What is the rosary?

The angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, when he came to announce the conception of Jesus, is familiar to most Catholics. It is echoed in one of the most popular Catholic prayers, the Hail Mary (in Latin, Ave Maria): “Hail, [Mary,] favoured one [or ‘full of grace’]! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).

The words that follow in that prayer also come from Scripture, from Elizabeth’s greeting to our Lady soon afterward: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:32). Then the “fruit” of her womb is identified as Jesus. Next, “holy [Saint] Mary, Mother of God” refers to her status as the woman who bore the divine son of God (see Galatians 4:4; see also “Why is Mary called ‘Mother of God’?”). Finally, the prayer asks for Mary’s intersection: “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. Why do Catholics pray to the Saints and Angels?”.

The Hail Mary is one of the chief prayers of the Catholic devotion known as the Rosary. This series of repetitive prayers is usually prayed in conjunction with a string of beads that help the person praying to keep track of his or her progress. Two other prayers are also central to the Rosary. One is the Our Father (or the Lord’s Prayer), which comes to us from Christ as recorded in Scripture (see Matthew 6:9-13). The other is the Glory Be, an ancient expression of praise to the Most Holy Trinity: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” These words echo portions of various prayers and statements in Scripture (see Matthew 28:19; Romans 16:27; Jude 25).

The Rosary also includes a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, one of the earliest professions of faith produced by the Church. Finally, Catholics may add a variety of additional personal petitions when praying the Rosary.
-    Source: Abide in My Word, October 2013 edition. Page 6.

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The Prayers of the Rosary

The rosary is made up of two things: mental prayer and vocal prayer. In the Holy Rosary mental prayer is none other than meditation of the chief mysteries of the life, [preaching], death and glory of Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother. Vocal prayer consists in saying [twenty] decades of the Hail Mary, each decade headed by an Our Father, while at the same time meditating on and contemplating the [twenty] principal virtues which Jesus and Mary practised in the [twenty] mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

In the first five decades we must honour the five Joyous Mysteries and meditate on them; [in the second five decades the Luminous Mysteries]; in the [third] group of five, the Sorrowful Mysteries and in the [fourth] group of five, the Glorious Mysteries. So the rosary is a blessed blending of mental and vocal prayer by which we honour and learn to imitate the mysteries and the virtues of the life, death, passion and glory of Jesus and Mary.
-    Source: The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis De Montfort, 1965 edition

 ** All statements or words in [ ], in this section, have been modified from the original. E.g. There were originally fifteen mysteries when the book was written, but now there are [twenty] mysteries.

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Origin of the Holy Rosary

Since the Holy Rosary is composed, principally and in substance, of the Prayer of Christ and the Angelic Salutation, that is, the Our Father and the Hail Mary, it was without doubt the first prayer and the first devotion of the faithful and has been in use all through the centuries, from the time of the apostles and disciples down to the present.

But it was only in the year 1214, however, that Holy Mother Church received the rosary in its present form and according to the method we use today. It was given to the church by Saint Dominic who had received it from the Blessed Virgin as a powerful means of converting the Albigensians and other sinners.

I will tell you the story of how he received it, which is found in the very well-known book “De Dignitate Psalterii” by Blessed Alan de la Roche1. Saint Dominic, seeing that the gravity of people’s sins was hindering the conversion of the Albigensians, withdrew into a forest near Toulouse where he prayed unceasingly for three days and three nights. During this time he did nothing but weep and do harsh penances in order to appease the anger of Almighty God. He used his discipline so much that his body was lacerated, and finally he fell into a coma.
At this point Our Lady appeared to him, accompanied by three angels, and she said:

“Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?”
“Oh, my Lady,” answered Saint Dominic, “you know far better than I do because next to your son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation.”

Then Our Lady replied:
“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.”

So he arose, comforted, and burning with zeal for the conversion of the people in that district he made straight for the Cathedral. At once unseen angels rang the bells to gather the people together and Saint Dominic began to preach.

A the very beginning of his sermon an appalling storm broke out, the earth shook, the sun was darkened, and there was so much thunder and lightning that all were very much afraid. Even greater was their fear when looking at a picture of our Lady exposed in a prominent place they saw her raise her arms to heaven three times to call God’s vengeance upon them if they failed to be converted, to amend their lives, and seek the protection of the Holy Mother of God.

God wished, by means of these supernatural phenomena, to spread the new devotion of the Holy Rosary and to make it more widely known.

At last, at the prayer of Saint Dominic, the storm came to an end, and he went on preaching. So fervently and compellingly did he explain the importance and value of the Holy Rosary that almost all the people of Toulouse embraced it and renounced their false beliefs. In a very short time a great improvement was seen in the town; people began leading Christian lives and gave up their former bad habits.
-    Source: The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis De Montfort, 1965 edition

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Saint Dominic and the Holy Rosary

This miraculous way in which the devotion to the Holy Rosary was established is something of a parallel to the way in which almighty God gave His law to the world on Mount Sinai and obviously proves its value and importance.

Inspired by the Holy Ghost, instructed by the Blessed Virgin as well as by his own experience, Saint Dominic preached the Holy Rosary for the rest of his life. He preached it by his example as well as by his sermons, in cities and in country places, to people of high station and low, before scholars and the uneducated, to Catholics and to heretics.

The Holy Rosary which he said every day was his preparation for every sermons and his little tryst with Our Lady immediately after preaching.

One day he had to preach at Notre Dame in Paris, and it happened to be the feast of St. John the Evangelist. He was in a little chapel behind the high altar prayerfully preparing for   his sermon by saying the Rosary, as he always  did, when Our Lady appeared to him and said: “ Dominic, even though what you have planned to say may be very good, I am bringing you a much better sermon.”

Saint Dominic took in his hands the book Our Lady proffered, read the sermon carefully and when he had understood it and meditated on it, he gave thanks to the Blessed Mother. When the time came, he went up into the pulpit and, in spite of the feast day, made no mention of Saint John other than to say that he had been found worthy to be the guardian of the Queen of Heaven. The congregation was made up of theologians and other eminent people who were used to hearing unusual and polished discourses; but Saint Dominic told them that it was not his wish to give them a learned discourse, wise in the eyes of the world, but that he would speak in the simplicity of the Holy Spirit and with His forcefulness. So he began preaching the Holy Rosary and explained the Hail Mary word by word as he would to a group of children and used the very simple illustrations which were in the book our Lady  had given him.
-    Source: The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis De Montfort, 1965 edition


1 De Dignitate Psalterii. The importance and Beauty of the Holy Rosary, by blessed Alan de la Roche, O.P, French Dominican Father and apostle of the Holy Rosary.

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