A lot of Catholic parents would love to say the rosary with their kids . . . if the experience wasn’t quite so, erm . . . fraught. Here are nine strategies for making it work.
This article is adapted from the book 77 Ways to Pray with Your Kids
A lot of Catholic parents would love to say the rosary with their kids . . . if the experience wasn’t quite so, erm . . . fraught. At our house, we barely make it out of the preliminaries before the littles are swinging their beads around like lassos . . . which inevitably become airborne missiles . . . and if you have ever been whacked in the face by a rosary mid-Hail Mary, you know it kind of ruins the mood.
Our older kids are better, but I personally remember doing some groaning and eye-rolling as a teen when it came time for the rosary.
Fortunately, we’ve come up with a couple insights that help us to pray the rosary as a family in a more sane and meaningful way.
- The rosary is supposed to be a form of meditative prayer. Listen to the words of Pope Paul VI: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas. . . . By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord” (Marialis Cultus #47). Realizing that the rosary is primarily a form of meditative prayer opens up whole new horizons for teens . . . and adults.
- The rosary can be adapted to kids. Mary is many things, but she is first and foremost a mom . . . a mom who undoubtedly understands what it is like to deal with kids! (Yeah, Jesus might have been a good kid, but she undoubtedly mothered the children of relatives and neighbors, too.) So why do we feel enslaved to saying the entire rosary with small kids? Realizing that we could do a mini-rosary with the littles made saying the rosary as a family do-able.
By the way, if you haven’t prayed the rosary before, you will find a basic description here. And if you have been reluctant to pray the rosary because it seemed too simplistic or Mary-centered, check out the Talking Points section below for some reasons to give it a try.
Here are some strategies for praying the rosary with kids.
► Skip the beads, or get kid-friendly ones. If you’re praying with children too young to follow direction, say the rosary without the aid of rosary beads. (Very young children may end up whipping them around.) When your kids are old enough, purchase a durable, kid-friendly rosary, such as a cord rosary.
► Start with one decade. Praying one decade of the rosary should take a little longer than five minutes. Be sure to introduce the mystery in advance; meditate on a different mystery each time, so that you eventually work your way through all the mysteries.
► Shorten the decades. Say the entire rosary, but only say three Hail Mary prayers for each decade. This is a good way of introducing your children to the order of the mysteries and the rhythm of the entire rosary; plan on spending about fifteen minutes.
► Use pictures to aid meditation. Find pictures (online or in a book) illustrating each mystery of the rosary. Display the pictures as you briefly explain and then pray each mystery. Or check out The Illuminated Rosary series from Gracewatch Media; each book contains works of sacred art illuminating a different set of mysteries; young children can follow the rosary by looking at the pictures (one per bead), and older children can use it to help them learn the prayers.
► Set a prayerful mood. Before you begin the rosary, set the mood with Smells and Bells, singing a Marian hymn, or practicing Thirty Seconds of Silence.
► Ignore the kids and pray. If your children act up while you’re praying, ignore them as best you can and pray the rosary yourself. Someday, your kids will “grow into” the practice, and in the meantime, Mary, mother of us all, surely sympathizes.
Older Children and Teens
In addition to the ideas above, consider the following:
► Make your own cord rosaries. Teens have been crafting their own knotted and dyed rosaries from nylon cord since the 1980s; you can find supplies and instructions at Rosary Army (rosaryarmy.newevangelizers.com).
► Introduce the rosary as a form of meditation. As Pope Paul VI says in the quote above, the rosary becomes an empty ritual if it is nothing more than the repetition of words. Instead, take time to introduce each of the mysteries very intentionally, and go over the principles of meditative prayer with your kids.
► Pray the Scriptural rosary. As the name implies, the Scriptural rosary incorporates very brief, relevant Scripture readings before each Hail Mary; for example, the first joyful mystery, the Annunciation, would be interspersed with lines from Luke 1, taking the reader through the Biblical account of the Annunciation. You can purchase a Scriptural rosary book, or find different versions online.
► Look for cool supplemental resources. There is a wealth of resources available that might enhance your teen’s experience of the rosary, from rosary music CDs to books of reflections on the mysteries written by teens.
Talking Points: Why Pray the Rosary?
In the rosary, we ask Mary to “pray for us sinners”—in other words, to join us in our prayer. Mary is “favored” by God and “blessed among women,” according to the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:28), because of the role she plays in fulfilling God’s plan of salvation. So reciting the Hail Mary—a prayer rooted in the Gospel of Luke—makes sense: We ask Mary to join us in our prayer just as we would ask any close friend to pray with us, but Mary is much more than just another friend; Jesus appointed her as our “spiritual mother” (John 19:27).
At the same time, the rosary is a profoundly Christ-centered prayer. When we ask Mary to accompany us in praying the rosary, she leads us to Jesus (John 2:5). As we recite the prayers that make up the rosary (the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be), we also meditate on the “mysteries” of God’s plan of salvation as described in the Gospels: the announcement of Jesus’ birth, his ministry, his Passion, his Resurrection and Ascension, and so on. (There are twenty mysteries of the rosary in all.)
As even this brief explanation suggests, the rosary is a complex, multilayered form of prayer. On one level, the repetition of its vocal prayers makes it accessible even to children, as does the sensory aspect of fingering the rosary beads. But it is also a form of meditation, and when intentions are offered prior to each mystery, it also becomes a form of petitionary or intercessory prayer. Finally, the call-and-response rhythm of the prayers when the rosary is said in a group joins our prayers together to become the prayer of the whole Body of Christ, the Church.
Help Kids Pray the Rosary with Sacred Art
The testimonials are in, and parents agree that THE ILLUMINATED ROSARY series really helps kids of all ages to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary. Each book contains sixty works of sacred art . . . about one artwork per prayer. You can preview each book in its entirety at Gracewatch Media: The Illuminated Rosary.
To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children, training them from their earliest years to experience this daily “pause for prayer” with the family, is admittedly not the solution to every problem, but it is a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated. It could be objected that the Rosary seems hardly suited to the taste of children and young people of today. But perhaps the objection is directed to an impoverished method of praying it. Furthermore, without prejudice to the Rosary’s basic structure, there is nothing to stop children and young people from praying it – either within the family or in groups – with appropriate symbolic and practical aids to understanding and appreciation. Why not try it? With God’s help, a pastoral approach to youth which is positive, impassioned and creative – as shown by the World Youth Days! – is capable of achieving quite remarkable results.
—Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae #42