Non solum: Rosary before Mass

Today’s question: Rosary before Mass

In some places (in my home diocese in southern Minnesota, at least), recitation of Rosary before Mass is back. What is your appraisal of the practice? Is it an appropriate way for members of the congregation to pray together before Eucharist on the Lord’s Day? If so, how should it be carried out? How important is it that the Rosary be done well before Mass? If not, what would you recommend in its place – elements of the Liturgy of the Hours, or something else?

39 comments

  1. Any group of people who are able, not only to get to Mass on time but actually come earlier enough to pray the rosary, get my vote.

    1. @John Swencki:
      The General Instruction of the Roman Missal #45 states ‘it is a praiseworthy practice for SILENCE to be observer\d in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner.’ Stay after Mass and say the rosary.

      1. That is just one of the problems with the new missal. Tradition shows that we say the rosary as a group before mass. Any unified group is better than a bunch of individuals doing their own thing. Especially when so many can’t hold reverence and think (small) talking is acceptable. The example of the rosary before mass will help get peoples minds right and it will benefit those in our intentions: The holy souls in purgatory, the sick in the parish and our personal intentions. – Jim Cauley

  2. Where did the rosary go? On Long Island and in New England it has always been extremely common for the congregation to pray the rosary before or after daily Mass. Sometimes a novena substitutes for the rosary. In my parish, we even say the Angelus/Regina Coeli before the “noon” weekday Mass (12:15pm to allow for the priest’s vesting and the devotions).

    I cannot at all see why saying the rosary, or a novena, or the Angelus before or after Mass would at all detract from the Mass itself. To substitute an hour from the Office strikes me as an unnecessary and artificial disruption of an entirely wholesome practice of generations of Catholics.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #3:
      Catholics seem to prefer rote prayers and simple pious exercises to the more demanding and more spiritually enriching offices of the psalms, canticles, and readings found in the liturgy of the hours. This is radically different from the ancient and more rewarding experience of their Anglican and Orthodox counterparts. It’s little wonder why non-Catholics find Roman liturgies boring and puerile.

      The Roman liturgical diet isn’t well balanced. Rosaries and novenas are for private devotions at home, or to be said on the subway. They have no place before Mass.

  3. During the week, we always pray the Angelus before Mass (e.g., Angelus at noon-ish, followed by Mass at 12:05pm).

    On Sundays, though, there is no such collective recitation; people just come in and pray individually.

    I would welcome praying the Rosary, or if not Rosary, then some “nice and peaceful and meditative” music (e.g., organ preludes) before Mass.

  4. Well, it depends. I’ve been to daily Mass where Rosary recitation immediately precedes Mass (no gap) and is quite loud (even when only a dozen people are praying aloud) and the participants can be, well, territorial, shall we say. Also, there’s no accommodation to other devotions (like the Sacred Heart on First Fridays).

  5. I don’t think the Rosary ever left the parishes where I have been for the last 36 years! As long as there is a good space of time between the end of the Rosary and the beginning of the Eucharist, I don’t see a big problem with it, unless there are some considerations of which I am not aware.

    I would prefer Liturgy of the Hours, but again, it must be concluded by good amount of time before the Eucharist begins.

  6. I believe that, generally speaking, we do not give silence in the liturgy its proper due. The new Missal commends silence before the liturgy begins, so if additional prayers must be added on to the liturgy, I should think that after Mass would be the better choice, thus not imposing the chant of the Rosary on people who might be seeking some quiet reflective time. This raises another question: what percentage of church-going Catholics include the Rosary as a part of their devotional prayer life?

  7. While I would prefer Evening Prayer or Morning Prayer before the Lord’s Day Mass, in their absence the Rosary would be better than no opportunity for communal prayer.

    Of course like all things, the Rosary can be done well or can be done poorly. At the wake of one of my relatives the Rosary was led by two women in a manner that had all the dignity of a sung office.

    The ultimate in the Rosary was a kind of “solemn high rosary” which was the first major item in the Vigil for Peace in Saint Peter’s Square. The solemnity was an austere solemnity more like that of Good Friday. If you have the time (about 45 minutes I think) and have not experienced it, do so some time:

    http://www.radiovaticana.va/player/index_fb.asp?language=it&tic=VA_8KFFHJ2K

    The Rosary is not a part of my prayer life, however I would come for a well done Rosary before Mass, especially if many members of the Parish also came.

