St. Dominic and the Rosary
September 10, 2013
The rosary is a method of prayer which engages the whole person, body and soul. Words are recited, beads fingered, scenes imagined, affections awakened, doctrines pondered and virtues willed. Like the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the rosary is threefold, because of its joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. The rosary is a devotion for the simple and the intellectual, the young and the old, the busy and the free, the lay and the religious. A blessed Rosary is a sacramental that can be carried around, held or kissed, even when not recited. It can be prayed in community or alone, as a whole or in part. The Rosary includes the perfect prayer which our Lord taught to the Apostles, the Our Father. It also includes the Hail Mary, which draws from pivotal events recorded in Scripture. It praises God and helps His People in need. Certainly, the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours are superior forms of prayer, but the Rosary is called “Our Lady’s Psalter” because, instead of 150 Psalms, it has 150 Hail Marys. The Rosary is the only method of prayer which is celebrated throughout the universal Church with a Liturgy, namely, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In ancient times, there was a custom of counting prayers with pebbles in a bowl. Eventually beads were strung together to count them. On the other hand, illiterate monks and nuns, instead of memorizing the Psalms, used to recite 150 Our Fathers, probably in groups of 50. In the 14th century, Christians used a “string of Paternosters.” Around 1400, Dominic of Prussia combined 50 Hail Marys with phrases referring to Jesus and Mary. It was called the “Rosarium” or Rose Garden. Alan de la Roche, O.P. (1428-79), who did much to spread the Life of Saint Dominic, may have confused him with this monk of the same name. Another monk, Henry Kalkar divided the Hail Marys into decades separated by Our Fathers. In the 16th century, the Doxology or Glory Be was added, as well as the second half of the Hail Mary. At this time also, in 1573, the Dominican pope, Saint Pius V instituted the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In 1716, Clement XI made the feast universal. It is now celebrated every year on the 7th of October. There have been other traditions that were assimilated or faded away. In some places, for example, the leader of the Rosary would declare a different mystery for each Hail Mary! Although the Church generally settled on fifteen mysteries, there has been a trend in recent years to emphasize other events in the Gospels. It almost seems like a defect to ignore the Flight to Egypt, the Baptism of Jesus, His temptations in the desert, His teaching and ministry, the Transfiguration, and the Last Supper to mention a few (though some of these can be seen in John Paul II’s Luminous Mysteries). Still, the fifteen mysteries do not exclude meditation on these other events (and filled out with the Luminous Mysteries). They are not rigid partitions. Likewise, the division into joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries may appear to be somewhat artificial because one can find these three properties throughout the fifteen mysteries, nevertheless, the categories themselves foster profound insights into our relationship to God. There are today a few firmly established forms of recitation, with one dominating form, but the development of the Rosary, guided by heaven, continues. For instance, Our Lady of the Rosary, as She identified herself at Fatima in 1917, asked the young visionaries to include a new prayer after each decade, “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.” There is a legend that our Lady appeared to Saint Dominic to give him the Rosary, to teach him how to pray it and to commission him to propagate the devotion. This story was circulated by Saint Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, the great Marian priest of the Dominican Third Order. The story is also mentioned in several papal encyclicals and in other authoritative sources, but it lacks historical evidence. It may indeed be true, but there is no documentation from the early 13th century to prove or disprove it. On the contrary, the meticulous depositions taken from eyewitnesses to investigate the life of Saint Dominic during his canonization process, although they mention many of his miracles and revelations, say nothing about the Rosary (although testimony during the process for canonization told of how St. Dominic told the brethren that Our Lady did appear to him). Historical records, in fact, tell us a different story about the origin of the Rosary, saying that it developed in stages. With its emphasis on the Incarnation, certainly the Dominicans’ preaching of the Rosary has played a significant role in rooting out heterodox influences on the Catholic Faith in our own day. The Holy Rosary continues for Dominicans and for the whole Church to be a popular form of prayer. May our Lady of the Rosary pray for us and for the New Evangelization!