The use of beads to number one’s prayers is one of the oldest forms of devotion. It is most ancient, both among Christians and among pagans. It is commonly admitted, however, that the Christian practice became popular around the time of St. Dominic, who, at the inspiration of the Mother of God, introduced and propagated the Rosary.
The Church since has approved a large number of different beads. Most of them were introduced and fostered among the faithful by variius religious orders, in order to? spread their particular devotioni Thus, the Servites have the Sevens Dolor Beads, the Cozier Fathers; have the Crozier Beads, the Brigittines have the Brigittine Beads. Ini the same way, we have the Chaplet of the Five Wounds, as a means to promote devotion to the Passion of Christ in the hearts of the faithful. The Five Wound Beads has been approved, directly and indirectly, by several Popes, and has been enriched with special indulgences.
The first mention of the Five Wound Beads in the documents of the Congregation appears in 1821. The Platea of Saints John and Paul, at Rome, relates that “The Most Reverend Father General, acting in accordance with our spirit to promote devotion to the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, obtained permission to bless the Chaplet of the Five Wounds, at the same time enriching it with indulgences. He purchased dies and had the medals stamped, at the same time he printed several thousand leaflets containing short affective prayers in honor of the Holy Wounds. These leaflets, beads and medals he has distributed among the Missionaries, especially, in order that they may give them to the faithful, and promote this salutary devotion in every possible manner.”
The Chaplet of the Five Wounds was first approved by a Decree of Pope Pius VII, dated 22 January 1822. According to this earliest form, the Beads consisted of five sections, and each section consisted of five beads, on each of which was said an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father. Between each of the five sections, one Hail Mary was said in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows.
In this form the Chaplet of the Five Wounds was found too long. To render its use somewhat easier, the Father General of the Congregation asked Pope Leo XII, viva voce, that, without losing the indulgences, it might henceforth suffice to say only a Glory be to the Father on each bead, with a Hail Mary between the sections. Witness to this concession exists in the Platea of Saints John and Paul. “After the election of Cardinal Delia Genga, the Cardinal Vicar, to the Pontificate under the name of Leo XII, the Most Reverend Father General, together with his Consultor, Father Luke, went to call upon him. His Holiness received them with evident affection. Later, when the Holy Father came to San Gregorio, during the Octave of All Souls, the whole religious community went to kiss his feet in the Monks’ sacristy. Again the Pope expressed the affectionate esteem he had for the Congregation. Then, in the hope of facilitating (the use of the Five Wound Beads) and thus promoting more widely the devotion to the Passion of Our Lord, the General besought and obtained his wish that, it be sufficient to recite five Glory be to the Fathers and one Hail Mary on each section of the Beads in order to gain the indulgences attached to their recitation.”
This concession of Pope Leo XII, rendering the recitation of the Five Wound Beads much easier and shorter, was later expressed in the Decree of approval of the same Pontiff. It is dated 20 December 1823 and contains a quasi-definition of the Chaplet, in these words: “This Chaplet is a formula of prayer containing five sections of five beads each. On each bead one Glory be to the Father is said, and between the sections one Hail Mary in honor of the Sorrowful Virgin. During each of the sections the Wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ are piously meditated upon.”
This manner of saying the Five Wound Beads, approved by Leo XII in 1823, has not changed up to the present time. The later Decree of Pope Pius IX concerns only the Indulgences, leaving the Beads themselves untouched.
It will be noticed that Pope Leo XII’s descriptive definition makes no mention of either the medals we customarily find attached to the beads or the three added beads at the beginning of the Chaplet. Since these latter are nowhere mentioned, we infer that they are not necessary to gain the Indulgences attached to the recitation of the Five Wound Beads. In regard to the familiar medals, we definitely know that they are not required. These medals, depicting the wounds of Christ and, on their reverse side, Our Lady of Sorrows, have been used from the very first to separate the different sections of the Beads and distinguish them. However, there is an autographed declaration of the Father General, Anthony of Saint Joseph, added to the Decree of Pope Leo XII, stating, on the authority of the same Pontiff, that the presence of the medals was not required either for the blessing or for gaining the indulgences.