    I agree with the notion that there should be a sufficient silence (five or ten minutes) between the Rosary/Office and Mass.

    However I would not stay after Mass, but that would also be true if the Divine Office were held after Mass. There is a proper order for services, e.g. in the Vigil for Peace, it was Rosary, Beginning of Exposition, Holy Hour Bible Service, Office of Readings for Day, Benediction.

  8. My experience with a congregation praying the Rosary aloud before Mass; it has sounded like a fast moving freight train. No thanks.

  9. No problem for me. I have yet to experience this in Iowa on Sundays.

    I find the Rosary more suited for me personally as an individual devotion. I find the Fatima prayer a distraction and dislike it. I never use it.

    As I reflect on my years in rural ministry, I have slight regrets about not adding this to the regular prayer in the parish, at least one or two days a week. Liturgy of the Hours never, ever took off. And it’s probably better for people to pray in more numbers for the rosary than in trickles for Morning Prayer.

  10. Here in Japan, particularly in the Archdiocese of Nagasaki and other dioceses on the southern island of Kyushu, it never went away. In some parishes you also get a traditional form of morning prayer (not from the Office) – in classical/literary Japanese said before Mass even on weekdays. In my present location, Morning Prayer (Matins) is prayed before the most well attended Sunday Mass, but replaced by the Stations of the Cross in Lent, and the Rosary in May and October. Sadly not enough attention is paid to pace and timing so Mass starts later than the schedule indicates.
    Personally I’d like to see a distinction made and kept between prayers that belong to the liturgical tradition of the Church and acts of private piety and devotion. The idea of a pause, of say five to ten minutes, between the end of the Rosary etc, could serve that function. But I’d still see some value in a catechesis that clearly explains the difference between acts of community worship (the liturgy) and acts of public/private devotion and piety, no matter how long they have been sanctioned by tradition.
    Further in a season like Lent, given the flow and development of the theology of the season, as indicated in the prayers and readings of each Sundays Mass, then the praying of the Stations of the Cross can cause a blurring and duplication of the message of the day.

  11. A lot of things can legitimately occur before Mass. Confession, for example. Some people in my current parish come early and light candles and pray. I once joined with a group at a former church that came every Saturday 30-40 minutes prior to Mass and prayed the rosary. It was not a freight train, but they were always done in plenty of time. Currently I usually have a function (cantor/lector) that causes me to want to be at Mass 30-40 minutes early. Even so, I am rarely the first person there, and the ones who are there are just basking in the silence, and praying. I think all these things are fine according for the people that derive benefits.

  12. I prefer hearing a chanter and a choir sing a few psalms before Mass, the psalms Jesus and his disciples probably sang at the last supper. I think of Pope Innocent III who encouraged the singing of penitential psalms before Mass at Lent. So I’d prefer a very short office–even one which is a strictly paraliturgical rite.

    I don’t mind hearing the rosary recited after Mass, or associated with the Little Office of the BVM, a novena, a holy hour, or the Stations of the Cross. Just as long as I don’t have to see people mumbling the prayers during the celebration of the eucharist itself. I think that’s comparable to someone reading a book at the dinner table while the host and other guests at the table are eating and chatting.

  13. The rosary has been prayed before Mass in both parishes I’ve worked for in North Carolina, and I believe it is fairly common practice in the area. At my current parish, they begin 30 minutes before the start of Mass, so that there is at least 10-15 minutes of silence before Mass begins, or sometimes a bit of prelude music. I have been at parishes where the praying of the rosary didn’t end until just before Mass began, and found it distracting.

  14. Part of the history of the ‘classical’ Dominican-style Rosary with its 15 decades and 3 sets of Mysteries to be recalled is that in ‘chaplet/5 decades’ portions it started as a replacement for the Divine Office at Lauds and Vespers for the illiterate ‘brothers’ (those who were not ‘clerics’). The ‘brothers’ would join in with the ‘clerics’ for the ‘Gloria Patri’/Doxology at the end of each of the five psalms in these portions of the Divine Office. The each series of the Mysteries were to be meditated on at the appropriate time(s) in the Liturgical Year. This I am sure could be explained and perhaps a more ‘profound’ and paced recitation would result — even in ‘ordinary Parish’ situations.

