exegesis and hermeneutics that serve to show how translations of the “Bible” have excluded women. Among one of the best would be Dr. Karen Torjesen’s When Women Were Priests: Women’s Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of the Subordination in the Rise of Early Christianity.

mary graffitThe Rosary is criticized by some as heretical because it elevates Mary. Some Evangelicals say it is blasphemous to call Mary “Holy.” I like to think about that as I pray the 50 verses of “Hail Mary” that all include the words “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” Mary is the “God-bearer.” There is evidence of early Christian graffiti, found in Nazareth, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, which reads Ch-eMaria,” an abbreviation of the Greek, “Chaire Maria”/ “Hail Mary.” This is dated to be between 200-300AD, left by a Greek Christian who visited the site of the Annunciation (Luke 1:28). Exegesis reveals that this was not meant as a greeting, i.e. “Hail.” Luke records Gabriel saying “Chaire Kecharitomenae“/”Hail, Full of Grace” (or “Hail, Perfectly Graced“). But, this is not what the inscription reads. Rather, it addresses Mary by name, showing that this early Christian had a personal devotion to her. It is the earliest record of the Catholic prayer, the “Hail Mary.”

As a Goddess worshiping, fairy (in all meanings of the word) loving, alternative and traditional meditative Catholic Wiccan, I enjoy this link to my lineage.

And finally—the LGBT question and Catholicism. I have been accused of being “ridiculous,” “archaic” and “What’s the matter with you?” by LGBT folks in regards to having a Catholic affiliation. On the other side, I have also been accused by fellow/sister Catholics. “You can’t be both!” “What’s the Goddess got to do with it?” “sinner” and more. In the end—I simply don’t care. As a woman, my whole life has been about creating my own path— one I feel comfortable walking on. A lot has been taken from me—and I don’t throw away what works. I recycle, re-use and re-cast. And so, I have done that with the Catholic Church apparently, and with its traditions, namely that of the Rosary.

As to the LGBT question. Yes—the “official” Church is against us—officially, supposedly.

But, as I said I am a board member of the Ministry of Gay and Lesbian Catholics. I believe in the primacy of conscience. I believe I have free will, as taught to me in first grade by the Notre Dame nuns. So be it. I am baptized. I believe, like Madonna (the Virgin Mary—as well as the singer), that I have free will, and the official Church can’t get rid of me.

When I perform a lesbian wedding I often use Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:14). And the astute hermeneutics in What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality have “saved” the Bible for many LGBT folks and their allies.

A quick Google search will also reveal things unknown (as the World Wide web was unknown!) to a Catholic school girl (me) growing up in the 60s in a small working class New England town. For instance there are explications of Gay Mysteries of the Rosary. And even Gay Rosary beads!

And, yes, keep looking and there are many feminist interpretations of Mary. I especially like Mary as “co-redemptrix” along with Jesus.

And, as I peruse all of these in preparation for this blog, I do “believe.” I believe somewhere a configuration of Higher Power/Saint/Goddess/God/Mother/My Best Self/Angel/Spirit Guide hears my prayers/intentions/affirmations. The Rosary promises that petitions will be regarded as coming “from the Seat of Wisdom,” from the “Motherhood towards all God’s (I would add: Goddess’ Higher Power, etc.) children,” and is the “Mediatrix of all Graces”.

The mystery of intercessory prayer….

rosary= mother in law

Marie’s altar for her mother-in-law

Yes, something in me is ancient and believes. I believe that there is something out there/in here, and I can “call” that something many things. Let God be omniscient and benevolent—and not specific. Let Mary be God/Goddess—and also an emissary if needed. I confirm my faith and somehow it ennobles me. My own personal pathway of prayer…I choose to see it… rather to feel it, as powerful.

As the beads slip through my fingers, I pray for my mother-in-law, for my wife, for my family. This is the fourth parent we have lost this year. It is a time to reach out for me—and so I dive into that deep inward spring which bubbles up and then I move my fingers in chant.

Hail Mary…Holy Mary…Pray for us.


Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

Categories: Belief, Catholicism, Death and Dying, Divine Feminine, Family, General, LGBTQ, Mariology, Mary, Prayer, Spiritual Journey

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

44 replies

  1. Do you mean omniscient or omnipresent?

    My prayer:

    Hail Goddess full of grace,
    Blessed are you,
    And blessed are all the fruits of your womb
    All Holy Mother of All,
    Be with us now,
    And in the hour of our need.

    I too believe there is someone who listens to our prayers and is with us in the hour of our need and all other times as well.


    • carol- that’s a good question– I guess when I “think” about it- I think of god as omnipresent– the nature of god everywhere/all is sacred– but in my feeling towards a god I sense the being god as also omniscient/all knowing…my inner being is known to a higher source…it is the phenomenological construct that is discussed in James that once we begin to interpret the mystery it starts in some ways to disintegrate. Rudolf Otto also, “the idea of the holy.” in the idea I believe god/goddess/higher power to be both omniscient and omnipresent..it’s probably a discussion for me in a later blog– but not necessarily omnipotent as we /humans have free will…thx for your always insightful


  2. Beautiful post! I find it so fascinating how many sacred traditions have rosaries and prayer beads, also Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.

    In the Victoria and Albert Museum in London there’s a fascinating collection of early mediaeval rosaries. Some didn’t have crucifixes, but medals of female saints, like Saint Catherine of Alexandria, on the pendant. It’s such a rich tradition to draw on.

    Lunaea Weatherstone makes beautiful modern rosaries. Maybe you know her work?

    Thanks again for posting this and keeping the tradition alive for modern, progressive women.


    • Oh! I love this! visited the website and may try to buy one of the rosaries. This is a great addition to this conversation– I’d love to attend a service here when next I visit SF.


  3. How far back does the invention of a rosary go? A set of what look like prayer beads was found in an excavation at Vrokastro, a mountainous area in Ancient Crete, and dating back to the early Iron Age, 1200-700 BCE. I’ve studied a picture of the beads (earlywomenmasters.net/demeter/myth_441.html) and you can see the pacing of various phrases, and with a repeated refrain. The beads are differentiated by size and shape, so that as the fingers move through the rosary, bead by bead, the person using them can close their eyes, and still keep track of the chant and the repeat of the refrain.

    The Vrokastro rosary was probably made by a woman. Homer’s Greek Odyssey has some poetry praising the ancient crafts of women artists, where it says —

    “the work of women, dowered in Wisdom —
    to be expert in beautiful work —
    to have good character.”


  4. Fascinating post! Thank you!


  5. Thank you for this. There are many rosary women out there–women of the sacred beads. I discovered this back in the mid-1990s when my book, CIRCLE OF MYSTERIES: THE WOMEN’S ROSARY BOOK, was published, and I traveled here and there giving talks, readings and workshops on the “prayer of the beads.” I came to know many women of various spiritual traditions who practiced the rosary prayer, and like you found nourishment for the soul in being inclusive rather than exclusive in their spiritual practices. Prayer beads are used in so many of the world religions–and Mary’s rosary moves through the simple prayers into 20 profound meditations on the mysteries of women’s lives. No wonder those of us who grew up with this tradition would return to it at those moments of heightened awareness of one or more of those mysteries in our own lives. Conception, birth, child-rearing, death of a loved one, and on and on. Invariably the mysteries lead us to the Heart of Mother Wisdom, as they also led Mary of Nazareth, and work that alchemy that results in discovering that very Sacred and Womanly Heart within our self.


    • beautiful post…thank you so much for sharing. if there are hotlinks connected to the material you mentioned– please post them to add to the conversation


  6. Marie, may your mother in law have peace and a gentle passing free from pain or fear. And may you and your wife find comfort and strength in each other and in many friends and family.

    I’m of the opinion that whatever works to help us center, and grow in compassion and awareness, is to be used with freedom and gratitude. If it produces good fruit, it’s a healthy tree.


    • Thank you, Marie. This was a wonderful, heartfelt, honest post. At age 64 and with several years of I’ll health and family trauma behind me, I too have once again sought and found solace in the rosary prayers. Whether it is age or wisdom or simply a letting go of all the extraneous burdens of how and what to believe and worship and why and why not to worship them, I do not know. I only know that when I am in dire need the comfort comes from where I began, in my childhood faith. Please Google the NASA picture Pillars of Creation. Anything that can make this universe does not care how or why or even whether I seek it. The seeking is for myself- for solace, meaning, and joy in my brief, fragile lifetime on this planet. Blessings of comfort and strength to you and your wife. Again, I thank you for sharing this post.


    • yes- whatever works. agreed. thank you, Barbara. I’m so glad we are in virtual as well as physical community together


  7. What a lovely post! Your journey resonates with my own, as a former Wiccan who has dabbled in many religious traditions. After coming to the realization that there is no single perfect Way to truth, love, and light, I’ve returned to my Catholic roots and I, too, love the Rosary on occasion. Although there are things about the Church that I heartily disagree with, among the aspects that I love are the ritual of the Mass, the mystery of the Trinity, the focus on social justice, and the veneration of Mary. As I’m sure you know, the name Mary is the anglicized version of Miriam. I’ve just posted a little feminist take on Miriam, sister of Moses, on my blog. Please visit and like or comment if you are so inclined. http://seeinggodinart.wordpress.com/

    Blessed Be!


  8. I notice that your rosary doesn’t have that poor, crucified fellow dangling on the end of it. That’s wonderful. Why would people worship torture? That’s not a question I can even begin to answer.

    I have two goddess rosaries, which I bought at a solstice fair here in Long Beach twenty-odd years ago: Green Tara and White Tara. I knew the women who made them, and she had dozens of them, dozens of goddesses. I haven’t heard from her since she moved somewhere else. I’m thrilled to see that the church in San Francisco is making goddess rosaries.

    Any tool we use to help us settle into prayer or meditation is probably a good one.


    • the green and white Tara images would make excellent images of rosaries…no, I don’t’ like/necessarily respond to the crucified Jesus– although I respect that may be the image that some want on their own rosary…yes, I as well am thrilled by the link Carol shared. Blessings


    • Barbara, that poor crucified fellow dangling is a prophet and inspiration to many. He is the Sacred Son of Mary, reflecting the ancient traditions of Mother and Sacred Son (Yes I know you know all this and more!), but that is another Mystery for another discussion. In Her Service, Liz.


      • Thank you for bringing in the connection of mother and sacred Sun… In feminist dialogue we so often talk about mother and daughter and absolutely the connection between mother and son is also important… However one relates to the crucifix may be a very personal decision as is evidenced by the conversation on this on the blog. Thank you for adding to that.


    • Why would people worship torture…..

      Why is there still a Hanged Man in the Tarot?


      • I think the images of Jesus on a crucifix mean so many different things to so many people… But the connections between the hangman in the tarot and Jesus on the crucifix might be an interesting prospect for a blog of your own…?


  9. At a recent WATER meditation led by Cynthia Tootle, an expert on goddesses, we were focused on Kali. The text made me think of the Memorare which several people involved in the meditation spontaneously began to recite! This stuff is deep in the DNA. I was impressed.


    • I have been studying and praying to the Goddess for years. The more I learn about the Goddesses from many times and cultures the more I find they all share certain characteristics we see in Mary: compassion, acceptance, love, nurturing and protectiveness. Catholic officialdom may preach anything they want, but our hearts respond to a diiferent truth: I have a Mother.


    • Agreed- that was something I was trying to get at in the blog and you bring it out here– it is deep in our DNA– agreed. Nice to have you on this thread, Mary. I appreciate your posting.


  10. “Perhaps that is cultural; perhaps it is habit; perhaps it is my heritage; perhaps it is example set by elders at a time when I was very impressionable—and in the end, I’m not so sure I want to even question “the mysteries” of the Rosary too much. Why? I guess, because…often they seem to work.” –

    Thank you thank you thank you Marie for writing this. I too, get great comfort from praying the Rosary, even though I also worship the Goddess in Her many forms. I was embarrassed to tell anyone this for fear of ridicule in the Goddess community. SO glad I am not the only feminist/Goddess gal, also ordained in Women’s Mysteries, who finds SUCH comfort in praying to Mother Mary.


