Importance: The word Rosary means “Crown of Roses” and each prayer in the rosary is considered a flower presented to Mary. In the opening pages of his spiritual classic: The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis De Montfort describes rosary as “a veritable school of Christian life” because of its beauty, power and value. It is a humble, a practical and a powerful means of contemplation, and a great source of blessing for those who pray and for the whole world. It is called the “Breviary of the common people” and the “Psalms of the illiterate.” The prayers we repeat are biblical and hence “inspired” and the mysteries we meditate upon are taken from the lives of Jesus and Mary. As we are saying the Rosary, we are, in fact, in contact with two of the most basic prayers in our Christian tradition: the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father) and the Angelic Salutation (the Hail Mary). The first is fully rooted in the Scriptures, taught by Jesus Himself. The second is largely rooted in the Scriptures, its first half echoing the words of the Archangel Gabriel and of Elizabeth as each addressed Mary. The third prayer — the “Glory be to the Father” — ancient in its wording — surely reflects the unceasing prayer of adoration and praise found in the Book of Revelation.
The rosary is “a compendium of the life of Jesus and Mary and a summary of the liturgical year.” The various events in the lives of Jesus and Mary which we meditate during the rosary are expressions of the one basic and foundational mystery of the Christian faith: the Paschal Mystery, that is, the death and resurrection of Jesus which Mary shared. Hence by praying the Rosary, we come to live out the Paschal Mystery in our lives, thereby being authentic disciples of Jesus, people who really follow in His footsteps, dying with Him so as to rise with Him. Hence we as modern-day Catholic Christians need to pray the Rosary and live the Rosary.
History: Prayer using rosary beads is as old as mankind. The Hindus in India used to recite the thousand names of their gods and goddesses and their “mantra” prayers using multi-beaded rosaries, and their sages wear it around the neck, constantly rolling the beads in prayer. The Jews used beads to repeat the psalms, the Laws of Moses and the memorized sayings of the prophets. The Muslims use rosaries with a hundred beads for their prayer. In the ninth century, the Christian monks who recited the 150 psalms instructed the illiterate common people to recite 150 “Our Fathers.” It was in the eleventh century that the Europeans added “Hail Mary” to “Our Father.” In 1214, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic Gusman and instructed him to pray the rosary in a new form as an effective antidote against the Albigensian heresy. The rosary devotion attained its present form by 1500 A.D. Additional boost to rosary devotion was given in 1917, when our Blessed Mother in her sixth apparition to the three visionary children, on the thirteenth of May, demanded, “Say the Rosary every day… Pray, pray a lot and offer sacrifices for sinners… I’m Our Lady of the Rosary.” She advised them to say the rosary rightly, daily and devoutly for holier life and world peace. The “Fatima prayer” “O, my Jesus” was added in the twentieth century. Pope John Paul VI enriched the rosary by adding the “Luminous Mysteries” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae). Fr. Roche and Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. (died in 1992) were mainly responsible for the widespread of this devotion in modern times.
Devotion encouraged by the Popes: Pope Pius V instituted the Feast of the Queen of the Rosary in the sixteenth century in thanksgiving for the Lepanto victory. Pope Leo XIII in 1891 declared October as the month of the Rosary. For Pope Pius VII the rosary is “an antidote against the evils of the day.” “It is the sure means of God’s blessings to families” (Pius XII). “Recite rosary devoutly, you will have peace in your families” (Pius X). In his “Mirabilis Cultus” Pope Paul VI reminds us that we are praying “bible based prayers” in the rosary. Pope John Paul II describes the rosary as “looking into the mysteries of Christ’s life through the eyes of Mary.”
A favorite prayer of eminent Catholics: Blessed Mother Teresa was always seen reciting the rosary. Daniel O’Connor, the “Father of the Nation” of Ireland recited the rosary in his private room before each session of the parliament and no wonder why Ireland is called “The Land of the Rosary.” The famous proponent of the rosary, Fr. Peyton, challenges us: “set apart ten minutes for rosary at home, you will make your home a heaven of peace.” The great scientist William Ampere in his old age inspired and converted Frederick Osanam (the founder of St. Vincent de Paul Society) by his daily recital of the rosary at a grotto. The last words of Louise Pasteur to his nurse before his death far away from his home were: “Do tell my wife, I died reciting the rosary.”
How to pray the rosary: The ideal is to recite the rosary by the whole family daily, at least five decades and if possible, the entire fifteen. We need to say the Rosary slowly enough to make its recitation devout and reverent. Reflect for a minute or two on the mystery and then concentrate on the meaning of the prayers as we say them to avoid distractions. Besides saying the rosary with others in the family before bed time, let us make it a habit of reciting the rosary during our journey to the work place and during our exercises. If we do so, we shall experience for ourselves the truth of these words: “meditating on the mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise.”