  15. The recitation of the rosary takes place before every Mass and has done so for at least a decade before I came to the parish. It starts 30 minutes before the service and ends usually around 8 minutes prior to the processional. It is led from the Ambo. Our sanctuary is quite small and that is the only physical place from which it could be led.

    A small, but loyal group, is always in attendance at the start and their numbers grow a little as others arrive.

    I am not going to reflect on the value of doing this, but wish to point out some of the problems under-the-surface that are not always apparent:

    – the sacristans must arrive at least an hour before the service to have their duties completed before the rosary commences.
    – the organist must arrive at least 90 minutes before the service to set up or rehearse a psalmist. One of the major problems we face with retention of quality musicians is that the Mass alone has become a 3-4 plus hour commitment of them. We now have to pay our organist an additional fee ($65) to cover the added waiting time.
    – on Saturday evening the last minutes before are a cacophony of tuning and testing as our guitar musicians (who have arrived from work and lead at the front) can’t setup or get ready for the Mass until the very end.
    – visitors often feel awkward entering the church since something is clearly already happening. Some leave. The last five minutes are a blur of people who choose to arrive at the last minute rather then interrupt the rosary. The church becomes very noisy. Regulars arrive late.
    – it forces one form of personal preparation for Mass on everyone. Try to quietly reflect on the upcoming readings, the psalms or other prayers when the rosary is being recited.
    – the last minutes before Mass, instead of being a time of quiet, are a picture of hustle and bustle as Father (who has just arrived) is going in and out of the sanctuary, sending servers to get items, light candles, set out hymn books … you name it.
    – Mass starts late as a result.

    There are…

  16. And make it the Scriptural rosary to boot.

    The point about the GIRM suggesting silence before Mass is well-taken. Rosary pray-ers may need to do it after Mass or so far ahead of Mass that they may choose not to do it.

  17. For those who are attracted to this devotion, it is a wonderful practice to pray with others. The difficulty comes when a small group of rosary devotees seek to impose this practice on the whole assembly. There may be other legitimate activities that need to take place, such as my church where the choir and cantors have no other place where they can rehearse before Mass. In one of my first weeks in this parish I was rehearsing quietly with a cantor in the choir loft during the rosary, which led to a loud and angry upbraiding by a senior usher. If I hadn’t quite disrupted the rosary enough already, he finished the job with a flourish.

    I’ve also seen the rosary prayed immediately following Mass, including copious SSSHHHHHHHHH!!!!, shooting glances like daggers at people visiting with each other, and even, “HEY–take it outside! We’re trying to pray here!” Most of the people who lead rosary in our parish are very kind and spiritual people, but there’s always someone who tries to impose this devotion at the end of a sword.

    I’d prefer if they would pray the rosary in our adjacent chapel or at a moderate volume in one section of the church, while understanding that other activities might take place at the same time.

  18. We have a group (10-15 people) to pray the rosary before the weekday Mass, which has never caused a problem. I say that any prayer is great, especially the rosary – any reflection on the Scripture has merit.
    Deacon Raymond Gueret

  19. I wish my parish would say the rosary before Mass. What usually happens at my Church is that people sit in the pews catching up with friends, laughing, yelling and waving across the building to someone. While we’re socializing the choir practices the parts to the songs they will be singing–usually off key. The pianist even gave us a rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale before Mass a few weeks ago.

    The Rosary–even if rattled off by pietistic old ladies–would be a great relief!

    1. @Rick Connor – comment #20:
      So you feel that church should be a place of silent reverence before Mass, and they feel that church should be a welcoming place where they can exercise community before Mass by greeting their neighbor. Or by preparing to offer their best attempt at praising God in song. Are you right and they are all wrong?

      I’m not disagreeing with you, but I am pointing out that many of your fellow parishioners may feel differently.

