The rosary primarily is a personal prayer which comprises the devotional life of the Church and is not a liturgical prayer. The people of God oftentimes pray the rosary collectively in many different forums, be it before Mass, after Mass, at the funeral home, in a meeting room, or perhaps in the living room of one’s house. We have all had many experiences of the rosary. In this brief article, I would like to reflect on these varied experiences of the rosary.
In the Church: Before or After
With the dawn of the month of May in sight, parishes will take up the custom of praying the rosary as a community. This may take place before or after Mass or at some other appointed time.
I have often been troubled with the devotional rosary before Mass. I commend its recitation but when prayed before Mass, there may be some who are not familiar with the rosary prayers. One favorable insight is that those present while the rosary is recited may pray the Hail Mary for the first time in a while. I always emphasize the weight and power of the Hail Mary.
Recall the invocation at the end of it: pray for us sinners NOW and at the HOUR OF OUR DEATH. This is quite a powerful invocation. The people in the pew who do not regularly pray the rosary offer this prayer and we can only hope that Mary will honor their invocation; that she will pray for them throughout the course of their earthly sojourn to the Heavenly Jerusalem.
I have struggled with the dynamic of the rosary before Mass because, as a seminarian, when I go to Mass I like to pray to the Liturgy of the Hours before Mass. It’s not that I don’t love the rosary, believe me I do, but I like to pray a full rosary. Maybe I just arrived at the Church fifteen minutes before Mass and the rosary pray-ers are already on the third mystery. That means I have not prayed the first two mysteries. My preference is to pray the rosary in one sitting or, if spread out throughout the day, in proper order. Joining the rosary midway leaves me with a feeling of longing.
Another point about communal rosary before Mass is the reconciliation of private devotional prayer within a community. There may be people who are not at a point spiritually to pray the rosary. Imposing the rosary in this setting could turn the person off from praying the rosary in the future because it leaves a bitter taste in their mouth.
For me, I appreciate the groups that pray the rosary after Mass. This leaves an element of choice about whether or not an individual would like to participate. It is praiseworthy to make a thanksgiving after Holy Mass in order to more fully commune with God after having received the Eucharist. Following this thanksgiving, the rosary is a perfect way to continue that prayer and ask Mary’s intercession to help a person throughout the day.
The challenge this approach to the communal rosary presents is that not many people may choose to stay afterwards. If its a morning Mass, maybe the individuals have to head off to work or if its the afternoon or evening, people may have to go home and dine with their families at a specific time. The timing of the after Mass rosary may not be the most opportune.
The Funeral Rosary
In the parish I lived at this past summer, the funeral wake service proposed in the Order of Christian Funerals had been replaced with a communal rosary for the deceased at the funeral home. In this case, the rosary has replaced the Church’s liturgy for the dead which should not be forgone with.
At other times, if the deceased was a member of a fraternal organization like the Knights of Columbus or a woman’s altar society, members will gather at a certain time to pray the rosary at the funeral home. This would seem to be the appropriate approach to praying the rosary at the funeral home.
Again, the rosary is not a liturgical prayer and should not take the place of a liturgical ritual. Thus, if the rosary is desired at the funeral home, it should be in addition to the wake/vigil service.
The Family Rosary
Fr. Patrick Peyton, known as the rosary priest, was well known for his phrase, “the family that prays together stays together.” In years past it was a common practice to pray the rosary after dinner as a family.
In doing this, children were introduced to prayer in the home, which allowed the home to become a domestic church. Unfortunately I have known some people who grew up with this practice who have since abandoned the rosary because of those long grueling nights with the family.
Praying the rosary is a laudable custom for the family. As a suggestion, a gradual introduction to the rosary would be most appropriate. Begin on Saturday and pray the rosary at a grotto of Mary in your yard or at the parish or pray the rosary together during the month of May and October. A gradual introduction to the rosary will allow all the family members to make the decision to pray the rosary freely, out of love.
The Commuter Rosary
Many Catholics desire to pray the rosary each day but finding time amidst the craziness of life sometimes is difficult. If there is a morning commute to work, some have decided to take advantage of this time to pray the rosary. Radio stations often air the rosary at certain times and there are many CD recordings of the rosary available for one’s use.
Sometimes on long road trips I have prayed the rosary. When I do so, afterward I always ask myself: Did I just pray the rosary or not? Was I completely focused on the prayer? Did I meditate? Am I just praying the rosary in the car to check it off of my daily prayer list?
These questions were my own reflection and I pose them for reflection to others. Don’t get me wrong, it is great that people want to pray the rosary and find this to be most convenient. Maybe though, this should not be the ordinary way of praying the rosary, but should happen only occasionally. I’ll leave it up to the devotee and their spiritual director.
Our experiences of the rosary are varied and occur in many different contexts. When it comes to the rosary, we have all had specific experiences, thoughts, and opinions. Over the years I have reflected on my own experiences of the rosary and the struggles I face with the communal aspect of praying the rosary and propose them to the reader for dialogue in the comment box. I don’t know if there is any solution to what I have raised except to continue to strive toward holiness at all times.