“The Rosary is my favorite prayer, a marvelous prayer. Marvelous in its simplicity and depth. It can be said that the Rosary is, in a certain way, a prayer-commentary on the last chapter of the constitution, Lumen Gentium, of Vatican II, a chapter which deals with the wonderful presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church. Against the background of the words, Ave Maria (Hail Mary), there passes before the eyes of the soul the main episodes of the life of Jesus Christ, and they put us in living communication with Jesus through, we could say, His mother’s heart. At the same time, our heart can enclose in these decades of the Rosary all the facets that make up the life of the individual, the family, the nation, the Church and all mankind, particularly of those who are dear to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary beats the rhythm of human life.” (1)
Thus spoke the great Marian pontiff, Pope John Paul II, about his favorite prayer, the Rosary. He described the tremendous value of the Rosary for the Christian life in this address delivered within the first weeks of his pontificate. (2) The Rosary does in fact “put us in living communication with Jesus… through his mother’s heart” and “beats the rhythm of human life.”
As Pope Leo XIII said in one of his eleven encyclicals written exclusively on the Rosary: “Among the various methods and forms of prayer which are devoutly and profitably used in the Catholic Church, that which is called the Rosary is for many reasons to be especially recommended. (3) The pre-eminence of the Rosary (after liturgical prayer) is also confirmed by Pope Pius XII: “the Rosary, as all know, has pride of place.” (4)
The Rosary, the greatest Marian prayer, has been championed by the Church as the most highly recommended prayer form, second only to the liturgical prayer of the Church which centers around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, John Paul II makes clear that while the Church’s Liturgy retains a primacy of place, the Rosary is in no way contrary to the Mass, but actually serves to “sustain it”:
There are some who think that the centrality of the Liturgy, rightly stressed by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, necessarily entails giving lesser importance to the Rosary. Yet, as Pope Paul VI made clear, not only does this prayer not conflict with the Liturgy, it sustains it, since it serves as an excellent introduction and a faithful echo of the Liturgy, enabling people to participate fully and interiorly in it and to reap its fruits in their daily lives. (5)
What Is the Rosary?
The Rosary is a beautiful combination of vocal prayer and meditation that centers upon the greatest Gospel mysteries in the life of Jesus Christ and secondarily in the life of the Lord’s Mother. It is an “incarnational” prayer, a prayer consisting of both vocal and mental prayer that serves to incorporate both body and soul into spiritual communion with Our Lord and Our Mother.
The basic structure of the complete Rosary consists in the praying of twenty sets of ten Hail Marys, referred to as decades, with an Our Father prayed at the beginning of each decade and a “Glory Be” at the end of each decade. During the praying of each decade of ten Hail Marys, one of the central Gospel mysteries of Jesus Christ is meditated upon. This prayerful pondering of the life of Jesus imitates the spiritual practice of Mary herself who, Scripture tells us, interiorly made her own the sacred events in the life of her Son: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). What possibly passed unnoticed by others, did not escape the attention of the Mother of Jesus in regards to salvation history. Mary continually pondered the salvific events and mysteries of her Son in her Immaculate Heart.
Technically, the term “Rosary” refers now to the full twenty decades (with the recent inclusion of the “Luminous” mysteries by John Paul II), (6) with a Gospel mystery associated with each decade. The twenty mysteries are categorized into four sets of five mysteries, known as the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. In these four sets of mysteries, we prayerfully meditate upon the great general mysteries of our salvation as accomplished by Our Lord Jesus Christ: the Incarnation, the Public Ministry of Jesus, the Redemption, and Eternal Life.
Commonly in the English language, the term “Rosary” refers to a fourth of the full Rosary, consisting of five decades or one set of mysteries, whereas expressions such as the “complete Rosary” or “full Rosary” signify the entire twenty decades. This is not always the case in other cultures and languages. For example, in French the term “rosaire” usually designates the complete Rosary and a different word, “chapelet,” is used to signify one-fourth of the Rosary.
