Memorial – Our Lady of the Rosary
If you were to ask what object is most emblematic of Catholics, people would probably say, “The rosary, of course.” The rosary is a devotion in honour of the Virgin Mary based on the mysteries of Christ and consists of a set number of specific prayers. It comes from a Latin word Rosaria, which means a crown of roses or a garden of roses.
The prayer itself is sometimes seen as too simple and therefore as superficial. The rosary is simple, but the gentle repetition of its prayers makes it an excellent means to moving into deeper meditation.
Prayed on the beads of the rosary, the beads strung together are not just decorations. Battles have been won because people prayed the rosary! There have been hearts converted, and impossible intentions answered too.
It’s commonly said that St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), instituted the rosary as the rosary was given to him in a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While St Dominic did have a vision in 1221 he certainly did not ‘institute’ the rosary. Certain parts of the rosary predated St. Dominic; others arose only after his death. The use of knotted prayer ropes in Christianity goes back to the desert fathers in the 3rd and early 4th centuries. These counting devices were used for prayers such as the Jesus prayer in Christian monasticism.
St. Dominic however preached its use to convert sinners and those who had strayed from the faith. We know the religious order Dominic founded (the Dominicans) clearly played a major role in promoting the rosary throughout the world in the early years of this devotion. Paradoxically, at least a dozen popes have mentioned St. Dominic’s connection with the rosary, sanctioning his role as at least a ‘pious belief’. That of course is not historically true.
Centuries before St. Dominic, during the medieval period, monks had begun to recite all 150 psalms on a regular basis. As time went on, there was a desire to give the laity (many of whom accompanied their masters to the monastery) and the lay brothers, known as the conversi, a form of common prayer similar to that of the monasteries. These lay people and conversi were distinct from the choir monks, and a chief distinction was that they were illiterate besides the psalter was an expensive book.
The laity and conversi needed an easily remembered prayer. Since monastic prayer was structured around the Psalter, a parallel to the monastic reading of the 150 psalms was developed with the praying the Our Father 150 times throughout the day. The laity and the conversi used beads to keep count, and this method of prayer came to be known as the Paternosters (Our Fathers). This devotion came to also be known as “the poor man’s breviary.” The rosaries that originally were used to count Our Fathers came to be used, during the twelfth century, to count Hail Marys—or, more properly, the first half of what we now call the Hail Mary. (The second half was added some time later.)
The structure of the rosary gradually evolved between the 12th and 15th centuries. In the sixteenth century, the sets of five Joyful, five Sorrowful, and five Glorious Mysteries as we know them today began to emerge. Also, the vocal prayers of the rosary were finalized. The Glory Be was added to the end of every decade, and the second half of the Hail Mary was formalized: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” In 1569, Pope Saint Pius V officially approved the rosary in this form: fifteen decades of Hail Marys introduced by the Our Father and concluded with the Glory Be.
The rosary gained greater popularity in the 1500s, when Moslem Turks were ravaging Eastern Europe. In 1453, Constantinople had fallen to the Moslems, leaving the Balkans and Hungary open to conquest. With Moslems raiding even the coast of Italy, the control of the Mediterranean was now at stake.
In 1571, Pope Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria the half-brother of King Philip of Spain. While preparations were underway, the Holy Father asked all of the faithful to say the rosary and implore our Blessed Mother’s prayers, under the title Our Lady of Victory, that our Lord would grant victory to the Christians.
Although the Moslem fleet outnumbered that of the Christians in both vessels and sailors, the forces were ready to meet in battle. The Christian flagship flew a blue banner depicting Christ crucified. On October 7, 1571, the Moslems were defeated at the Battle of Lepanto. The following year, Pope St. Pius V established the Feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7, where the faithful would not only remember this victory, but also give thanks to the Lord for all of His benefits and remember the powerful intercession of our Blessed Mother.
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