The Melbourne Archdiocese has responded to Pope John Paul II's request in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae to celebrate the period from October 2002 to October 2003 as the Year of the Rosary by producing a new program to foster the Rosary in Catholic primary and secondary schools.
In his letter to Catholic teachers on 1 May 2003, accompanying the program, Archbishop Denis Hart lent his support to the promotion of the Rosary: "The Marian months of May and October and the months between them offer us a central time-frame for educating children and young people on the value of the Rosary in our lives. I am pleased to offer this teaching resource to assist you to develop this prayer with students in creative and imaginative ways.
"The familiar beads place a simple way of praying in our hands. This is why the Rosary has been taken up by millions of believers across the centuries. It is a way of meditating on Jesus Christ. We join Mary, our Mother, in a rhythm of prayer, as we meditate on his life, death and Resurrection in the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. The Rosary has been described the "Gospel at our fingertips" ...
"Let me add my own personal witness to the value of this prayer in my life. I have found the Rosary a simple daily companion. In joy and when tired I pray it - and find peace with Jesus and Mary."
The new program, titled Teaching Companion: Year of the Rosary 2003, was prepared by Melbourne's Vicariate for Religious Education and Catholic Education Office. It contains extensive information on the Rosary, including the relevant prayers and Scriptural background to each mystery, along with ideas for meditation. The new Mysteries of Light have also been incorporated.
Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary had created a new set of mysteries to be known as the Mysteries of Light which fill a gap in the traditional cycle between the Joyful and Sorrowful mysteries. The mysteries are: 1. The Baptism of Jesus (Matt 3:17); 2. The Wedding at Cana (Jn 11:12); 3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God in which Jesus calls us to conversion (Mk 1:15); 4. The Transfiguration (Lk 9:35); 5. The Institution of the Eucharist (Jn 13:1).
The Pope proposed that these Mysteries be said on Thursdays, with the Joyful mysteries (previously said on Thursdays) to be moved to Saturday (a traditional Marian day in the Church's calendar).
The Melbourne Catechist Newsletter has reprinted an article from the corresponding Sydney newsletter on the new Mysteries of Light which contains informative and practical ideas on how to approach the Rosary in the classroom situation. It also underlines the co-operative approach between Australia's two largest archdioceses in the area of religious education.
The article, "Let there be light!" is by Peter J. Ivers, Director CCD Centre, Sydney. He writes: "Before catechists reach for their Rosary beads and head to the classroom ... it is important to realise that the school classroom may not be the most appropriate place to pray the Rosary. Why? As Pope John Paul II explains: 'The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning'."
Mr Ivers continues: "It is clear that such a method of praying is not always possible given the restrictions of a thirty-minute lesson, often in less-than-ideal classroom surroundings. Pope John Paul II devotes a significant section of his letter to warning against mechanistic recitation of the Rosary. He outlines a beautiful method by which the prayer should be prayed, i.e., announce each mystery; listen to God's Word by proclamation of a relevant Scripture passage; silence (contemplation of God's Word); the Lord's Prayer; ten Hail Mary's; the Gloria; concluding short prayer (for the fruits specific to that particular mystery).
"As the Pope's letter clearly indicates, the Rosary is part of our heritage and students have a right to know about it. Catechists need to teach students about the Rosary at an appropriate age. For this to occur catechists who work with younger children need to put in place the 'building blocks' of the Rosary. In other words, students need to concentrate on learning prayers such as the Hail Mary and the Lord's Prayer from an early age ... Importantly, students need to be introduced to key stories from Scripture upon which the Rosary is based. If catechists can do this, it then becomes the responsibility of parents and care-givers to actually pray the Rosary with their children."
Mr Ivers concludes: "In this Year of the Rosary, then, I encourage catechists to consider ways in which they can make an appropriate contribution to the spiritual development of the students they teach."
The Melbourne Teaching Companion includes a commentary on the Pope's Apostolic Letter on the Rosary, which notes that such a devotion "can respond to our deep human and spiritual needs" and highlights "the harmony between the Rosary and the Liturgy".
The Companion includes a detailed guide for RE teachers with numerous practical suggestions on how to incorporate a focus on the Rosary into their regular lesson program, ranging from the lower primary to middle secondary levels. Connections are made with the relevant Supportive Units and chapters from the Melbourne/Sydney series of RE texts, To Know, Worship and Love, along with a listing of resource materials on the Rosary and where to obtain them.
Overall, this is further evidence of welcome moves being taken in some Australian dioceses to connect young Catholics more effectively with the doctrines and traditions of their Church.