A reader writes:
I’ve noticed it’s becoming increasingly popular amongst women and girls, pious or otherwise (e.g. Brittany Spears). Is it considered irreverent for a person to wear a rosary around the neck? I thought I read a statement from Pope John Paul II on this a couple of years ago (asking women not to wear rosaries as adornment), but am at a loss to find it.
I’m pretty sure that there isn’t such a quote. Certainly, I have never run across one, and it does not sound to me like the kind of thing that John Paul II would say.
The reason is that–as pope–he had to oversee a Church spanning countless cultures, with different sensibilities, and with numerous different spiritualities.
How one shows reverence for something is largely a cultural matter. One can show it, among other ways, by proximity or by distance.
For example, we show devotion to the saints, and many people show it by wearing small blessed pictures (medals) of them. This is a way of showing devotion to the saints by keeping reminder of them on our person and–in some cases–where other people can see the pictures (medals), making this devotion also a form of public testimony.
But I can imagine a culture in which people want to do the opposite. "No blessed object should be worn on the body," they might say. "The only role for a blessed picture of a saint is as an icon hanging on a wall–not on one’s person!" These people would be attemting to show their devotion by distance.
Neither of these positions would be wrong. Showing devotion by proximity or by distance are both ways of showing devotion. Unless the Church weighs in to mandate a particular devotion, it remains a matter of culture and personal preference.
In the case of the liturgy, the Church has mandated certain forms of showing devotion. We are to stand for the reading of the gospel and kneel for the consecration, for example. In the liturgy–in part because it is a communal activity (one where we all participate in the liturgical action as a group)–how we show our devotion is significantly regulated by the Church’s liturgical law.
But the Church hasn’t been anywhere near that specific when it comes to non-liturgical matters, like the sacramentals and the Rosary.
Whether it is to one’s personal taste that some people want to show their devotion to Mary by wearing a Rosary, this is a matter that–so far as I can tell–the Church has left up to individuals.
Those who favor the practice could also argue that wearing a Rosary–even a blessed one–as a way of showing one’s devotion to Mary is not different in principle than wearing a picture (medal) of Mary–even a blessed one.
My inclination, therefore, would be to take a Pauline approach to this and note it as a matter of Christian liberty. People on both sides of the Rosary-wearing divide should recognize that others’ sensibilities are not the same as theirs, that different people have different ways of showing their devotion, and neither should look down on the other.