The story of the Rosary reportedly begins with the Irish monks in the 7th Century. These monks had established a practice of reciting the 150 Psalms of David which they had divided into three groups of fifty. (The History and Devotion of the Rosary, Richard Gribble, C.S.C)
To count 150 Psalms accurately, it is believed that by the 11th and 12th centuries pebbles, berries or discs of bone were threaded on a string and used during the recitation. Soon the laity of the time began this practice, since most were illiterate, they substituted Ave Marias for the Psalms, using knots on a cord to keep track.
The first historical reference to the rosary comes from the life of Saint Dominic, born in 1170 in Spain. At the age of 24 he was ordained a priest and by the age of 33 he encountered the Albigensian heresy in southern France. The Albigensian heresy denied the humanity of Christ. Saint Dominic's preaching was not able to fight the errors of this heresy, but the rosary, whereby the believer meditated on the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of Jesus Christ, convinced the people of southern France that Jesus was truly God and Man, human and divine.
In prayer Saint Dominic pleaded with Our Blessed Mother to help him with those seeped in this heresy. Saint Louis de Montfort writes that Our Lady told Saint Dominic to “preach My Psalter” in order to rekindle the faith and crush the heresy. (The Secret of the Rosary, Saint Louis de Montfort)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2678 states "Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours." Clearly pinpointing the exact origin of the rosary is not easy. What we can say though is that the rosary is a meditative prayer, both vocal and mental contemplating 20 mysteries in the life of Christ.
In his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary issued October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II writes: “That to recite the rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ… Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul…They put us in living communion with Jesus through -we might say = the heart of His mother…Through the rosary, the faithful receive abundant grace as though from the very hands of the mother of the Redeemer… Our hearts can embrace in the decades of the rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind. Thus the simple prayer of the rosary marks the rhythm of human life.”
The word rosary comes from Latin and means a garland of roses, the rose being one of the flowers used to symbolize the Virgin Mary. The rosary is made up of 20 decades of Hail Mary’s, every 5 decades makes up a Mystery of the life of Jesus. Prior to the year 2002 the rosary contained 15 decades or 3 Mysteries, the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious. In 2002 Pope John Paul II recommended a fourth set of Mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries.
Though we do a have biblical reference for repetitive prayer with “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty..” said day and night without stopping (Revelation 4:8), the rosary should not be seen only as a repetitive prayer, but as a way to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. When we pray the rosary we pray the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. This prayer draws us closer to Jesus engaging our mind, soul and body.
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