      Is there another place where their socializing can take place? Do you have a large and comfortable narthex, or a slight breezeway where ten steps in you hit the back pew? Does your choir have a dedicated rehearsal room, or do they have no choice but to rehearse in the church? For that matter, is there somewhere else you and others can gather for silent reflection such as a side chapel? If not, perhaps you could head up a capital campaign to build additional facilities to solve the problem you describe.

      1. @Scott Pluff – comment #21:
        Since you ask, Scott: Yes, Rick is right and you and the noisy bunch in the nave both before and after Mass are wrong. They just need to take it 20 steps away and outside the doors and they can chat and yell and visit all the rest of the day.

        It annoys me the people who want quiet are always made the bad guys if they whisper one word to try to bring about their legitimate desire for a prayerful atmostphere.

        At my church we have the best of both. The Rosary ends fifteen minutes before Mass and then there’s relative quiet till the bell rings to begin the procession of the priest and altar boys.

    2. @Rick Connor – comment #20:
      Well, believe it or not, the “noise” of folks can be tuned out by people like me as white noise more readily than the emphatic praying of the Rosary right before Mass. There’s a neurological reason for this that it take too long to describe…

  20. The key issue for me is that the rosary is an essentially private devotion. When people who mutually treasure this devotion choose to pray it in a public way, that can be a very good thing. But there are many people who gather for the Eucharist who don’t relate to a public recitation of the rosary but who prefer to pray it on their own in a place of their choosing (even quietly before Mass begins). The public recitation of the rosary in the space where people are gathering for Mass can creates problem for priests, deacons, musicians, sacristans, and others who are preparing for Mass. All of them have other things that they are rightly concerned with before Mass begins, yet they may be perceived as “against” the rosary when they do not participate in it.
    Another problem is the style of rosary. Those devoted to our Lady of Fatima include a prayer for the rescue of souls from purgatory that is not a part of a “standard” rosary. Some people like the rat-a-tat-tat pace while others prefer a more meditative pace.

    We have a public rosary by a small group of devotees that follows a weekday Mass. No one feels pressured into staying for it and the group seems sincerely motivated to simply pray the rosary for various special intentions.

  21. Hi, Scott (#21). I’m saying something a little simpler. A rosary before Mass is no more distracting or inappropriate than the laughter, jokes, or catching up on business. The only time I’ve gotten really irritated was at my daughter’s Confirmation, where the family behind us was intoxicated and laughing at “the ignorant people who really believe that Catholic shit.”

    A group sharing a private devotion is no more inappropriate than other congregants laughing and socializing. At my Church, while the altos try to sing their part the other choir members are laughing joking, smacking each other and eating snacks (they sit right next to the altar so they are hard to miss). Personally I can more easily tune out a rattling rosary than I can some of the loud talk and laughter.

    I didn’t say the noisy bunch is wrong or that they are doing anything wrong. They are distracting though. Why should the Rosary folks need to be quite because the noisy people find them distracting. Can’t we all be loud together

    My actual concern is with the clericalism that says that people who pray the Rosary are not mature Christians or as well formed as theologians and liturgists. I’m not particulary offended by the talkers and would never shoot a dirty look at them–any more than I would be concerned about the people praying the Rosary. I can’t figure out why the Rosay is bad, but jokes, sax riffs, and Whiter Shade of Pale music is okay.

    1. @Rick Connor – comment #25:

      I can’t figure out why the Rosay is bad, but jokes, sax riffs, and Whiter Shade of Pale music is okay.

      Are you sure that’s what it was? A lot of people get confused between Whiter Shade of Pale and Bach’s “Air on the G string” from his Suite in D, particularly those who don’t know the Bach.

    2. @Rick Connor – comment #25:
      I agree. I’m usually the one arguing for more care and reverence in how we behave in church, and I imagine I would have the same reaction in your situation. I was just pointing out that there are competing values at play.

  22. Karl–comment 20. If I had my preference it wouldn’t be the Rosary before Mass. I’d like a little Praise music–but that’s not going to happen. I tune out the noise of the choir and the jokers and don’t see it as much more of a problem than a vocal Rosary. I do prefer the Rosary noise to the more social noise, but I can tune both out. What makes the Rosary any more inappropriate and out of place than the choir rehearsing, the sax player warming up, or the organist playing 60s music? It seems to me that the pot is calling the kettle black. There is a little mutual tolerance that could occur. The Rosary folks (I’m not one of them incidentally) are not the uneducated, peasant enemy that so many pastors and liturgists sometimes presume them to be.

