Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Meaning of the Rosary

The Rosary, from the Latin “rosarium” meaning “rose garden” or “garland of roses” is one of the most popular non-liturgical devotions in the Catholic Church today. For at least a millennium before St. Dominic, who is credited with starting the Rosary devotion, Muslims, Buddhists and other non-Christian as well as Christians followed a tradition of counting repetitive prayers on beads or knots, or placing stones in a bowl or pocket to track the number.
Within Judeo-Christian tradition, the practice of reciting the 150 psalms daily transferred from the Old Testament devout Jews to the monks and monasteries of the Catholic Church. The average person in Europe, however, did not know how to read or write until Guttenberg’s printing press made learning much more widely possible. As a result, the clergy, who were the best educated for centuries, encouraged the practice of reciting 150 “Our Fathers”, using a string of beads to count them in fifties. These beads became known as the “PaterNoster” beads. As time went on, a parallel psalter of 150 “Hail Marys” became known as the Marian Psalter. Today most people are educated well enough to pray the official liturgies of the Church, but the Rosary remains a core devotion beyond the liturgy among the faithful.
Unfortunately due to the many religious wars and plagues of the middle ages and early renaissance, a great deal of documentation regarding the rosary and St. Dominic which would have been preserved by monasteries and convents was lost to us through their destruction. We do know the following:
1. The Hail Mary at the time of St. Dominic consisted only of the first part we recite today from the Gospel of St. Luke 1:28, 42. The word “Jesus” was not added until the 14th century, and the remainder of the prayer came later.
2. The “Our Father” and the “Glory be” as part of the rosary also came later.
3. The Mysteries of the Rosary were fixed about 250 years after St. Dominic, and were added to by Pope John Paul II in the 2002-2003 Year of the Rosary. [1]
4. A 15th century Dominican named Alan de Rupe, O.P. revived the Rosary devotion 250 years after the time of St. Dominic. He preached the Marian Psalter of 150 Hail Marys and 150 mysteries and divided them into three groups of fifties according to the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries. It was not until the reign of Pope Pius V in 1569 that the fifteen mysteries were officially established.
5. The crucifix and extra beads before starting the mysteries did not come until long after St. Dominic.
St. Dominic of Guzman, 1685, Claudio Coello (b. 1642, Madrid, d. 1693, Madrid), oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid
6. St. Dominic founded “The Militia of Jesus Christ” which, according to Dominican records, recited the Marian Psalter daily, as did “The Confraternity of Prayer” founded by Dominicans at Piacenza in1259, thirty-eight years after the death of St. Dominic. [2]
7. The Abligensian heresy, a dualism belief similar to Manicheism, became the occasion for St. Dominic to preach using the Marian Psalter interspersed with meditations on the life of Christ. The prayers on the beads were the body of the rosary and the meditations the soul.
8. From 1521 on, various popes credited St. Dominic with instituting the Rosary and gradually they gave it the form we know today.
The Holy Rosary, as it is sometimes called, means so much to Catholics because it provides an easy way to link the faithful to Jesus and Mary in daily life. It promotes meditation on the life of Christ and especially fosters a love of his Mother which pleases Jesus as it would please any son. When prayed as a family, it promotes unity. It was Father Patrick Peyton, CSC (1909-1992), who, seeing the disintegration of Christian values in society striking at the heart of the family, took to the radio in1945 and campaigned for the praying of the Rosary under the slogan, “The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together.” His religious order, the Congregation of the Holy Cross, still carries on the “Rosary Crusade” he founded.
Three Children of Fatima
As Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino said in a Zenit interview in 2004, “If it is well understood,” it is a prayer that says much.” He described it as deeply “contemplative. The repetition, which often from a distance might seem to be mechanical, in fact serves as a breath of the soul which, gazing on Jesus Christ, assumes a contemplative attitude through Mary’s eyes and heart.”
Contemplating Sacred Scripture accompanied by the Blessed Mother through the Rosary inevitably draws the faithful closer to Christ. She knew him best and she was given to us by him to be our Mother, too, at the foot of the Cross (John 19: 26-27). Because of its connection with Sacred Scripture, the Rosary means comfort, hope, light, love, and peace as it leads to the contemplation of heaven in the midst of this vale of tears.
[1] Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Pope John Paul II, October, 2002
[2] The Rosary and its Meaning by Father Francis William, p.26
*****We often see St. Dominic painted with the rosary and to this day every Dominican wears a rosary as part of the habit (see painting above). St. Bernadette Soubirous and other saints are portrayed praying the rosary, too. Among the messages Our Lady of Fatima brought to the three children was to pray the rosary every day, and there is a famous picture of the three children with their rosaries (see above).
I pray the rosary as I am going to sleep at night and in the morning before I get up. It’s a good way to calm down at the end of the day and to have a little “God time” before starting a new day. Part of the prayers I say when on a road trip is the rosary for the intention of arriving safely at the destination. Because of the difficult times we are facing in our country, one of my rosaries each day is dedicated to the Sorrowful mysteries as I pray for deliverance of our nation. I see Christ suffering in our people. Praying the rosary faithfully helps me understand the Bible better and is a way I can glorify God and honor Jesus through honoring Mary.
My favorite book on the rosary is by St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary.

No comments:

Post a Comment