Saturday, January 16, 2021

How my mom taught us to pray (The Extended Pray version)

Many evenings after supper when I was growing up in Sudbury, if you visited our three-bedroom house where my parents raised 10 kids, there's a good chance you would have found all the occupants of the house on their knees, in the living room, saying the rosary.

Sounds sort of solemn, ritualistic and, well, kinda culty, doesn't it?

RAD DECOR: All living room structures could
serve as prayer propper-uppers

That's because it was. 

And the more I think about it, the more I understand the life lessons those evening prayers taught me. (Not the least of which is, if you're having trouble getting your grown kids to move out, you might wanna think about including rosary recitation in your daily routines. Just sayin'.)

But really, before telling you how "the Beads," as we called it, affected us, a few explanations are in order.

First. When I say the whole family, fact is, I can't really remember a time when everybody lived at home. 

My oldest brother Pat moved out shortly after I was born, two of my older sisters Mary and Bertholde went away to school early and by the time I was old enough to know anything, my second oldest brother Tom was in the working world. I'm also certain that other evenings, if, say, my older sisters Charlene or Norma or brothers Alex and Ed knew the rosary was a-comin', they'd find something else to do.

But never mind that. Mom's rosaries didn't need a quorum. Whoever was in the house was enough.

And neither was the rosary a nightly occurrence. It just seemed that way.

Some evenings, I imagine my mom (her name was Huena) employed the rosary as a way to quieten down the house.

And it unfolded thusly: Mom would lasso whoever was present with something along the lines of "it's time to say The Beads." So everybody--including visitors never mind if they weren't Catholic--gathered in the living room and knelt down in front of some furniture. 

It was pretty random. 

I'M PRAYING the company that posted this great image on
the web wouldn't object to my using it. But just to cover my
bases, here's their site

Two of us might kneel at the either end of the couch, somebody else'd get down beside a footstool or maybe against the back of a straight-backed chair. 

The lights got dimmed. And there we'd stay for the next 15-to-20 minutes, praying.

I'm sure that over the years, more than one unscheduled early evening visitor was taken by surprise by this scene, which I think looks like what they found under the ashes at Pompeii. I remember one night the cops showed up for some reason. That did not deter Huena.

Once we were all on our knees, my mom or dad subtly cued us to make the sign of the cross, or, as we called it, bless ourselves. (It's what the Dominican baseball players do as they step up to the plate.)

After we blessed ourselves, the "Beads" included the following opening prayers, always in the same order: The Creed, which we called "The I Believe in God," the Lord's Prayer, (we never called it that. It was always "The Our Father"), three Hail Marys (for the non-Catholics out there, this is where the popular phrase "throwing a Hail Mary" comes from. You're welcome.) and those three Hail Mary's would be followed by the "Glory Be!" 

SHIITE CATHOLIC: That's how comic Jim Gaffigan describes 
his wife Jeannie. Me and my dad (above) approve.
I should explain that this was a group effort. One person in the room would be chosen to lead the prayers, which mean he or she would say the first half of all the above prayers and then the others would recite the second parts.

After those five prayers were said came the main part of The Beads.

First, the leader would say the Our Father and everybody else in the room would recite the second half. 

(This is way more complicated than I thought it would be.)

Then, the leader said the first half of the Hail Mary and the group would answer with the second half and then that would happen--I hope you're sitting down--10 whole times. In a row.

Finally, after all those Hail Marys, the leader recited the first half of the Glory Be, as in, and I quote: "Glory Be to that Father, Son and Holy Ghost" and the crowd responded: "As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end amen." 

Do you realize how long it's been since I recited that? 

And there it was, up in my frontal brain lobe, right beside the first verse of  "Gilligan's Island!" 

I should also add that I, personally, didn't mean a word of it. I had no idea what the vast majority of the words we were saying meant. But that's neither here nor there. At that point, the leader--a role that was sometimes passed around in mid-rosary--repeated that series of 12-prayers five times.

Are you counting? We're up to more than 60 prayers. Said out loud. On a regular basis, in our living room. After all that praying, I'm pretty sure we could be as bad as we want and still get to heaven.  But I digress.

Those five verses of prayers were called the "decades" of the Beads, and I just remembered that sometimes, mom or dad would remind us that they each corresponded to something call the "Mysteries" of our faith: The Five Glorious mysteries; the five Sorrowful mysteries, The Five Joyous mysteries, and two more that I forget, the same as I forget the second verse of Gilligan's Island.

And after the five decades? 

Even more prayers but these involved nowhere as much audience participation. In fact, that part of the rosary, I was pretty much on cruise control for. That last part involved long complicated prayers that only the adults knew.

Here's a coincidence you'll greet happily. Not only did those big prayers bring the rosary to a close, they also finally brought us to the reason I'm telling you all this.

This Christmas, my lovely and thoughtful cousin Nancy Fulsom, whose mom was my dad's sister, sent us a Christmas card and printed on the front was one of those long complicated adult prayers that punctuated the rosary. 

It won Christmas.

HAIL NANCY: The card that won Christmas

The moment I saw the words, I was filled with a flood of wonderful memories. Here's a word: Verklempt. I think it means all colours of emotions.

The card was such a heartfelt gift, we're keeping it on display in our living room. 

When I look at it, I hear my dad's very unique manner of introducing the Hail Holy Queen, all those years ago..." 

"HAIL HOLY queen..." Tom intoned, like a Catholic Imam, alerting us all to the fact that we were now in for some long complicated and frankly, boring prayers that we'd never learn the words to.

And now, it's probably safe to tell you I very often mumbled during that part of the beads, pretending to know what I was praying about. 

I used to do the same thing when I was an altar boy at St. Clement's Church. We were supposed to know a bit of  Latin. I knew none.

But there were a few prayers the priest recited the first part of and we altar boys knelt angelically in front of him, our hands together and heads bowed, pretending to say something. 

All we knew was the right number of syllables and lines. It seemed to do the trick.

It's a skill that came in handy in life. 

I pretend to know stuff a lot.



  1. When Chantal and I got together, she was a lapsed Catholic, me a lukewarm Protestant. Since her cancer diagnosis, operation and grueling treatment, she now faithfully recites the Rosary each morning before she works out or shortly thereafter and always before work. Fortunately she can work from home. When you stare death in the face, you are given two choices, continue to deny God and the existence of eternal life or re-embrace the faith of your childhood. It's a human thing to do.

  2. When I was growing up, our family never did recite the rosary together. I would sometimes see my mom with her beads so I assumed she was reciting the prayers. My maternal grandmother had a great devotion to our Blessed Mother Mary and would go on pilgrimage to Lourdes (the site in France where our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous). Many miraculous healings take place there. My grandmother gave me a mother-of-pearl rosary with a tiny vial of the holy water from the Lourdes site imbedded within the crucifix. I have it my possession to this day.
    As I am maturing more in my spiritual journey, I am discovering how daily prayer is making a huge impact not only in my life but in the lives of those closest to me. I have 'resurrected' the rosary which was gifted to me by my grandmother, as well as the one which was used and gifted to me by my mother before she passed and have now made it my habit to start each day in prayer.

  3. You are bringing back good memories! Our Mothers were such good friends I’m sure they planned some of those evenings as we too, although just five of us children, kneeled and prayed together. I have one misty memory of when Father Moore brought the statue of our Lady Of Fatima to our house and everyone was kneeling. Each one of the five children was to be counted on to lead a decade of the rosary. Whoever started started backwards by saying Holy Mary Mother of God first.....needless to say, we said that entire decade backwards....I’m sure our parents had a few laughs over “tea” re that faux pas!