Opening children to the beauty of the Church through the Rosary and Benediction.
I am very lucky to work in a Catholic School where the Catholic name actually means something. We attend Mass as a whole school (350 students) once a fortnight and we celebrate the liturgical calendar (both feasting and fasting).
So when the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary popped up in my calendar last year, as the Acting REC, I wondered what we could do to celebrate the month of the Rosary and Our Lady’s feast.
My first thought was to have a whole school Rosary. As a Year 3/4 teacher we had said year level Rosaries, but even the practising Catholics on staff thought getting the whole school to say the Rosary was a pipe dream. People said, “they won’t know what to do”; “they will misbehave”; “they won’t follow along and it will be you and Father praying it”. I like a challenge, and so I pursued it further. I asked the Principal what he thought and then the Parish Priest. Thankfully, both were very supportive, and suggested that we also include Benediction to strengthen the children’s relationship with Christ, truly present in the Eucharist.
I contacted the Parish Music Coordinator and asked him if he would play the organ and thought of all the prayers and chants that would be needed for the Rosary and the Benediction including the Tantum Ergo (In Latin!), the prayer of Benediction and the Divine Praises and instructions on when to kneel, stand and sit. Since people said, “they won’t know what to do” I put all of this information on to an A5 document so that the students and the teachers could follow along. We went over these in staff meetings, so that the teachers could pass on “how to behave tips” to the children.
Through the school newsletter and Parish Bulletin, I invited parents, grandparents and the parishioners to join us and asked the children to bring their Rosary beads to school and the teachers to practise with them beforehand. The people who had resisted the idea because they envisaged that the difficulties were insurmountable, realised that through organisation, practise and high expectations, these issues were able to be overcome. There were teething problems, like the children not really knowing how to use the Rosary Beads, but as a teaching staff we’ve worked on this.
Positive reinforcement from the leadership team and the staff and repetition of this experience have transformed it from a one off to a fruitful and integrated habit. We now have one Rosary and Benediction each Term. Students from Year 6 have led the school in the mysteries and have done so reverently and respectfully. The children follow along with the prayers and respond beautifully, they use their Rosary Beads, they sing and they know what to do when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed and when the Benediction occurs, they make the sign of the Cross by themselves. One might say they sense their closeness to the sacred and their response is one of reverence and awe. As we walk back to school, they seem to float and their smiles are large. Last week I had Year 2 children practising double genuflections and Benediction with a miniature monstrance that was on our prayer table. When I returned the monstrance to it’s rightful place, one of the little boys asked, “Where has the monstrance gone? I really like the monstrance!” The teachers have also been transformed, those who don’t generally like speaking into microphones, have actually lead the decades and reflections and they have realise that this is something beautiful for the children. One teacher said to me after our last one, “I can’t believe how simple it is to do something that beautiful”.
A parishioner from a neighbouring parish went up to our Choir teacher after our last Rosary and Benediction and said, “I only came today because I didn’t believe this many children could last through, let alone pray the Rosary, but I was wrong. They were beautiful and you should be very proud of them”. While there were many parents who attended, it was the older generation (the grandparents) who were really impressed. Many of them would have grown up going to Benediction or saying the Rosary with their family and I think they were deeply touched that their grandchildren now get to enjoy these beautiful rituals of the Church.
While the first one took a lot of time to organise, now that they are up and going, I only make small changes and the Lord takes care of the rest. He draws the children to himself and gives them a deep peace that often shines through in the classroom or the playground. They need this peace, particularly in today’s society, where families often don’t have time to eat together, let alone pray together. It is important that we as teachers, in our own classrooms and within Catholic school communities, provide them with opportunities to stop and pray and also to be exposed to the beauty and traditions of the Church and to that peace that Christ wishes to bestow upon them.
Andrea Dyson is a graduate of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne and an acting Religious Education Coordinator.