Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The History of the Rosary

October has become the month of the rosary, primarily because the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic on October 7. It is a wonderful time to honor the rosary because the richness of the Liturgical Seasons have come full circle. We have prepared for the coming of our Lord Jesus in Advent, celebrated the His birth at Christmas, contemplated His Passion and death during Lent and rejoiced in His Resurrection at Easter. Thru it all, we have meditated on His life, teachings and work. The prayers and meditations of the rosary are uniquely suited to allowing us to journey with Our Lord and His Holy Mother thru all the phases of His life. Thus we can become more intimately joined with Him and He with us. In light of all this, it is a good time to consider the history of the rosary and how it came to be such an integral part of our prayers and meditations.

The origins of the rosary are shrouded in mystery. Perhaps this is fitting because the prayers of the rosary are designed to lead us into the Mysteries of Our Lord's life and Passion.
One of the theories regarding the origin of the rosary is that in 1214 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Dominic and presented him with the rosary in the church of Prouille. This particular apparition of Mary has come to be known as Our Lady of the Rosary.

Other theories suggest that the rosary evolved gradually from the monastic tradition of the Liturgy of the Hours during which the monks prayed all 150 Psalms every day. Since most of the laity were unable to read and were therefore unable to participate in the reading of the Psalms, it is thought that they substituted 150 Our Fathers or Pater Nosters as the prayer is known in Latin. This is why the Our Father beads in the traditional rosary are often referred to as the Pater beads.

Also, it is not possible to know how the "Hail Mary" prayer or "Avé Maria" came to be an integral part of the rosary. However, evidence shows us that as early as the middle ages it was prayed in conjunction with the Our Father on the rosary or the paternoster as it was known at that time. Saint Eligius tells us in the 7th century that a counting device was used to to keep track of the 150 Hail Mary prayers. In all probability, this was a thin piece of rope with 150 knots in it designed to help the person who was praying to keep his place. In the 12th century, an English Anchoress divided the 150 Hail Marys into groups of 50. These 50 beads were further broken down into groups of 10 known as decades. This structure for the traditional rosary has remained unchanged since that time and is still used today. By the 13th century, the practice of praying the rosary had become so popular, there were as many as 4 different guilds in Paris devoted to making the Paternoster.

In the 13th century, the practice of meditating on our Lord's life and Passion while reciting the rosary came into being. This practice started in Prussia, but gradually spread throughout all of Europe. By the beginning of the 16th century the structure of 15 for each decade was in place. These 15 mysteries were further broken down into 3 groups of 5 mysteries to accommodate the physical rosary which had 5 decades of Avé beads and 6 Pater beads. These 3 groups of mysteries are known are the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious mysteries. This structure remained in place until 2002 when Pope John Paul II instituted five optional new mysteries named the Luminous mysteries or the Mysteries of Light.

Many myths, legends and theories abound regarding the origins of the term "Rosary". Yet, once again, nothing is known for certain. It most likely evolved from the fact that roses have always been associated with Our Blessed Mother and several of the apparitions of Mary feature roses. Whatever the origins, the fact remains that the rosary is one of the single most popular and important means of meditating on Our Lord's life and on the life of His Mother.

1 comment:

prayer bedes said...

This is a beautiful overview. Yes, the 5 Decade Rosary (also known as the Dominican Rosary) is a wonderful way to meditate on the life of Christ through the eyes of his mother, Mary. It has become a very meaning prayer tool for me. Thank you for sharing this post.