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Before I proceed in explaining what the Skull Rosary is, I will explain what the Skull Rosary is NOT!

what the skull rosary is not

It is not something that is to be worn around your neck for fashion. It is not a good luck charm that hangs around the rear-view mirror in your truck. And it is DEFINITLY NOT associated with “La Santa Muerte” devotion that is plaguing Mexico. Nor is it associated with Santeria. Please! Need not buy if your desire corresponds to any of these (or others that I missed).

What the Skull Rosary is in a nutshell is a combination of two devotions that is paving the way to Heaven for me and that I hope helps you: the Rosary and The Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia (Regula Benedicti).

The origins of the actual Skull Rosary have no documented attachment to any historical or scholarly narrative. Various traditions, saints, art, however, have suggested references to two of the most glorious and invigorating themes that stem from The Rule of Saint Benedict (Regula Benedicti).: Memento Mori & Victory Over Death.

memento mori

“Memento Mori” translates from the Latin to “Remember that you shall die”, “Remember thy death.” Bringing death to the forefront of our consciousness, Memento Mori helps us to be reminiscent of the rite we hear being proclaimed during Ash Wednesday as ashes are being outlined in the form of a cross upon our foreheads, “Remember Man that thou are dust and unto dust thou shall return." These stark words emphasize our true Destiny. Of course, our true Destiny being that one day to gaze into the face of God in the afterlife; challenging us to un-center our concentration on the moments, materialism and achievements of this fleeting tangible life.

victory over death

“Victory Over Death” is displayed within crucifixes wherein Jesus is symbolically (and literally) placed above the skull and crossbones. Further, Christian and Jewish tradition alike declare the skull to be that of Adam, whom was buried at Golgotha. This said, the symbolism is simply astounding! To think that our Christ was crucified above Adams grave! Rightly so, it can be said that Jesus is the “New Adam” (while Mary the “New Eve”) – overcoming the sin of Adam that he brought into this world through his passion, death upon the cross and resurrection. Ultimately, underscoring I Corinthians 15:22 & 45: "And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive...The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit."

So whether its from the catacombs in Italy that these two prominent themes inspire us. Or from Mexico’s Dia De Los Muertos tradition, a crucifix with a skull at its foot, one of our skull rosaries, a portrait Of A Monk Of The Benedictine Order Holding A Skull, or Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s oil painting
”St. Francis in meditation,” let us view death not as an means to an end but as the means to life with God.

Yes, I have contemplated the fact that the skull rosaries may be too morbid, too austere. Yes, they may elicit negative connotations. And yes, some may purchase them with ulterior motives that have nothing to do with their true purpose. Yet there, indeed, is a healthy way of viewing these skull rosaries as the vivid visual message of the holy death I seek to project. Reminding us that the little things we do either move us in the direction toward God or away from God. Reminding us that those who live with a constant gaze on Christ have no objective reason to fear death. Death, therefore, can be a daily reality and even at times welcomed out of longing to be nearer to our Lord.

And how shall we grow into this state of consciousness?

As a response I invite you to perform an existential inquiry on three reflections:
Ecclesiastes 7:40;
Saint Sylvester Gozzolini’s conversion story & prayer; and
Saint Benedict of Nursia’s paradoxical Rule.

ecclesiastes 7:40

“In all thy works be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin."

saint sylvester gozzolini

Saint Sylvester Gozzolini (Feast Day: November 26th) was an abbot of the thirteenth century who, according to tradition, experienced his conversion while gazing into an open tomb encountering a decaying corpse “of one who had formerly been noted for great beauty.”

Prayer: All-merciful God, 
who, when the holy abbot Sylvester stood before an open grave,
 called him from the vanity of perishable things 
to a life of shining holiness in the wilderness,
 we humbly entreat Thee
 that, like him, we may prefer nothing to the love of Christ
 and live, already in this world,
 with our hearts fixed on the joys of Heaven. AMEN

st. benedeict of nursia

He calls us to “Fear the Day of Judgment: be in dread of hell. Ardently desire everlasting life with deep spiritual longing. Keep death daily before your eyes (Rule Of Benedict 4: 44-47).”

Saint Benedict introduces the paradox that death and life are inextricable. And he, in every sense of the word, demands that we live them out as Christ did. As it has been poetically said, “Dying and behold we live. Here is the ultimate in contradiction. Here is utter foolishness to the point of absurdity. We lose our life to gain it. But how right St. Benedict is in insisting that we remind ourselves of this every day: Keep death daily before your eyes.” [De Waal, E. (1997). Living with contradictions: an introduction to Benedictine spirituality. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publ., p. 113-114]

Prayer: Dear merciful God, help us to conduct our lives in such a way as the dread of judgment and hell are far away from us. Yet keep us mindful that in your mercy, there is full assurance of justice. Awaken, reawaken, and constantly awaken within me a deep desire for the things that are above where Christ is seated with the Father. In gratitude I rejoice that the sting of death has lost its power in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen. Christ, have mercy.