The word Rosary means a garden of roses. The Paters and Aves composing it are so many flowers twined into a wreath of prayer, the fragrance of which ascends in an odor of sweetness up to the throne of the Queen of Heaven. There are one hundred and fifty Hail Marys in the devotion, divided off into fifteen decades or tens, before each of which there is one Our Father and a Glory be to the Father, &c. One third of the Rosary, containing five decades, is called a chaplet, and it is this which pious Catholics say every day. The entire Rosary is called also the Psalter or Psalmody of our Lady, because, as the Psalter of King David contains one hundred and fifty psalms, so the Rosary contains one hundred and fifty Angelical salutations.
The practice of using pebbles or beads for numbering prayers is as old as the third or fourth century. Palladius, an ecclesiastical writer of the 5th age, relates, in his Historia Lausiaca, that Abbot Paul made three hundred prayers daily which he reckoned by means of little stones. A canon of the Council of Celchyth, held in England in 816, commands that, on the death of a bishop, seven belts of Our Fathers should be said by the clergy every day, for the space of thirty days, for the repose of his soul; and William of Malmesbury says that a Saxon Countess, named Godiva, desired, when on the point of death, that a string of gems on which she used to count her prayers, should be suspended round the neck of the statue of the Blessed Virgin, in a Church of Coventry. In fact the very name beads, which we apply to the Rosary or Chaplet, proves that a similar devotion was in use among the Catholic Anglo-Saxons, for, in their language it signifies not globules or pebbles, but prayers, being from the same root as the present German word beten.
But these forms of prayer were not the Rosary. Some have ascribed the origin of the devotion, as it now exists, to St. Benedict, the Patriarch of the Monastic life in the West, who flourished in the 6th century; others to Peter the Hermit, the originator, under God, of the Crusades, in the end of the 11th century. The claims of these venerable persons cannot, however, be substantiated. Though both were devoted heart and soul to Mary, it did not please God to make use of them as his instruments in the establishment or propagation of the Rosary of His Blessed Mother. The time for the devotion had not yet come. It remained hidden in the coffers of heavenly benediction, to be opened at the prayers of Mary, when the urging wants of the Church should call for the special interposition of the Heavenly Mediatrix.
That time came at last. The Albigensian heresy, [“The Albigenses owned two Principles or Creators, the one good, the other bad; the former the Creator of the invisible spiritual world, the, latter the Creator of bodies, the tutor of the Jewish dispensation, and author of the Old Testament. They admitted two Christ’s, the one bad, who appeared upon earth, and the other good who never lived in this world; they denied the resurrection of the flesh, and, believed that our souls were demons confined to our bodies in punishment of sins committed by them in a former state of existence; they condemned all the sacraments, rejected baptism as useless, abominated the Eucharist, practised neither a confession nor penance, believing marriage unlawful, and ridiculed purgatory, praying for the dead, images, crucifixes, and the ceremonies of the Church. They distinguished themselves into two sorts; the Perfect, who boasted of living continently, ate neither flesh, nor eggs, nor cheese, abhorred lying and never swore; and the Believers, who lived and ate as other men did, and were irregular in their manners, but were persuaded that they were saved by the faith of the Perfect, and that none of those who received the imposition of their hands were damned.”—Butler’s Lives of the Saints—Life of St. Dominic, 4th of August.] only another name for the absurd and impious Manicheism of the third and fourth centuries, began, about the year 1200, to make dreadful ravages in the South of France. Pillage, sacrilege and murder were the instruments which the sectaries used for the propagation of their system, and the enormities which they practised at last forced the secular arm to interpose for the defense of the property and lives of the children of the Church. Apostolic men went amongst them to win them back by charity and mildness to the obedience of reason and faith, but their labors were repaid with insult, ill-treatment, and assassination. The heart of the great St. Dominic, a Spaniard by birth, and founder of the order of Dominicans or Friars Preachers, who was laboring, by permission of Pope Innocent III., on this barren and ungrateful mission, bled with anguish at the sad prospect of spiritual ruin, which met his gaze. He turned to her to whom no one ever turned in vain. He begged her by the Blood of her Divine Son shed for sinners, and by the sword of sorrow, which pierced her own Immaculate Heart, to intercede for the perishing souls for whom he preached and prayed and suffered. Need it be said that such a petition was heard? Oh! Mother Mary! Refuge of sinners! Consoler of the afflicted! indeed it would have been a, miracle, such as never before occurred, had it been rejected! Dominic prayed, and Mary heard his prayer, and revealed to him the Holy Rosary. What the sword of the stern old soldier, Simon de Montfort, [The General of the Crusade against the Albigenses.] could not do, what even the previous labors of St. Dominic and his saintly co-operators failed to accomplish, Mary’s Crown of Roses did. The meditation of the fifteen mysteries of our Lord and Lady’s life and death, accompanying each decade, instructed the ignorant in the articles of faith, whilst the recitation of the Our Father and Hail Mary filled the hearts of sinners with contrition and love, and drew down the blessings of Heaven. The work of conversion went bravely on: Dominic reaped a harvest of souls, and our sweet Mother a harvest of glory.
