If there is a heart in the audience that ever sent roses to a friend in token of affection or ever received them as a sign of remembrance, he will not be alien to this story of prayer!
Some deep instinct in humanity makes it link roses with joy. Pagan people crowned their statues with roses, as symbols of the offering of their own hearts. The faithful of the early Church substituted prayers for roses. In the days of the early martyrs—I say “early” because the Church has more martyrs today that it had in the first four centuries—as the young virgins marched over the sands of the Coliseum into the jaws of death, they clothed themselves in festive robes and wore on their heads a crown of roses, bedecked fittingly to meet the King of Kings in whose name they would die. The faithful at night would gather up their crowns of roses and say their prayers on them, one prayer for each rose. Far away in the desert of Egypt, the anchorites and hermits were counting their prayers too, but in the form of little grains or pebbles strung together into a crown—a practice which Mohammed took for his Moslems. From this custom of offering spiritual bouquets arose a series of prayers known as the Rosary, for Rosary means “a crown of roses.”
From its first days the Church asked its faithful to recite the one hundred and fifty Psalms of David. This custom still prevails among the priests, for we are obligated to recite some of these Psalms every day in what is called the Breviary. But it was not easy for anyone to memorize the one hundred and fifty Psalms. Then too, before the invention of printing, it was difficult to procure a book. That was why certain important books like the Bible had to be chained like telephone books—otherwise people would run off with them. Incidentally, this gave rise to the stupid lie that the Church would not allow anyone to read the Bible because it was chained. The fact is, it was chained so people could read it. The telephone book is chained too, but it is more consulted than any book in modern civilization.
The people who could not learn the one hundred and fifty Psalms wanted to do something to make up for it. So they substituted one hundred and fifty “Hail Mary’s.” They broke up these one hundred and fifty into fifteen decades, or series often. Each decade was to be said while meditating on the different aspects of the Life of Our Lord. To keep each decade separate, each one began with the “Our Father” and ended with the Doxology of Praise to the Trinity.
St. Dominic who died in 1221 received from the Blessed Mother the command to preach and to popularize this devotion for the good of souls, conquest over evil and the prosperity of Holy Mother Church, and thus gave us the Rosary in its present classical form.
It is objected that there is much repetition in the Rosary because the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary are said so often; therefore it is monotonous. That reminds me of a woman who came to see me one evening after instructions. She said: “I would never become a Catholic. You say the same words in the Rosary over and over again, and anyone who repeats the same words is never sincere. I would never believe such a person and neither would God.” I asked her who the man was who was with her. She said it was her fiancé. I asked “Does he love you?” “Certainly he does.” “But how do you know?” “He told me.” “What did he say?” “He said: ‘I love you'” “When did he tell you last?” “About an hour ago.” “Did he tell you before?” “Yes, last night.” “What did he say?” “I love you.” “But never before?” “He tells me every night.” I said: “Do not believe him. He is repeating. He is not sincere.” The beautiful truth is there is no repetition in “I love you.” Because there is a new moment of time, another point in space, the words do not mean the same as before. Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not.
The heart of man in the face of the woman he loves is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into different words. So the heart takes but one expression “I love you” and saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe. That is what we do when we say the Rosary. We are saying to the Holy Trinity, to the Incarnate Savior, to the Blessed Mother, “I love you,” “I love you,” “I love you.”
The beauty of the Rosary is that it is not just a vocal prayer. It is also a mental prayer. You have sometimes heard a dramatic presentation in which, while the human voice was speaking, there was a background of beautiful music giving force and dignity to the words.
The Rosary is like that. While the prayer is being said, the heart is not hearing music but meditating on the Life of Christ, but applied to our own life and our own needs. As the wire holds the beads together, so meditation holds the prayers together. We often speak to people while our minds are thinking about something else. But in the Rosary we do not only say prayers; we think. Bethlehem, Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Golgotha, Calvary, Mount Olivet and Heaven—all these move before our mind’s eye as our lips pray. The Rosary invited our fingers, our lips and our heart in one vast symphony of prayer, and for that reason is the greatest prayer ever composed by man. May I briefly single out how it can help the worried, the sick and the world?
The Worried. Worry is a want of harmony between the mind and the body. Worried people invariably keep their minds too busy and their hands too idle. But in mental distress, the thousand and one thoughts find no order within and no escape without. Concentration is impossible when the mind is troubled; thoughts run helter-skelter; a thousand and one images flood across the mind; distracted and wayward, the spiritual seems along way off.
The Rosary is the best therapy for these distraught, unhappy, fearful and frustrated souls precisely because it involves the simultaneous use of three powers; the physical, the vocal and the spiritual—in that order. The fingers touching the beads are reminded that these little counters are to be used for prayer. This is the physical suggestion of prayer. The lips moving in unison with the fingers is the vocal suggestion of prayer. The Church is a wise psychologist, insi