[This document was prepared on behalf of a group of Catholic parents to address issues locally that may also be going on elsewhere in the country. It is published here as a resource for parents who may find it useful.]
Mary and Marian Devotions in the Catholic School Parental Concerns and Suggested Remedies
This report addresses concerns of parents with respect to the Blessed Mother in the Catholic School. The report concludes with suggested remedies to address these concerns. May this report be read in a spirit of humility, honesty and Truth. And may it be read with an open heart and mind—putting aside personal opinions and preferences.
We are concerned because Mary’s role in the Church is being ignored in the Catholic schools. Mary goes by many titles: Mother of God, Morning star, Mother of Christ, Mother of our Creator, Mother of our Savior, Throne of Wisdom, Comfort of the Troubled, Refuge of Sinners, Queen of Peace, Queen of the Family, Model of Motherhood. (See Marian Litany of Praise to the Blessed Virgin Mary). She is our Mother and the Mother of the Church. Students are not developing an affinity for prayer to Mary and solitude with her. If they don’t develop this prayer life in the Catholic school, when will they develop it? The danger is also that students who come from homes where the rosary is prayed often feel isolated as if they are from another planet and there is peer pressure if not persecution from other students not to pray the Rosary. This can lead the student from the good Catholic home to develop a dislike of and disdain for Marian prayer and the Rosary.
The Catechism teaches that “The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion.” (CCC 971) If the Church “rightly honors” the Blessed Virgin with special devotion, then should not the Catholic school honor her as well?
Marian devotions are generally absent from the modern Catholic school in particular the most important of all Marian devotions—the Rosary. The Rosary is rarely if ever prayed in the Catholic high school of today and in the rare instances when it is prayed there is insufficient teaching provided to give any depth of meaning to the prayer for the student. Although some high schools may haul the students into the church once a year on a particular feast day to pray the rosary—this is done with inadequate preparation and explanation and it appears most students don’t comprehend what they are doing when they say this prayer or why they are praying it. Consequently, students may not want to pray the Rosary, or may feel they are being forced into praying this prayer.
Yet the Rosary is one prayer that is vital to our Catholic faith, and thus to our Catholic schools. The Catechism tells us that the Rosary is an “epitome of the whole Gospel.” (CCC 971) CCC 2676-2677 explains the Biblical basis of the Hail Mary. Our Blessed Mother asked us to pray the Rosary. She said it would bring peace to the world. Pope John Paul II said it was his “favorite” prayer. St. Padre Pio said the Rosary was the “weapon” against evil. The Rosary, if it were to be given adequate attention and reverently prayed, could act as the weapon against evil in the Catholic school. The Rosary could also yield a “harvest of holiness” in Catholic schools. The APOSTOLIC LETTER ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIA (1) stated:
The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.
Catholic schools may claim that students do not “like” to pray the Rosary. (And neither do many adults.) But are students to be guided in doing that which they “like” to do, or are they to be guided in doing that which is good for their souls?
At times, praying the Rosary can be difficult. Yet we pray it. Why? What motivates those who pray the Rosary? The desire to pray the Rosary begins when at least at some rudimentary level one begins to understand it, when one begins to understand that:
- The Rosary is a meditation on the life of Christ and the scriptures. In scriptures Mary said: “all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48)
- The Blessed Virgin Mary asked that we pray the Rosary and she is our Mother in heaven who loves us. In various apparitions, this is what Mary has continually asked for over and over again.
- The Rosary can bring peace to our lives and to the lives of our families
- The Rosary can bring peace to the world and bring about the conversion of sinners
- The Rosary draws us, in a mysterious way, closer to Christ and to our Eucharistic Lord
All of the above can combine to make us want to pray the Rosary. So what can be done when students don’t want to pray the Rosary? How can schools persevere for the sake of the children, and for the future of the children in whose hands the future of the Church most surely rests? How can schools motivate students to pray the rosary and embrace other Marian devotions? There are many actions Catholic schools could take.
Catholic schools could start to impart to students knowledge of their Heavenly Mother. This can be done by looking for ways to draw students into the mysteries of Mary and her Rosary.
Make and Use Rosary Videos: Today’s student is technologically talented. The school could leverage these mountains of technological talent and collectively have high school students make their own videos of the Rosary in their religion or technology class. These videos could incorporate: sacred art and Marian icons, related scripture verses, and connected virtues for which to pray. The art department or art classes could be asked to contribute. Students will more likely feel a sense of ownership over a video they themselves have made.
Since there are televisions in the classrooms, the Catholic school could collectively pray the rosary by viewing a student-produced Rosary video on a regular basis. These videos could also be uploaded to the computers and iPods of students, school staff and parents—all of whom could be asked to pray the Rosary for the intentions of the school, as well as other intentions—for example when a child becomes critically ill or there is some type of national or world crisis, or for missions etc. Videos of the Rosary are also available on-line, and schools and families could easily use these.
