The holy rosary, a devotional prayer of the Catholic Church, is both mental and vocal, honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. It consists of 15 decades of Aves (Hail Mary), each decade being preceded by a Pater (Our Father), and followed by a Gloria (Glory be), all recited while fingering the rosary beads. A different mystery is contemplated during the recital of each decade. They are the 15 joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries of the life of Christ and His Blessed Mother. Recently, Pope John Paul II added five new mysteries: the mysteries of light, or “luminous” mysteries. The rosary begins with the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed (on the crucifix), one Our Father, and three Hail Marys.
From the earliest days, the Church asked its faithful to recite the 150 Psalms of David. However, because it was difficult in the days prior to the invention of the printing press to procure a book of Psalms, the Psalms were often substituted using 150 Hail Marys.
Gradually, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and St. Dominic, The rosary of the Virgin Mary, took its present classical form, and is now a prayer beloved by countless saints. It is encouraged by the Magisterium. Pope John Paul II has called it his “favorite prayer.”
St. Dominic, who died in 1221, received from the Blessed Mother the command to preach and to popularize this devotion in order to appease the anger of God, while imploring the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the good of souls, for conquest over evil, and for the prosperity of Holy Mother Church. St. Dominic immediately used the rosary as a warlike weapon to put the Albigensian heretics to flight, confounding their audacity and mad impiety.
The efficacy and power of this devotion was also wondrously exhibited in the 16th century. It served as a direct answer to the prayers and processions of the rosary confraternities in Rome, in delivering a victory for Christendom against the infidel Turks during a battle at sea near Lepanto in 1571. The Turks were threatening the imposition of the yoke of superstition and barbarism on most of Europe. To preserve the memory of Mary’s successful intercession, Pope Pius V decreed a feast in honor of Our Lady of Victories—a feast which Gregory XIII later dedicated under the title: “The Holy Rosary.” Today, it is celebrated in the Western Church on October 7.
It has long been the habit of Catholics to recite the rosary when in danger and in troubled times. As Bishop Fulton Sheen suggested, when “you are distraught, unhappy, fearful, and frustrated,” you should seek refuge in Mary’s care through recitation of the rosary. Today, unfortunately, the rosary has become wrongly devalued, running the risk of no longer being taught to younger generations. But, by the command of the Council of Vatican II, we are obliged to preserve it.
A special need for commitment to the rosary arises today from the critical contemporary issue of “the family,” the primary cell of society. It has increasingly come under attack from the forces of disintegration which seem bent on promoting homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia/assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research, among other threats. The revival of the rosary in Christian families will no doubt be successful in countering the devastating effects of this aggression.
The changed conditions of life today do not always make family gatherings, and occasions for family prayer, easy. At the same time, it is also characteristic of the Christian, in living out his or her life, not to give in to circumstances, but rather to overcome them; not to succumb, but to make an effort. According to Pope John Paul II, those who want to live in full measure the vocation and spirituality proper to the Christian family must, therefore, devote all their energies to overcoming the pressures that hinder family gatherings, and prayer in common. “The family that prays together stays together,” according to Father Peyton, the “rosary priest” who was fond of repeating this saying to his audiences. He founded the post-world War II movement, the “Family Rosary Crusade.”
Because the Immaculate Virgin was chosen to be the Mother of God, and to cooperate with him in the work of man’s salvation, she has a favor and power with her Son greater than any human or angelic creature. It is her greatest pleasure to grant her help, and comfort those who seek her.
The family that recites the rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth in that its members placed Jesus at the center of their life together. They shared his joys and sorrows. They put their needs and their plans in his hands. They drew from him the hope and the strength to go on. In contemplating Christ’s birth, we can recognize the sanctity of life. Seeing the household of Nazareth, we learn the original truth of the family, according to God’s plan.
It is objected to by some that there is much repetition in the rosary, making it monotonous. The rosary, however, is an outpouring of love, after all. The beautiful truth is that there is no repetition in saying “I love you.” If we need evidence of this, we can easily find it in the touching dialogue between Christ and Peter after the Resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times this question is put to Peter, and three times he gives the reply: “Lord, you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:15-17). No one can fail to recognize the beauty of this triple repetition, in which the insistent request, and the corresponding reply, are expressed in terms familiar from the universal experience of human love.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen told us:
Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of the woman he loves, is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into a different word. So the heart takes one expression, “I love you,” and in saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe. That is what we do when we say the rosary. We are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Savior, to the Blessed Mother: “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Each time it means something different because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Savior’s love.
No Christian is too simple or unlettered to make use of the rosary. It may be the vehicle of high contemplation, as well as of the simplest petition of aspiration.
One thing is clear: although the repeated “Hail Mary” is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her, and through her, intercession. With the rosary, we learn from the “school of Mary,” being led to contemplate the beauty of Christ’s face, and experience the depths of his love. The rosary is, therefore, the epitome of the Gospel, in that it is a history of the life, sufferings, and triumphant victory of Jesus Christ. It is an exposition of what he did, in the flesh, for our salvation.
The principal object of the devotion of every Christian ought to always be these mysteries, returning to God a perpetual homage of love, praise, and thanksgiving for what these mysteries signify. We should implore God’s mercy through them, making them the subject of meditation. They should mold our affections, regulate our lives, and form our spirits by the impressions which these mysteries make on our souls.
Bishop Sheen tells us that:
(The rosary) is the book of the blind, where souls see, and there enact, the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the Rosary is beyond description.
If you wish to convert someone to the fullness of the knowledge of Our Lord, and to his Mystical Body, then teach him or her the rosary.