Where did the rosary come from? It’s not in the Bible. St. Paul tells us to sing hymns and offer prayers for leaders, but says nothing about praying these prayer beads. According to a legend, the rosary began when the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Dominic in the fifteenth century and gave him a rosary to pray. This isn’t true. This legend arose because the Dominicans promoted praying the rosary. So how did the rosary originate? Long ago it was the custom to pray the 150 psalms. But illiterate people prayed 150 Our Fathers instead on beads called the paternoster (Latin for “our Father”). Lady Godiva bequeathed her paternoster made of gems to a monastery. When the Hail Mary prayer was finalized in the twelfth century, it was prayed 150 times on beads with each set of ten introduced by an Our Father. The Hail Mary prayer combines the words of the Angel Gabriel with the words of Elizabeth to her and adds a short plea for her prayers.
Gradually people began to reflect on events in the life of Christ, making the rosary “the Gospel on beads.” These events are called mysteries and grouped as Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious. The devotion of the rosary received a boost in 1571 when a large fleet of Turks were on the way to Europe. Pope Pius V asked people to pray the rosary in public to protect Rome. The Christian navy was sure to be defeated. Yet in the decisive battle of Lepanto against all odds, the Muslims were trounced. The pope declared the feast of the Holy Rosary, which today is observed on October 7.
After September 11, 2001, Pope John Paul II likewise urged us to pray the rosary for world peace, as did Mary herself in 1917 when she appeared to the three children in Fatima, Portugal. Coincidentally, this pope was shot on May 13, the day Mary first appeared in Fatima. The doctors were amazed how the bullet zigzagged to avoid major organs. The pope credited Mary with saving his life and had the bullet placed in the crown of her statue in Fatima.
Joseph Haydn always had a rosary with him and prayed it; so did Louis Pasteur. Martin Luther prayed it all his life. To this day the rosary remains a popular prayer. It’s more than an ornament in the car, a necklace, or a nice Communion gift. It’s a way of honoring Mary— like offering her a garland of roses. It’s a powerful way to praise God, who created Mary and sent his Son to save us. Praying the rosary also deepens our faith and links us more closely to God. The rosary is not just a prayer for grandmas.
Did you know there is a e-rosary to pray along with at www.comepraytherosary.org?
How has the rosary played a role in your life?