  23. It seems to me that we’ve made a mistake whenever we cast authentic devotions over and against the Church’s liturgy as competing values. The authenticity of the devotions themselves depends not only upon their doctrinal content–which of course must conform with the faith as expressed in the liturgy–but also upon the way in which they lead the faithful to more fervent celebration of the sacred liturgy itself. For this reason I find it hard, in principle, to see any problem with reciting the rosary before Mass. Also I’m a Dominican, which probably means that I’m partial. Of course Scott is right, people need to use their heads. If you’re in a confined space then people need to be charitable to each other and figure out how to peaceably coexist and share time and place.

    I guess one thing which genuinely intrigues me, and I’d be very happy to hear what some of the rest of you think about it, is the place of the rosary in the life of the Church in general. Of course it’s not required, and it’s probably never been the case that absolutely everyone said the rosary, but even the Directory on Popular Piety recognizes that the rosary occupies a place in the devotional life of the Church unlike…well unlike any other devotion really. There are obvious parallels to the Jesus Prayer in the East, and while that prayer wouldn’t obviously be called for in the ritual texts themselves, God knows that most of us have suffered through homilies praying, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for the recitation of the rosary at Mass, but I seriously wonder if the hardline division between devotion and liturgical celebration can really be sustained, either historically or pastorally/practically.

  24. It is the Greek Orthodox position, I believe, that holds that the first procession of the liturgy is actually when the people leave their homes to walk to church. Of course, we can see parallels in our own tradition, and how the “Gathering HYmn” & entrance rites developed from that same kind of ‘procession’ of people walking to church. We can imagine them singing psalms, hymns and inspired songs… not all that different from a rosary-ish kind of practice. Point is, people were making their ‘preparation’ and actually were prepared for liturgy even BEFORE they arrived at church, and they recognized the need to be so prepared or ‘disposed’.
    Today, sadly, you cannot rely on the church as being a place condusive to prayerful preparation before liturgy. It’s less of a problem in churches that have a gathering space somewhat separated from the body of the church, and it is actually used for gathering, greeting, etc., before entering into the ‘sacred space’. “Sacred space’… I donlt know if anyone would use that expression today to describe that area of used for liturgy, or if ‘meeting hall’ would be more accurate; at least it’s more descriptive of what actually happens there.
    So…. what should be the environment people experience when they arrive for Mass? Should it be condusive to private prayer/preparation? Fellowship? Equal parts of both? Does the praying of the rosary (and not just rattling off) provide a ‘tone’ for the liturgy about to happen? Can sacristans, musicians and all liturgical ministers be trained to have ‘everything ready’ WAAYYYY before people arrive at church so as to provide as few distractions as possible?
    In my parts the practice of “mindfulness” is getting some attention these days. How can we best be helped to celebrate the liturgy with an attitude of ‘mindfulness’?

    1. @John Swencki – comment #30:
      I wish we could train all of the ministers to have everything ready far in advance of Mass. Unfortunately, it’s hard enough to get a sufficient number people to volunteer for these ministries without imposing additional burdens of time commitment upon them. If we did that, I would be serving in 7 different ministries at each of our 7-10 Masses each week after everyone else quit.

  25. It seems to me that we’ve made a mistake whenever we cast authentic devotions over and against the Church’s liturgy as competing values

    The underlying issue seems to be that people find different things lead them to God (e.g. chant or praise music) and then succumb to the temptation which Francis calls “spiritual worldliness.” This seems to be an expansion of the concept of “spiritual pride” in which we view the gifts of God as ours that set us apart from others. In spiritual worldliness we not only become proud but enter into a completion with others about spiritual gifts, and the status of our own spiritual gifts, and try to make others in the image and likeness of the gifts we have received. Quite rightly this should be seen as one of the worst evils.

    In terms of our preferences for what happens at Mass and before Mass this “spiritual worldliness” often masks itself as theology or rubrics but ultimately it is a disagreement about spiritual experience.

    Much of the language we use for our discussion often contains implied pejoratives.