From that day to this, the devotion of the Rosary has never lost its hold on the affections of the faithful. To recount the wonders that it has wrought and will continue to work until the day of doom in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory, would require an inspired tongue, and the vision of prophecy. The glory that surrounded it at its birth went on increasing, until it culminated with dazzling radiance on the meridian of the Mary-protected Church, towards the close of the 16th age. The battle of Lepanto, gained on the 7th of October, 1571, by the Christian fleet, under the command of Don John of Austria, over the formidable armament of the Turks, at the time that the sodality of the Rosary in Rome was walking in solemn procession addressing fervent prayers to the Throne of Mercy, proclaimed to the Catholic world the power of Mary, and the motherly care that she ever exercises over her servants. The prayers of the Confraternity of the Rosary, as they arose from the Eternal City, on that first Sunday of October, rent on their way to Heaven, the dark thunder-cloud of Turkish invasion, that had hung, for centuries, lowering o’er the eastern horizon of Europe.
The holy Pope, St. Pius V., who then occupied the chair of St. Peter, was informed, by revelation, from heaven, of the victory at the very moment that it was won. In gratitude to the Divine Mother and her Son, he commanded that a yearly commemoration should be made, on the first Sunday of October, of St. Mary of Victory. Gregory XIII., his successor, established the Festival of the Rosary, to be celebrated, on the same day, in all the churches which contained a chapel or an altar dedicated under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary. Clement X., in 1671, at the prayer of the Queen of Spain, extended the feast to all the Spanish dominions. Another victory gained over the Turks, in 1716, under circumstances precisely similar to those of the victory of Lepanto, induced Clement XI. To grant the celebration of the Festival of the Rosary to the Universal Church.
Such is the history of the origin and progress of this holy devotion; let us now consider briefly the intrinsic claims that it has to our veneration and love. The prayers that compose it are most holy in their origin. The Our Father was taught by our Lord Himself, and is a complete synopsis of Christian doctrine and morality. We call God Father, thereby indicating His Divine Paternity. Father implies Son, and where these two exist, there is mutual love between them. The Eternal Father and His Only Begotton Son love one another with an eternal Love, and that Love is a Divine Person, the Holy Ghost. But God is not only Father, but He is Our Father, by creation, preservation and the imparting of His grace. Grace implies Jesus, the God-Man, the Source of all the graces of intelligent creatures, and he who mentions that Adorable Name fits the key to the treasury of wisdom and love contained in the mysteries of Incarnation and Redemption. Bow down, Christian soul, in awe and adoration before the throne of the Eternal God! See how in the first of the prayer that He has taught us are contained the three great mysteries of our faith! What should we find if we were to go through it in detail? Verily, nothing else than these other great truths—the rewards of heaven, the existence of evil spirits, the punishments of hell, the Sacraments of Penance and the Most Holy Eucharist, and the principal moral obligations of our religion, as the duty of filial love for God, conformity to His Divine Will, confidence in His Providence, fraternal charity and the avoiding of the occasions of sin. O, Adorable Lord! whose words so fruitful in meaning as Thine, whose so full of hidden wisdom, whose so full of love!
The Hail Mary is composed of three parts. “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women,” were the words of the Archangel Gabriel, when announcing to the Blessed Virgin that she was to become the Mother of God. The latter part of the same salutation, with an additional clause, was repeated by St. Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Ghost, when Mary visited her in the hill country of Judea: “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb.” The General Council of Ephesus held, in 431, against Nestorius, the heretical Archbishop of Constantinople, who impiously asserted that Mary was not the Mother of God, added the third part: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
The Hail Mary is both a hymn of praise to the Blessed Virgin for the glory of her Divine Maternity, and a prayer of intercession for her protection during life and at the moment of death. Heaven is filled with jubilee when it is said; the beautiful angels bow down in reverent adoration before the throne of their Queen; the glorified children of men, of whom no one ever reached the country of the Blessed without the assistance of Mary, hymn a new song of gratitude to their Mother and Mediatrix, and a new sea of divine radiance from the Holy Trinity breaks around her throne in a spray of dazzling splendor. At the words, blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, her Immaculate Heart turns with unutterable love to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the flames of those two fiery furnaces of divine charity unite and arise before the Ever Blessed Three, the only offering, with the Adorable Sacrament, worthy of the Majesty the of Godhead. Child of Mary! will you refuse this increase of accidental glory to your Mother? One fervent Hail Mary can give it, and the third part of the Rosary will repeat it fifty times. If you say the beads every day during a month, you will work wonders in heaven more than fifteen hundred times. Mary will be your debtor, and never will her gratitude be satisfied until she welcomes you to heaven. “Love,” said St. Augustine, “and do what you please;” yes, let us all love Mary, and then we can, in all things, do our own will, because, in all things, it will be conformed to hers as hers is to that of Jesus. That love will burn sin and affection for sin out of our hearts, and bring our Lord into them with all His treasures of grace and sweetness.
The Rosary opens the gates of Purgatory; We may well believe that God will deign to release daily one soul from that place of exile and punishment for one pair of beads said with devout intention, and the application of the indulgences attached to the Rosary. Now think, good reader, What a thing it is to have thirty-one souls in heaven, who would not have been there so soon had it not been for your beads! They will be indebted to you, Mary will be indebted to you, her Divine Son will be indebted to you. And what will be your recompense? The grace of a happy death, the crowning gift of all God’s gifts, that of final perseverence. Mother Mary! Queen of the Rosary! we resolve to say the beads every day; neither business, nor pleasure, nor fatigue, nor disgust, shall hinder us from offering thee this tribute of love. Receive our promise, and seal it by obtaining for us from thy Son the grace to keep it.
The versicle, Glory be to the Father and to the Son anal to the Holy Ghost, is said before each decade of the Rosary. It is a salutation of praise to the Blessed Trinity. The name doxology, applied to it, is derived from the Greek, meaning a word of praise or glory.
The generally received opinion attributes the origin of the doxology to the 1st Council of Nice, held in 325, against the Arian heretics who denied the Divinity of the Eternal Word. But Pope Benedict XIV. (De Festo SS. Trinitatis) proves that it existed and was used by the faithful before the time of that Council, and that it arose naturally from the formula of baptism given by our Lord to the Apostles—baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (St. Matt. xxviii.) The response, as it was in the beginning, etc., was most probably added by the Nicene Synod, to meet the errors of the Arians who asserted that the Son was not born of the Father in the beginning, that is, from all eternity, but in time.
The same learned Pontiff combats the opinion that the practice of adding Glory be to the Father, etc., at the end of the Psalms in the Divine Office, was introduced into the West by the order of Pope St. Damasus, in the end of the 4th century, by the advice of St. Jerome, who had heard it sung by the Oriental monks, though this opinion has, in its favor the 6th Lesson in the Office of St. Damasus (December 11th:) Statuit, ut, quod pluribus jam locis erat in usu, psalmi, per omnes ecclesias, die noctuque ab alternis canerentur, et in fine cujusque psalmi diceretur, Gloria Patri, etc. Benedict XIV. thinks that the practice in question arose from a Canon of the Council of Narbonne, in 589, which was, in course of time, adopted through-out the Church.
There are few devotions to which the Holy See has granted so many indulgences as to the Rosary; one hundred days for each Our Father and Hail Mary, and a plenary indulgence once a year, on any day the reciter may choose. To gain the latter the usual conditions of a plenary indulgence must be complied with, that is, confession, communion, and prayers for the wants of the Church. It need not be said that a person must be in a state of grace, because an indulgence, being the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, cannot avail until the sin itself, and, consequently, its eternal punishment, are removed.
To gain the indulgences of the Rosary, the beads must be blessed by a priest having the requisite faculties, and the recitation of the prayers must be accompanied, according to very many who have written on the subject, by meditation on the mysteries of our Lord and Lady, if the person reciting the beads is capable of meditating.
|The Five Glorious Mysteries|
For Sundays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
|The Five Joyful Mysteries|
For Mondays and Thursdays.
|The Five Sorrowful Mysteries|
For Tuesdays and Fridays.
Many pious persons make it a point to have their beads always about them during the day, and to place them around their neck or under their pillow at night. Faithful soldiers of Mary, they have their arms always in their hands. Let bad thoughts attack them or dangers menace, and at once the faithful fingers are on the beads, the Hail Mary is on their lips, the image of their Mother is before them, and the victory is won. Let us adopt this easy and salutary practice; it will save us from at least one temptation, that of omitting to say our beads because we have them not at hand.