The Rosary is one of the most famous and revered prayers of the Catholic church. It’s a reflection and meditation on the life of Christ and praying for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Since taking my Catholic faith seriously, the Rosary has become my favorite form of prayer. Given the pervasiveness of the rosary, you’d think the history of the rosary would be known and cherished. However, the origin of the Rosary is murky.
About The Rosary
All of the prayers in the Rosary are common prayers said by Catholics. The entirety of the Rosary consists of twenty decades. A decade is a set of ten Hail Mary’s. The twenty decades are divided into four groups of five decades called mysteries. Each of the four mysteries has a name. They are ‘The Joyful Mysteries,” “The Luminous Mysteries,” The Sorrowful Mysteries,” and “The Glorious Mysteries.”
Each decade of the Rosary is a study of a different event in the life of Jesus Christ. Thus, when someone prays all twenty decades of the Rosary, they participate in a summary of the Gospels. Thus, popes have called the Holy Rosary the compendium of the gospel.
Praying The Rosary
It is recommended to pray specific mysteries on certain days of the week. For example, the Joyful Mysteries may be said on Sundays during Advent and Christmas, while the Sorrowful Mysteries may be said on the Sundays of Lent. These are just suggestions.
- Monday – Joyful Mysteries
- Tuesday – Sorrowful Mysteries
- Wednesday – Glorious Mysteries
- Thursday – Luminous Mysteries
- Friday – Sorrowful Mysteries
- Saturday – Joyful Mysteries
- Sunday – Glorious Mysteries
When praying the Rosary, it is customary to pray it with a set of beads, also referred to as the Rosary or prayer beads. The beads have an area with a cross and then a loop that is for the five decades.
How To Pray The Rosary
- Make the Sign of the Cross and say the “Apostles’ Creed”
- First, say the “Our Father”
- Say three “Hail Marys”
- Then say the “Glory Be”
- Announce the First Mystery and then say the “Our Father”
- Say ten “Hail Marys” while meditating on the Mystery
- Say the “Glory Be” (Optional: Say the “O My Jesus” prayer)
- Announce the Next Mystery; then say the “Our Father” and repeat these steps (6 through 8) as you continue through the remaining Mysteries.
- Say the closing prayers: the “Hail Holy Queen”(Salve Regina) and “Final Prayer”
- Make the “Sign of the Cross”
You don’t have to say it out loud. Instead, feel free to say it in your head.
The History of The Rosary
No one really knows the exact history of the Rosary. The story is that Saint Dominic saw Mary’s apparition, and she gave Saint Dominic the Rosary to combat the Albigensian and the heresy of Albigensianism in France. She told him to use the devotion to the blessed mother to fight the heresy and teach the people.
No one knows if the apparition gave St. Dominic the Rosary or if the apparition just encouraged the use of the Rosary. There has been a long tradition of using prayer beads to count prayers. What is certain is that St. Dominic did use the Rosary and the Dominicans(the order he founded) promoted the Rosary around the world.
Another account in the history of the Rosary is found in the liturgical prayer of the church. In the middle ages, the laity was given a prayer similar to the monks in the monasteries. The Psalter was the common form of prayer for the monks of that time. The monks would recite all 150 Psalms every day. However, the monks were literate and well educated for the time. Given that most of the laity was illiterate, reading from the Psalter was not a viable option.
Thus the tradition of saying 150 Paternosters(Our Fathers) started. One for each of the Psalms in the Psalter. They would use beads throughout the day to keep track of their prayers. With this framework established, Marian’s devotions took on a similar style. In addition, though, the Marian devotions used 150 Hail Marys rather than Our Fathers.
The Hail Mary
Interestingly the Hail Mary developed alongside the Rosary. Starting with the Angel Gabrial’s greeting, “Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee.” Elizabeth’s greeting, “Blessed are you among women…” was later added. And it wasn’t until the 1500s that the final “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” was attached to the end of the prayer.
A Carthusian monk later divided the 150 Hail Marys of the Rosary into fifteen decades and events in Jesus’ life, each event for a decade of the Rosary. Thus the Marian devotion of saying 150 Hail Mary’s evolved to included aspects of The Gospel and Catholic teaching on The Gospel.
By the 1500s, the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries were established. And the Glory Be’s were added to the end of each decade. By meditating on the rosary, even the illiterate could learn the gospel. Finally, in 1569, Pope Saint Pius V approved the Rosary in its original Latin form.
Shortly thereafter, in 1571, Pope Pius V called for Europe to pray the Rosary for victory at the Battle of Lepanto. The Battle of Lepanto was a naval battle fought between a coalition of Christian countries against the fleet of the Muslim Ottoman empire. The Christian forces won the battle; the feast day is celebrated on October 7th. It is the Feast of Our Lady of The Rosary. This solidified the Rosary as a way of prayer and devotion.
The Fatima Prayer
From the 16th century to the early 20th century, the history of the Rosary remained unchanged. 150 Haily Mary’s broken up into fifteen decades for the fifteen mysteries. Five decades being grouped into three mysteries. However, in the early 1900s, adding the Fatima prayer to the end of a decade following the Glory Be became popular.
On July 13th, 1917, Our Lady of Fatima revealed herself to three children in Fatima, Portugal. Fatima is an officially sanctioned miracle of the Catholic Church. The blessed mother in the apparition told the children to say the prayer at the end of every decade of the Rosary. In 1930, it was approved for public use by the Vatican and became a prevalent part of the Rosary. However, it is entirely optional.
At Fatima, the Blessed Mother encouraged the children to pray the Rosary every day to end the war. The tradition of saying the Rosary every day is still popular in some Catholic circles.
In 2002, Saint Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae created the fourth set of mysteries, The Luminous Mysteries.
The addition of the fourth set of mysteries is appropriate. There is a thirty-year gap of events happening between the Joyful Mysteries and the Sorrowful Mysteries. Adding the events of the Luminous Mysterious improves the catechesis abilities of the Rosary.
From the Annunciation to the miracle at the Wedding in Cana, to the transfiguration, to the agony in the garden, To Christ’s death and resurrection, the Rosary has developed into a tool to teach and learn the Gospels. With this final addition, the history of the Rosary is complete.
This powerful tool should be an aspect of every Catholic’s prayer life. Intercession from our blessed mother is mighty.
Prayers of The Rosary
Below are the prayers to know to say the Rosary with some optional prayers. Most people use the optional prayers, but they are not a required part of praying a Rosary.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
The Our Father
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
The Hail Mary
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you;
blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.
The Glory Be
Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
O My Jesus (Fatima Prayer – Optional)
O My Jesus
forgive us our sins.
Save us from the fires of hell
Lead all souls to heaven
Especially those who are in most need of thy mercy
The Hail Holy Queen (The Salve Regina)
Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy,
our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To you we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to you we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this, our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Final Prayer (Optional)
Let us pray. O God,
whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection,
has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life,
grant, we beseech Thee,
that meditating upon these mysteries
of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
we may imitate what they contain
and obtain what they promise,
through the same Christ Our Lord.