During my years as a Hospice volunteer, I had some very moving and meaningful experiences. One, in particular, stands out.
I was visiting Theresa, a patient in a nursing home, where visitations by family members or friends are often few and far between. She was Catholic and her room was filled with images of her faith. Theresa often shared her loneliness with me. One day, when she seemed weaker than usual, I asked if there was anything she wanted–water, music, prayer, a priest. She looked at me with a smile and pointed to a statue of Mary, on which hung her rosary beads.
I slipped them into her hand and her smile widened. She fingered the beads like they were precious and she raised the cross to her lips to kiss. “These are all I need,” she whispered, closing her eyes. Theresa died peacefully a few minutes later. I have returned often to that afternoon so many years ago and the fact that, at the moment of death, Theresa found comfort and peace in her devotion to Mary and love of Jesus, on whose life she reflected daily through the Rosary.
Praying the Rosary has grown as a Catholic tradition since the 12th century, when (legend has it), Mary entrusted the Rosary to Saint Dominic to aid him in his fight against the Albigensian heresy. Then in 1571, following a miraculous navel victory over the Ottoman Turks, Pope Saint Pius V established October 7 as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. He believed the battle was won through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the recitation of the Rosary. October eventually became a month dedicated to the Rosary of the Virgin Mary.
In his apostolic exhortation on the Holy Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope Saint John Paul II refers to the Rosary as his favorite prayer. He reveals the Rosary as a path of contemplation, a prayer for peace for the family, and an opportunity to follow the witness of the saints:
“The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains … a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. …
“With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary, the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer. …
“Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through–we might say–the heart of his Mother. At the same time our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary, all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind. Our personal concerns and those of our neighbor, especially those who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life.”
Pope Saint John Paul II prayed the Rosary daily, and his practice was an inspiration to Pope Francis while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio. The cardinal wrote of a time when he was praying the Rosary as it was being led by the Holy Father. “In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his piety, his devotion was a witness,” he wrote. “And the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice… in the same position in which he knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me,” (30 Days, 2005, Archives). From that time on, the cardinal who became Pope Francis has prayed the 15 decades of the Rosary daily.
The month-long observance during October of the Holy Rosary of the Virgin Mary is the perfect time for us to embrace the request of Pope Saint John Paul II: “I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae). Below are some suggestions for helping your students learn about and experience praying the Rosary:
Just do it!–Pray the Rosary daily and encourage your students to the do the same. Start with a decade if you can’t manage a full Rosary daily, but strive to end the Month of October praying a full Rosary. In Catholic schools, student council members or other selected members of the student body might lead the students in a decade of the Rosary after morning announcements. Living Rosaries are also a wonderful way to get all the students involved by serving as the beads of the Rosary, and are a powerful visual opportunity for prayer for the entire school or parish community.
Celebrate–Join with your Catholic community for Mass on October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Encourage your students to do the same, and then discuss what they saw, heard, and felt during this Mass.
Get creative–Have your students make rosaries. There is usually at least one parishioner in your community or in another local parish who makes rosary beads as a ministry. Invite her to come to your classroom to instruct your students in making rosaries for themselves and, perhaps, a set to donate to the ministry. Instruct the students to bring their rosaries to class so you may use them throughout October.
Extend the invitation–With the approval of your school principal or parish director of religious education, invite a priest to speak to the students about the importance of the Rosary in his vocation. Or invite a member of the parish Altar Rosary Society to explain her ministry to the Church, and share why the recitation of the Rosary is important to the spiritual lives of members and to the Church.
Take a moment to look at some additional Rosary resources:
Learn more about the Rosary on the USCCB website
Learn more about Mary on the USCCB website
Learn more about Mary and the Rosary on the All About Mary pages of the International Marian Research Institute of Dayton University
View a sample of RCL Benziger’s “Catholic Prayers and Practices for Young Disciples”
Shop RCL Benziger’s store for “Catholic Prayers and Practices” resources
Mary Regina Morrell is a syndicated Catholic columnist, freelance writer, and author who has served the Church for more than 25 years. She is a former associate director of religious education for the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey; associate editor and catechetical consultant for RENEW International; and managing editor of The Monitor, Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter@mreginam6, and her blogs, God Talk and Tea and My Mother’s Bread.