The Rosary

Ever Ancient, Ever New: A Brief History of the Rosary

What is the rosary?

Where did the rosary come from?

How do you to pray the Rosary?

The rosary is an incredibly rich practice of prayer that developed slowly, evolving over the centuries. The first recorded use of the word “rosary” did not appear until 1597. But the roots of the rosary are found far earlier.

Early Origins of the Rosary

The rosary has roots in several early Christian prayer traditions. They share similar formats to the rosary with repetitive structures and prayers. Third-century Christian hermits and monks in Egypt (known as Desert Fathers) used stones and later prayer ropes to keep track when praying the 150 Psalms. Various forms of “the Jesus Prayer” (such as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”) became popular. The short prayer was said repeatedly in a type of mantra while counting beads. The Our Father was also prayed 150 times, using a string of beads with five decades referred to as a Paternoster (Latin for “Our Father”.)

The Hail Mary Prayer

The Hail Mary prayer came together slowly. It took more than a thousand years. The earliest version simply added Mary’s name to the message delivered by the angel Gabriel to Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28).

Around 1050 AD, the words Elizabeth used to greet Mary during the Visitation were added: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42).

In 1261, Pope Urban IV added the name of Jesus to the end of Elizabeth’s words. St. Peter Canisius published the Hail Mary in his 1555 Catechism with almost the entire final petition: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.”

Eleven years later, the Catechism of the Council of Trent (a work that Canisius was instrumental in creating) included, for the first time, the entire final petition, concluding with the words “now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

The version of the Hail Mary we pray today was given official approval in 1568. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women; and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Why Rosary Beads?

The use of prayer beads almost universally is to allow the person to keep track of the number of prayers that have been said, while at the same time focusing on the deeper meaning of the prayers themselves. While praying with beads certainly wasn’t an original idea, it’s a powerful reminder that everything before the coming of Jesus was preparing for that moment and that God yearns to transform everything into something holy, even something as ordinary as a small rope with some beads on it.

The Story of St. Dominic

It is widely believed that in the year 1214 St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order (“The Order of Preachers”), had a vision of Mary. She is said to have presented him with the rosary, both the beads and the prayers to be prayed.

Dominic had a tremendous devotion to Mary and the rosary, which he promoted wherever he traveled to preach. He encouraged Catholics to gather in small groups to pray together what was an early form of the rosary. These were quite possibly the first expressions of the prayer groups and small group communities that are still having a powerful impact today.

The Growth of the Rosary

The earliest form of the rosary developed when Pope Gregory the Great (590 AD to 604 AD) popularized an earlier version of the Hail Mary prayer by asking it to be prayed on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Many individuals began praying the Hail Mary in a repetitive fashion using a string of beads to keep track of the prayers. After the full development of the Hail Mary prayer, the term “rosary” was finally given in the year 1597.

For 320 years, from 1597 until 1917, the form of both the Hail Mary and the rosary remained the same. During those 320 years, there was much written and spoken about the rosary. Most notably, Pope Paul VI said when we pray the rosary, we can experience the key moments of the Gospel. It is a simple, beautiful, and focused meditation, especially when focusing on the “Mysteries of the Rosary.”

Addition of the “The Fatima Prayer” to the Modern Rosary

On May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. She told them to come back to that exact place on the 13th day of each month for the next six months. Mary promised she would appear to them each time and entrust a message to them. Mary told the children to pray for world peace by reciting the rosary every day. On July 13, 1917, Mary asked the children to add a short prayer to the end of each decade of the rosary: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy. Today this is referred to as “The Fatima Prayer,” and many people incorporate it into the rosary as Mary requested.

The Mysteries of the Rosary

The Mysteries of the Rosary were introduced by Dominic of Prussia sometime between the years 1410 and 1439. This gave each decade of the rosary a unique quality. Each mystery leads us to ponder very specific events in the lives of Jesus and Mary and the lessons they hold for our own lives today. There were originally three sets of mysteries: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries.

