“The month of May,” Pope Francis wrote in a brief letter published recently on the Feast of St. Mark, “is a time when the People of God express with particular intensity their love and devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is traditional in this month to pray the Rosary at home within the family. . . .For this reason, I want to encourage everyone to rediscover the beauty of praying the Rosary at home in the month of May. . . .The key to doing this is always simplicity.”
As a father who has raised seven children to adulthood and has seven children still at home, including a toddler, I want to share my thoughts with you on the family Rosary. I speak from only my own experience, of course. Different families have different cultures. So first some brief reflections on the beauty of the Rosary and then a few rules of thumb, which I have found useful, on saying it with simplicity.
The Rosary is beautiful for its humility. It is humble because it has been spoon-fed to us. The words of the Hail Mary come mainly from Scripture; the Our Father was taught by the Lord. The Virgin Mary herself, saints, and popes have recommended that we say the Rosary daily. It is impossible to say the Rosary and put on airs. The most exalted human intellect and the simplest worker in the fields are up to the same thing in saying this prayer.
The Rosary has the beauty of the ordinary. God loves the ordinary, because he made it ordinary. The ordinary is cyclical, like days, weeks, and years. It is repetitive, like daily chores. A sure sign of the ordinary is that we must struggle so that routines are imbued with love. The Rosary has the beauty, then, not of the Symphony of a Thousand or the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but the beauty of cicadas singing or a stream flowing or puffy clouds in a blue sky stretching to the horizon. The beauty of the Rosary itself is matched by the beauty of the virtues that are fostered by its regular recitation: besides humility – perseverance, loyalty, restraint, diligence, and thoughtfulness.
The Rosary has the beauty of a fine “work”. It is a tangible prayer. Yes, it is better to touch the beads while saying it than fold fingers. The ring of the Rosary is like a measure, to which one corresponds. It is like a racecourse, which gets “finished” or “accomplished.” You may be distracted at times when going around that course. And yet, your will was not distracted, because you kept going. You may, again, be struggling with routine when you say it, but if you finish, with St. Paul you can say that you completed the race. (2 Timothy 4:7) There are too many mere good intentions in the life of a Christian: a completed Rosary is a good work, not something imagined or fecklessly wished for.
The Rosary gathers in the beauty of the Lord. Why? Because in some mysterious way, Mary is the best lens through which to contemplate the life of Christ. She is subjectively, as it were, what he is objectively; she is the best model of compassion, for his Passion. St. Pope John Paul II spoke (click here) of contemplating Christ in the school of Mary. And Pope Francis echoes this language in his letter, “contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”
The Rosary through its beauty imparts grace to families. “Everything which receives, receives in the manner of the recipient, not in the manner of the thing received,” goes an old metaphysical maxim. It’s dreadful to consider our own capacity to receive the life of the Lord – our hardness of heart; dullness; drowsiness and thoughtlessness. To say the Rosary is to ask to receive the Lord in the manner in which Mary received him. In the strange economy of salvation, where God counts what is virtual as if it is one’s own, to wish to receive the Lord as Mary did is to receive him as Mary did.
These are just a few reasons why the family Rosary is beautiful. But what are some rules of thumb for saying it with the relevant simplicity? Again, here are ideas I have found helpful.
Fixed time. It helps immensely to say the Rosary at the same time, either by the clock (for example, 7:45pm), or by sequence (“immediately after dinner”).
Just do it. Don’t wait for everyone to be gathered to start. Those who are around should just sit down and start saying it, at the fixed time, even if it is only the father. Everyone else will join eventually.
Tailor your expectations. Our toddler sometimes wanders around and may even try to distract everyone with his cuteness, while the middle-schooler who just learned his Latin prayers may ask to say a decade in Latin. Observe Aristotle’s principle of “the mean relative to us.”
Add some mystery and intimacy. When it’s cold, we make a fire in the fireplace and shut off the lights; or one might light candles, or bring in an image of the Virgin, perhaps adorned with flowers.
Teach some Rosary basics: especially, what the mysteries are, and that the point is to contemplate the mysteries, with the Hail Marys serving as “background music.”
Keep it short. It’s possible to lengthen the Rosary with all kinds of prayers and meditations. These are terrific, but a family Rosary to be successful must be short, about 15 minutes and no more than 20.
In all things, be flexible and pragmatic; have a light touch, because the Rosary is an act of love; retain a sense of humor; and remember Chesterton’s wise maxim, that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
*Image: The Fifteen Mysteries and the Virgin of the Rosary by a Netherlandish artists (possibly Goswijn van der Weyden), c. 1515-20 [The MET, New York]