I have never belonged to a gang, unless you count the Powerpuff Girls-inspired enterprise that I was briefly associated with in 2nd grade. I have never popped a cap in anyone’s a** and no one I know has been shot on the street in a drive-by. None of this apparently would matter to school administrators in Texas. It turns out that rosary beads are a gang-related symbol.
Rosary beads are used by Catholics in the devotion simply referred to as the “Rosary”, an 800-year-old devotion recited millions of times a day around the globe. The devotion consists of praying the joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and luminous mysteries, which are groups of five mysteries each. To a non-Catholic, the rosary may seem complex and the link between the prayer and the beads may be unclear. The beads simply act as a sort of counting tool during the prayer. The rosary starts with one Our Father, three Hail Marys, and one Glory Be. These five prayers of preparation are represented by the five beads connected to the end of the rosary nearest the cross. From there, you encounter five sets of ten beads called “decades.” The prayer consists of praying to the five mysteries of each group. For example, the joyful mysteries consist of The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The Presentation, and The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Traditionally groups of mysteries are assigned to a day of the week, so the joyful mysteries are recited on Mondays and Thursdays. When praying the mysteries, we start with an Our Father, which is said on the large bead (sometimes this is also a small sort of medallion) at the start of each decade. Then 10 Hail Marys are said for each decade, or mystery. At the end of each decade, a Glory Be is said, before saying the Our Father on the next large bead or medallion. At the end of all the mysteries, the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) is usually sung (I sing it, quietly, in Latin) or the Rosary Prayer is recited. If you look at the rosary, you will see five large beads (or small medallions), and 55 small beads representing the total of all the prayers I described.
So why do Catholics do this? For practical purposes, if the rosary is prayed before the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it gains a plenary indulgence which is a remission of the punishment in Purgatory for sins that have been confessed and absolved but for which penance has not been completely exercised. More importantly, the rosary is participation in the life of Mary, a way of venerating the one who lived closest to Christ and who hears and assists us in heaven due to her special relationship with our Lord.
Rosary beads are not intended to be worn as jewelry, however there is no Church prohibition of doing so. I don’t agree with these students wearing them as a devotion to anyone except Mary, but I can’t judge their entire intentions nor can school administrators. What is important is that rosary beads represent an extremely important part of our prayer life and prohibiting them is a clear violation of the separation of Church and State, especially if non-Catholic Christian students are not also prohibited from wearing a cross or Jewish students from wearing a yarmulke, or Muslim students from wearing a hijab. What is even more concerning is the stunning ignorance and bigotry demonstrated by these school administrators in thinking that a rosary is a symbol of a criminal gang. I generally expect stupidity from public schools, but this surprised me. If I ever go to Texas, I will be sure not to let anyone see my Catholic version of the Bible. We are apparently as unwelcome there as anyone else who doesn’t fit into their ignorant view of what everyone should look like and wear.