If a video of the Bishop praying the Rosary with Catholic high school students could be made, then the Bishop could lead the students in this prayer on a somewhat regular basis through video in the Catholic schools. Alternatively, or in addition, perhaps the Bishop could lead the students and school staff in the Rosary when he visits the schools.
Establish a Marian Mystery of the Month: The school could establish a Rosary “mystery” of the month or week. During that time the school could educate the students on the scripture verses connected with the particular mysteries. The modern Catholic high school student oft-times is not asked to memorize scripture. Students could be required in their religion classes to memorize the scripture verses associated with a particular mystery. They could be taught, and asked to write about, the sacred art and Marian icons connected to the various mysteries of the Rosary. They could be taught, and asked to research the particular virtue associated with each mystery. Students could be guided in how to apply these virtues to their own lives.
Encourage Families to Pray the Rosary: The school could work to give parents tools to help them pray the rosary in family life. They could be encouraged to embrace the truth that “the family that prays together stays together,” (Father Patrick Peyton). If a full rosary is too much then families can start with just one decade of the Rosary.
Each school could have multiple “pilgrim” statues that could be sent home on a rotation. (Every grade level could have its own statue at the elementary level and every grade could have multiple statues at the high school level.) There could be a regular sign-up with the ultimate goal of promoting the Rosary and devotion to Mary. Testimonies can be given to families as examples of how the Blessed Mother has worked healings and miracles in homes.
School websites could provide a section which includes Marian devotions and explains the History of these devotions and perhaps even a video of a school-created Rosary. Families need to be taught that Mary will take our prayers, however imperfect, straight to her Son because she is the greatest intercessor that we have.
We could acknowledge those schools which are trying to incorporate the Rosary in the family. For example, one diocesan Catholic school invites the grandparents to pray the rosary with the students. These types of testimonies and “glory stories” could be shared, promoted and advertised by the Diocese perhaps through the Diocesan newspaper.
Make Rosaries: Schools could have students make Rosaries for prisons, missions and even for themselves and family members. We ask students to have some type of service. This service could be extended and promoted to include making rosaries for missions, or visiting a nursing home and praying the rosary with the elderly or perhaps those who are sick or homebound.
Watch Movies on Mary: Films have become a valuable component of the learning experience. Rather than utilizing only secular movies to fill this need, movies on Marian apparitions (e.g. Fatima and Lourdes) could be incorporated into the curriculum and shown in religion classes.
Arm Students with Rosaries, Scapulars and Miraculous Medals: Catholic high schools students are regularly armed by the school with a plethora of t-shirts and other trinkets. Sacramentals hold a special place in Catholic tradition and serve to remind us of God and His promises. Schools could start arming students with scapulars, rosaries and miraculous medals—and teaching students about the depth of meaning in these heaven-sent “helps.”
For example, one diocesan Catholic elementary school gave out Miraculous Medals to all its students. The principal taught what the Medal meant over the intercom. Such thoughtful actions need to be promoted and advertised. They are truly Catholic and should be held up and modeled by all Catholic Schools. With tremendous zeal Catholic schools have promoted academics, sports, fund-raising and service. This same zeal could be applied to develop and spread devotion to Mary.
Take Trips to Marian Shrines: Schools could take students on class trips to Marian shrines (e.g. the Blue Army Shrine in Washington, N.J., or The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D. C. etc). The Miraculous Medal Shrine and Museum in Philadelphia has an extensive Marian art collection and is an excellent resource for prayerful reflection on the mysteries of our faith. When schools take trips they could make an effort to visit Marian shrines and thus help draw students to Our Lady.
Include Mary and the Rosary in Homilies: Students could pray the Rosary prior to school Masses. Priests could begin to explain the meaning of, need for and benefit of the Rosary to students during school Masses and exhort all to pray this prayer during homilies. The clergy could teach what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about Mary during the homilies of schools Masses. Priests could lead students in this prayer by their good example.
Create Opportunities for Marian prayer.
- Schools could begin at least some school/family functions with a Rosary where faculty/students (different grades), parents and siblings could be called up at different times to lead different decades of the Rosary. Schools could begin praying the Rosary and other Marian devotions in religion class. The religion class could conduct a “living Rosary” in a circle where each student says one prayer. Alternatively, students could individually come up to the front of the class to lead a decade of the Rosary. For example, one diocesan Legion of Mary group conducts a “living Rosary.” The Legion of Mary could bring this “living rosary” into the school, or school students could be encouraged to join the Legion of Mary, or even start their own Legion of Mary within the school.
- The school could start a student Rosary group, parent rosary group, faculty rosary group, family rosary group etc.
- The angelus could be prayed at noon in the school, and students could be encouraged to pray this prayer on their own in the morning and evenings.
