The Holy Rosary

The Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the most popular devotions of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The image of the Rosary is inseparable from the Roman Catholic Church. Certainly, there are countless devotions in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the East. But, where then did the Rosary come from? How did it gain such popularity in the West?

Albigensians and St. Dominic

In southern France in the end of the 12th Century and the early 13th Century, the Albigensian heresy was spreading rapidly and causing great upheaval in Christian culture. They were vehemently opposed to the priesthood and the hierarchy of the Church. They saw the eternal battle between good and evil manifest in the war between the material realm of Satan and the spiritual realm of God.

At this time, St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), was preaching primarily against this heresy. He was largely unsuccessful and pleaded for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to a pious tradition, Mary appeared to St. Dominic and told him to use the Marian Psalter while preaching the Gospel.

In St. Dominic’s time, there were some significant differences in what we now call the Rosary.

Let us begin with the Hail Mary. The Hail Mary prayer comes from the Gospel according to St. Luke, from the words of the Angel Gabriel and Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!… Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Lk 1:28, 42).”

In fact, this was the entirety of the Hail Mary until the 14th Century. It was only then that the Name of Jesus was added at the end. The second half of the prayer, as it is prayed today, came even later.

At that time, the Our Father and the Glory Be prayers were also not part of the Rosary. The pendent, which is the cross and the five extra beads, also was not part of it.

Likewise, the Mysteries of the Rosary were not fixed until Pope St. Pius V officially established the fifteen Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries in 1569.

Rosary Prototype – Marian Psalter

There was a long history in many religions of praying on beads or with pebbles in a bowl. In the time of St. Dominic and before, there were official liturgical prayers for clergymen and monks which consisted of the 150 psalms being recited. Because most of the laity were illiterate, these 150 psalms were replaced by “Paternoster” beads or Our Father beads. After some time, the Hail Mary, as described previously, gradually were added along with the Creed. Sometimes, all 150 beads would have the Hail Mary used, and this was the Marian Psalter.

The Marian Psalter proved to be a powerful weapon against the Albigensians who believed that the material world was evil. Over and over, the faithful would repeat the words referencing the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of Mary: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

St. Dominic and the Rosary

It was put forward 250 years later by the Dominican Alan de Rupe that St. Dominic accepted the Rosary from Our Lady and used it extensively in his preaching. He would intersperse his preaching on the life, teachings, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ with prayers from the Marian Psalter. In this way, the Rosary would later be born.

St. Dominic and his connection to the Holy Rosary is debatable among historians. However, there seems to be great evidence that the heart of the Rosary was borne out of the practice, preaching, and prayer of St. Dominic.

The popes from the 17th Century forward all hold to the oral tradition that St. Dominic brought the Marian Psalter to a place of prominence in French devotional practice and thus brought the Rosary to the Church. Pope Leo XIII once said, “Thanks to this new method of prayer… piety, faith, and union began to return [to France]; and the project and devices of the heretics began to fall to pieces.”

Though the Albigensian heresy did not die out immediately, the heretics were unable to expand their hold.

The Marian Psalter became the Rosary when St. Dominic, and those that came after, combined the praying of the Psalter with reflection and prayer on the life of Christ. The Rosary comes from the Latin word rosarium which means a rose garden or bouquet of roses. When we pray the Holy Rosary, we are offering a bouquet of roses to the Blessed Mother to honor her. In return, out of motherly love, she leads us to her Son and forms and shapes us to be more like Him.

St. Dominic, pray for us.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

To learn more, check out Champions of the Rosary by Fr. Donald Calloway or visit www.rosarycenter.org.

Rosary History St. Dominic

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Photo by Thérèse Westby on Unsplash