A wonderful way deepen your experience of the rosary is by starting a weekly rosary group. In an era when traditional religious organizations are gradually coming unraveled at the seams, the work of reinventing spiritual community is both vital and immensely rewarding.
As a spiritual practice rooted in the deep past, and at the same time able to address such issues as social justice and the need for a more feminine, ecologically-based understanding of life and community, the rosary offers a powerful force for good in the world and a compelling logic for community-building at the local level. Think if it as a “community garden” tended by a group of like-minded spiritual friends.
All you need to start a Way of the Rose meeting is a rosary and one or more other persons who live close enough to meet weekly. Choose a mutually convenient time and location and stick to it and soon you will have a thriving group. The rosary is its own best advertisement. Just meet regularly to pray it together, and Mary will do the rest.
The format is simple. Read our Way of the Rose group description aloud to begin the meeting. It goes like this:
“The Way of the Rose is a fellowship of men, women, and children who recite the rosary and share their experiences with it in a spirit of open dialogue. There are no dues or fees for membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. The Way of the Rose is not allied with any religious organization or institution and does not seek to reform such organizations or institutions. It neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to recite the rosary as a universal, nonsectarian spiritual path and encourage others to do the same.”
This is to protect each member’s right to his or her own spiritual or religious understanding and prevents the group from adopting outside causes that might lead to division or a loss of focus among its members.
Next we have “check-in” time. This gives us a way to visit informally with one another and catch up on the events of the week. People who pray the rosary together, praying in support of one another’s prayer intentions, tend to become good friends, and so this time is both necessary and enjoyable. People often stick around for a few minutes after the meeting as well, but some have other places to be, and so it is important to have an established time during the meeting for informal fellowship.
After 15-20 minutes the group discussion gets underway. The topic is always some aspect of the rosary. At our group in Woodstock we cycle through the fifteen mysteries, one per week, using them as the starting point for the discussion. The mysteries (the fifteen events from the lives of Jesus and Mary making up the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that constitute the rosary) are topics for discussion that will virtually never be used up. These are the great ecological and theological themes of human life that virtually anyone can relate to and find meaning in.
There are no rules and no limits for where our discussion might go. We generally try to stay on topic, but some of our deepest, most moving and most memorable discussions were the result of seemingly wandering off the subject of the mystery only to find in the end that we had discovered a heretofore unexplored dimension of it.
The group discussion can last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. At a predesignated time (for us this is one hour into the meeting) we ask for a volunteer to lead us in the rosary. We then dim the lights and begin with the Sign of the Cross.
The group sets its own pace for the recitation. In general, the words of the prayer should be allowed to establish their own momentum. Too slow and they lose that mantra-like power that shifts our collective consciousness. Too fast and it begins to feel like a race to the finish. Fifteen to twenty minutes is about right for a chaplet of five mysteries, following whatever set of mysteries is scheduled that day for the novena. Add a sixth “Prayers for the Dead” decade before concluding with the Hail Holy Queen and the rosary takes about 25 minutes from start to finish.
Now comes the heartbeat of our Way of the Rose meetings. In the silence that follows the end of the group recitation (still in natural light or candlelight, depending on the time of day), each member states his or her prayer intention for the week.
These are often very simple and straightforward: “Help me with the job interview on Monday…Bring me a soulmate…Be close to me at the settlement hearing for my divorce.” But sometimes they can take the form of personal explorations instead. A way of getting down to what we truly need or want: “Help my wife to forgive me – no, that’s not right. Guide me to one action I can take each day to repair the damage I have done.” The person speaking indicates the end of his or her prayer intention by saying the words “Hail Mary,” and the group joins in to complete the rest of the prayer.
No one is obligated to offer a prayer intention at a Way of the Rose meeting, and the intentions are spoken in no particular order. We simply leave space for everyone to pray aloud who wants to. People may feel shy in the beginning, but after a few weeks in such a group virtually everyone finds they have things they want to pray for. “This is the real deal,” said one member. “The place I finally get serious about my life.”
The meeting ends with a final decade recited “for the prayer intentions of the group.” After each intention, we said a Hail Mary as a way of supporting the prayers of the speaker. Now we pool our intentions together and offer them to Mary as a group.
In Woodstock we developed a custom that at the end of the meeting we stand and join hands, saying in unison, “It works if you work it, so work it – you’re worth it!” This is often followed by a little laughter, because that’s the standard refrain at a 12 step meeting. It’s our way of honoring our indebtedness to that spiritual tradition, which is the closest thing to our Way of the Rose groups and how they function – with no fees or dues, no leaders, and no concern but saying the rosary together and “working” it to deepen our experience of life, our connection to Mary, and our relationships to one another.
If you want to start a Way of the Rose meeting, our Woodstock group is happy to offer support, although most of what you need in terms of basic guidance is here. As more groups form, we will develop additional support materials – such as pamphlets on how to say the rosary, and collections of stories from Way of the Rose members about how the rosary has change their lives.