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Make the Rosary come alive by inviting your students (and even their families) to experience a Living Rosary. Our Blessed Mother delivered the same urgent command each time she appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal, exactly 100 years ago: “Pray the Rosary daily.” Imagine being able to make those Rosary prayers come alive for your students — much like Francisco, Lucia, and Jacinta experienced Mary’s real-life presence and message.
“Praying the Rosary every day is what our Blessed Mother has asked us to do,” said Deacon Robert Ellis, national coordinator of The World Apostolate of Fatima USA. “These three children are looking down upon us from heaven and hoping that today’s children will lead the world in prayer.”
Why a Living Rosary?
In a Living Rosary, each participant not only prays a Rosary, but helps to form one. Think of it this way: Each person serves as a bead while praying the Rosary as a group — and those beads can take various forms: paper chains, glow sticks, flowers, or even board-game squares.
Why pray the Rosary this way? Children learn more effectively when engaging one or more of their senses. This group activity also encourages fellowship among classes, catechists, and parishioners.
“It gets parents and families involved as well as students, and it sparks a memory of faith,” said Cory Zolandz, coordinator of Christian formation at Resurrection Parish in Wilmington, Delaware.
In the past, Cory’s K-5 students gathered in their parish’s parking lot to pray a Living Rosary. She drew large rosary beads in colorful chalk, and potted plants marked each decade. Each participant took turns using a microphone to lead the prayers.
“Just getting to use the microphone was lots of fun, especially for the younger students,” she said. “Plus, getting out of the classroom is good sometimes.”
Living Rosaries require 60 participants, plus someone to hold the crucifix. After that, the options are endless.
Underneath the stars
Host a Living Rosary in the evening, either inside (with lights out) or outside. Use inexpensive glow sticks (which each participant bends to light up after each prayer). Or use candles — with each candle lit (or blown out) after each prayer. Substitute flickering LED candles if desired. Another option: Ask all participants to wear neon colors, and then pray the Rosary with glow sticks underneath black light. Hosting an outdoor movie night? Pray a nighttime Living Rosary beforehand to kick off the festivities. Another option is connecting bracelet glow sticks as you pray the Living Rosary as a group. Use bigger glow sticks for the mysteries.
World Mission Rosary
Designed by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the World Mission Rosary’s purpose is encouraging prayers for peace for the world, especially those areas where Church missionaries serve. World Mission Sunday falls on October 22 this year. Organize a colorful paper-chain rosary, with each student adding one link to represent different areas of the world (blue for Oceania , white for Europe, red for the Americas, and so on). Attach each paper chain, then hang the finished rosary where it’s easily visible. For directions on how to pray the World Mission Rosary, visit CATmag.us/2kWRyn3. Other ideas: Read each mystery in a different language, or play short tunes from different parts of the world between each decade.
Deacon Ellis enjoys praying the Patriotic Rosary, where each Hail Mary prayer is offered for our 50 U.S. states. This version of the Rosary incorporates a prayer for the conversion of our country as well as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and other patriotic songs. “Our nation certainly needs it,” Ellis said. “It’s a marvelous way to pray for our country and for the people living in each state.” Participants could also pray for local leaders or wear red, white, and blue.
Plant a rosary garden
All Living Rosary participants receive a flower, which they plant in front of them after each prayer. When the Living Rosary is completed, a beautiful Rosary garden emerges — a perfect spot for meditation and prayer. Alternatively, ask participants to decorate a rock, and then add the rocks one by one to make a rosary garden.
CatholicInspired.com, which offers crafts, activities, and ideas for celebrating the liturgical year, suggests gluing photos of babies (from magazines, or perhaps actual baby photos from parishioners) to corresponding pink or blue circles and then distributing the circles to Living Rosary participants. As they pray the Rosary, they attach the circles to a large bulletin board to pray for families and for the unborn.
Inflate balloons beforehand, then attach a ribbon to each one. Participants add their balloons individually to one long ribbon while praying the Rosary together. Cut a large paper cross and attach it to the rosary. Use helium balloons indoors to avoid environmental damage.
Fun and games
Get participants moving simultaneously with a board game-style rosary. Use chalk to draw board-game squares on outside pavement (or paper squares taped to the floor inside). Each square is a “bead” of the rosary, and “pray-ers” advance one square with each prayer. Or separate the Rosary’s five decades, with participants forming five lines. Each person advances one space after each prayer. Another option: Act out each mystery with a short skit.
Seasonal paper rosary
Using a large paper roll, cut a long, vertical section so that students can glue paper beads to a bulletin board-size rosary. For the different beads, cut out seasonal shapes. (Example: For an autumn rosary, cut out large leaves for the mysteries, small pumpkins to represent the Hail Mary beads, and apples for the “Glory Be” and “Our Father” beads.) Optionally, have students write a prayer on their “bead” before attaching it.
Helping children encounter prayer
Praying a Living Rosary “makes it visual and interactive,” said Jennifer Dees, a coordinator at Notre Dame University’s Alliance for Catholic Education. She says, “It’s such a great way to help children encounter Christ through the stories of his life, the saints, and Mary.”
Dees has coordinated different versions of the Living Rosary during Catholic Schools Week. One year the children circled the church and held candles as an altar server lit the flames with each prayer. Children’s Rosary reflections were read at the ambo.
The following year her Living Rosary focused on the saints and their lives. The group prayed the luminous mysteries, and during each mystery they meditated on a saint (such as St. John the Baptist during the mystery of the baptism of Christ).
Another year Dees organized a Living Rosary to be offered for vocations, where people from different vocations (a priest, a sister, a brother, an engaged couple, and so on) presented the mysteries.
“It’s always important to think about what our essential purpose is when praying the Living Rosary — what we want the participants to come away with,” she said. “And we want them to have a love for the Rosary. The biggest benefit is the teachable moments you can incorporate. It’s really beautiful to have the participants meditate on the prayers, but there are so many more elements of the faith that you can bring in, as well.”
Simplify the words when first praying the Rosary with very young children, advises Marilou Cantwell, a parishioner at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina.
“I’ve always found that children want to say the Rosary, but such a long prayer is impossible for a three-year-old to retain,” she said. “When I realized my granddaughter was trying to say the Rosary, I taught her to say the first two words for each bead. I said it this way with her for a few days until she got the hang of it. So, at three years old, she was making the Sign of the Cross with the crucifix, then saying the words Our Father on the large beads and Hail Mary on the small beads. She was so proud of this, and that way she could say the Rosary!”
-- Designate someone to take pictures during the event. (Be mindful of student photo release permissions.) Post photos on a bulletin board or in the parish bulletin.
-- Consider inviting the parish’s Rosary Society to participate in the Living Rosary.
-- Invite your priest, parish staff, and parents to this event.
-- If children grow tired of standing during the Living Rosary (which typically takes about 15 to 20 minutes), have them sit down after finishing their prayer. Or pray the entire Rosary while sitting.
-- Provide each participant with a handout explaining how to pray the Rosary. Include all the prayers.
-- Invite everyone to enjoy refreshments afterward.
-- Cory Zolandz added another essential tip: “I remind the children that we are people of prayer … that they are the goodness of God.”
“I’m sure Our Lady finds it quite pleasing to accept this gift of love from such little ones,” Marilou Cantwell added.
Lisanne Jensen serves as the coordinator of faith formation at The Church of St. Joseph, Diocese of Albany, New York. She is an assistant preschool teacher and resides in Columbia County, New York, with her husband and two children.