  11. Marie, I was fascinated with the title of this post, so I had to read it. My wife is an occasional practicing catholic, we are both baptized Catholic, but we have branched off as adults into a more obtuse view of faith and religion. I am so refreshed, and in agreement, with your take on religion/faith/deities. It is such a colossal subject with so many passionately different points of view…as we see in our daily news. I believe it is true love and grace to straddle and understand more than one religion, to be open and accepting of the goodness embodied in various belief systems and to accept there is much beyond our comprehension (for now). Thanks for this post.


  12. Thank you for this. I too love Mary still even though I am no longer a practicing Catholic. I consider myself very much hers, up to this day, even though I often call her Ma these days. I feel like I have room to love both forms of her because that is how she came to flow in my life and in my body. And when life makes lemonade, I can’t help but turn to Him as well as Her. Maybe it’s habit but I like to think that I just have room for twice the faith these days.


  13. Loved following your weaving of the old with the new, tradition with breaking away from tradition, attachment and detachment, and the sustaining of customs cherished by family despite the inherent contradictions. I have important childhood memories of my parents that are tied to the saying of the nightly Rosary. Thank you for this post.


  14. Marie Cartier’s essay is in line with my experience as an Irish Catholic woman with 16 years of Catholic education. I too am drawn to the meditative aspect of the Rosary. Over the years I have been humbled by the power of prayer. After years of navigating the need for spiritual community and the drumbeat of patriarchial language I come to rest with using Carole Christ’s “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father” feminized to “Our Mother/Father … Thy Queendom come…”
    In addition I say the Trinitarian prayer as “In the name of the Mother/Father and of the Son and of the daughter Holy Spirit” “Amen” is replaced with “Blessed Be” I am sensitive to the use of the Roman Cross since it is out of balance towards the male as well. An even armed cross on the Rosary brings balance into the Universe for me. With these changes I can say the Rosary and feel peaceful within because i feel that my prayers are in line with a universe that honors and respects the feminine as well as the masculine.

    (See the work of Neil Douglas Klotz analyzing Aramaic and a more nuanced version of “Our Father” The Holy Spirit was/is gendered feminine in Aramaic and Hebrew. “She” became gendered male and normalized as such when Latin was interpreted into English. Travel with Carole Christ in Crete for an understanding of the Herstory of our ancient mothers and the importance of celebrating the feminine in our prayers, thoughts, words and actions.)


    • As I read your post, Marie, I felt so validated, so happy, so–dare I say?–relieved. Like Liz, who replied earlier, I have kept my devotion to Mary and my praying of the Rosary a secret to all but a few trusted friends and my sister. I lapsed early, at 15 with a growing feminist consciousness. But I returned to Mary when I had a child and my son’s father became abusive, and I needed grace in order to take my boy and escape. Twenty-five years later, I am still praying the Rosary as a way to stay grounded and present in my life. It is my meditation, too. Ironically, since TS Eliot was a man and in many ways not what I would call “enlightened,” I also pray part of his poem “Ash Wednesday,” the end of the last section:
      Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
      of the garden,
      Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
      Teach us to care and not to care
      Teach us to sit still
      Even among these rocks,
      Our peace in His will
      And even among these rocks
      Sister, mother
      And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
      Suffer me not to be separated

      And let my cry come unto Thee.


    • thank you so much for this post!! beautiful addition


    • thank you for posting! and thank you for posting carole christ’s “hail mary” here


  15. This post is awesome, thank you so much. As another LGBT witchy Catholic, I really didn’t know there were more of us out there so it’s soooo lovely to read this. I think people like you and others with intersectional views on spirituality energise our faith and keep it fresh, so that God/The Goddess/Whatever you choose to call your connection to the divine stays alive and inspires our hearts. Thank you!


  16. Nice share


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