The Family Rosary: A Month for Renewal
October 7 is the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, but the entire month of October is dedicated to the Holy Rosary, which makes it another liturgical opportunity for renewal. The liturgical seasons of Lent and Advent are times for beginning again, time for change and renewal. Quarterly Ember Days are also days provided as a little renewal. October can be an opportunity to re-examine our relationship with Mary and how we pray the Holy Rosary.
There is no lacking of papal writings, exhortations and examples to prove that the rosary is a most beautiful and powerful prayer. Outside of the Mass and Liturgy, this is the prayer the Church encourages us to pray. The rosary has been called "the epitome of the whole Gospel" (CCC #971); it is completely scriptural, focusing on the life of Christ. Our prayer is to Jesus through his most Blessed Mother Mary.
Our family commits to praying part of the rosary every day, but we find we slide into bad habits, as I mentioned in my post on the rosary last year. The prayers start to be said out of routine, distraction; there is definitely room for improvement. October returns and we have another opportunity dedicated to the rosary to re-examine, re-commit, and provide a little jump-starts to our family rosary prayer time.
These are a few suggestions from our family's approach to renewing the family rosary time:
>>Preparation: Before the Rosary Begins
Don't expect to change attitudes and habits in the middle of praying the rosary. The task begins before everyone gathers to pray. Preparation has to be done outside of the prayer time. There is no magic bullet, and things won't be changed in one sitting. But concentrating on different areas outside of the prayer time can help everyone recall and focus during prayer time.
>>Meditation: How to Keep the Mind from Wandering
I see the two most difficult hurdles in praying the rosary is 1) finding the time to pray, and 2) fighting off distraction and wandering minds.
What has yielded the most benefits is carving out longer times for prayer time several times, such as during a long car ride, and talking through the mysteries of the rosary by helping everyone place themselves in the scene of the mystery. (This approach is not only for children, as St. Josemaria's meditations reveal.) At the beginning of each mystery I explain the scene, and encourage everyone to put themselves in the scene, whether they be a child, an animal, an inanimate object. They choose someone or something that will see everything as an observer. Then before each Hail Mary, I describe a little bit more of the scene of the mystery.
As my sons are getting older, they have led in the meditations, describing the scene, taking turns before each Hail Mary to provide their description. After doing this a few times this long way, subsequent rosary time can just be a quick recalling of the previous meditations and placing oneself in the scene at the beginning of each decade, and the family can privately meditate. When the wiggles and distraction happen, it only takes a few words, like "Let's remember that you are the little mouse witnessing everything in the stable in Bethlehem...." to bring one back to focus.
>>Reading and Writing: Learning More about the Rosary
Outside of rosary time, we try to read from the riches of scripture, the beautiful papal encyclicals, Church documents, and other writings on the rosary. Our current read-aloud book before school work begins is an older book that meditates on the mysteries of the rosary for children. My sons are reading books on the life of St. Pius V and the Battle of Lepanto for the month of October.
There is a variety of books to help meditate during the rosary, too, with targets for different ages and reading level. For best results, have several books (especially for the children) and rotate them frequently.
Copying scripture verses is another beautiful way to meditate. This could be a task of an older child, to create a booklet or prayer card of short Scriptural verses for each mystery of the Rosary to display during prayer time. This could be used as handwriting practice or a way to learn or practice calligraphy. For children not as willing to write the whole verses, they could make a list of all the Scriptural citations (using St. John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, for example),and find and mark the passages in the Bible so they could be read during the family rosary time.
Another alternative could be creating a bookmark for each set of mysteries, including each scripture passage reference.
>>Background on the Rosary
School-aged children (such as ages 6-12) begin to understand how they are members of the whole Mystical Body. They are learning that their prayers and works affect not only their own relationship with God, but everyone in the whole Communion of Saints.
We can provide a continual dialogue to answer the question: "What good does a rosary do?"
The answers can be illustrated through Church documents and other writings how praying the rosary provides personal benefits of graces, and brings us closer to Christ. Have them look up in the Enchiridion of Indulgences and Catechism of the Catholic Church for a basic understanding of the graces received. Let them research how many popes write about the rosary.
