I am the target audience for Gretchen Crowe’s new book, Why the Rosary? Why Now? (Our Sunday Visitor, 2017). I grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s in a churchgoing family. Both my grandmothers were daily communicants and faithful Rosary-pray-ers. From middle school onward I attended Catholic schools; before that, I went to religious education classes in my parish. I owned a glow-in-the-dark Rosary that probably never got much of a chance to glow, because my siblings and I used to keep our bedroom doors open at night so we could whisper and giggle amongst ourselves (as if our parents couldn’t hear all that). I really didn’t know how to use that glow-in-the-dark Rosary, though — not even the basics. I was well into adulthood before I found out that the Rosary had mysteries, and that there were certain days to pray certain mysteries.
In many ways, the Rosary was lost on my generation. My kids, at least, attended Catholic grade schools in which the Rosary was prayed regularly — so they knew more about how it worked than I would have when I was in elementary school. They didn’t get Rosary instruction at home, because I didn’t know about it.
Lately, though, I’ve found myself wanting to learn more. I welcomed the chance to ask Gretchen Crowe about praying the Rosary and about her new book.
What steps would you recommend for readers like me who were poorly catechized (or not at all) about the Rosary?
The Rosary is so important because it helps bring us to the heart of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ, as the former archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis E. George, once said. Because is it Scriptural in nature, praying the Rosary and meditating on the mysteries help us better understand the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary.
The Rosary has a rich tradition and has been exalted by teachers, popes and saints. That’s one of the things Why the Rosary, Why Now? seeks to communicate: that the Rosary is beloved by many and has a history of being held up as one of the most effective ways of deepening one’s relationship with Christ.
The Rosary is ideal for this because it can be recited from memory, prayed by anyone, anywhere and allow for various stages of meditation — from children to mystics. The best way to become familiar with the Rosary is to pray it as much as possible. Learn all the prayers by heart, read the Scripture passages that pertain to each mystery. Really try to embrace the rote-ness of it by focused meditation.
What practical strategies can families use as they begin the practice of praying the Rosary together?
There are so many opportunities for incorporating the Rosary into family prayer. First, be consistent about time and place. For example, my husband and I like to pray the Rosary on our way to Mass on Sunday mornings. Some people gather in the family room after dinner. During Advent, pray the Rosary around the Advent wreath. Second, take advantage of the simple, repetitive prayers and let the young people take turns leading. This gives them ownership over the prayer time and helps them feel more included. Third, start small. If you have small, wiggly children with short attention spans, only pray a decade of the Rosary a day. Or make it more captivating for them by explaining the mysteries — or even reading about them in Scripture — in a way that they can understand. Finally, be a witness. Children are far more likely to be open to prayer, and consistent prayer, if they witness their parents being committed to it. A good example of faith goes a very long way!
Which set of mysteries of the Rosary speaks to you most?
I find new appreciation for each set of mysteries every day, but I really love praying the Joyful Mysteries. In these mysteries, we reflect first on the Annunciation, when Mary consents to God’s plan, giving her “fiat” or “yes.” Her total and immediate trust in God never ceases to amaze me. It is a very powerful witness for how each of us is supposed to live our lives. We travel with Mary to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the second mystery of the Visitation, and we know the joy with which she and Jesus are greeted by Elizabeth and John the Baptist, whom she carried in her womb. This is, as Pope St. John Paul II liked to point out, a beautiful mystery for the pro-life movement, to have one unborn child rejoice at the presence of another.
In experiencing the Nativity of the Lord we encounter all the wonders of the Incarnation that go with it. This focus is one of the reasons we might consider praying the Joyful Mysteries on Sundays during the Advent and Christmas seasons, rather than the Glorious Mysteries. When the Child Jesus is presented in the Temple he is recognized as the Messiah, and Mary really gets a sense for how difficult her Son’s life is going to be. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple illuminates us on how Jesus, even at 12 years old, is already comfortable with who is he and what he has been sent to do. And yet, after Mary and Joseph find Jesus after frantically searching for him, and he gently reminds them that they really should have known where he was all the time, he returns to Nazareth and is obedient to them. This is a lovely way to wrap up the Joyful Mysteries: with the image of family life lived within the Holy Family as Jesus continues to prepare for his public ministry and, most importantly, for his sacrifice on Calvary for the salvation of the world.
Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 3 of Why the Rosary? Why Now?
One of the first inklings I had that I was going to marry my now-husband was the first time we prayed the Rosary together. The familiar prayers, recited one after the other, so well-known by each of us, connected us in a way that I’d never experienced before. It was both peaceful and exhilarating—the beginning of a strong foundation based on a mutual love of Jesus Christ and his Blessed Mother.
That experience is one reason why the famous words of “Rosary priest” Father Patrick Peyton resonate so deeply with me: “The family that prays together, stays together.” This refrain was one the priest coined from his lived experience, starting at a young age. In his autobiography, All for Her, Father Peyton (1909-92) explains how the family Rosary was a priority in his home every evening. No matter how exhausted his parents or eight brothers and sisters were at the end of the day, patriarch John Peyton insisted that the family gather to thank the Blessed Mother for watching over them for another day.
As a striking contrast, Father Peyton describes what life was like on his first night away from home after securing a job nearby. Having been welcomed into temporary residency in a Catholic home, he initially felt comfortable with the familiar family setting. He was shocked, therefore, when his host ushered him off to bed without first calling the family together to pray the Rosary as his father would have. “I was thunderstruck, absolutely speechless at the realization that a Catholic home existed … in which the people did not kneel together for family prayer,” he wrote. “While I pretended to sleep, I prayed my own Rosary and felt the pangs of homesickness, the bitterness of being among people whose ways were different from my own, whose sense of values failed to measure up to what all my training and experience had told me was normal.” After a week he finally admitted to his host how much it bothered him. “I don’t know what I said, but it was my first sermon on family prayer, my first appeal to another Catholic to imitate the practice of my own family and reap the same rewards,” he wrote. Though he did not know it at the time, his appeal, however disjointed, was a success. The family soon after began praying the Rosary together every night.
This experience was clearly a pivotal moment for Patrick Peyton—one in which he realized that he could not and must not take the faith passed down to him by his parents for granted. And so it was this faith, personified in the Blessed Mother, to which Peyton turned later in life when, during the course of his seminary studies, he fell gravely ill. The story of his return to health—his account of which follows—is the story of a miracle granted and a vocation confirmed. And it’s an event that propelled Father Peyton, once ordained, to devote the rest of his life to spreading family prayer, particularly in the Rosary.
What better time than a joyous feast of Mary to begin learning more about the Rosary, and to honor the Blessed Mother by praying these beautiful prayers? Why the Rosary? Why Now? is an excellent first look — or refresher course — on the Rosary.
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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
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