Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably heard those words quite a few times. After all, the Hail Mary is one of the most beautiful and recognizable prayers we have as Catholics, one that so many of us have prayed over and over again. It’s a prayer so commonplace and normal. And yet, it’s a prayer that, every once in a while, has the ability to seem so moving and new. For me, and I think for many others this past weekend, the Hail Mary had the chance to do just that.
I found myself on Sunday, September 9, at Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario. It was my first time getting to go to the Shrine, and what a beautiful place it was. Whether you’re in the chapel, at one of the outdoor altars, or really anywhere on the grounds, it’s a place filled with the history of our Church and Canada, a living reminder of the meaning of what it is to be a true witness of our faith.
While it probably would have been nice to head to the Shrine just about any day of the year, the reason I was there was for the Annual Living Rosary Sunday Pilgrimage. The event, sponsored by the Catholic Women's League of Canada and the Knights of Columbus, was being held for the 34th straight year. With people from around the area and many from across the archdiocese, it was truly a special day of prayer.
The celebration began with Mass at the Shrine’s Polish Altar. Fr. Tom Rosica from right here at Salt + Light was the main homilist and celebrant, and I had the blessed opportunity to concelebrate along with him and Fr. Michael Knox, S.J., the rector of the Shrine. It was a marvelous outdoor celebration with uplifting music, a Knights of Columbus Honour Guard, and Fr. Tom reflecting in his homily both on the Gospel’s prompting for all of us to be spiritually open in our lives and on the gift it was for all of us to be in such a sacred place.
As beautiful as the Mass was, though, it was only the appetizer for the day’s main event: the Living Rosary. Led by the Knights, Fr. Tom processed with the Blessed Sacrament through the grounds to the Papal Altar where a crowd of four or five thousand adored our Lord and then prayed the Rosary as one. It was an incredible moment of unity as dozens of men, women, and children of different ages and cultures came forward to lead one of the Rosary prayers, proclaiming the next prayer either in English or in their own native language.
The whole thing was quite an experience, but one of the most moving parts for me had to be the young children who came up to add in their Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. While it was certainly special to hear so many unique voices throughout the Rosary, I was struck by how wonderful it was to hear the voice of a young boy or girl pray that prayer. If the churches you go to are like the ones I’ve often found myself in, it’s just nice to hear or see any children going to church events and praying at all. But it wasn’t just that. I think that those young voices have the power to transport us back, to help us remember what it was like to learn those prayers when we were that young. Hearing the soft, floating voices of children praying those timeless prayers can bring us back to the purity and simplicity that our faith is all about. I’d say it’s part of the reason why Jesus was so insistent that “unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Just hearing children can lead us back in time to the goodness of when we first learned about how much Jesus loves us and how special Mary, his mom, is in our lives.
As those kids went up to lead so many people in the prayers, a blessed feeling came over me. I found it truly holy and profound, and I think it wasn’t just me. In fact, after the Rosary was finished, Fr. Tom used the occasion to call up every single child who wanted to come forward. He had them sit right around him up by the altar and the Blessed Sacrament, and he talked especially to them about making sure you don’t delay when you can do something important or good, just like Mary did as she rushed to meet her cousin Elizabeth in the moment that we know as the Visitation. Seeing as it was Grandparents Day, Fr. Tom also made sure to remind the children to spend time with their grandparents and to always listen to them. It was a simple message, one directed at those children, but it was one that could resonate with anyone and everyone in attendance.
It was a superb day for the Knights, for the CWL, for the Martyrs’ Shrine, and for all the faithful who came out to be a part of this special event. Joining together for the Living Rosary was a wonderful way for so many to be reminded of the power of that prayer and of our faith. For me, it was a reminder of how beautiful and important it can be to simply pray as we have since we were just children, to turn to our Mother like a child does and remember how special that really is.
…Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.