Catholic Critique of the New Age - Dodgy Rosaries?

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Is it possible that apparently innocuous Catholic sacramentals, such as rosaries (see PrayerfulWoman and HiCatholicMom) and so-called "miraculous medals", can actually be New Age artefacts? Sometimes I am asked about such claims.

Three things could potentially corrupt what is apparently a Catholic Sacramental.

  • Explicit imagery which can only have a pagan or New Age interpretation;
  • Ambiguous imagery which was put in by a designer who INTENDED a pagan or New Age interpretation;
  • Some kind of occult ritual being performed over the objects.

    The rosaries in question do indeed show a serpent coiled around a pole and have pentagons at the end of the four arms of the cross. I wonder what the designer intended?

    In the Book of Numbers, 21:6, God commands Moses to make a bronze serpent on a pole, through which God miraculously heals those Israelites bitten by poisonous snakes. In the Gospel According to John, 3:14, Jesus uses that serpent as a prototype of his own being lifted up on the Cross so that the whole of humanity can be healed from sin. The Numbers reading is the First Reading on the liturgical feast of the Triumph of the Cross, September 14th. We may be rather uncomfortable with a serpent - a Biblical symbol of temptation - being a prototype of Christ Our Saviour; but it is clearly used by Jesus Himself, so it is a legitimate image.

    A pentagon has five sides. There are five mysteries in each decade of the Rosary. Christ is traditionally reckoned to have suffered five wounds on the Cross. The circles inside the pentagons form a design which looks rather like roses - appropriate for a rosary. Any or all of these things may have been on the designer's mind when the mould for this crucifix was crafted.

    The bottom line: Does this crucifix bear any symbols which are unambigously pagan or New Age? No.

    Does this crucifix have symbols which are totally explainable by Christian traditions? Yes.

    Was it the intent of the designer to depict something Christian or something New Age? Only the designer knows.

    My best guess, therefore, is that someone has looked carefully at these crucifixes, seen serpents and pentagons, leaped to the conclusion that these must have a New Age explanation, and now their unwarrented concern is doing the rounds of the Internet. If this is the only reason that there is concern about these rosaries, then there is no reason at all to worry.

    If any reader has any evidence OTHER than the design that there is some New Age intent behind these rosaries, please contact me in complete confidence and I will revise this advice accordingly.

    Revd Dr Gareth Leyshon, 28 September 2009.

    leyshon dot gareth at r c a d c dot org

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