The Rosary

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"Mid-15th century, "rose garden," from Latin rosarium "rose garden," from neuter of rosarius "of roses," from rosa "rose" (see rose). The sense of "series of prayers" is 1540s, from Middle French rosaire, a figurative use of the word meaning "rose garden," on the notion of a "garden" of prayers. This embodies the medieval conceit [practice, conception, habit] of comparing collections to bouquets (cf. anthology ["a collection of flowers"] and Middle Latin hortulus animæ, "prayerbook," lit. "little garden of the soul"). This sense was transferred around 1597 to the strings of beads used as a memory aid in reciting the rosary."[1]
The rose is a "symbol of joy."[1]


St. Dominic and Our Lady

The legend

"When the Albigensian heresy was devastating the country of Toulouse, St. Dominic earnestly besought the help of Our Lady and was instructed by her, so tradition asserts, to preach the Rosary among the people as an antidote to heresy and sin. From that time forward this manner of prayer was 'most wonderfully published abroad and developed [promulgari augerique coepit] by St. Dominic whom different Supreme Pontiffs have in various past ages of their apostolic letters declared to be the institutor and author of the same devotion.' That many popes have so spoken is undoubtedly true, and amongst the rest we have a series of encyclicals, beginning in 1883, issued by Pope Leo XIII, which, while commending this devotion to the faithful in the most earnest terms, assumes the institution of the Rosary by St. Dominic to be a fact historically established. ... We will confine ourselves here to the controverted question of its history, a matter which both in the middle of the eighteenth century and again in recent years has attracted much attention."[2]

Historical assessment

Impressed by this conspiracy of silence, the Bollandists, on trying to trace to its source the origin of the current tradition, found that all the clues converged upon one point, the preaching of the Dominican Alan de Rupe about the years 1470-75. He it undoubtedly was who first suggested the idea that the devotion of "Our Lady's Psalter" (a hundred and fifty Hail Marys) was instituted or revived by St. Dominic. Alan was a very earnest and devout man, but, as the highest authorities admit, he was full of delusions, and based his revelations on the imaginary testimony of writers that never existed.[3]

Earlier rosaries

"Does the Rosary Predate Saint Dominic?".
  1. First, there is tradition that the fourth century monks of the Egyptian Thebaid were praying one hundred fifty Angelic Salutations (Hail Mary's) grouped into fifteen decades following the pattern of the one hundred and fifty Psalms.
  2. Second there is a tradition that the Rule of the Theotokos (150 Hail Mary's with 15 corresponding mysteries) was revealed by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the eighth century and that “at one time all Christians fulfilled it.”
  3. It was forgotten and then revealed a third time by the Blessed Virgin to Saint Dominic in the thirteenth century.
The evidence for the first two revelations of the Rosary (fourth century and then the eighth century) derive from an Eastern Orthodox priest Father Zosima who is the spiritual son of the great Saint Seraphim of Sarov who said:
…I forgot to give you a piece of advice vital for salvation. Say the O Hail, Mother of God and Virgin one hundred and fifty times, and this prayer will lead you on the way to salvation. This rule was given by the Mother of God herself in about the eighth century, and at one time all Christians fulfilled it.
We Orthodox have forgotten about it, and Saint Seraphim has reminded me of this Rule. In my hands I have a hand-written book from the cell of Saint Seraphim, containing a description of the many miracles which took place through praying to the Mother of God and especially through saying one hundred and fifty times the O Hail, Mother of God and Virgin.
If, being unaccustomed to it, it is difficult to master one hundred and fifty repetitions daily, say it fifty times at first. After every ten repetitions say the “Our Father” once and “Open unto us the doors of thy loving kindness.” Whomever he spoke to about this miracle-working Rule remained grateful to him.

