Back in October, my parish held their first ever Family Rosary Night. Led by our brand-new Youth Group, all of the Religious Education families in our parish were invited to participate in an outdoor, candle-lit family Rosary. Alright, I’ll be completely honest- the families were asked to attend as part of their Religious Education year. Between federal holidays, school breaks, and random in-service days for teachers, I’m pretty sure there’s one month throughout the entire CCD year where our students attend classes every single Sunday- March. And this year, because of an early Easter, even that has been taken away for the year. Normally my students will be able to meet three times throughout the month; on occasion, they can only meet twice. With so many scheduling conflicts, it’s nearly impossible to have enough Sundays throughout the year to satisfy the 30 hour requirement of the archdiocese. And so Directors of Religious Education (DREs) are asked to get creative.
During my first year at my parish, I did my best to get as close to the 30 hour requirement, but between holidays and snow days, I was a few hours shy of the desired goal. With an entire summer to prepare (and no wedding to plan), I was actually able to formulate a schedule that enabled my students to fulfill their 30 hours of faith formation this year. Our solution? We would introduce a few new family events on weeknights and Saturday mornings- specifically a Rosary Night in October and an Advent Reconciliation Service in December. It was included on the original calendar for the year, and in addition, I sent home letters to the parents to explain some of the reasoning behind the additions to our schedule. Even with these anticipatory actions, neither my pastor nor I expected a full house for either event. I knew that families were busy, weeknight events were difficult to manage, and some people would not appreciate the new additions to our Religious Education program. But I offered the entire endeavor up to God, made all of the necessary preparations for our first family event- the Rosary, and simply hoped for the best.
By the time 7PM rolled around on that cool October evening, I was in shock, practically hyperventilating as I scanned our parish hall. More than 80% of our students seemed to be present, a much larger group than I could have ever anticipated. They all sat with their parents, eagerly awaiting my directions. It quickly became clear that many of my students- and some of my parents- had never prayed a Rosary before. Or else it had been a while since their last time. As I went through the different parts of the Rosary, many of the same hands shot up in the air to answer my questions. After we were finished, I once again reassured them that even first timers would not have a hard time following along. Our Rosary was about five feet long and three feet wide after all.
After gathering at the outdoor Marian Shrine, the families took their places around our “Rosary.” As we began, it was comprised of over fifty tea-lights in color-coordinated holders fading into the darkness of the night. With each decade, another Youth Group member would stoop down to light the candles one by one as another teen led the group in prayer. By the time we concluded, the entire Rosary was aflame, a heart-shaped collection of lights representing each Hail Mary and Our Father that we had prayed together. After thanking everyone for attending, families began to depart in relative silence. I had never seen the children so quiet before. As they walked across the fields to their cars, the prayerful atmosphere continued- at least until they were securely in their cars with closed doors.
After the Youth Group members helped me to blow out the candles (after taking a few photos to commemorate our first “event” as a group), we headed back to my office to continue our meeting. Once we were all seated, they began to make their demands. They wanted to pray the Rosary again next week. They wanted to do it every week. They at least wanted to lead another candlelit Rosary for the program, perhaps in the spring as the warmer weather approached. I was amazed.
To be completely honest, this group of teens never ceases to amaze me. Two weeks before our Family Rosary Night, the group had divvied out the different responsibilities for the night. Some volunteered to light candles, others offered to read Scripture passages, and still others chose to lead the prayers. Some of them were not even 100% sure how to pray the Rosary, but that didn’t keep them from helping me out. I was in awe. On this particular evening, as we discussed future Youth Group events, they amazed me yet again (and they have done it multiple times since). I couldn’t have been more proud of them at that moment.
Two days later, I returned to my office for a regular work day. As I worked on my lesson plan for the weekend’s Confirmation class, my pastor came in, once again expressing amazement at the numbers at the Rosary Night. We were also amazed at the respect that had been shown throughout- it’s not always easy to sit through a thirty-minute Rosary, especially when you’re only four. And yet at the same time, we lamented another truth that had come to light that night. Many Catholics did not know how to pray the Rosary. Beginning that same night and extending through the following Sunday, I received countless emails from parents about the Family Rosary Night. Some of them admitted that they had not prayed a Rosary since they themselves had been in CCD classes as children. Others informed me that their children had requested that they begin praying the Rosary as a family on a weekly basis (one of the children even asked her parents if they could pray it every day, but I believe that she was convinced that once a week would be a good place to start). Still others contacted me to request pamphlets on the Rosary so that they could begin to learn it as a family. Apparently, for several weeks following our Family Rosary Night, rosary sales were through the roof in our parish gift shop.
All of these things pointed to one conclusion- Catholics wanted the Rosary. It was also apparent that up until that moment, they had not been given it. For decades, the Rosary had been lost to many Catholics, and it was finally being rediscovered. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
I think there are several reasons that an entire generation of Catholics lost the Rosary. It has been called too repetitious. Too old. Too boring. Too hard. It was abandoned by some because they did not see the value in establishing a relationship with Mary. It was abandoned by others because it was something that was only done by “pious old ladies.” There were countless reasons for people to abandon the Rosary, and as a result, many people decided that it wasn’t a prayer worth teaching anymore.
And now we have an entire generation of people who have either never learned the Rosary or were told at a young age that it wasn’t important. We have an entire generation that has lost the Rosary, that has lost their relationship with Mary, that has lost their understanding of the life of their Savior. But there is also a new generation that has embraced the Rosary, that has returned to this devotion as a way to deepen one’s relationship with Jesus and Mary alike. This generation wants to take back what has been lost. It wants to recover this traditional form of prayer as something valuable. And fortunately, many members of this generation have taken positions as DREs and Youth Ministers in parishes, and they want to share their love of the Rosary with everyone.
And so this generation that had once lost the Rosary has finally found it again, and the truth cannot be denied- it’s a tradition worth holding onto. It’s a tradition worth learning and passing on to our children. It’s a tradition that needs to be rediscovered and re-embraced. And so I have the privilege of watching our parish families fall in love with the Rosary again. And it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!