During the recitation of the Five Wound Beads, it is required that one meditate on the Wounds of Our Lord. This meditation is necessary in order to gain the indulgences, as we draw from the Decree of Pope Leo XII.6 It was in order to render this meditation easier for the faithful that the General, Paul Aloysius of the Virgin Mary, printed short prayers in honor of the Five Wounds, though it is evident from the Decree that such prayers were not specified in order to gain the indulgences.
While on the subject of the meditation necessary while reciting the Beads, it is well to mention that the documents make no mention of any definite order in which the Wounds of Our Lord are to be recalled. Ordinarily we find that the medals are so arranged that we meditate first on the Wounds in the Left Foot of Our Blessed Saviour, then on that in His Right Foot. Third and fourth place are given to the Wounds in the Left and Right Hand Respectively. The Fifth Wound is the Wound in the Sacred Side. Obviously, however, this order is not prescribed that the indulgences be gained.
What these indulgences are we draw from two Pontifical Decrees, both of which have been mentioned above: that of Pope Leo XII, of 20 December 1823, and that of Pope Pius IX of 11 August 1851. These two Decrees list the following indulgences
I. A Plenary Indulgence, once a day, be gained:
a) On one Friday during the month of March, by those who have recited the Beads at least ten times during the same month.
b) On the Feasts of the Finding and Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Nativity of Our Lord, the Epiphany, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, the Resurrection, Ascension, Corpus Christi and the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, or during their Octaves, by those who have recited the Beads devoutly at least ten times during the each month.
c) On the day on which they fulfill their Easter Duty, by those who recite the Beads during the time from Passion Sunday to Holy Saturday inclusively.
All the above indulgences require, furthermore, the general conditions of Confession, Holy Communion, visit to some Church or public oratory and prayer for the intention of the Pope.
II. A Partial Indulgence of:
a) Seven years and seven quarantines, each day from Passion Sunday to Holy Saturday inclusively, under the usual conditions, by those who recite the Beads devoutly.
b) One year, once a day, during all the rest of the year, by those who have recited the Beads devoutly, and with sorrow of heart. All the indulgences attached to the recitation of the Five Wound Beads may be gained for oneself, or applied to the Suffering Souls in Purgatory.
In order that the Beads may be blessed, or that one gain the indulgences attached to the recitation of the Five Wound Beads, it is required that:
a) The Beads be blessed by the General of the Congregation, or by some other priest of the same Congregation delegated by him. This delegation is today given to all the Fathers, as is evident from the Passionist Collectio Facultatum et Indulgentiarum, n. 26.
b) The Beads be made in the form prescribed by the Church, i.e., that they be arranged in five sections of five beads each, and that the beads be made of some solid material, such as iron, wood, ebony, coral, etc . . . connected by a solid cord or wire. Those likewise may be blessed which are made of solid glass, but not those (glass) which are hollow.
c) If the connection is broken, whether deliberately, so that the beads can again be connected by chain, or indeliberately and accidentally, the Beads do not lose their blessing or indulgences, since they maintain their same moral form.
d) The condition on the part of the person gaining the indulgences, that he meditate on the Wounds of Our Crucified Saviour, has already been mentioned.
FACULTY TO BLESS
The Decree of Pope Leo XII, 20 December 1823, gave the Father General of the Congregation the power to delegate this faculty only to priests of our Congregation.9 Later on, however, when the devotion began to spread, through the zeal of the Missionaries, the General received permission to sub-delegate other priests than Passionists in those places where we had no houses. This faculty, first given in 1826 for seven years, later renewed several times, finally became perpetual through a Rescript of Pope Pius X on 18 May 1907.
