In whatever space we gather, somehow we are always crowded. Little kids find their way into the laps of bigger kids. Adults jostle, apologize, then jostle again, knees and elbows inelegant on someone’s living room floor, or the damp grass of some local park, or wedged into uncomfortable church basement chairs that squeak and scuff in protest.
Someone is inevitably late. Someone else is anxiously checking the time, muttering to herself whether it’s time to just get started, if that’s what the latecomers would want. (It’s me, enduringly impatient, pray though I will.)
Some family or other always forgets their rosaries in that Friday afternoon scramble to gather a covered dish, the diaper bag, jackets for everyone, but there’s always someone who remembered and has in his possession at least a dozen, snarled in some box or bag—somewhere around here.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints…
At the end of a busy week, it can feel like too much to rustle up some dish worth sharing when it would be easier to stay home and heat up a frozen pizza. It’s going to be a late evening, even if we start on time, and of course we never start on time. The kids will get wild, or cranky, or both.
Still, our monthly rosary potlucks have become an anchor in my family’s month. Even amidst the whispered threats and bribes to settle down, we are teaching our children — and ourselves — stillness. It’s a reminder of the value of corporate worship, of prayer in a community, embarrassingly, publically imperfect though it is. (Or maybe that’s me, mumbling my way off into the Nicene Creed again, when I know it’s supposed to be the Apostles Creed.)
With the closing prayer I can never remember (“O, God, Whose only-begotten Son, by His life, death and resurrection…”), we scatter in all directions, shake out cramped limbs, gather misplaced jackets and rosaries and babies. The kids, big and little, form a pack and set off for mischief unknown. Adults head for the drink cooler or begin frantic last-minute preparation of the dishes about to be served.
Give us this day our daily bread
Our rosary potlucks have come with the squabbles inherent in any gathering of fallible humans, reminding us that where two or more are gathered, friction will occur, but that we are still one body in Christ. Deciding whether to welcome many families in less cozy spots or keep the gatherings small and manageable is a difficult decision, filled with landmines of strong opinions, but fine practice for the sort of debates and decisions that forever rage surrounding Mass itself: what music is most worshipful, whether veiling is outmoded or spiritually fruitful, or my husband’s favorite soapbox, whether lay eucharistic ministers can bless children or not. Certainly, when it comes to charity and patience, we need all the opportunities to practice that we can get.
…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
This is not the safe, sometimes sterile ritual of a personal rosary at home, peacefully pursued in ideal conditions, savored or raced through, according to mood. It’s nothing more or less than the frayed, interrupted, earnest human practice of people coming together to learn to love each other and their mother Mary more fully.
The image that comes to my mind, always, is of an old-fashioned quilting bee or a barn raising. A community creates something that, although imperfect, accomplishes more than could be achieved alone. The old lead the young, the experienced offer grace to the inexperienced, the zealous lend strength to the faltering or numb. And then, we share a meal, humble and mismatched and growing rapidly room-temperature, celebratory and ordinary, pointing toward the Sunday meal we will share with each other and the Church universal (that one celebratory and humble, too).
In these strange latter days, we have laid aside our practice of rosary potlucks as we look toward the time when we can gather again without endangering the least among us. For now, we return to offering our rosaries at home, fortified by the corporate prayer we laid up in our years together, lifting our voices and our beads as we find ourselves more harshly thrust into this valley of tears.
Here is a school of love, ready-made, a few families growing more and more intimate over shared rosary petitions, stumbling recitations of familiar prayers, dishes made and shared with love. Our families become one family for an evening, now and then, and in this way, point to our wider family of our faith: the family of our squabbling, bustling, earnest parish, the family of the Body of Christ.
Pray for us O Holy Mother of God / That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Katherine Grimm Bowers is a once-and-future librarian who never mops if she can help it, is fascinated by the challenge of full-time homemaking, and writes about motherhood, faith, and books at Leave in the Leaf.