The Rosary as Family Prayer
In the recent Apostolic Letter Rosarium
Virginis Mariae, the Holy Father John Paul II once more
urged Christian families to pray in their home by reciting the Rosary:
"We need to return to the practice of family prayer and prayer for
families, continuing to use the Rosary" (n. 41). Already at the end
of the Great Jubilee he had said: "it is especially necessary that
listening to the word of God should become a life-giving encounter, in
the ancient and ever valid tradition of lectio divina, which
draws from the biblical text the living word which questions, directs
and shapes our lives ... we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of
the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the
apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost" (Novo Millennio
ineunte, nn. 39 and 40).
It is first of all a question of re-applying, if not in its form,
certainly in its spirit, the living, fervent spiritual atmosphere that
marked the meetings at home of the first Christian communities. Indeed,
the first disciples, "went to the temple area together every day,
while in their homes they broke bread ... praising God"
(Acts 2,46). Through this witness, "day by day the Lord added to
their number those who were being saved" (Acts 2,47).
This family dimension of prayer and Christian worship is rooted in
the faith experience of the people of the Old Covenant, which has been
inherited by the Christian community. Indeed, it is well known that the
paschal supper was celebrated in the home, and was a family celebration.
The wave of secularization that has swept through the life of our
communities in recent decades has brought a deep crisis, even in the
context of the family, and hence in family prayer as an expression of
communion and an indispensable source for the mission the family is
called to carry out in the Church and in society.
Family prayer, use the Rosary
Confronted by this disturbing situation, pastors in recent centuries
have not ceased to recommend the devout practice of the Rosary, which
Pope Pius XII described as "the compendium of the entire
Gospel", to implore the Lord, giver of all good things, through the
intercession of the Blessed Virgin, Queen of the Rosary, for the gifts
of faith and peace in families and among nations.
We know well how deeply rooted Marian devotion is in the heart of
Peter's Successor. He placed his ministry under her protection, "Totus
tuus", and we know that the Rosary has a special place in his
devotions. We are used to seeing him with the Rosary beads between his
fingers. His desire is for the Rosary to become popular again,
especially in families.
Rosary takes us to the heart of the faith
The Rosary, in its simplicity and depth, goes to the heart of
Christian experience in the dialogue of faith expressed in prayer. It
has a strong evangelizing impact. The members of the family can
contemplate the central events at the heart of the faith through the
mysteries. Now, we have the mysteries of light, in which we are invited
to reflect on the wedding of Cana and on the beginning of a new family.
We could say that in the Our Father and Hail Mary, we find a synthesis
in which a dynamic, effective transmission of the faith passes through
it that fortifies the experience of the family community in a special
union that is a powerful aid because it is also stable and solid before
the Lord of the Covenant.
With this Letter on the Rosary the Holy Father has
touched the hearts of the faithful. Indeed, the recitation of the Rosary
does not only "go to the very heart of Christian life, offering a
familiar yet fruitful spiritual and educational opportunity for personal
contemplation" (cf. n. 3), but also enables people to recover
"the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to
show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of
love renewed in the spirit of God" (cf. n. 41).
Captures spiritual atmosphere
The recitation of the Rosary in the family captures something of the
spiritual atmosphere of the household at Nazareth, "because its
members place Jesus at the centre, they share his joys and sorrows, they
place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the
hope and the strength to go on" (n. 41). There, in fact, as Paul VI
said on his pilgrimage to Nazareth, one learns "to be resolute in
good thoughts, focused on the interior life and ready to understand
clearly the secret inspirations of God and the exhortations of the true
teachers" (Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, II, 1964, p. 24).
Serves to neutralize widespread harmful trends
This prayer also serves to neutralize the most varied and
disorienting messages and unpredictable experiences that are rapidly
making their way into childrens' lives. These experiences are a source
of anxiety to parents because young people are exposed to dangers while
they are growing up. Praying the Rosary is certainly a spiritual aid in
finding the solution to many problems, and is a protection against many
temptations and difficulties. As this Pontifical Council for the Family
said in the Final Statement of the 15th Plenary Assembly, today
we are living in a situation marked by "the fear of commitment, the
practice of cohabitation, the trivialization of sex", as
John Paul II has described it. "Life styles, women's fashions,
films, TV sitcoms make people question the value of marriage and go so
far as to spread the idea that the reciprocal gift of spouses until
death would be unrealistic. They weaken the family institution and even
manage to discredit it, to the advantage of other pseudo-family
'models'" (ORE, 20 November 2002, p. 9, II).