- Marian Novenas could be conducted in advance of Marian feast days for particular intentions of the school and other intentions. Schools could try to make the Marian feast days something special with fun activities, special foods etc. The school could work to get the students excited about the feast day and incorporate the celebration into the entire day’s activities—especially at the elementary level. A Marian approach could also be incorporated into Catholic schools week or an entire day of Catholic Schools week could be devoted to Mary. Schools could add processions with the younger children dressed in their Communion outfits to Marian celebrations.
- Marian novenas could be prayed in advance of school retreats. The Rosary and other Marian prayers could be taught and incorporated into student retreats.
- A decade of the Rosary could be prayed for each child on his or her birthday. (If we pray all the time prayer will become normal in the school.)
- Relatives, neighbors and friends could be asked to pray the Rosary for the intention of school/staff and students and for the financial intentions of the school.
- A spiritual bouquet of rosaries and Marian devotions could be collected especially during May and October, or perhaps over the summer for the intentions of the school for the upcoming year, or a spiritual bouquet could be conducted in September to kick-off the school year.
- Children can be encouraged to give spiritual bouquets to parents as gifts for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day or on holidays like Christmas. Students could make a prayer coupon book that parents or relatives could redeem. This is a simple gift and teaches the children that the greatest gift is the gift of time and prayer.
Teaching the History of the Rosary:
Students need to be taught, and have every right to know, that they have a mother in Heaven whom they can turn to for assistance, and who loves them. This is so important. It needs to be emphasized and taken seriously, yet the vast majority of students are receiving this message neither from their homes nor from the school. Students need to be taught that the Rosary, the scapular, the Miraculous Medal and Marian devotions are real gifts and treasures from Heaven to the Church and to each one of us and they carry a depth of meaning that will help us to someday reach heaven. There are so many problems bombarding today’s Catholic family and students often do not know where to turn. They could be taught to turn to Our Lady. They could be taught to pray the Rosary and what it means. They could be taught the history Mary and of the Rosary.
For example, students can be taught the history of the Three Hail Mary’s and be taught to pray three Hail Mary’s daily for the virtue of purity. Students could be shown videos and could be given books to read (about particular saints) that help them understand what Mary asks of us and how much she loves us. This history could include a plethora of information about which the modern Catholic school student is generally being kept in the dark, in particular:
- The story of St. Dominic
- The miracle of Lepanto
- Our Lady of Guadelupe and the Tilma
- St. Bernadette and Lourdes
- St. Simon Stock and the scapular
- St. Maximilian Kolbe and the Immaculata
- St. Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal
- The 15 promises form Our Lady to those who say the rosary
- Fatima and the Miracle of the Sun
Fatima: Students like tangibles. The Fatima message is a concrete tangible message (as opposed to theory) that students can be taught. The Miracle at Fatima was witnessed by over 70,000 people and documented by a secular press. There are actual photographs of this event. But students in Catholic high schools are not being taught what our Blessed Mother asked of us at Fatima. The Fatima message could be honored in and spread through Catholic schools.
In Fatima, Portugal, on May 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared to three shepherd children. She told the children that God wished to “establish a devotion” to her Immaculate Heart. Our Lady showed the children a vision of hell. In response to this vision, Lucia (one of the children who saw the vision) has commented:
“… our good Heavenly Mother had promised to take us to Heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fright and horror.” (Letter dated August 31, 1941 from Sr. Lucia to the Bishop of Liberia)
Heaven has asked us through the Fatima message to help bring peace to the world and the conversion of sinners. Catholic schools are filled with Mary’s children and thus the children in these schools could begin to honor Mary by doing what she asked us to do.
Mary is the Mother of God. She is also our Mother in heaven to whom we can turn with all our troubles. She cares for us, prays for us and deserves our love in return. CCC 971 tells us:
“From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs…” “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it.” (CCC 964)
A recent parental report examined the absence of the Eucharist and the Mass in Catholic schools. If we minimize or negate both the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother in the Catholic school, if both the source and summit of Catholic life and the Mother of the Church are just about extinct within the school—then what type of Catholic school do we really have? If we have a “Catholic” school which has essentially excised both the Eucharist and Blessed Mother, ultimately how “Catholic” can it ever be?
The value and benefits of Catholic schools are well-known and documented. But there is a dramatic decline in Catholic school enrollments. Let’s consider: what is Catholic about our Catholic schools? If Catholic education is to be valued then it needs to be authentically Catholic. How is it reasonable to expect that parents will continue to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to send their children to Catholic schools only to have them lose their faith? How can Catholic schools expect to be blessed by God, yet continue on in error?
Are Catholic schools living the mission for which they have been established? When Catholic schools started they were started by poor immigrants who had nothing but gave everything to the parish. Parents will pay and sacrifice to get a good education for their children. But sacrificing parents are not enough to keep Catholic schools surviving and thriving. For Catholic schools to survive and thrive they need to become true to our Catholic traditions and our faith.
http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=438582&Pg=Forum8&Pgnu=1&recnu=17 (15 Promises by Mary to those who pray the Rosary)