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.)

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