Indeed, the same document deplores the "invasion of many areas of
human activity by a radical individualism: economic life, excessive
competition, competition in all fields of human activity, disregard of
the marginalized, etc." (ibid.). In the face of these
problems, prayer is a fundamental, indispensable response, the living
witness of parents. As the Holy Father says in Familiaris consortio:
"only by praying together with their children can a father and
mother—exercising their royal
priesthood—penetrate the innermost
depths of their children's hearts and leave an impression that the
future events in their lives will not be able to efface" (n. 60).
As everyone knows, an important purpose of the prayer of the domestic
church is to serve as the natural introduction for children to the
liturgical prayer of the whole Church, both in the sense of preparing
for it and of extending it into family and social life (cf. Familiaris
consortio, n. 61). Thus family prayer is not an escape from social
commitment, but a strong incentive to the Christian family to assume
fully all its responsibilities as the primary and basic cell of human
Reinforces stability, solidity of family
In this way prayer reinforces the spiritual soundness and solidity of
the family, helping to ensure that it shares in the strength of God.
Indeed all the power of the Rosary lies in its Gospel character and in
its distinctly Christological orientation, for it makes us think
specifically and in our own way of the most important events of
salvation that were brought about in Christ, seen through the heart of
Mary, who was closest to the Lord Jesus. Indeed, the main feature of the
Rosary is contemplation, without which it would be like a body without a
soul; the typical features are constituted by the petition of the Our
Father, the praise in the litany-like succession of Hail
Mary's, the adoration of the doxology, Glory [be] to the Father.
It is also characterized by the simplicity that favours the
tranquil rhythm and a lingering in thought which fosters meditation. As
John Paul II has said, "fruitful nourishment of personal piety, the
Rosary is in a certain sense the typical prayer of the Christian
family.... In reciting the Rosary, the domestic church savours its own
unity, enjoys the sharing of affections, is elevated to the
contemplation of the divine, places its own needs, concerns and the
conquests of daily living in this higher dimension" (Address to
youth, Reggio Calabria, 7 October 1984, n. 7; ORE, 5
November 1984, p. 11).
From this fervent Gospel spirit, from the contemplation of the
mysteries of our redemption in this Year of the Rosary (October
2002 - October 2003), a renewed commitment is expected, so that the
preparation of engaged couples for marriage will include a witness of
greater fidelity to the definitive commitments that they are about to
make before God and men. May educators, spiritual directors and
Christian couples help young people to discover in themselves an
authentic love, with all that it involves, feeling, attachment and
passion itself and also the use of reason. May the Church's message on
responsible parenthood be understood and better received, and may the
special attention that must be paid to children who come from broken
homes be given to them with loving tenderness.
In this way the pastoral care towards the family will be able to
offer couples during their married life possibilities and opportunities
to reflect on their celebration of the sacrament, especially in moments
of recollection, such as in the recitation of the Rosary. Besides, it
will ensure that the feast of the Holy Family and other celebrations
when couples gather wishing to renew their matrimonial commitments in
the Church, may have a significance that has an impact on their
spiritual journey. In this light, in possible moments of crisis, all the
aids that the Holy Father has recalled in this Apostolic Letter can
contribute to solving the tensions and will enable spouses to return to
the sources of their first love. From the sacrament of Marriage they
will be able to draw the energy to reawaken the great ideals that must
direct their relations and overcome their difficulties.
Revival of Rosary in family will evangelize society
In this regard, Bl. Bartolo Longo said that "whoever spreads the
Rosary is saved" (n. 8). John Paul II echoes him when he says:
"the revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the
context of a broader pastoral care of the family, will be an effective
aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our
age" (n. 6).
One writer said that in the evangelized nations in every family, at
nightfall, the recitation of the Rosary rose like a symphony. Why should
we not strive to restore this witness, imbuing the domestic church with
the Word that all may savour, sharing it with children like bread, in an
attitude that will evangelize a society that is in danger of growing
cold and falling away from God?
"As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to
understand and communicate, the Church our Mother teaches us the
language of faith in order to introduce us to the understanding and life
of faith" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 171).
This is also what praying the Rosary does.