The first time I heard of a “Living Rosary,” I was reading about Saint John Paul II. Throughout his life, as many of his biographers noted, he was a member and proponent of Living Rosary prayer groups.
What is a Living Rosary? The devotion appears to have begun in France in 1826, when Venerable Pauline-Marie Jaricot formed the Living Rosary Association. She was inspired to pull together groups of 15 persons who would each be responsible for praying one decade of the Rosary each day, so that the full 15-decade Rosary would be prayed each day by the group.
Over a century later, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, a young layman named Jan Tyranowski formed prayer groups of 15 men in his parish, representing the 15 mysteries of the Rosary. One of the group’s leaders was the young Karol Wojtyla—the young St. John Paul II (who would later introduce the Luminous Mysteries in his pontificate). Tyranowski met with the men in prayer and guided them in spiritual direction. He called it the Living Rosary prayer group. Wojtyla, the future pope, remained devoted to the Living Rosary prayer group and brought this model into his own parishes after he became a priest.
In some places today, a school or youth group will organize a Living Rosary. They might assemble students into the physical form of a Rosary, where each student represents one prayer bead, and the group recites the prayers together. This is a variation of the original Living Rosary.
In all its variations, the Living Rosary bears in common the practice of a group of people representing the prayers of the Rosary, and sharing in praying the Rosary together.
Organizing a Living Rosary
Two years ago, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to begin a Living Rosary in my community. I really liked the idea of each person being responsible for one decade a day, so that a full Rosary would be prayed by the group each day. I hoped we would find enough people to form a group of 20, so that all the decades of the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries would be covered. Although I had heard that some Living Rosary groups make a commitment for life, I wanted to take it one year at a time, so I decided to try organizing it for one year.
I also was looking, at the time, for a way to strengthen marriages, so I invited people in my community to take part in a Living Rosary with the intention of praying for all marriages, for the year 2015. As the Holy Spirit would have it, not only did we end up with enough people to do a full 20-decade Rosary each day, but we had exactly enough members to offer a Seven Sorrows Rosary as well.
For that first year, each person in our group took the same mystery for the whole year. Our family prayed the fourth sorrow of the Seven Sorrows Rosary (Mary meets Jesus on the road to Calvary) every night for a year, and it was a beautiful experience to meditate so intimately on that one mystery. Our family also did the opening and closing prayers for the traditional and Seven Sorrows Rosaries.
At the end of the year, I decided to organize a group for the next year. We expanded the intentions, so that each set of mysteries was dedicated to a different intention (such as the souls in Purgatory or the protection of children’s innocence). For 2016, the Holy Spirit brought enough members that we have been able to offer, together, the 20-decade Rosary, the Seven Sorrows Rosary, and the Franciscan Crown Rosary, every day.
This time, we decided to switch mysteries each month. (Some Living Rosary groups even switch mysteries daily.) Some people requested to stay on the same mystery all year; everyone else took turns on the mysteries that remained. I kept a master list of the last names of all members, randomly assigned them to different mysteries each month (asking the Holy Spirit to guide the assignments), and sent out an email with the next month’s list at the end of each month. The email also included a reminder of the prayer intentions and links for how to pray the Seven Sorrows and Franciscan Crown Rosaries.
Over the past two years, taking part in the Living Rosary has been a great consolation to me. I receive far more than I give in return for the minimal effort it takes to organize. I often find it difficult to get out of the house to meet with prayer groups (as much as I wish I could), and I have very much appreciated the Living Rosary as a way to make me feel like I am part of a close prayer community, even though we don’t meet in person.
When I fail to pray as much as I want to in other areas, I love knowing that I am a part of this team, and that my contribution of one decade a day grows exponentially through the prayers of the other members. I can imagine all these prayers lifting into the air like incense from all our different locations and joining together in the heavens to form one great, Living Rosary.
Those looking for a devotion to practice in the New Year might like to consider forming a Living Rosary prayer group. There are many ways to implement it. Even if it’s a group as small as five friends, each person can take a mystery and a five-decade Rosary can be completed daily.
The Living Rosary has been a great blessing in my life, reminding that me that I am not alone in my prayers, and that my small offering can become something much bigger when I join it with the offerings of others. The grace is tangible, and the power is more than we will ever know.