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September 11, 2006
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers media resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Rosary
September—the start of another school year. Hopefully, all of your parish or school catechists are signed up, trained and ready to go. Undoubtedly, you have already found sponsors for all of your RCIA candidates as well as volunteers to babysit, bake cookies and do all the other odd jobs involved in another year of parish catechesis. If not, have faith; you’ll find the folks you need, or you will discover the program or process can survive without them. Just remember the all-important mantra of the parish catechetical leader: “Adapt, adapt, adapt.”
In this issue of Faith Formation Update, you’ll be offered an opportunity to do some adapting. We will look ahead to the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7) and talk about how to celebrate the feast in an intergenerational setting. I’ll share with you one of the fun rosary activities I remember celebrating with the first parish I worked with.
The gathering began with participants in designated age groups learning about the rosary. is an excellent resource for any information you need on Catholic topics. You will notice in the top right corner of the homepage the words “St. Anthony help me find.” Under "Search for Articles," type “rosary.” The site has 265 references to the rosary. Catholic Updates, magazine articles and various Scripture From Scratch issues all offer immediate information on the subject. (Click here to see the Catholic Update, “The Rosary: A Prayer for All Seasons” by Gloria Hutchinson.)
After talks, videos or discussions on the rosary, we led everyone to the hall where we had assembled a huge rosary made out of helium-filled balloons—red balloons for the Our Fathers and blue ones for the Hail Marys. (Those were the days before we knew that sending helium balloons into the air was not ecologically safe.) The four-foot cross for our rosary was constructed out of lightweight cardboard. We made sure to call the local airport just to make sure it would be okay to launch our circle of prayers.
Just to be extra cautious and environmentally correct, we used biodegradable toilet paper for our rosary chain. We laid several strips of paper in a big circle on the floor taping balloons at the appropriate spot to both the paper and floor. Children and adults wrote prayers on small pieces of paper and tied them to one of the balloons on the floor. Next, we carefully, carried the rosary outside. After praying together, we let go and watched our rosary ascend. It was great to watch as it gradually broke apart and headed in different directions.
In later years we learned to make the cross heavy enough to anchor the rosary, letting the beads float skyward. Since it was tied with string this time, the rosary held together. One year, when we held our gathering on a Saturday afternoon, we left the huge rosary flying near the church doors. It was a great way to greet the parishioners who came to Mass that evening.
I know for a fact that years later many of the children and adults who participated in that gathering have a clear memory of the red Our Fathers and blue Hail Marys that made up our giant rosary. Hopefully, they also remember at least a little of the history and meaning of this centuries-old prayer form.
Teaching Families the Rosary
I was never much of a rosary-praying person myself, but I sometimes found it a great comfort on those occasions when praying to God in my own words was difficult. I can remember searching for my rosary at two in the morning when a teenage son was out way past curfew, or the time I stayed up all night waiting to hear that my expectant daughter and newest grandchild were both safe and healthy. (Click here to read a column I wrote about the occasion for Every Day Catholic.) The rosary can be a great source of comfort when your mind has trouble focusing because of some anxiety or worry.
I remember, years ago, visiting a youngster from our parish who was going to be in the hospital for several days. One of the things I brought her was a glow-in-the-dark rosary. She had seen rosaries before, but she had no idea how to pray with it. I ended up writing down the sequence of prayers, including the Glory Be, which had no bead to count on. On subsequent visits we prayed a few decades and talked about the various mysteries. She kept the rosary on her bed tray and told me how much she liked seeing it shining in the dark when she woke up during the night.
Unfortunately, many families in this 21st century are unaware of how to pray the rosary. One way you can teach them is by asking each family to pray one decade during the week we celebrate the feast of the Holy Rosary (October 7). First, ask catechists to take time to teach the youngsters in their class how to use the rosary. Then, send each child home with a rosary and a note to parents.
The note can explain that the parish is hoping to offer a certain number of rosaries during the week of October 7 for a particular intention (peace in the Middle East, for example). Ask parents to say one decade or more together with their child/children during the week we celebrate the Holy Rosary. Include a brief history of the rosary and the prayers we say with each bead. You can also read the opening article of this newsletter for another way to learn about the rosary in an intergenerational setting.
Electronic Media: The Rosary and Life
I didn’t grow up praying the rosary. I’m of that generation, born as the Second Vatican Council was ending, that totally missed the lived experience of most “popular” devotions in my childhood and youth. I do remember our family receiving a glow-in-the-dark rosary in the mail when I was a child. My older sister and I decided that we’d pray it before bed that night—in the dark, of course! We asked our mom how to pray it and how long it would take. She told us what to pray and said it would take about 15 minutes.
It didn’t take us anywhere near 15 minutes. We were done in a flash and were disappointed that that was all there was to it. When we asked our mom about it the next morning, she laughed and laughed at us girls. We hadn’t understood that we were supposed to say the prayers; we had just said the name of each prayer as we came to its bead. (And, of course, we didn’t know anything about the mysteries.)
I’ve grown in my appreciation of the rosary since then. One thing I especially like about it is that, as we meditate on the different events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, we can bring our own sorrows, joys, and feelings and needs of the moment to God in our prayer. It’s only natural that we relate our own journeys to Jesus’ and Mary’s life journeys. It’s also an opportunity to pray for others who come to mind as we meditate on the mysteries.
Here are a couple of examples of the prayers that come to my mind as I look over some of the mysteries:
The Annunciation: Do I know individuals who have received surprising or unsettling news recently? Lord, please help them accept this new reality in their life, adjust to the changes it will bring and trust you to be with them through it all.
Crowning With Thorns: Do I know anyone who suffers from or is affected by a family member’s or friend’s mental illness? Do I struggle with this myself? Lord, many people struggle with the crown of thorns of mental illness and the stigma that goes along with it. I ask you to continue to help, and give strength and the comfort that comes from knowing that you are always with us.
I’ve selected a clip from an audiobook to share with you. It’s from Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. This book isn’t specifically about the rosary. It’s about living in the present and experiencing life as a spiritual journey. Nouwen’s insights are drawn from many of his own life struggles, his own efforts to share God’s love in his life. I think it has everything to do with what praying the rosary is about—uniting our life journeys with the life of Christ and realizing that the Spirit of God is ever with us, gracing us in the many places and events of our everyday lives. Click here to listen to the audio clip (RealMedia | Windows Media).
If you’re looking for some electronic media products that are specifically about the rosary, check out the video Teach Us to Pray: Praying the Rosary and the audio Mysteries of the Rosary (CD, Cassette).
Whether your use is for small groups or an adult faith formation offering during the month of the rosary, remind your people to pray. And make sure you make time in your busy schedule to pray as well. I’ll be praying for you!
New and Affordable Media
As a pastoral minister and religious educator, I’ve often been challenged to provide a prayer experience for one group or another. New books from St. Anthony Messenger Press might prove useful the next time you’re searching for something.
Sweet, Sweet Spirit: Prayer Services From the Black Catholic Church is a collection of over two dozen different prayer experiences gathered by Jesuit Father Joseph Brown in collaboration with Franciscan Father Ferd Cheri. These are communal prayer experiences, ranging from libation rituals to gathering prayer services, Litany of the Saints to general intercessions, and blessings for Black History Month, youth retreats and anointing rituals for evangelization. These are rich in imagery and grounded in authentically Black and truly Catholic spiritual tradition. This is an excellent and moving collection that will bring a richness to your community prayer.
And just a quick mention of two new books that might be useful as you begin the new school year. Do We Worship the Same God? Comparing the Bible and the Qur’an by George Dardess provides a wealth of information comparing the teachings of Christianity and Islam, particularly regarding teachings surrounding creation, Satan, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, prayer, judgment, heaven and hell. From Servant Books, Patrick Madrid offers a great introduction to the origins of Catholic teachings in his new book, Does the Bible Really Say That? Discovering Catholic Teaching in Scripture.
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