Another avenue is discussion of the history of the rosary. Children want to hear stories, whether they be personal, historical, and they especially love stories of valor. Where did we get the rosary? What is the influence on different religious orders, especially the Dominicans? Help them find out the origin of the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and the connection with St. Pius V and the Battle of Lepanto. Perhaps we can lead them to make the connection that the world is again struggling with Muslim extremists, and we need to take up another crusade of rosaries.
We can also discuss the continuing help of Our Lady through the rosary. The rosary was an integral part of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal just one century ago. Older readers will remember the Blue Army and First Saturday devotions and praying the rosary for the conversion of sinners. The prayer, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy" inserted between decades is from the Fatima devotions.
Recently a dear friend of my mother reconnected with several members of our family, and she delighted us in remembering belonging to the Junior Legion of Mary and making "red rosaries for Russia." Our Lady promised that Russia would be converted if we prayed the rosary. It's this kind of story that motivates our children.
Beautiful images of the mysteries of the rosary are helpful for all ages, particularly younger children. I have created vertical flip easels with images of the mysteries, and there are now options to purchase some that are ready-made. I also have coloring pages of each mystery. I have my children color them outside of the rosary time, but then we have used them to display each decade.
There is such a treasure trove of art images available online for free that this could be another project to find various depictions of the mysteries to create a book, binder or flip chart.
In the home, have a usual place for praying family prayer (and The Little Oratory can provide wonderful suggestions for setting up a place of prayer). Try to have a shelf or drawer dedicated for the rosary. Include reading, art, and meditation books for all ages. Have a place to keep the rosaries organized, and also keep at hand visual displays, and prayer tools for children, such as rosary boxes or crocheted roses and candles and matches to enhance prayer time.
>>Let's Get Physical
Wiggles and giggles are the reality of family rosaries, and while we might not be able to eliminate them completely, we can try various ways to minimize them.
The rosary doesn't always need to prayed with a kneeling posture. Providing a variety of sitting, kneeling, standing, walking, or while driving can keep the brain and body engaged to prevent wandering of thoughts. And while it is good to have a usual prayer corner in the home, praying in other places, such as on a nature walk, the car, or a beautiful garden are good variations to the family rosary venue.
Alternate how the rosary is prayed. There can be a variety of ways to lead the decade, whether it be the first part of the prayer, or the last, saying in unison, or even trying to say some of the prayers in different languages, such as Latin. Besides leading it aloud together, podcasts or other recordings could be used to lead the rosary.
Take an inventory of the actual rosaries you use for prayer. Here is another place to provide variety. We have a variety wood, string, plastic, handmade, store bought, glow-in-the-dark, mail freebies, rosary rings, tenners and bracelets. My mother's family has a huge rosary that we can all kneel and hold one decade. Take some time to make sure all your rosaries are blessed, are in working order (right amount of beads and all connected). It is discouraging and also sends a negative message to have only broken and tangled rosaries when you are ready to pray as a family. Invest in a few new and pretty rosaries periodically. I have several friends who make beautiful rosaries as either apostolate or to help their family, and that would be money well-spent. Rosaries aren't only for receiving the sacraments!
Different rosaries could be designated as remembering certain intentions, such as the pink one is for all the girls in the family, the black one is for priests, the string one was made by Fr. M, the purple was a gift from my godmother, etc. The person using the rosary can have that special intention for that person or persons for their rosary.
Another way to physically get involved with the rosary is to learn to make them. String rosaries are durable and easy to make. It is an opportunity to pray while creating a new rosary. Perhaps there are places rosaries could be donated. Learning to repair broken rosaries is another excellent way to pray while we work.
This only scratches the surface. As my children get older, so many things change, and prayer time is no exception. We need to adjust as they change. And as adults, we also should be constantly progressing in the spiritual life. We should be needing an element of adjustment because of our growth, too.
While the rosary has the repeating and monotonous chain of prayers, our interior prayers should not be the same, which is why it is such a blessing to have the Month of the Holy Rosary to examine and refresh our family rosary.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
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