Wednesday, October 26, 2022
Jim Davis – Florida Catholic
MIAMI | The “Poor Man’s Breviary,” it’s been
called. But a better nickname for the rosary might be “the Bible on a string.”
For millions, the rosary is the heart of personal
devotion. Those 59 beads retell the lives of Jesus and Mary, illuminating their
special relationship to each other – and to us.
In appearance, the rosary is a necklace of beads –
wood, glass, crystal or other materials – with a cross as a pendant. But its
name is drawn from the Latin word rosarium, or
“rose garden,” an old term for a collection of literary works.
The rosary does hold a library of several important
Church prayers including:
- The Apostles’ Creed, summarizing foundational
Christian beliefs in the triune God, the virgin birth, the death and
resurrection of Jesus, and his return.
- The Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer,
voicing faith in God, his daily provision and his lordship over the universe.
- The Doxology, glorifying the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit.
- Salve Regina, an anthem to the “Holy
Queen, mother of mercy.”
The prayers include five decades, or 10 recitations
each, of the Hail Mary prayer, with the Lord’s Prayer before each and the
The rosary also calls Catholics to meditate on several
“mysteries,” or events from the lives of Jesus and Mary. Since medieval times,
they have fit into three groups:
- Joyful mysteries,
including the annunciation of Gabriel that Mary would bear Jesus; her visit to
Elizabeth to share the news; the Nativity of Jesus; his presentation in the
Temple as a baby; and the day Mary found him in the Temple as a boy, teaching
- Sorrowful mysteries,
including Jesus’ agony in the garden, awaiting his arrest; his scourging at the
hands of soldiers; his crowning with thorns; his carrying the cross, and his
- Glorious mysteries,
including Jesus’ resurrection and ascension; Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit
descended onto his disciples; the Assumption of Mary, being taken bodily into
heaven; and her coronation as queen of heaven.
In 2002, St. Pope John Paul II made a historic
addition: the luminous mysteries. They include Jesus’
baptism; his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding feast; his
proclamation of the Kingdom of God; his transfiguration before his three top
disciples, and his institution of the Eucharist.
During the recitations, Catholics are asked to
reflect on the mysteries, gain a deeper appreciation for their truths, and consider
how they can live the faith more authentically.
Since 1917, many Catholics also have added a prayer
after each decade for the conversion of souls. That was a request of the
apparitions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal, who announced herself as “the Lady of
As familiar as the rosary has become, its origins
are lost in history. A popular tradition says that an apparition of Mary gave
it to the 14th century St. Dominic. He then used it as a tool of evangelization,
especially to counter the Albigensian heresy of the time.
However, even in the early days of the Church,
monks were using cords with knots or beads to help them count recitations of
prayers such as the Our Father and Hail Mary. Eastern Orthodox Christians use
cords with up to 300 knots or beads. Anglicans, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus
use their own versions of prayer beads as well.
Before the printing press was invented, most people
couldn’t pray from the Church’s Psalter, or book of psalms. So they began
praying 150 Our Fathers or Hail Marys in place of the 150 psalms. To keep
count, they began stringing beads together.
Dominic the Carthusian, in the 15th century,
promoted a series of 50 Hail Marys and 50 Vita Christi clauses (references to the life of Christ). Also in the 15th century,
Alanus de Rupe founded a brotherhood to spread the practice of rosary prayer.
Pope Pius V gave the devotions a big boost in 1571.
He called for Catholics to pray the rosary before a battle between Christian
and Turkish Muslim navies. Called the Battle of Lepanto, the conflict dealt
defeat to the Muslims and safeguarded European Christendom. A grateful Pius
declared October 7, the day of the battle, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Nowadays, all of October is regarded as the Month
of the Holy Rosary, and nearly all popes have strongly recommended praying it.
“I invite you to pray the rosary, and to carry it in
your hands or in your pockets,” Pope Francis has said. “The recitation
of the rosary is the most beautiful prayer we can offer to the Virgin Mary â€¦
and is a weapon that protects us from evils and temptations.”
Some places even put some action into the rosary,
creating walking paths that recall rosary beads. One of the best-known in
Florida is at the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando.
Another is at the school at Our Lady of the Lakes, Miami
Lakes. And Emmanuel Church in Delray Beach has rimmed its pond with globe lamps,
turning a footpath into a Rosary Walk.
However it’s done, praying the rosary can have a mystical
effect, evoking a mental and emotional pilgrimage through the Gospel.
“After meditating on each mystery, they become less
like stories you’ve read aloud in a church and more like places you’ve visited
in a dream,” wrote author Anna Keating in
Spirituality & Health. “They’re a part of you.”
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