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The Holy Rosary

Close your eyes and consider your first memory of the Rosary. Is it praying the Rosary before Mass with your family and fellow Catholics? Is it receiving a Rosary as a gift for your First Holy Communion? Maybe it’s playing with your mother’s Rosary during Mass? For me, this vision includes my grandmother, as she delicately and intricately entwined the chain and beads of her Rosary in her folded hands and watching her age worn lips move in a silent rhythm as she prayed the precious words.

“To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.” ~ Pope John Paul II

Rosaries or prayer counters have been used in many religions and date to as early as the 4th century. Many started as ropes tied in knots and later beads were added. In Christianity, a prayer rope was used by monks who would recite all 150 Psalms. Most laity of the time could not read. So, rather than reciting the Psalms, they would say 150 or 50 Our Fathers. Later, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was seen as a guide to the mysteries of her Son. So, people began saying 150 or 50 Hail Marys. Meditation on the mysteries of Christ remained at the heart of the prayer.

Although the actual origin of the traditional Rosary is cloudy, many popes have credited St. Dominic (1170-1221) with the basic form of the Rosary. He was the founder of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans and preached a form of the rosary in France. Albigensian, a religious sect at the time, was spreading the opinion that denied the human nature of Christ. According to church tradition and beliefs, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic in 1214. While appearing to him, Mary instructed St. Dominic, to preach the Rosary among people as an antidote to sin. Dominic and his followers, it is believed, conquered Albigensianism not by preaching alone, but with the help of the Rosary.

The actual origin of The Hail Mary, the central prayer of the Rosary is unknown. It seems to have evolved during the 12th and 13th centuries as a devotion to Mary, as the Mother of Jesus and the greatest witness to His life, death and resurrection. The words are taken from the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation with Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary at the Visitation. The Archangel Gabriel greets Mary, announcing, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” (Luke 1:28) St. Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, greets her saying, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42) The second half of the Hail Mary prayer was added sometime during the 16th century.

The word Rosary comes from Latin meaning garland of roses. The rose is one of the flowers used to symbolize the Virgin Mary. The Rosary, as stated earlier, combines both vocal prayer and meditation. At Fatima the Mother of God insisted that the Rosary be prayed properly by meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary - the principle events of the life of Jesus Christ, while praying the Hail Mary. The Rosary properly prayed is centered on Jesus Christ.