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The Holy Rosary-Our Family Prayer

And I will put enmity

between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;

-Genesis 3:15

The month of September was witness to the commemoration of the birthday of Mother Mary across Catholic churches in the world. Close on the heels of this follows the Rosary Month, October, dedicated to the veneration of Our Lady through the Holy Rosary.

It is interesting to know the stages though which the Rosary was established as a devotional prayer recited with the help of the sacred beads stringed together in a way that demarcated each decade. Its first significant milestone was in the 13th century when Mother Mary appeared to St Dominic and entrusted him with the task of spreading the devotion to the Rosary. Soon after, the biblical Mysteries were added to the decades of the Rosary. Following that, Pope St Pius V declared October 7th as the Feast of the Holy Rosary in the 16th century, and it was only in the late 19th century that the entire month of October was officially established as the Rosary Month by Pope Pius XII.

Originally there were three sets of Mysteries associated with the five decades of the Rosary– the Joyful, the Sorrowful and the Glorious Mysteries, and, in 2002, Pope John Paul II added the fourth set, the Mystery of Light. This completes the circle of Christ’s birth, life death and resurrection, and adds a rich dimension to this devotion.

That is the story thus far. Now, unfortunately, the tide has changed direction, and over the last five decades we can clearly map the downward spiral of this beautiful devotion, that has kept families and communities bound together in faith. Perhaps some of us can still faintly recall the routine in our ancestral homes, where the evening church bell signified the close of the day’s activities. Family members gathered in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to begin the Holy Rosary, which seemed to last forever, considering the number of Litanies and extra prayers that were added on to it. However severe this seemed to the younger generation, the absence of any family member during the family prayer time was not taken lightly, and usually these recalcitrant youngsters were taken to task without delay!

As time went on, the social milieu changed and the Holy Rosary was restricted to its minimum length. However, it still held its pride of place as the family prayer in Catholic homes. By the turn of the century, many competing activities came to the fore. Entertainment, education, and individual interests have relegated this evening prayer routine to a dusty corner of our lives, either wholly abandoned , or left at the mercy of the time, convenience and mood of the family members.

Clearly, the evening devotion is losing popularity with the present generation. But before we entirely lose track of this precious gift from Our Lady, we must understand what we are giving up when we decide to do away with the Holy Rosary as a family prayer. One of the main objections raised against the devotion is its repetitive nature. People argue that some short prayers could well take its place, or that the decade could be reduced to include just one ‘Hail Mary’ instead of ten.

To perceive the Holy Rosary in this manner is myopic, to say the least. Those who have grown spiritually through this prayer would have surely understood that each decade is reflective of a divine mystery, and as we pray repeatedly, we immerse ourselves in the Word of God. We start the working week with the Joyful Mysteries. As we recite the first decade, we reflect on the first mystery, the Annunciation. We cannot but be mesmerized by the awesome appearance of Angel Gabriel to Mary, who tells her she was to bear the Son of God. The second mystery is about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. On a personal note, after briefly reflecting on this, I have become habituated to taking her to visit all the people I am specially praying for. What an honor for them to be visited regularly by ‘the Mother of my Lord’. The fifth mystery finds Jesus in the temple listening to the elders and asking them questions. In my minds eye, I bring every child in my family to the forefront with a fervent prayer for each one to grow like Jesus, “in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.”

The same can be said of every mystery that we reflect upon everyday as we say the Holy Rosary. What better prayer could there be, to replace this deeply meditative devotion, that brings us so close to God and His Word? What better channel could there be, to present our deepest joys and sorrows to the Lord? Even while the Holy Rosary loses value as a family prayer, there are those who have experienced its strength and power, and depend on it at all times. In times of crisis, whether you are waiting outside an ICU, or whether you are awake all night anxiously mulling over a painful situation, the Holy Rosary is a source of immense consolation. In joyful moments, this is the best way to express our thankfulness to God through our Mother.

There is one more all-important reason to keep this devotion close to our hearts and homes. Genesis 3 relates the story of how God confronts Adam and Eve after they had disobeyed Him in the garden of Eden. Having admonished them, the Father unleashes His wrath on the serpent, the devil who had misled Eve. He promises to put enmity between the Mother of God and the serpent, and goes on to foretell that her offspring, Jesus Christ— the Son of the Father— will crush the serpent’s head. Discarding the Holy Rosary as a family prayer leaves the entire family exposed to evil forces. Our greatest protection from the powers of darkness come from our Mother, whose enmity against Satan has been declared by God the Father from the beginning of time.

As I conclude, I appeal to all young parents to bring up your children in this rich tradition of the Holy Rosary as the family prayer. To experience the power and potential of the rosary, one has to grow with it and allow its effect to work on you spiritually over a period of time. Only then will it function as a universal prayer in good times and in bad. Let not the children of today be deprived of the power and consolation that the Holy Rosary can bring to their lives as they move forward.

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