Marian Devotions

The Rosary

Page 6 in "Marian Devotions in the Domestic Church"

Catherine Fournier and Peter Fournier

The Origin of the Rosary

Like many other traditions and prayers of our Catholic Faithfor example, praying the Our Father or celebrating the feast of the Nativity—the Rosary is so much a part of the practice of our Faith that it is hard to imagine a time without this prayer. Yet, almost one thousand years of Church history passed before the early versions (and variations) of the Rosary appeared. 

At first, the laity developed a practice of saying 150 Our Fathers in response to the daily reading of the 150 Psalms by local monks. This practice, called the "Psalter", was encouraged by the Church and enhanced by the addition of meditations for each prayer. (See CCC nos. 2678-79.) 

Gradually, the prayers were arranged into three groups of fifty. Then, an early (short) version of the Hail Mary and the Apostles' Creed were added to the prayers, and a series of meditations were associated with groups of ten prayers. Eventually, an arrangement that used 150 Hail Marys was developed and became known as "Mary's Psalter". 

In the early 1200s, the Albigensian heresy took hold in France and other parts of Europe. The Albigensians believed that there was no heaven, no hell, and no moral code, and therefore that adultery, fornication, and suicide were acceptable activities. Saint Dominic and other Catholic priests preached against this heresy, but were not altogether successful. 

According to Blessed Alan de la Roche, who wrote an account about 250 years later, our Lady appeared to Saint Dominic and said: "I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter, which is the foundation stone of the New Testament. Therefore, if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter." 

Saint Dominic began to teach and preach about the Rosary and its lessons. Within months, most of France had returned to Catholicism. 

The Rosary: A Gift for Our Day

—by Monsignor Thomas Wells (1944-2000) 

"October is the month of the Holy Rosary, the month when the Church reminds us of the value of this beautiful method of prayer. I know that I find the Rosary an ever greater gift in my life: not because I pray so well, but because I pray so poorly. Some historians speculate that the origins of the Rosary go back to efforts, even before the Middle Ages, to help illiterate lay brothers in monasteries and laity in the fields to pray. 

"The monks could pray the psalms and read the Gospels and, in them, find fruit for prayer, but those who could not read had little for spiritual inspiration. (Incidentally, stained glass windows in the great cathedrals served the same purpose. They could be 'read' by the illiterate in such a way that the truths were taught to those who could not read.) At first, apparently, the people were encouraged to pray, for example, one hundred and fifty Our Fathers. (The Hail Mary, as we know it today, was not known before about the twelfth century.) 

"The repetition of prayers, which we sometimes find difficult, is a practice known throughout world religions. This repetition can free the mind from having to find things to say to God and allow the person to hear what God might be saying. Beads strung together to help in the counting of prayers is also a very ancient practice. The development of the decades of ten Hail Marys separated by the Our Father and the meditation on particular mysteries of the life of Christ and our Lady gradually came about as more effort was given to teaching the laity to pray.

"The Rosary is such a gift for our day because, while we have the ability to read and thus use Scripture or other spiritual aids in trying to pray, many feel they have not the time. The Rosary solves the problem. I know people who pray the Rosary on the subway, who say it while commuting or while going through the torture of running for exercise. Probably they will never become mystics in their prayer, but at least they give time to the Lord each day and ask the prayers of His Mother on behalf of themselves and those they love. 

"No matter when we say it, whether alone or with others, whether in the quiet of the evening or in the chaos of the highway, let us use this month of the Rosary to join countless millions who have gone before us in this prayer with our Lady to the Glory of God." 

The Family Devotion of the Rosary

The Rosary has been called the most beautiful and powerful of all the Church's devotions. It appeals to everyone: the old and the young, the clergy and the laity. The Rosary helps bring the lukewarm or fallen-away back to the Church and strengthens the faithful in their spiritual lives. (See CCC no. 971.) 

With this history and its power, the Rosary is also possibly the most idealized of devotions, the one that most parents aspire to for their families to pray, the one they chide themselves about. We gaze around our living rooms, at the somnolent or sullen teens; at the eight- and ten-year-olds, locked in a silly-face contest; and at the toddler, squirming half on and half off the couch—and wonder why we can't pray the Rosary properly "like other families". 

Well, take heart. You are praying the Rosary like other families. We all struggle to achieve peace, harmony, and attention while praying the family Rosary. Family prayer improves with time and practice. It can become one of the joys of family life, with prayer time being a relaxed and happy time for your family. (See CCC nos. 2660, 2694.) 

There are a few steps parents can take to improve their family's practice of this devotion: 

  • Be persistent Don't get discouraged; keep trying. Find a time or place that works for your family and stick to it.
  • Be prudent: Be reasonable about your family's capacity. Don't overload them.
  • Be flexible: Be creative about where and when to pray the Rosary. Try to pray in the car, or a single decade as part of evening prayers, or a five-decade Rosary first thing in the morning.

How To Pray the Rosary

"Saying" a Rosary means reciting five or six prayers, four of them repeatedly, while meditating on the events in the life of Mary and Jesus. 

First, make the Sign of the Cross. With the help of rosary beads, begin at the crucifix and pray the Apostles' Creed.

At the first large bead next to the crucifix, say the Our Father. At the next three, smaller beads, say three Hail Marys. At the following large bead, say a Glory Be, announce the mystery to be meditated, and pray an Our Father. 

Follow the same pattern for the remainder of the Rosary, ending each group of ten beads (a decade) with a Glory Be, a statement of the meditation theme, and pray an Our Father. 

When you have finished praying five decades (once around the rosary) or fifteen decades (three times around the rosary), end with the Hail, Holy Queen. 

Saint Louis de Montfort, a Dominican priest with a great devotion to Mary, added the Glory Be to the prayers of our Rosary. It is now customary also to add the O My Jesus prayer after each Glory Be, as requested by Our Lady of Fatima. 


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