It was one of those days you never forget. Sitting on the beach one summer evening last year, my husband and I decided to pray the rosary. Close by on a blanket was our son, only 8 weeks old. As we started praying out loud, our son began to coo along with every word.
Maybe he didn’t know their meaning, but he sensed the rhythm of every Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. That was my first lived experience of the rosary’s power as a family prayer.
Over the centuries, many Catholics of all walks of life have underscored the familial nature of praying the rosary. Notable among these include two great 20th-century rosary devotees, Father Patrick Peyton and St. John Paul II.
In the mid-20th century, Father Peyton, who founded Holy Cross Family Ministries, also known as the “rosary priest,” became famous for the saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.” In his autobiography, he explained why praying to Jesus through Mary in the rosary was so fundamental to his childhood that it eventually became the core of his life.
Pope John Paul II wrote in “Rosarium Virginis Mariae,” his masterful 2002 apostolic letter on the rosary, that the rosary is “a prayer of and for the family.”
“It is important not to lose this precious inheritance,” the pope said. “We need to return to the practice of family prayer and prayer for families, continuing to use the rosary.”
Surely we know there is no better prayer suited to family life than the rosary — but why? Here are five reasons.
• The rosary is simple. The short, repetitive prayers of the rosary make it a perfect devotion for families. It can be prayed by anyone, anywhere. The prayers are easily memorized and recited, and even young children can be encouraged to lead a decade.
It would be a mistake, though, to mistake simplicity for insignificance, as there is much to be gained from praying the rosary frequently and with dedication. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a great lover of the rosary, called the devotion “the place where the simple love grows in knowledge and where the knowing mind grows in love.” There is much depth to be found in the rosary’s simplicity.
• The rosary is tactile. A rosary comes with an almost built-in “fidget spinner” for young ones. Holding a rosary in their hands, they can keep track of how much is completed and how much remains. The string of beads also serves as a physical manifestation of the relationship with Our Lady and her Son.
Simply holding a rosary often gives comfort, especially to young ones — and even the very young can hold onto (or chew!) a baby friendly version. As you touch the beads during prayer, you can hand over your worries, concerns, sufferings and pains to the Lord through his mother.
• The rosary brings peace. St. Pius X is credited with saying, “If you wish peace to reign in your homes, recite the family rosary.” For families, moments of quiet can be hard to come by. Peace is also shattered by the day-to-day conflicts that are bound to occur in family life.
But by its rote nature, the rosary invites quiet reflection and meditation. Through the rosary, we are able to entrust any and all worries and anxieties over to Mary. By carving out a space each night for a family rosary, you also are carving out a space for peace to take root in the family home.
Reflecting on the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus also offers the opportunity for families to reflect on their own actions throughout the day and attune their lives to Christ’s. This can lead to something of an examination of conscience, providing opportunities for reconciliation at the day’s end.
• The rosary tells a story. The mysteries of the rosary make the story of salvation come alive. Every member of the family, no matter how small, can understand to some extent the events and relationships illustrated.
In the joyful mysteries, we learn about the life of Jesus and God’s plan for him and his family. The sorrowful mysteries, through meditation on Jesus’ passion and death, illustrate that no one is immune from suffering, even the Son of God. The luminous mysteries offer us an opportunity to grow in knowledge of ourselves and the universe, and, most importantly, of God and our relationship with him. The glorious mysteries provide a backdrop for our hope in eternal life, according to which we pattern our lives.
The stories contained within the mysteries of the rosary can teach all members of the family about the life of Jesus, thereby bringing each person into closer relationship with him.
• The rosary mirrors the rhythms of daily family life. Mirroring the mysteries, our lives are composed of moments of joy and suffering and moments of hope and illumination. By grappling with the mysteries of the life of Jesus, in union with Mary who pondered them all in her heart, we are better able to cope with the ups and downs in our own families.
— By Gretchen R. Crowe
(Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief at Our Sunday Visitor and author of “Why the Rosary, Why Now?”)