“Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Marys which purifies the monotony of your sins.”— St. Josemaría Escrivá
Guest post by Meredith Kelly, Baylor Class of 2023
The holy rosary is one of the most uniquely Catholic devotions. Officially composed in the 13th century, it’s held its position as one of the most accessible and esteemed prayers in the Church. It’s been the sword that slays heresies, the comfort of the saints, and a means of sanctification for countless Catholics. The rosary is certainly more than a string of beads. It’s both a crown of fragrant roses and a gleaming, tempered sword.
Origins of the Rosary
The rosary, as we know it today, was born in a less-than-auspicious circumstance: heretical division. In the early 13th century, the Albigensian heresy ran rampant through the Church. The Albigensians promoted a pseudo-gnostic theology that rejected the inherent goodness of created matter. The goal of life was to separate oneself entirely from all aspects of embodied living and elevate to a higher, purely spiritual level. They were so extreme in their beliefs that they commended suicide and starvation, since they separated one from the body.
St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order and an eloquent preacher, was distraught by how quickly this heresy spread. St. Dominic had tried preaching against this heresy and, despite his incredible preaching power, he had little success. In 1208, he retreated into a forest in Toulouse, France in hopes of finding answers.
After three days of fasting and prayer, Our Lady appeared to him in a vision. She told him that the Marian Psalter would be his weapon against the Albigensians. The Marian Psalter was a Cistercian prayer with 150 Hail Marys and 15 Our Fathers. It held the base ingredients of the rosary but without any mysteries or meditations.
To make the rosary a more rich prayer, St. Dominic added the original fifteen mysteries separated into three sets of meditations: the joyful mysteries (joyful moments in Our Lord’s childhood), the sorrowful mysteries (Our Lord’s Passion), and the glorious mysteries (triumphant moments after Our Lord’s Resurrection). (In October 2002, Pope St. John Paul II introduced the luminous mysteries, inspired by St. George Preca, to the Church. These mysteries are luminous mysteries from the life of Christ.)
Through preaching devotion to the rosary, St. Dominic converted countless staunch sinners and heretics. He won over many hearts to repentance and devotion to the rosary.
Following St. Dominic, Blessed Alan de la Roche was the next best defender of the rosary. Since his time, the meditative recitation of Our Fathers and Hail Marys has been called the rosary, instead of “Marian Psalter.” Hundreds of years later, and the rosary is still an integral part of the Church’s heartbeat.
The Crown’s Base: Prayers of the Rosary
The word “rosary” means “crown of roses,” and that is exactly what the rosary is. Whenever someone prays the rosary, he/she gives a crown of heavenly roses to Jesus and Mary. A gift of roses or flowers is a great way to express love and appreciation. Why not send roses to Our Lord, lover of all humanity, and Our Lady, the most beautiful woman ever?
The base of the rosary (or crown of roses) consists of the Our Father and Hail Mary. Intertwined into this crown’s roses are the Glory Be and Fatima Prayer, which are like wisps of baby’s breath or daisies that add beauty to the whole.
The Our Father
The Our Father is, quite literally, from heaven. Christ gave it to us word-for-word in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13). It’s the prayer that many of us learned as children and could recite at a moment’s notice. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, it is the prayer that includes all possible petitions in it, so it makes sense that it would be a building block for the crown. St. Louis De Montfort says, “People who say Our Lord’s prayer carefully, weighing every word and meditating upon it, may indeed call themselves blessed for they find therein everything that they need or can wish for.”
The Hail Mary
In its essence, the Hail Mary is reliving the joy of Christ’s Conception and asking Our Lady, the human who is closest to her Son, to pray for us. Contrary to popular belief, the Hail Mary is biblical. The first half of the prayer comes directly from Luke 1. The first line, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” is a nearly direct quotation from the Angel Gabriel’s salutation (Luke 1:28). The next two lines, “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” come from Elizabeth’s joyful exclamation at seeing her cousin, Our Lady (Luke 1:42). Also in this passage, Elizabeth affirms Our Lady’s role as the Theotokos (Mother of God): “And how does this concern me, so that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” (Luke 1: 43).
Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer
Each decade (grouping of ten Hail Marys) ends with the Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer. The Glory Be is one of the most fundamental prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours and general liturgy of the Church. The Fatima Prayer was one of the five prayers Angels and Our Lady gave to the children during the Fatima apparitions. This prayer, said at the end of each decade, asks Christ for the conversion of sinners and forgiveness of sins.
You can find the complete prayers at the end of this post.
The Crown’s Perfume: Benefits of Praying the Rosary
With its contemplative mysteries and Scriptural prayers, the rosary has a special ability to change souls from the inside out. Its power and beauty lies in its simplicity. In his little book The Secret of the rosary, St. Louis de Montfort, in “The Secret of the Rosary” outlines seven benefits of praying the rosary every single day. I will address several in this post, along with a couple personal observations about the rosary, but I encourage you to read St. Louis’s writings for yourself.
- We learn to imitate Christ and gain greater knowledge of Him. Almost without our knowledge, when we pray the rosary we are being initiated into the school of Love. The mysteries paint beautifully real pictures of Our Lady and Christ’s lives. In the joyful mysteries we see Our Lady’s joy at Christ’s conception and birth. We see Our Lady’s Magnificat and finding of the Child Jesus in the temple. In the luminous mysteries, we see Christ’s baptism and beginning of His public ministry. In the sorrowful mysteries, we see Christ embracing His Cross on the road to Golgotha. We see Him praying in the Garden, with beads of sweat pouring down His Brow, “Thy Will be done.” In the glorious mysteries, we see the Resurrection. Through these meditations and reciting the Hail Marys and the Our Fathers, we witness what Love looks like and grow in love for Christ.
- Knowledge of sin and purification. Praying the rosary and looking at Christ’s life is looking at perfection. A painful but necessary side effect of praying the Rosary is seeing how much our souls are suffering and how often we fall short. However, this is where change and growth start. We can only repent and come to Christ when we see that we need it. I’m not advocating that, by saying a magical number of rosaries, you will immediately be freed from all attachments to sin. Rather, the rosary’s simplicity and fruits teach us how to truly love goodness again.
- Growth in love for Our Lord. The rosary guides us through the life, passion, and resurrection of Christ. By studying His life and praying unceasingly with the rosary, Christ becomes less of a shadowy figure in our minds and more real, as He is. Who could meditate upon Christ embracing His Cross or the joy of Christ and Our Lady’s reunion in Heaven and not be filled with pity and love?
- Focus. Despite its seeming monotony, the rosary is a great tool for staying focused in prayer. I have an extremely difficult time focusing on one task for an extended period of time. Even when I write or work, I need background music to focus. When I started considering Catholicism, I wanted to switch between prayers and devotions just about every day. The rosary seemed too daunting. However, as I started praying it regularly, I found that the problem was not in the rosary; it was in me. The rosary has taught me how to slow down and allow time for my soul to understand what my lips recite in the prayers. Especially now, when it is tempting to seek out distractions from what is happening in the world, we need to let the rosary teach us how to pause.
Please, pray the rosary every day and let Our Lady bring you to her Son. Have a great summer!
The Prayers of the Rosary
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 against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
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 Thy mercy. Amen.
For More on the Rosary and Its Prayers
- The Our Father Prayers (Catholic Online)
- St. Dominic and the Origins of the Rosary (Tekton Ministries)
- Five Prayers Taught at Fatima by Mary & the Angels (Get Fed, by Mary Thierfelder)