THE HISTORY OF THE HOLY ROSARY

The Most Holy Rosary finds its origin in the same place Jesus Christ was conceived from love: the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To understand this we must realize the nature and intention of the Rosary is to meditate upon the events surrounding the life of Our Savior. In other words, we come to have a deeper relationship with Jesus when we understand and relive within our hearts His birth, hidden life, public ministry, Passion, death and Resurrection. Through the Sacred Scriptures, which help to paint a picture of the time, places, people and emotions surrounding these events, we come to partake in His light and share in His joys, sorrows, and glory. 

This continual pondering and reliving of the life of Jesus occurred first in the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in whose womb the Word became Flesh- as Sacred Scripture literally becomes fulfilled in every way through Jesus. Thus, in a sense, the Most Holy Rosary finds its origin in Mary’s “Yes,” when she accepts God’s invitation to be the Blessed Mother of Our Lord. It is in this moment that Mary begins to contemplate the Annunciation and the prodigy that has been conceived within her womb. Sacred scripture teaches us that as Jesus and Mary’s lives unfold and their hearts grow intimately in union, Mary continues to meditate upon the events surrounding Jesus and “keep these things in her heart.” 

Certainly the other disciples also “prayed the Rosary” by following Mary, the most perfect disciple, in drawing strength from meditating upon what they had learned from their intimate lives with Jesus during His public ministry, Passion and Resurrection. In the breaking of bread and sharing these Sacred Traditions of Jesus’ life, the essence of the Rosary was passed down from generation to generation. As the Sacred Scriptures were recorded and distributed, more and more people had gained access to these truths. 

The same invitation to draw close to Jesus by meditating upon His life is present to us today in a more formal method known as the Most Holy Rosary. This prayer began to take shape in the prayer life of the early monks, who recited the 150 Psalms daily. Because early Christians were often surrounded by poverty and unable to read, they began praying 150 Our Father’s, which could be recited more easily from memory. They used a rope with knots to help keep track of the prayers they offered. Eventually Hail Mary’s were incorporated and the knots were replaced by beads, which fittingly derives its name from an Old English word Bede for prayer requests. Though the numbers of prayers are the same, the value attached to the Rosary is considerably higher. Where the 150 Psalms rejoice and prophesy of the coming Messiah, the Most Holy Rosary actually bears the fruit of Our Lord’s arrival. 

Tradition has it that the formal Rosary was given to St Dominic in the 11th century by Our Lady, in response to his prayers to overcome the Albigensian heresy. He was instructed to teach meditation upon each of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of Christ, while praying one Our Father and ten Hail Mary prayers upon the Rosary beads. This practice of reciting the series of 10 Hail Mary prayers for each mystery became known as praying a decade of the Rosary. She guided him in a series of visions to spread devotion to her Son through this method of prayer, which would conquer this heresy and be responsible for the conversion of many souls. 

Though devotion to the Holy Rosary slowly faded with time, its resurgence came about in the 15th century when a Dominican Preacher named Blessed Alan de la Roche began to establish Rosary Confraternities. It was during this time that the precise form of the Rosary we have today finds its origin. In 1569, Pope St. Pius V officially approved the Rosary in this form of decades of Hail Mary's introduced by the Our Father and concluded with the Glory Be prayer. The name Rosary means Crown of Roses, and was given to illustrate the spiritual bouquet of heavenly roses we offer to Our Lady through the prayers we recite for love of her, and in honor of her Son. 

Throughout the course of history, many great Saints and Popes have given witness to the efficacy of this prayer and regarded the Most Holy Rosary second in value only to the Holy Mass. What brings such great merit to this devotion is that while the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the living memorial of Our Lord’s Passion, meditation on the Holy Rosary is like a second memorial of the life and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

On October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II added five new mysteries, known as the Luminous Mysteries, to the Holy Rosary. In his Apostolic Letter “Rosarium Virginis Mariae” (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary), the Holy Father offered us these new Mysteries of Light to mediate on certain particularly significant moments in Jesus’ public ministry, in order for the Rosary to more fully represent the Gospel. As we contemplate these luminous events, which occurred between the Joyful moments of Christ’s childhood and the Sorrowful moments in His Passion, we can relate more intimately to the Person and life of Jesus. 

Over the centuries Our Blessed Mother has appeared to many with the same message of urgency for the salvation of souls. In one of her last publicly recognized apparitions, Mary appeared over the course of six consecutive months to three children in Fatima, Portugal. During these months in 1917, Our Lady of Fatima was making an appeal to the world, once again, to pray the Holy Rosary for the conversion of sinners and for peace among all mankind. 

In thanksgiving and recognition for the many prayers answered and countless souls saved by Our Blessed Mother’s intervention, October has been declared the month of the Rosary, and October 7th has been dedicated as the Feast Day of the Most Holy Rosary. The Holy Rosary continues to be a beautiful means to draw close in our relationship with our Heavenly family, and a most powerful intercessory tool to protect against the forces which undermine the very foundation of our lives as individuals, family, society and Church today.

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