In 1933, by the general decree “Consilium suum persequens,” the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary rescinded this faculty. This sweeping decree, framed at “the express order of our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII,” states that “for the future, the privileges of certain Orders and religious Congregations to bless beads and enrich them with indulgences may be used by the members of the same Orders and Congregations personally only, and do not belong to them in such a manner that they can grant them also to other priests who do not belong to the same Orders or religious Congregations…” Henceforth “all these faculties, necessary for the use of such privileges, can be obtained only from the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary, with the presentation of special letters of commendation from one’s own Ordinary.”
RITE OF BLESSING
The Rite of Blessing the Five Wound Beads is a very short one, but there is no obligation to make use of it. A single sign of the Cross suffices, both for the blessing and the application of the indulgences.
The Passionist Collectio Caeremoniarum et Precum contains the following rite. As in this case, where no special stole in indicated, the general rule is that in all blessings outside the Mass, the priest puts on at least a surplice and a stole of the color of the day.
V. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit coelum et terram.
V. Dominus vobiscum.
R. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Rogamus te, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus, ut has Coronas quinque vulnerum dilectissimi Filii tui Domini nostri Jesu Christi bene * dicere digneris, ut qui eas recitaverint, meritis Passionis ejusdem Filii tui, gratiam in praesenti et aeternam gloriam obtineant in futurum. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum.
The beads are then sprinkled with holy water.
BEADS IN OTHER PRIVILEGES
The recitation of the Five Wound Beads enters into other privileges in the Passionist Collectio Facultatum et Indulgentiarum.
The first applies only to the Missionaries. No. 91 says that “as often as we have the privilege to recite the Small Office, we may commute it to the recitation of five decades of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Five Wound Beads.” The Collectio indicates that the Father General, using his power to interpret and moderate our Privileges, has limited the use of this privilege to “during the time of the Mission only.” This means that during the time of the Mission, (No. 88) the Missionary may, with the permission of the Superior of the Mission, commute his Little Office to the recitation of five decades of the Rosary and the Five Wound Beads.
The second applies to all the members of the Congregation who are bound to the Office. No. 92 says that “All the religious of our Congregation can recite, in place of the Office of the day, five decades of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Seven Dolor Beads and the Five Wound Beads, as often as they travel for seven or eight hours during the day.”
NEW BEADS CONDEMNED
It is well to note here that the recent (1939) decree of the Holy Office condemning a certain “Rosary of the Holy Wounds,” does not refer to our Passionist Five Wound Beads. This is evident from the fact that the Cardinals of the Holy Office, in their decree forbidding the new Rosary, were following out an earlier decree, of 26 May 1937, “de novis cultus seu devotionis formulis non introducendis, deque inolitis in re abusibus tollendis.” On the other hand, our Five Wound Beads has been approved by special documents by the Holy See, and is found in the Collection of Prayers and Pious Works, n. 96, which the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences declared genuine and authentic by its decree of 23 June 1898. In the latest authentic collection, edited by the Sacred Penitentiary on 31 December 1937, there is no mention of the Five Wound Beads, because this collection excludes indulgences “the gaining of which require the blessing of some priest, whether regular or secular, imparted to the object of piety.”
The decree of the Holy Office, therefore, seems to refer to a certain new form of devotion, called the Rosary of the Holy Wounds or the Rosary of Mercy. This new Chaplet, consisting of ejaculatory prayers only, and claiming many magnificent promises from God, was achieving much publicity during the period shortly before the decree.
From all that has been said, it is evident that the Five Wound Beads is a very practical means of pursuing the purpose for which it was instituted—promoting devotion to the Passion of Our Divine Lord. The time required to recite the Beads is very short, and the meditation required is very simple, because of the very specific nature of its object—the Five Wounds. Moreover, the indulgences attached to the recitation of the Beads are not unattractive. Nevertheless, it seems that, in this country at least, this Passionist devotion is at a comparatively low ebb. Undoubtedly this is due in part to the ever increasing interest in the Rosary of Our Blessed Lady, with which the Five Wound Beads was never meant to compete. It may be due also to a lack of interest in the Beads, or even to ignorance on the part of many of us. Whatever the cause, a little zeal will show us what an excellent means we have to spread devotion to the Passion and Sufferings of Christ.