How Will You Celebrate Our Lady of the Rosary?
For centuries, the Rosary has been one of the most popular devotions in the Catholic faith. Even prior to the Rosary itself, there was in the Church a history of using beads and cords to count one’s prayers. In the earliest centuries of the Church, some zealous men would retreat to the desert to devote themselves to a life of prayer, writing, and sacrifice for their own salvation and the salvation of the world. These early men, known as the “Desert Fathers,” used to pray all one hundred and fifty Psalms every single day. For those of the monks who were illiterate and could not read the Psalms, it was altered so that they would pray one hundred and fifty Our Fathers or Hail Marys. Some would use a cord with knots, or would gather a pile of rocks to use to keep track of these prayers as they prayed them. This may be a historical precursor to our modern Rosary, a string with beads on it.
Origins of the Rosary
Although there is not complete consensus as to the historical origins of the Rosary as we know it today, a very commonly accepted account is that the Rosary was given by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself to Saint Dominic around the year 1214. Dominic was in the Monastery of Notre-Dame-de-Prouille in Languedoc, France, when the Virgin Mary appeared to him and gave him the Rosary. Dominic was assiduous in spreading devotion to the Rosary, and its adherents continued throughout the centuries.
How to Pray the Rosary
Praying the Rosary consists of five decades, known as mysteries, each of which focuses on one event in the life of Jesus. The Rosary begins with the Creed, followed by an Our Father, three Hail Marys and one Glory Be. Each individual mystery begins with an Our Father, followed by ten Hail Marys, and a Glory Be. At the end of each decade, we say the Fatima Prayer (O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy). After the five decades are finished, we end with “Hail Holy Queen.” Other prayers may be included at the end as well, including the Saint Michael prayer and the Memorare.
Each time the Rosary is prayed, the one praying focuses on one set of five mysteries. Altogether, there are four sets of five mysteries: the Joyful (Monday, Saturday), Luminous (Thursday), Sorrowful (Tuesday, Friday) and Glorious Mysteries (Sunday, Wednesday). Each set of mysteries is prayed on the day of the week mentioned in parentheses.
This is the standard and most well-known version of the Rosary. There are variations, however, that focus on different devotions to Jesus and Mary. One famous example is the Seven Sorrows Rosary, attributed to the Servite Order. Instead of five groups of ten Hail Marys, the Seven Sorrows Rosary is seven groups of seven Hail Marys, each of which focuses on one of the seven sorrows of Mary listed below.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:34–35)
The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13)
The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem (Luke 2:43–45)
The Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:25)
The Piercing of the Side of Jesus, and His Descent from the Cross (Matthew 27:57–59)
The Burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:40–42)
The Devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary
The apparition of Mary that was granted to Saint Dominic became known as Our Lady of the Rosary, or Our Lady of Victory. Devotion to the Rosary increased tremendously in the 1500s after the Battle of Lepanto. On October 7, 1571, the naval fleet of the Holy League, led principally by the empires of Venice and Spain, confronted the fleet of the Ottoman Empire at the Gulf of Patras in the Ionian Sea. Although outnumbered, the soldiers of the Holy League prayed the Rosary earnestly, at the request of Pope Pius V. The Christian Holy League won a surprising, even miraculous victory at Lepanto, which the Holy Father attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he titled “Our Lady of Victory.” Pope Pius then instituted a feast of Our Lady of Victory on October 7, to thank the Virgin for her intercession in the battle. As a result of the Holy League’s winning the Battle of Lepanto, Christianity was saved in the west, and would continue to thrive. After this miraculous event, devotion to the Rosary increased, and began to take greater pride of place among the Church’s devotions.
While initially referred to as “Our Lady of Victory,” the feast that occurs in the Church’s calendar on October 7 had its name changed to “Feast of the Holy Rosary” just two years later (in 1573) by Pope Gregory XIII. After the Holy Roman Empire defeated the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Petrovaradin in August 1716, Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the entire Catholic Church, and placed it on the first Sunday in October. In 1913 Pope Pius X fixed it at October 7, and in 1960 Pope John XXIII changed the name of the feast to “Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.”
Spiritual Benefits of Praying the Rosary
Why should we pray the Rosary? The Rosary unites our hearts to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who is, aside from Jesus Himself, God’s greatest gift to the human race. In Mary, we have the most perfect creature, the best example of sainthood, and the most caring mother. We cannot go wrong when we choose to imitate Mary—she exemplifies all the Christian virtues. The Rosary gives us a sort of “guided tour” of Jesus’ life, through the eyes of the one person who knew Him the best - His own mother. At each mystery, we can contemplate what it must have been like for Mary to be there - at the Annunciation, at Christmas, at the Crucifixion - and we can ask Mary to obtain for us the graces we need to live a life that is conducive to our salvation, and the salvation of our family and friends.
Numerous Popes have spoken often and forcefully about the benefits of the Rosary, and Marian devotion. In the encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II said, “The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation.” Pope Leo XIII wrote twelve encyclicals just on the Rosary. In October 2016, Pope Francis said, “the Rosary is the prayer that always accompanies my life: it is also the prayer of simple people and saints…it is the prayer of my heart.” These are merely a few examples. If the Rosary has been given the approval of so many Popes, what reason should we have for not making it a regular part of our prayer lives?
By cultivating a strong relationship with the Mother of God, we are only helping ourselves to strengthen our love for God. Mary does not desire honor and fame for herself; she always points us forward to Jesus. From the day of the Annunciation, to today, until the end of time, Mary will never stop leading souls to Her Son.