The Rosary is arguably the most widely prayed, most enduring devotion in Catholic history. Many have spoken about the power and beauty of the Rosary. Pope St. Pius X said, “Amidst all prayers, the Rosary is the most beautiful, the richest in graces, and the one that most pleases the Most Holy Virgin.” October, the month of the Rosary, is the perfect time to introduce this beloved prayer to children and to encourage families to pray it together. The following are some recommendations for handing on this treasure of the Church.
- Remind Your Learners That Mary Is Our Mother
Motherhood is associated with a gentle, approachable strength. Many children feel most comfortable going to their mothers first when they are distressed or in trouble. When Jesus commends his mother to St. John at the Cross (Jn 19:26–27) he is, by extension, offering her as mother to the whole Church. And indeed, she is—for the Church is the Body of Christ and Mary is his mother. As our mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary wishes to encourage us, to protect us, to nurture us, and to teach us by always pointing us to her Son. Jesus is a good Son who loves and listens to his mother, so we can be certain that he hears whatever questions, worries, and problems we place at her feet. As Pope Leo XIII wrote, “How unerringly right, then, are Christian souls when they turn to Mary for help as though impelled by an instinct of nature, confidently sharing with her their future hopes and past achievements, their sorrows and joys, commending themselves like children to the care of a bountiful mother.”
- Emphasize That the Rosary Is a Meditation on the Life of Jesus Christ and His Church
In the Rosary, we gaze with our Blessed Mother upon pivotal moments the life of Christ, of her life, and the life of the Church and contemplate their meanings. Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer.” Talk about the times in the life of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and the Early Church that learners will meditate upon as they pray. These are called “mysteries” in part because there is always more to explore and discover about these important moments. Reassure your learners that as they practice praying the Hail Mary throughout the decades of the Rosary, they will become more able to use the time to concentrate on the mystery associated with each decade. In fact, part of the genius of the Rosary is that the repeated recitation of the Hail Mary helps to occupy that part of our mind that might otherwise be susceptible to distraction, allowing us more focus as we contemplate the mysteries.
- Consider Attention Span
Some catechists and catechetical leaders might question the developmental appropriateness of a devotion as long as the Rosary, especially for young learners. Indeed, some research in attention span has suggested that a typical child’s attention span may be as low as two minutes for every year of age. Because the Rosary generally takes at least 20 minutes if not rushed, this would imply that the full Rosary is outside the attention span of many children under 10, but this is not necessarily the case. One of the reasons for the enduring popularity of the Rosary is that it is prayer that involves multiple senses—auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. The multisensory character of the Rosary helps to extend the attention span by involving multiple sensory pathways. Catechists can extend this further by incorporating increased movement (perhaps a Rosary walk) or more visuals like artwork depicting each mystery.
- Be Mindful of Memorization and Comprehension
Another developmental concern is the child’s ability to memorize the prayers of the Rosary or to understand what they mean. Regarding memorization, one effective strategy is to use musical settings of the prayers in the Rosary. When words are set to music and rhythm, we tend to memorize them more quickly. There are sung versions of all the prayers used in the Rosary. A developmentally -appropriate explanation of each prayer is a helpful introduction when we are teaching the Rosary to children. Understanding of the prayers used in the Rosary is a process that will continue and deepen throughout the childhood and adolescent years, but they are prayers children need to know so they can participate fully in the prayer of the Church. The Apostles’ Creed and Our Father are prayed in the Mass. The Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Hail, Holy Queen are often prayed in various liturgical celebrations. Memorizing these prayers allows children to pray in one voice with the Church, and, committed to memory, they serve as a sort of “inner catechism” with riches to discover over time as their vocabulary and comprehension increase.
- Make “Rosary Readiness Chaplets”
Our youngest learners (e.g., children in kindergarten and first grade) might benefit from making and learning to use “Rosary readiness chaplets” that help them learn to use beads while praying. These can be made from a small Crucifix and a miraculous medal (available in bulk from Catholic church supply stores and catalogs), three plastic “pony beads,” and plastic lacing string (from a large discount or craft supply store). Cut a six-inch length of plastic lacing string. Help the children attach the Crucifix to one end of the string, then string three pony beads, attaching the miraculous medal to the other end. Teach children to use the Crucifix to pray the Sign of the Cross, then use the beads to pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. Finally, use the miraculous medal to pray the Hail, Holy Queen.
- Help Children “Navigate the Beads”
Choose rosaries with large beads for young children, whose small hands and still-developing fine motor skills might pose challenges for them. As you pray the Rosary with them, make sure to use a large Rosary to enable children to see how you place your fingers on the beads as you move through the decades. Pause to check in with them and help them to stay on track.
- Connect the Mysteries of the Rosary with the Lives of Your Learners
Pope Benedict XVI wrote that as we pray the Rosary “in meditating on the mysteries of Christ . . . day after day [Mary] helps us to assimilate the Gospel, so that it gives a form to our life as a whole.” One way to encourage this is to offer a reflection question for each mystery. For example, here are some questions for use when praying the Joyful mysteries:
Annunciation: What is God calling me to say yes to?
Visitation: Who in my family encourages and helps me?
Nativity: How can I help to show Jesus to people around me?
Presentation: What is something precious that I can offer to God?
Finding in the Temple: How can I put what God wants me to do over other things in my life?
- Keep It Going
Provide children and families with simple guides to praying the Rosary at home. Consider reviewing the Rosary and praying it again together at various times throughout the liturgical year, especially near Marian feast days. The more practice children have with the Rosary the more natural it will feel to them and the greater the chances are that they will pray it regularly.
Ven. Pope Pius XII instructs us, “Through your efforts, the Christian people should be led to understand the dignity, the power, and the excellence of the Rosary.” May God richly bless you as you share this treasure with the children you accompany in catechesis.
Dr. Joseph White is Associate Publisher for Catechetical Resources at Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. He is co-author of the Companion to the Directory for Catechesis.
 Pope St. Pius X, Spiritual Will of St. Pius X, quoted in “The Most Holy Rosary,” Fraternite Notre Dame, https://www.fraternitenotredame.com/2011_2_0/holy_rosary.php#.
4 See “Normal Attention Span Expectations by Age,” Brain Balance, https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/normal-attention-span-expectati....
 Pope Benedict XVI, Sunday Angelus, October 7, 2012, https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf....
This article appeared on pages 26-27 of the printed edition.
Art credit: Freepik.com.