    For example the word “devotions.” I prefer to talk about various forms of prayer allowing us to find communality and continuity across various forms of prayers rather than putting them in opposition to one another, and thereby fostering spiritual pride and spiritual worldliness.

    Another word is “private.” I prefer to talk about personal prayer and communal prayer. For example the Divine Office can be and is both personal prayer and communal prayer depending upon how many people are present and how it is done. Is the praying of the Office by Carthusians in their cells personal or communal? I would like to say both. Is the praying of the Office by use of the Internet group recording personal or communal? I would like to say both.

    What is the relationship of the Divine Office to other forms of communal prayer? Is the Little Office of the BVM liturgy or a devotion? a private prayer or communal prayer? What about the Office for the Dead? While we could approach these questions from the stand point of theories of liturgy and/or rubrics, is it really worth while? Don’t these approaches encourage spiritual pride and spiritual worldliness? Don’t they discourage charity toward one another and humility about our own gifts.

    Since late childhood the Divine Office in various forms has been at the center of my personal prayer life. Is it public prayer or private prayer? I don’t care. It an irrelevant question since most of the time the Divine Office as a public prayer has not been available. Is it a better form of personal prayer than the rosary or meditation? For me yes, for others: ”who am I to judge?”. The discovery of the Divine Office flowed directly from my own quest as a child for a form of “priestly, ritual prayer.” I began by constructing ceremonies before I discovered by accident the Short Breviary and recognized I did not have to reinvent the wheel. Certainly the Divine Office especially since I draw upon the Byzantine, Monastic and Roman traditions has shaped my Catholic identity more than anything else including the Mass, and theological study. Do I think it would be helpful to others? Possibly. Necessary? Hardly.

  26. The Rosary has appeared, alas! -two Sundays ago, just before our 9:00 o’clock Mass, and running right up til Mass time.

    Farewell, sweet Sacred Silence before Mass, which our parish observed so well! Farewell, undistracted silent devotion in the pews!

    …The leader of the Rosary uses a microphone, the sound system, droning out in a loud, mind-numbing monotone each “Hail Mary….dah-dee-dah..the Lord is dah-dee-dah…” Then the participants respond, “Holy Mary, dee-dee-dum, dee-dee-dum-dum…” …Then the awful Fatima Prayer at the end of each decade…

    What to do? What to do?

    …Private devotions while driving a longer route to Mass, arrive at 8:59 o’clock sharp.

  27. Anyone who knows or has worked with me knows that I am for reverence in church. No question. But as our parish has undertaken a serious and sustained effort to attract non-practicing Catholics, we have had to make some concessions to quiet reverence.

    Example: Last month we started a second children’s choir, called the Angel Choir, for kids in grades 1, 2 and 3. We’ve had about 45 kids join so far, with more signing up every week. Due to an impossibly busy schedule and lack of rehearsal space, there is no other option but to rehearse in church before Mass. We are generally finished 10 minutes before Mass begins. I try to encourage good behavior, but a choir loft packed with 6-year olds, including some who have never attended church before, is going to make some extraneous noise both before and during Mass.

    Some would consider this a success, increasing our Mass attendance by 100+ people on the weeks the choir sings. Others might consider this a failure since I have introduced a disruption in the silent reverence before Mass and some occasional chatter, dropped books, and other sounds associated with kids that age. On balance, I will gladly suffer a few dirty looks from a couple of super-pious folks than to accept a half-empty church as a better alternative. To make an omelet you have to crack a few eggs.

  28. Rosary before Saturday morning Mass is a time-honored tradition in Anglo-Catholic circles. Ours has moved to first Sunday of the month after the last Sunday Mass. Small but steadfast group. A worthy devotion, IMHO, and not mandatory. Just part of the full schedule of offices, Masses, and devotions the parish offers. No problem, as I see it.

  29. Rosaries and novenas are for private devotions at home, or to be said on the subway. They have no place before Mass.

    Not well balanced, indeed.

    Pope Paul VI’s Marialis Cultus, paragraph 48, seems less hasty about relegating the Rosary to cupboard beneath the stairs.

    Perhaps a Dominican could provide some input on whether the Rosary is a fitting pre- or post-Mass prayer/devotion.

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