Paternoster Beads

  • The use of beads to count prayers is found in many religions around the world.
  • Monks developed the tradition of substituting saying 150 "Our Fathers" (Latin: Paternosters) for saying the 150 Psalms for the repose of the souls of the dead. Monks who could not attend choir for the recitation of the Psalms also said Paternosters as a substitute.
Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Rosary"
"The Countess Godiva of Coventry (c. 1075) left by will to the statue of Our Lady in a certain monastery 'the circlet of precious stones which she had threaded on a cord in order that by fingering them one after another she might count her prayers exactly' (Malmesbury, 'Gesta Pont.', Rolls Series 311). Another example seems to occur in the case of St. Rosalia (A.D. 1160), in whose tomb similar strings of beads were discovered. Even more important is the fact that such strings of beads were known throughout the Middle Ages — and in some Continental tongues are known to this day — as 'Paternosters.' The evidence for this is overwhelming and comes from every part of Europe. Already in the thirteenth century the manufacturers of these articles, who were known as 'paternosterers,' almost everywhere formed a recognized craft guild of considerable importance."
"It was only in the middle of the twelfth century that the Hail Mary came at all generally into use as a formula of devotion. It is morally impossible that Lady Godiva's circlet of jewels could have been intended to count Ave Marias. Hence there can be no doubt that the strings of prayerbeads were called 'paternosters' because for a long time they were principally employed to number repetitions of the Lord's Prayer."

Development of the "Hail Mary"

The final addition to the Angelic Salutation is attributed to St. Peter Canisius in the mid-16th century.

"In any case it is certain that in the course of the twelfth century and before the birth of St. Dominic, the practice of reciting 50 or 150 Ave Marias had become generally familiar. The most conclusive evidence of this is furnished by the 'Mary-legends,' or stories of Our Lady, which obtained wide circulation at this epoch."[4]

Development of the Mysteries

See the Mysteries of the Rosary for notes on the twenty mysteries currently in use by the whole Church. Other schemes have been and are used by particular groups with different spiritualities.

"The practice of meditating on certain definite mysteries, which has been rightly described as the very essence of the Rosary devotion, seems to have only arisen long after the date of St. Dominic's death. It is difficult to prove a negative, but Father T. Esser, O.P., has shown (in the periodical Der Katholik, of Mainz, Oct., Nov., Dec., 1897) that the introduction of this meditation during the recitation of the Aves was rightly attributed to a certain Carthusian, Dominic the Prussian. It is in any case certain that at the close of the fifteenth century the utmost possible variety of methods of meditating prevailed, and that the fifteen mysteries now generally accepted were not uniformly adhered to even by the Dominicans themselves.[5] To sum up, we have positive evidence that both the invention of the beads as a counting apparatus and also the practice of repeating a hundred and fifty Aves cannot be due to St. Dominic, because they are both notably older than his time. Further, we are assured that the meditating upon the mysteries was not introduced until two hundred years after his death."


200-300 Counting beads used to develop the habit of "constant prayer" in the Eastern tradition.
480-547 St. Benedict laid the foundations for all later monastic and religious life by writing a rule for his community of monks. The monks recited the 150 Psalms on a regular basis. The custom of reciting 150 Our Fathers (paters) then derived from the tradition of reciting the Psalter in common.
1075 The Countess Godiva of Coventry left her counting beads, made of precious stones, to a monastery. These beads were almost certainly used to count Paternosters (Latin for "Our Father," refers to the string of beads used to count paters).
c. 1150 First stage of development of the Hail Mary.
1160 St. Rosalia buried with beaded strings.
1170-1221 Lifetime of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers
c. 1200 Medieval guild for "paternosterers," makers of beads to count "Our Fathers."
1382-1461 Dominic of Prussia added Scriptural verses to each of the 150 Angelic Salutations. This was an antecedent of the development of the Mysteries of the Rosary.
1470-1475 Alan de Rupe, OP, first suggests that St. Dominic was associated with the origin of the Rosary. He seems not to be a reliable historian.
1555 St. Peter Canisius first publishes a version of the Hail Mary that concludes, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners."
1597 "Rosarium" (Latin) and "rosaire" (French), meaning "rose garden" or "collection of roses," first applied to the recitation of 150 Hail Marys.
1566-1572 Pope St. Pius V standardized the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary after the Council of Trent.
1883 First of a series of encyclicals that treated St. Dominic as the author or recipient of the Rosary.


