The Rosary, my Riverdance moment

In my childhood, Irish dancing was a respectable and worthy pursuit for young children of means, and as such, I was trooped to learn our ‘Haon, do, tri” (which I still remember and can produce if pushed) but I lasted for three lessons only. It never took, and my mother was spared the expenses of the uniform, which even for boys, would bankrupt a small nation if stitching time and effort had to be paid for. (It was the sixties, mothers actually did it themselves in those days). Still one spoke respectfully about Irish Dancing back then, the child who did well in the Feis was lauded, but apart from the circles of real commitment, fewer and fewer of us actually did it with any seriousness. You cannot dance Irish dancing with flairs and platform shoes, now can you?


My relationship with the rosary was not dissimilar, I grew up in the generation after it had stopped being the almost universal practice in the west of Ireland for families to pray it each evening. My primary school teacher, a very pious lady, trying to fight a rear guard action, encouraged her more susceptible pupils to introduce it at home. My mother, hardly a militant atheist, wisely indulged rather than cooperated with my early pieties, allowing me to lead my siblings before tea; we lasted two days, the rosary was never mentioned again. It was still in the air however, and like Irish dancing, respectfully referred to, the seminarian who had ‘the beads’ in his pocket was considered holy and so on, fewer and fewer of us, myself included, hardly ever actually said it. You cannot be distracted from bringing about the Kingdom of God by saying the Rosary, now can you?


Then came Riverdance. By the ’90’s Ireland winning the Eurovision had become almost normal, and the competition itself was getting rather tired. Gone were the days when one stared at a black and white screen, amazed by the mere fact of Eurosat broadcasts live from “the continent”. Back in the day, we listened to all kinds of everything for an hour or more and there then followed disembodied voices on bad telephone connections from the capitals of Europe announcing, in French, that Norway had gotten “null pointes” again.  The intermission, was more “time to put the kettle on” than to be enjoyed for its own sake, and was usually a montage of song, dance and visuals of the host country; earnest, safe and utterly forgettable. But when Michael Flatley came onto that stage with hands akimbo!  And then his dancers produced that extraordinary rhythmic impact, “this was Irish Dancing, Jim, but not as we know it”, we were blown away. You can never forget a moment like that can you?


My reconnecting to the Rosary was less dramatic. They were a series of random moments, some deeply affecting, others rather prosaic, and others still, very challenging. On pilgrimage in the Holy Land sitting before the well in Nazareth, listening to the sounds of water and knowing that Mary herself heard those same sounds, as did her Son Jesus. In a moment of personal difficulty, feeling that Mary wished just to hold me tight and tell me that things were ok. Getting fit for the first time in my life. Learning to pray and jog at the same time, a multitasking exercise that women seem to do naturally, but men have to learn. In rural China, hearing a Chinese family share their fidelity to the family rosary, whispered with the lights out, lest a neighbour hear and report them for their lunacy. In theology school, being told that Karl Rahner, a theological giant of the 20th century, prayed the rosary every day. No single Riverdance moment, but together they almost cajoled me to a sense that the Rosary is more than the old-fashioned prayer for the pious, forgotten, except at a funeral, when it’s tagged on because it is expected, rather than because it’s loved. When the tiny voice within keeps asking for the Rosary over and over, you cannot deny it, can you?


Praying the Rosary regularly, there are of course, highs and lows, moments of real connection with the theme of the decade, and the moments, many moments if I am honest, when I have gone through two decades in a day dream, and not even noticed the bigger bead in the middle! I still continue though, because it keeps me anchored. When other prayers seem bookish and demanding of themselves, through the Rosary I hear Our Lady say, “don’t you worry” leave everything to me, just ‘telling the beads’ even while totally distracted, is, in and of itself, pleasing to my Son, keep going. You cannot argue with a Mother’s logic, now can you?


I’m not the Rosary’s answer to Michael Flatley, but I am convinced that there are others, many even, who can be persuaded to look again at a traditional devotion, if only those who have a devotion, newly reconverted or old faithful alike would dare to speak. I hope that my willingness to say the Rosary and to speak of how that devotion helps me, might be someone else’s own private Riverdance moment. You’d have to hope that it would, now wouldn’t you?


Our Lady Queen of the Rosary, Pray for Us.

Fr Joseph Loftus CM