The Joyful Mysteries, which center upon the event of the Incarnation of Jesus, consist of: the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary (Lk l:26ff), the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39ff), the Birth of Jesus (Lk 2:7, Mt 1:25), the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:22ff), and the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:42ff).
The new Luminous Mysteries, which center on the key events of Christ’s public ministry: his Baptism in the Jordan (Mt 3:13), his first public miracle at the Wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1), the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (Mt 4:17), the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor (Lk 9:28), and the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (Lk 22:19).
The Sorrowful Mysteries, which focus on the Redemption of Jesus by his Passion and Death, consist of: the Agony of Jesus in the Garden (Mt 26:36), the Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar (Jn 19:1), the Crowning of Jesus with Thorns (Mt 27:29), Jesus’ Carrying of the Cross (Jn 19:17), and the Crucifixion of Jesus (Jn 19:18).
The Glorious Mysteries, which center upon the mystery of Eternal Life through the redemptive victory of Jesus, consist of: the Resurrection of Jesus (Lk 24:6), the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven (Mk 16:19), the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:2ff), the Assumption of Mary into Heaven (cf. Ps 131:8; Gen 3:15; Lk 1:28) and the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven (cf. Rev 12:1).
We see then that the Rosary constitutes a form of prayer-creed of the central mysteries of salvation history. As one theologian explains:
The Rosary is a Credo (creed): not an abstract one, but one concretized in the life of Jesus who came down to us from the Father and Who ascended to bring us back with Himself to the Father. It is the whole of Christian dogma in all its splendor and elevation, brought to us that we may fill our minds with it, that we may relish it and nourish our souls with it. (7)
The Rosary, then, comprises a beautiful blend of vocal and meditative prayer that leads the person into the joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious events of the life of Jesus our Redeemer.
Brief History of the Rosary
Traditionally, and in several papal documents, the origin of the Rosary has been traced back to the person of St. Dominic Guzman (d.1221), founder of the Dominican Order. St. Dominic had been sent to southern France to preach against the Albigensian heresy which was spiritually ravaging the region. The Albigensian heresy (being a later development of Manichaeism), denied the infinite goodness of the one God and held that all matter was evil. Albigensianism attacked both Christian morality and Christian doctrine as well. This heretical sect followed Manichean dualism in seeking to solve the problem of evil. They believed in the co-existence of two ultimate principles, a good God who created spirit and light, and a bad deity who created matter and darkness. They therefore condemned marriage and procreation as demonic. (8) Since matter was mistakenly conceived as evil (and a deity unto itself), the Albigensians held that God the Son could not truly have taken on a material human nature to redeem humanity.
It was, therefore, as a spiritual instrument to battle the moral and dogmatic errors of Albigensianism (as well as an instrument against future errors and difficulties) that St. Dominic received, under the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a unique combination of preaching and prayer that would constitute the basis of the prayer form later known as the Rosary. One account of how St. Dominic received from the Blessed Virgin the root form of the Rosary was explained by the renowned Dominican theologian, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange:
Our Blessed Lady made known to St. Dominic a kind of preaching till then unknown, which she said would be one of the most powerful weapons against future errors and in future difficulties. Under her inspiration, St. Dominic went into the villages of the (Albigensians), gathered the people, and preached to them the mysteries of salvation—the Incarnation, the Redemption, Eternal Life. As Mary had taught him to do, he distinguished the different kinds of mysteries, and after each short instruction, he had ten Hail Marys recited—somewhat as might happen even today at a Holy Hour. And what the word of the preacher was unable to do, the sweet prayer of the Hail Mary did for hearts. As Mary promised, it proved to be a most fruitful form of preaching. (9)
Although there are several diverse theories as to precisely what St. Dominic contributed to the origins of the Rosary, the basic concept of uniting the praying of Hail Marys with preaching and meditation on the Gospel mysteries of Jesus Christ can most likely be attributed to the founder of the Dominican Order through the specific inspiration of the Blessed Virgin, a supernatural Marian origin to which, once again, several papal documents refer. (10)
Although the Rosary devotion is rightfully associated with St. Dominic, solid contemporary scholarship maintains that the foundational components of the Rosary date back to the Apostolic Church. The celebration of a fundamental cycle of Marian mysteries was already evident in the early first century Church in Palestine, and especially in Jerusalem. (11) The cycles, evidently prefiguring what were to become known as the Sorrowful, Joyful and Glorious mysteries, were associated with three great liturgies: that of the sacred triduum of Holy Week or Paschal Triduum, that of Epiphany or Christmas, and that of the Ascension-Pentecost.