Jesus teaches, "In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words" (Mt 6:7). We do not know what the pagan custom was to which Jesus refers. In our day, the Tibetan tradition of using prayer wheels or prayer flags seems from the outside to be a matter of "vain repetition."

There are many Scriptural passages which encourage repetitive prayer:

  • "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess 5:16-18).
  • "He told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary" (Luke 18:1).
  • The parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow encourages us to keep on making the same prayer, even when we do not immediately receive what we ask for (Lk 18:1-8).
  • The same point is made by the parable of the friend begging at midnight (Lk 11:5-8).
  • The tax collector prayed repeatedly, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:9-14). This is the heart of the second half of the "Hail Mary."
  • Jesus repeated Himself in His Agony in the Garden (Mt 26:44).
  • The four living creatures pray the same prayer without ceasing: "Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come" (Rev 4:8).
  • The Psalms were used repeatedly in Temple worship, and many of them use repetition in their structure:
- Ps 19.
- Ps 119.
- Ps 136, the "Great Hallel."

The power of such repetition is not found in the number of prayers we pray, but in the faith, hope, and love which cause us to continue to ask God to give us "every good gift [that] comes down from above" (James 1:17).

Sometimes there is no substitute for repetition in prayer. We don't have much to say, but we have too much time to say it. This is where aspirations are very helpful.

Introductory Prayers

"The Rosary: A Short History of Its Origins."
The Rosary is begun and terminated in various ways. In the U.S.,

it commences with the recitation of an Our Father, three Hail Marys, and a Glory Be to the Father, and ends with the recitation of the Hail Holy Queen and the prayer from the Feast of the Rosary. Domini- cans start the Rosary with the verses that open Matins of the Divine Office.* Neither these introductory and concluding prayers nor the Glory Be to the Father following the decades are integral parts of the Rosary.

Dominican Tradition

"The Dominican Way of Praying the Rosary."
You will notice that Dominicans start the Rosary in a different way from the usual. Really, it is the more ancient formula and is based on the idea that the Rosary is the layperson's breviary. These introductory prayers are the ones with which the Divine Office traditionally commences:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
V. Lord, open my lips.
R. And my tongue shall announce your praise.
V. Incline to my aid, O God.
R. Lord, make haste to help me.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Alleluia! (Or during Lent: Praise be to You, O Lord, King of eternal glory!)
After this the decades are begun immediately:
One Our Father,
Ten Hail Marys and
One Glory be to the Father, for each decade.
(The preliminary Apostles' Creed, Our Father, three Hail Marys and Glory be are not said.)

We are creatures of habit

Repetition is second nature to us.

"Knowledge maketh a bloody entrance."

We need to practice faith, hope, and love. They are like muscles. "Use it or lose it."

"Practice makes perfect" — if we are practicing in the right way!

We love to repeat things.

Old songs, great meals, parties, anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, funerals.

Pasta, peanut butter and jelly, pizza, wings.

Daily bread.

See people whom we know and love again.

Old pictures, old stores, memories of great times in the past.

The Rosary is perfectly adapted to our nature.

10,000 hours to master a skill.

Playing poker, chess, bridge, ...

Demeester's cottage: swimming, boating.

Sun, moon, stars.

RC models.

Visiting sites on the internet.

Checking e-mail.

Re-reading books, watching movies over and over again.

Home movies.

Commercial movies.

Star Wars, Men in Black, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter.

