With October being the month of the Rosary, I thought it would be worthwhile to take some time to discuss the origin and history of this devotion.
Roots of the Hail Mary
To start let’s first analyze the main prayer recited within the rosary: the Hail Mary. The origin of the Hail Mary is thankfully much more clear than the Rosary itself. Although it took over 1000 years after the death of Jesus to come about, it is rooted in scripture.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” Luke 1:28
According to history this is the original Hail Mary prayer directly from the Annunciation. The only difference lies in the fact that Mary’s name was added to the words of Gabriel. The next piece of the prayer came in the year 1050 when Elizabeth’s words to Mary during the Visitation were added.
“Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus” Luke 1:42
The only difference in this line is that the name Jesus was added in 1261 by Pope Urban IV. The next piece of the prayer came in 1555 when St. Peter Canisius published his version of the Hail Mary adding the next line,
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.”
Finally, St. Peter Canisius, as well as other Church leaders, came together in 1566 to write the Catechism of the Council of Trent which added the final line,
“Now and at the hour of our death. Amen”
This created the Hail Mary prayer as we know it today.
Roots of the Repetition
Although the origins of the Rosary itself are quite unclear, the general themes of repetition, meditation, and utilization of beads have been around for quite some time. One origin comes from what is known as The Paternoster: the recitation of the Our Father in Latin 150 times. The Paternoster was also broken down into 5 decades and prayed using beads, much like today’s modern Rosary. Another origin comes from a group of monks and hermits known as the “Desert Fathers” who used stones and ropes to keep track while they prayed the Psalms. Although repetition and meditation are not new to our faith, the question still stands: how did the Rosary come to be what it is today?
St. Dominic and the Rosary
In the 13th century St. Dominic became known as the first to preach about the Rosary as a form of meditation. It is said that he received a vision from the Blessed Mother with a message to preach about the Rosary as a way to combat a heresy that was being heavily spread at the time. It is said that he was presented with the Rosary, as well as the meditations to go along with it, as a gift to fight with. At that time the Rosary consisted of 150 Hail Mary’s and the first “mysteries” rooted in the life of Christ.
The formal name “Rosary” was first given to this devotion in the year 1597. The majority of this devotion did not change until the year 1917 when Our Lady appeared to three young children in Fatima, Portugal. She appeared to these children once a month over the course of 6 months. During this time she told them various secrets while spreading a message of conversion and repentance. Our Lady also emphasized the need for believers to say the rosary, especially for the intention of sinners. With this emphasis on the Rosary and the need to pray for sinners, Our Lady added one final prayer to the Rosary,
“Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.“
This encapsulated Our Lady’s message in Fatima, warning us of the dangers of today’s world and encouraging us to repent, turn back to our Lord, and assist all those around us from falling into temptation.
The most recent update to the Rosary comes from Pope Saint John Paul II when he instituted the Luminous Mysteries in 200 (named so because these mysteries serve as a “light” into Christ’s life and self). The theme of shedding light on the life of Christ is a common theme of the Rosary. The Mysteries of the Rosary aim to give us a more intimate view into the life of Mary and Jesus.
How We Should Pray
It is tempting to just mutter off our lips the prayers of the Rosary as fast as we can so as to “check the box” that we did our Rosary. We can often get caught in the repetition of the Rosary and lose focus over what we are saying. We are given the mysteries as a way to direct our meditation and prayer while we recite the prayers of the Rosary. Each mystery offers a new window to look into the joys and sorrows of the life of Jesus and Mary. We can find further insight when we consider the experiences of these two throughout each mystery. Let us increase our devotion to Mary and entrust ourselves to be led into a deeper relationship with her son Jesus. If you’re looking for a new way to spruce up your prayer life, the Rosary is the perfect fix for this month.