These three cycles reflected Our Lady as 1) Mother of Mercy (in Greek Eleusa), or what the Latins termed the Mater Dolorosa, or Mother of Sorrows; 2) Guide to Christ (in Greek Hodighitria) or in Latin Mater Dei, Mother of God; and 3) Advocate (in Greek Paraclitos) or in Latin Mater Orans, the Mother Praying. These celebrations were localized in three “luminous” grottoes (where the lucinaria or vigils were celebrated): that of Golgotha, of Bethlehem and of Mt. Olivet, over which Constantine erected the three great Basilicas of Jerusalem. These three cycles in the celebration of the mystery of Mary left an impression on all Marian devotion, liturgical and para-liturgical, throughout the Church since that time. (12) They also set the foundation for what St. Dominic then received as a supernatural inspiration by Our Lady which constitutes the heart of the Rosary.
A further element of the development of the Rosary is the Marian Psalter. In the Marian Psalter one hundred and fifty Hail Marys were recited by the laity to model the one hundred and fifty psalms prayed by monks in the Psalter, or “Divine Office.” The use of beads was incorporated for the counting of the prayers in an effort to incorporate the laity (the vast majority of whom were illiterate), into praying the liturgical prayer of the clergy and religious. This Our Father and Hail Mary-based prayer form became known as “Our Lady’s Psalter,” or the “Marian Psalter.”
After this initial inspiration of the Rosary from the Blessed Virgin to St. Dominic, the structure of the Rosary went through a period of gradual development from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, where the specific Rosary mysteries used by the faithful appear to have gone through a process of historical development. At given times in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, up to one hundred and fifty mysteries were meditated upon during the reciting of one hundred and fifty Hail Marys (in some cases having one specific mystery for each Hail Mary). Gradually, the number of mysteries was reduced from as many as one hundred and fifty down to fifteen. The first clear historical example of what is basically the Rosary form used today is found in the mid-fifteenth century writings of Alan of Rupe, O.P., also known as Alan de la Roche, (d.1475). (13) Alan of Rupe was a great Dominican propagator of the Rosary devotion and a significant historical force in restoring the practice of the Rosary to the faithful. (14)
In the 1569 Apostolic Constitution, Consueverunt Romani Pontifices, Pope St. Pius V, a Dominican pope, officially approved what is the basic Rosary prayer form of today. By the time of the 1569 official papal approval, the second part of the Hail Mary, an ecclesial prayer added during this same general historical period from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, was also present.
Two years later, before the historic Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when a Muslim Turkish naval fleet threatened the Western Christian empire and Western civilization, Pope St. Pius V called upon the Christian world to pray the Rosary to aid the smaller Christian naval fleet against the massive Muslim fleet. The miraculous victory of the Christian fleet was directly attributed by St. Pius V to “Our Lady of Victory” and the powerful effects of praying the Rosary.
The only substantial change to the Rosary’s fundamental structure since the sixteenth century occurred in 2002, when Pope John Paul II introduced the new set of Luminous Mysteries to the existing Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries, (15) which positively adds the key event of Our Lord’s public ministry to the Rosary’s Gospel Meditations. The addition of the Luminous Mysteries fills in the historical gap in the life of Jesus from his childhood finding in the Temple (last Joyful Mystery) to the initiation of his Passion with the Agony in the Garden (first Sorrowful Mystery). As Pope John Paul explains:
I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion. In the course of those mysteries we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God. Declared the beloved Son of the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ is the one who announces the coming of the Kingdom, bears witness to it in his works and proclaims its demands. It is during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9:5).
