The Rosary: Praying Gift for the Family
Catholics have a powerful praying tool in the family rosary, as Prof Michael Ogunu explains.
In the mid-19th century a group of tourists were viewing the treasures of the Vatican museum. As they moved from one beautiful object to another, they admired the lifelike sculptures, the ornate vases, the gold and bejewelled chalices, the beautiful paintings with their delicate hand-carved frames. In the middle of the tour, the group’s attention suddenly turned from the inspiring artifacts collected by the Vatican to a whiteclad figure walking towards them.
“The Holy Father!” they whispered, their eyes fixed on the surprise visitor. Pope Pius IX walked up to the tourists and began talking to them. “Do you like what you have seen?” the pope asked. “Oh, Your Holiness, they are magnificent. Just gorgeous,” they replied.
Then the Holy Father said: “Would you like to see the real treasure of the Vatican?” Thinking there must be a secret chamber containing some priceless, rarely viewed treasure, they responded immediately: “Certainly, Your Holiness, where is it?” “Right here,” he said. And he opened the palm of his hand, showing them the rosary he had been saying as he walked along.
Pope Pius IX gazed upon the rosary as a real treasure.
More than a hundred years later, the popes continued to extol the treasure and value of the rosary. Pope Paul VI, in his apostolic exhortation Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, strongly recommends the saying of the rosary as a family prayer.
The Second Vatican Council, in its “Decree on the Lay Apostolate”, states that the family shows itself to be the domestic sanctuary of the Church through the mutual love of its members and the common prayer they offer to God.
Pope Paul VI used the above statement from the council to reinforce this principle: “A concrete effort must be made to reinstate communal prayer in family life.” He went on to add: “The rosary should be considered as one of the best and most efficacious prayers in common that the Christian family is invited to recite.”
Rosary is Christ-centred
Why should the Holy Father put such a strong emphasis on the rosary as a form of family prayer? While the rosary is related to Mary, it is really Christ-centred. It has its inspiration from the Scriptures and takes into account the saving events in Christ’s life, from the virginal conception through his childhood and adult years, to the Passion, death, and Resurrection.
It likewise takes into account the effects of Christ’s life on the early Church—the day of Pentecost, and Mary’s being taken into heaven, body and soul, at the end of her life.
Pope Paul VI stated that meditation on the mysteries of the rosary can be an excellent preparation for the celebration of the same mysteries in the liturgy.
Consequently, as families pray the rosary together, dwelling on the mysteries, they become more alive and echo, in a sense, the celebration of these mysteries in the Mass.
The family rosary is an excellent way for children to learn the prayers and mysteries of the rosary. As they become familiar with basic prayers like the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be, let the children join in the recitation of the rosary, announce the particular mystery, and lead a decade of the rosary. Perhaps the member leading the rosary could announce an intention for each decade or one for the whole rosary on that particular day.
At the beginning of each decade, a short passage of Scripture might be read pertaining to that mystery of the rosary.
Care must be taken, however, not to make the rosary a mere mechanical exercise. Otherwise, it becomes a mere moving from bead to bead.
Rote mechanical repetition could make the words of St Matthew become a reality: “In your prayer, do not rattle on like the pagans. They think they will win a hearing by the sheer multiplication of words” (6:7).
The obstacle of time
One of the biggest obstacles to family prayer is time. Some will complain: “Where is the time to get together to pray?
It is hard enough to get the family together just to eat a meal, much less to pray!” It is true that the changing conditions of life today do not make family gatherings easy. On the other hand, how many hours will the family sit with their eyes glued to the TV set?
They seem almost oblivious of one another, with rarely a word spoken, except perhaps to decide which channel to watch for the next hour.
And never mind the obsession with smartphones and social media! Then there are all the activities which children are involved in: school homework, various sports and extracurricular school programmes.
For mom and dad, there are the church meetings, associations, and cultural meetings, social events and so on. The list becomes endless. Could this be why there is no time for family prayer, especially the rosary?
Fr Patrick Peyton, the famous family-rosary preacher, said that “the family that prays together, stays together”, while Pope Paul VI warned that families who want to live in the full measure of the vocation and spirituality proper to the Christian family must therefore devote all their energies to overcoming the pressures that hinder family gatherings and prayer in common. For the things we appreciate and value, or consider important in our lives, we either find or make time.
An effective family tool
The Scriptures remind us: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart also be” (Mt 6:21). Today, when the very existence of family life is being threatened, the family rosary can become an effective tool in strengthening our family life, in promoting peace and harmony within our families, and in nurturing love for each other.
The rosary is not the only form of prayer that a family can use when praying together, it is merely one form.
But, as Pope Paul VI stated, it is one of the best and most efficacious prayers we have. Catholic families in the 16th century used the rosary to seek God’s intervention in preventing the Turks from entering Europe. Their lives and lifestyles were threatened. The Turks were already at the gates of Vienna. The effectiveness of their prayers was evident in the famous Battle of Lepanto in which the Turkish fleet was destroyed.
What would be the effectiveness of Catholic families in the 21st century if they used this same powerful tool? We will never know until we use it.
Prof Michael Ogunu is the president of the executive board of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa.