A few weeks ago I gathered with other young adults at St. Dominic's during the Marian month of May, in order to join the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, which sounds like a secret society.
I first heard of the Confraternity when reading St. Louis Marie de Montfort's Secrets of the Rosary. This is a strange book, I have to say - he is a wonderful saint and a major patron of the Legion, but it consists mostly of hearsay type stories about the Blessed Virgin visiting people personally and giving them information about souls and damnation, and contains many records of unlikely things happening (like someone prays the rosary and actual roses come out of their mouth. Eh.).
The book was written in the late 1600s or early 1700s (he died in 1716), so I just assumed that the Confraternity no longer existed, particularly coming from that source. Wrong! It is alive and well and kept up by the Dominicans. Here is an official website about it.
I don't mean to disparage St. de Montfort, but rather to draw attention to what an old and mysterious thing the Confraternity appears to be. I am not an expert on lay or religious associations, but I imagine many do not last over 100 years, let alone several hundred. There are whole religious orders that have risen and fallen in that time. I think this justifies St. Louis Marie de Montfort's fervor.
The obligation of being a member consists solely of praying 15 decades of the rosary per week, for each of the original mysteries. That is to say, pray your full rosary three times a week on three of the now four existing sets of mysteries. And in doing so, always keep your fellow confraternity members in your prayers. That's it!
You can see all the benefits here, but those which impress me most are the idea of being united with the prayers and good works of all other Confraternity members and those of the Dominicans, and of course the intercession and special protection of Our Lady. One can never have too much intercession and special protection from our Blessed Mother, and goodness knows I could use your prayers.
But back to the enrollment: it was a sweet ceremony, with each person making a vocal pledge to remain faithful to the Confraternity. We knelt, shoulder to shoulder, holding little white candles, which Father Hyacinth blessed, along with our rosaries.
At the end, he showed us a book. "Many, many years ago," he told us, "There was a Confraternity at St. Dominic's." The book was thick, the size of an encyclopedia, with a grayish cover and frail looking pages. "The names of all those enrolled are in this book. And tonight," he held up a newer book, "we will add our names to this one, and revive the Confraternity at St. Dominic's." After the ceremony, we each signed our name, nearly 100 years after those original parishioners.
Afterwards, I looked through the old book. There were lots of old-fashioned names, Millies and Betsys in their slanting, proper handwriting. Men and women both who had gone through the same ceremony, with the same prayers, kneeling in the same way and promising to pray for each other. What were their lives like? Where did they end up, and how many stuck with it? Not just the Confraternity, but their faith? What did they do when they doubted? Did they let themselves doubt?
I am always fascinated by this connectedness that rises from our faith, as old as it is. Our prayers and ceremonies do not often change, but even when they do, you still know countless others are participating with you, all over the world, and across the ages. In my prayers, now, I keep those from the old book in mind, along with those I joined with that night.