Reflections (need sorting)

- The rosary is an optional prayer for Catholics. No one is obligated to pray the rosary.
- There is a limit to how much we can help other people to adopt spiritual practices that we find edifying. God is the Giver and Guardian of human freedom — it is one of the God-like attributes that He personally infused in us when He created us in our mother's womb. The more you cultivate your own relationship with Mary, the more persuasive you will be when you try to persuade your daughter to do the same. Your personal love and gratitude for Mary will speak more loudly than any theological, historical, or scriptural argument can. Your daughter will watch you to see what difference your devotion to Mary makes in your life.
- Your daughter is clearly accepting the authority of some Protestant or Protestants in her life. Her real problem with the Rosary is a rejection of the Church's teaching about the unique role of Mary in salvation history. Her problems with the rosary are symptoms of her lack of love for the Church.
- If we have a personal relationship with Jesus, then we should also have a personal relationship with His mother. Once a mother, always a mother — for all eternity.
- God shares His glory with the Communion of Saints. The honor that God gives to the saints, His creatures, takes nothing away from His glory as their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. "Idolatry" means treating something that is not God as if it were God. The Church never places any of God's creatures on par with the Creator. Mary is the greater than any other creature, angelic or human, because she alone was chosen to be the mother of God incarnate.
- Jesus honors Mary, as the Fourth Commandment requires; so should we.
- Jesus gives Mary to his beloved disciple to be his mother — John 19:26-27. If we aspire to be "beloved disciples," we, too, should take Mary into our own home.
- Every disciple is called to be a "mother of Jesus" (Mt 12:48-50):

48 But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”

49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.

50 For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

We should imitate Mary in her obedience to God's will: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5).
We should imitate Mary's faith: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:45).
When we call Mary "blessed," we are simply quoting Scripture: "From this day forth, all generations will call me blessed" (Lk 1:48).
- Mary is a woman of the Spirit: she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, followed Jesus on the way of the Cross as one of His disciples, and received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost with the 120 disciples in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14, 2:1-4).
- When prayed well, the rosary is not "vain repetition," but a spiritual exercise that builds up our power to believe, to hope, and to love.
The Rosary grew out of the monastic tradition of praying the 150 Psalms.
In the Rosary, we do not pray "as the pagans do" (e.g, prayer wheels and flags in the Tibetan tradition). Instead, we are engaging in a form of "constant prayer," which is encouraged by the Scriptures.
Mary meditated on the mystery of salvation: "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" Luke2:19.
Paul instructs us to "address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts" (Eph 5:18-20).
- God wants us to intercede for sinners. Our prayers do not "get in the way" of Jesus' unique role as Mediator. We are commanded to pray for each other (1 Tim 2:1-4). That is one of the things that we do in the Rosary.

Wearing the Rosary

Many religious wear the rosary as part of their habit, normally hung from a cincture or belt.

Wearing the rosary as a necklace or a bracelet is more controversial in the present day.

"Wearing the Rosary as a Necklace."
Wearing a sacred object is not the same as using it in a secular or inappropriate manner. In fact, many religious congregations wear the rosary as part of their habit, usually hanging from a belt. There are also several historical cases of laypeople wearing the rosary for devotional purposes. For example, in his book "The Secret of the Rosary," St. Louis de Montfort illustrates the positive results of this practice in an episode from the life of King Alfonso VI of Galicia and Leon.
I think that the key to answering this question can be found in St. Paul: "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). In other words, there should be no indifferent or irrelevant actions in the life of a Christian.
While a Catholic may wear a rosary around the neck for a good purpose, he or she should consider if the practice will be positively understood in the cultural context in which the person moves. If any misunderstanding is likely, then it would be better to avoid the practice.
At the same time, as Catholics we should presume the good intentions of the person wearing a rosary unless other external elements clearly indicate otherwise.
Similar reasoning is observed in dealing with rosary bracelets and rings, although in this case there is far less danger of confusion as to meaning. They are never mere jewelry but are worn as a sign of faith.


  1. "The Rosary: A Short History of Its Origins."
  2. Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Rosary."
  3. See Quétif and Echard, "Scriptores O.P.", 1, 849; Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Rosary."
  4. Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Rosary."
  5. See Schmitz, "Rosenkranzgebet", p. 74; Esser in Der Katholik for 1904-6.