by Jim Dunning
(This article was originally published in "Irelands Own" magazine. The webmaster would like to gratefully thank the author, Jim Dunning, for his kind permission in reprinting it here.)
In 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan, a small community of Jesuit Fathers and their buildings, only blocks from ground zero, remained unharmed, while everyone else within a radius of 1.5 kilometres from the centre was killed. Fr. Hubert Schiffer, one of the eight priests involved, told the Eucharistic Congress of Philadelphia in 1976, when all eight members were still alive and well, that 200 scientists had failed to find a scientific explanation for this. He suggested that there was only one thing that made their house different from the others. They recited the Holy Rosary every day.
History of the Holy Rosary
The history of the Rosary is not altogether clear. Tradition has it that it was given by Our Lady to St. Dominic (1170 – 1221), at the beginning of the 13th century to help combat the Albigensian heresy in France. (The heresy involved the wilful denial of the divinity of Christ.) Tradition also has it that she promised Dominic his Order would flourish if he spread devotion to the Rosary. Even if this is correct, it is unlikely that the Rosary he received bore much resemblance to the one we use today. Many scholars hold that it is more likely to have resulted from a long and gradual development beginning before St. Dominic’s time and continuing to the 15th century. Eventually, they believe, 50 Hail Marys were recited and the form of prayer became known as the ‘rosarium’, a rose garden.
The devotion in use today consists mostly of a prayer taken directly from Holy Scripture, with the first part of the Hail Mary recalling the words of the Archangel Gabriel, who called Mary ‘full of grace’ ; the second part of the greeting comes from the lips of her cousin Elizabeth, who exclaimed : ‘Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb !’
Looking beyond the words to the mysteries themselves, the Rosary has been described as the life, ministry and passion of Jesus, given us by the Virgin Mary for meditation and prayer, enabling us to learn who Jesus is. Altogether a sweet chain linking us to the Son of God.
The traditional 15 mysteries were standardised by Pope St. Pius V in the 16th century. He introduced the Rosary into the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, naming the 7th of October as the Feast day of ‘Our Lady of the Rosary.’ (He would have been gratified to learn that she subsequently described this as her favourite title.)
In his encyclical at the time he stated, ‘This devotion in its origin and wisdom is more divine than human.’
There has been no shortage of recommendations promoting the use of this particular devotion. Various popes have given it their support, as well as a large number of saints. In our own time, Pope John Paul II described it as ‘my favourite prayer’, pointing out that it can be prayed by simple folk as well as by profound theologians. He went on to say, ‘Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the hands of the Redeemer.’
The Rosary is, in the words of Cardinal Newman, ‘the Creed turned into prayer…. It gives us the great truths of Christ’s life and death to meditate upon and brings them nearer to our hearts. Jesus becomes our constant companion as we meditate on its mysteries.’
Padre Pio, the famous stigmatic, said, ‘Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today.’ On a humbler level, Sister Lucia, who as a child was the most responsible of the three seers at Fatima, declared confidently when she was a nun, ‘There is no problem that cannot be solved effectively by the Rosary and by our sacrifices.’
The most powerful of all protagonists, however, is Our Lady herself. When she appeared to the three children at Fatima, she urged them to say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world. During many of her apparitions she has held a rosary in her hand. When Bernadette first saw Our Lady at Lourdes she instinctively drew her rosary from her pocket and began to pray. She noticed that the mysterious being also had a rosary, one with large white beads. As she later described the event, ‘The Lady let me pray alone ; she passed the beads of the rosary between her fingers, but said nothing ; only at the end of each decade did she say the Gloria with me.’
Why should we also pray the Rosary? One good reason might be to grow in holiness and in one’s prayer life. It has been claimed that the daily Rosary increases our faith, hope and charity, enhancing our belief, adoration, trust and love of Jesus and our Blessed Mother. In sanctifying us, it helps us to avoid sin. It has been said that the Holy Rosary may be regarded as a perfect prayer because within it lies the awesome story of our salvation. It allows us to meditate the mysteries of joy, of sorrow and the glory of both Jesus and Mary. Our heavenly Mother has invited us to say the Rosary as a powerful weapon against evil and to bring us to true peace.
The Rosary is not compulsory. We don’t have to say it, but to ignore it is to lose a most effective and enriching prayer, one that as we have seen, is particularly encouraged by Our Lady herself. It may be considered difficult to give attention to the prayers while meditating on the events of the mysteries, but there is no reason why one should not allow the words to recede for much of the time while contemplating the events of the Gospel, and vice versa. It is not something to worry about. When we focus on the agony of the Crucifixion, for example, the words can become a blur as we contemplate the terrible suffering of Our Lord. This is how it should be.
The Rosary can be said alone or with others. For those wishing to take advantage of outside encouragement there is The Living Rosary Association, formed originally in 1826 by Pauline Jaricot to save the church in France. It was formally approved by Pope Gregory XVI in 1832. Although it lost momentum it was revived on the 8th of December, 1986, by the husband and wife team of Richard and Patricia Melvin in America. Today, more than 12 million faithful servants are joined worldwide through The Living Rosary, united with Mary in prayer to hasten the triumph of her Immaculate Heart and to bring about the reign of Christ the King.
Further information can be obtained from:
Universal Living Rosary Association, P.O. Box 1303, Dickinson, Texas 77539, USA, or via Google on the internet.
In 2002, Pope John Paul announced five new optional mysteries, known as the Luminous Mysteries, bringing the total number of mysteries up to 20. More about the Luminous Mysteries can be found here. The mysteries already existing are shown in an Appendix.
‘All Generations Will Call Me Blessed’ (Jim McManus C.Ss.R.)
‘Mystical Rose’ (Thomas Philippe, O.P.)
THE HOLY ROSARY - APPENDIX
THE JOYFUL MYSTERIES :
1. The Annunciation (Luke 1 :26-38)
2. The Visitation (Luke 1 :39-56)
3. The Nativity (Luke 2 : 1-20)
4. The Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2 :22-40)
5. The Finding in the Temple (Luke 2 : 41-52)
THE SORROWFUL MYSTERIES :
1. The Agony in the Garden (Luke 22 :39-54)
2 . The Scourging (John 19 :1)
3. The Crowning with Thorns (Matthew 27 :27-31)
4. The Carrying of the Cross (Luke 23 :26-32)
5. The Crucifixion (John 19 :17-37)
THE GLORIOUS MYSTERIES :
1. The Resurrection (John : 20)
2. The Ascension (Acts 1 :1-11)
3. Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2 :1-13)
4. Assumption of Our Lady (tradition)
5. Crowning of Our Lady in Heaven (Revelation :12 :)
The Fatima Prayer may be added after each decade:
‘O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of your Mercy.’