The Joyful Mysteries

1) The Annunciation of the Incarnation of the Lord

2) The Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth

3) The Birth of Jesus

4) The Presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple

5) The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple

The Sorrowful Mysteries

1) The Agony in the Garden

2) The Scourging at the Pillar

3) The Crowning with Thorns

4) The Carrying of the Cross

5) The Crucifixion

The Glorious Mysteries

1) The Resurrection

2) The Ascension

3) The Descent of the Holy Spirit

4) The Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven

5) The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth

On October 16, 2002, almost 600 years after the original Mysteries of the Rosary were established, (St.) Pope John Paul II proposed adding a new set of mysteries called the “Luminous Mysteries” (the Mysteries of Light).

The Luminous Mysteries

1) The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan

2) The Wedding at Cana

3) The Proclamation of the Kingdom

4) The Transfiguration of Jesus

5) The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper

The rosary is ever new because the situations and mysteries we are pondering have an unlimited number of dimensions to consider.

What are Some of the Different Types of Rosaries?

Many of us are familiar with the standard, five-decade rosary, the centuries-old favorite devotion of Catholics throughout the world. A crucifix on a strand of rosary beads is an image that most associate with devout and faithful prayer.

The term “rosary” is used for various sets of prayers counted on beads, but the prayers may vary from those used in the Dominican Rosary – the most widely known form of the rosary. Additionally, there are some rosaries that use the standard prayers, but serve a specific purpose, like the “wedding rosary”.

Two of the most popular forms (among others) of the rosary are:

Five-Decade Rosary

The five-decade rosary is the one most people picture when they hear the word rosary. It consists of a crucifix, then a short set of 5 beads, for praying the Our Father, 3 Hail Marys, and a Glory Be, and then a rosary center, followed by a loop of 5 decades (sets of ten beads) to count the Hail Marys prayed as one meditates on the mysteries of the rosary, with a bead for praying the Our Father between each decade. This traditional rosary (both the physical strand of beads and the prayer) is also known as the Dominican Rosary, due to St. Dominic’s role in encouraging and spreading devotion to the holy rosary at the request of the Blessed Mother.

Servite Rosary

Though it can be prayed by anyone, the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Mary is especially connected to the Servite Order (also called Servants of Mary or Servite Friars – the same Order of the Church which staffs The Grotto!), and so this unique rosary is commonly referred to as the Servite Rosary. Rather than decades, it consists of seven sets of seven beads. The Servite rosary is focused specifically on the Seven Sorrows of Mary (also known as “The Via Matris” in Latin, or “The Way of the Mother” translated).

These are:

1) The Prophecy of Simeon

2) The Flight into Egypt

3) The Loss of Jesus in the Temple

4) Mary meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary

5) The Crucifixion of Jesus

6) Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross and Laid in the Arms of Mary, and finally

7) The Body of Jesus is Laid in the Tomb.

The intent behind the Servite rosary is a devotion to Mary and the real pain she suffered in watching and sharing in Jesus’s pain, as we are called to share in Jesus’s suffering as well.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary are depicted in the Via Matris at The Grotto, located in the Upper Gardens.

How to Pray the Five Decade Rosary

1. Make the Sign of the Cross…

2. Holding the Crucifix, say the Apostles’ Creed…

3. Then, on the first bead, say an Our Father…

4. Say one Hail Mary on each of the next three beads, and then, immediately say the Glory Be…

5. On the next bead, announce the first of the Five Mysteries you wish to pray in your rosary that time (from one of the lists above…), and then recite one Our Father…

6. Next say a Hail Mary on each of the next ten beads, and then a Glory Be. Right after the Glory Be, you may then add “The Fatima Prayer;” optional…

7. On the next bead, announce the next of the Mysteries, and say an Our Father…

8. Repeat that process until all five decades are finished…

9. And after saying the five decades, say the Hail, Holy Queen…

10. You may then finish simply with the Sign of the Cross, or you may add the following prayer: Pray for us, O holy Mother of God… That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. O God, whose Only Begotten Son, by his life, Death, and Resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary,