The rosary is a sequence of prayers that is part of a vigil service, one of the most common components of a Catholic funeral or wake. Catholics pray the rosary as a meditation on the life of Christ and a devotional to the Virgin Mary. Divided into decades, each prayer of the rosary represents a mystery or event in Christ’s life.
Types of Vigil Service
At a Catholic funeral, the vigil service may be led by a priest or deacon. It may or may not include the rosary, with either the deceased’s body or ashes present. The three types of vigil service include prayer service without the rosary, prayer service with the rosary and rosary alone – the last of which usually comprises five decades of the rosary. A prayer service without the rosary is suitable for congregations of mixed faiths, whereas the rosary alone is proper for funerals where most of the mourners are Catholic.
Rosary for the Dead
A Catholic funeral rosary differs from service to service. During a vigil service, a priest typically leads mourners to come together in prayer. The crucifix on a string of rosary beads comes into use during the rosary prayer. Like daily rosary recitations, the funeral rosary involves the recitation of the Apostles' Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be and Salve Regina or Hail Holy Queen.
Praying the Rosary
The funeral rosary often begins by mourners holding the crucifix, saying, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” while making the sign of the cross. Then they recite the Apostles Creed. Holding the single bead above the crucifix, they pray the “Our Father.” The “Hail Mary” prayer is said on the next three beads while meditating on the three divine virtues of faith, hope and charity. On the chain after those beads, “Glory Be” follows. On the next single bead, the priest may announce the first divine mystery of contemplation, after which mourners say the “Our Father” prayer. On the next 10 beads, they say 10 “Hail Mary” prayers while contemplating the mystery. After the tenth “Hail Mary,” mourners have completed the first of five decades, which make up the cycle. The prayers are repeated as mourners move through the five decades.
The repetition in the Catholic funeral rosary is intended to guide mourners into the calming and contemplative prayer related to each mystery. With gentle repetition of words, the rosary helps the grieving to enter into a heartfelt silence, where Catholics believe Christ’s spirit lives. Praying with others can also be comforting and alleviate one’s sorrow.
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