Consequently, for the Rosary to become more fully a “compendium of the Gospel,” it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and the hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection (the glorious mysteries), a meditation on certain particularly significant moments in his public ministry (the mysteries of light). (16)
What is essential to the structure of the Rosary, as discussed by Pius V in granting the indulgence for the praying of the Rosary, (17) is the praying of the Our Fathers and the Hail Marys with vocal prayer (at least the word formation by the lips) while meditating on the Gospel mysteries. Over time and in diverse cultures, several prayers have been added to the Rosary by the faithful. In several countries (including France, parts of Germany and the United States), the Rosary begins with the Sign of the Cross, the Apostles’ Creed, an Our Father, three Hail Marys (oftentimes prayed for an increase in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity), and a Glory Be. This is not always the universal practice, however. In several Spanish-speaking countries, the Rosary ends with these same prayers.
The praying of the Glory Be to the Holy Trinity at the end of each decade may have been an effort to imitate the praying of the psalms of the Divine Office, which end with this same prayer of Trinitarian praise.
At the end of each decade various additional prayers have also been recited by the faithful. Presently, the most universal prayer added to the end of each decade is the one requested by the Virgin Mary during her 1917 apparitions at Fatima, Portugal.
During her third apparition of July 13, 1917, the Blessed Mother appeared under the title of “Our Lady of the Rosary” and asked that the following basic prayer be said at the end of each decade: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need of thy mercy.” Many of the faithful from around the world permanently incorporated this prayer request from Our Lady of Fatima at the end of each Rosary decade.
The Salve Regina or “Hail, Holy Queen,” a majestic prayer to Mary as our Advocate, Queen, and Mother of Mercy, has been attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153) or to one his contemporaries. The Hail Holy Queen is normally prayed at the end of five decades of the Rosary.
We see then that the Rosary is the fruit of a peaceful combination of both heavenly inspiration and historical human development as prayed and practiced by the living Church.
Essential Qualities of the Rosary
The Rosary Is Scriptural
The Rosary is by nature a scriptural prayer. Pope Paul VI refers to the Rosary as “the compendium of the entire Gospel.” (18)
The twenty mysteries of the Rosary comprise the best possible summary of the Gospel events of the Lord. They start at the beginning of the New Testament salvation history with the Annunciation (Lk 1:26) and recall each central Gospel mystery of Our Lords’ infancy, public ministry, passion, and redemptive victory, ending with its glorious effects for the Mother of Christ, that of her Coronation in Heaven (Rev 12:1). The mysteries of the Rosary provide a sublime but succinct summary of the greatest Gospel mysteries contained in the New Testament.
Beyond the scriptural nature of the Rosary mysteries, the specific prayers of the Rosary are also essentially scriptural. The Our Father is the celestial prayer revealed by Jesus Christ in answer to the request of the disciples to “teach us how to pray” (Lk 11:1ff; Mt 6:7ff). The Our Father is the perfect prayer of praise and petition revealed by God the Son made man.
The Hail Mary, for centuries called the “Angelic Salutation,” is also fundamentally a scriptural prayer. The first part of the Hail Mary is a joining together of two scriptural greetings to the Blessed Virgin: one to Mary by the Angel Gabriel, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28); and the second by her cousin Elizabeth, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). With the additions of the names of Jesus and Mary, these two scriptural greetings to Mary comprised the essence of the Hail Mary for at least the first twelve centuries.
During the Middle Ages, (19) the Church added the second part of the Hail Mary, the ecclesial prayer to the Mother of God beseeching her intercession for “us sinners,” “now,” and “at the hour of our death.” The second portion of the Hail Mary reflects the humble prayer of sinners for the heavenly aid of the Mother of God in a manner resembling the ancient Sub Tuum prayer. Both Marian prayers reflect Mary’s Divine Motherhood and her extraordinary intercessory power, which are also scripturally based (cf. Gen 3:15; Lk 1:28; Jn 2:1; Jn 19:26).
By means of both its Gospel mysteries and its scripturally based prayers, the Rosary is properly understood as an authentic “compendium of the Gospel.” John Paul II confirms the scriptural centrality of the Rosary in Rosarium Virginis Mariae:
The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium (Marialis Cultus). It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer. (20)
The Rosary Is Christ-Centered
Another essential quality of the Rosary is that it is a Christological prayer. By means of the Gospel mysteries and of the prayers themselves, the focus of the Rosary is centered first and foremost on the person and life of Jesus Christ and his Redemption of the human family. As Pope Paul VI explains in his 1974 Marian document, Marialis Cultus:
As Gospel prayer, centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is therefore a prayer with a clearly christological orientation. Its most characteristic element, in fact, the litany-like succession of Hail Marys, becomes in itself an unceasing praise of Christ, who is the ultimate object both of the angel’s announcement and of the greeting of the mother of John the Baptist: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). (21)
The great majority of the twenty Rosary mysteries are explicitly dedicated to the life of Jesus. As for the last two mysteries, the Assumption and Coronation of Mary, these mysteries illustrate the application of the graces of the victorious Christ to Mary, the first and greatest disciple of the Lord. In a certain sense, the last two Glorious Mysteries foreshadow what all faithful disciples of the Lord will receive (although to a lesser degree than the Immaculate Mother of God). The Assumption of Mary foreshadows the Resurrection of the Body which all the faithful await on the last day (cf. Mt 22:29ff; Lk 14:14; Jn 6:39). The Coronation of Mary foreshadows the heavenly crown that, as St. Paul tells us, all children of God can expect upon running the race (cf. 1 Cor 9:24-25; 2 Tim 4:8). The last two mysteries therefore are a type of foretaste of what all Christians can expect in due measure when they remain faithful to the first eighteen mysteries of the Lord.
The prayers of the Rosary are likewise Christ-centered, with Jesus as the source of the Our Father and the ultimate object of praise of the Hail Mary. As Paul VI pointed out, the prayerful repetition of the Hail Marys makes up “an unceasing praise of Christ, who is the ultimate object of both the angel’s announcement and the greeting of the mother of John the Baptist.”
Vocal and Meditative Prayer
A third principal quality of the Rosary is its harmonious blend of vocal prayer and meditation. In one of his numerous Rosary encyclicals, Pope Leo XIII explained:
(The Rosary) is comprised of two parts, distinct but inseparable—the meditation on the mysteries and the recitation of the prayers. It is thus a kind of prayer that requires not only some raising of the soul to God but also a particular and explicit attention, so that by reflection upon the things to be contemplated, impulses and resolutions may follow for the reformation and sanctification of life. (22)
The Rosary, again, is an incarnational prayer that encompasses both vocal prayer and mental prayer, both head and heart, both soul and body. The physical use of beads and formation of the words in vocal prayer are important in this body-soul complement of the Rosary. As we count the prayers by the physical use of beads, the soul is freed from the practical distraction of counting and able to focus upon the prayers and meditations.
Beyond fulfilling this practical need for counting, the physical involvement of the body, coupled with the physical formation of the words by the lips (even when sound is not possible), helps to keep the body at the disposition of the soul, to keep the body focused and subordinated to the soul’s higher soaring in prayer. St. Louis Marie de Montfort strongly emphasized the value of fingering the beads while in spiritual conversation with God during the praying of the Rosary prayer. (23)
Meditation can, therefore, be considered the “soul” of the Rosary, while vocal prayer (coupled with the physical use of beads) can be considered the “body” of the Rosary. As one author succinctly put it, “the beads are there for the sake of the prayers, and the prayers are there for the sake of the Mysteries.” (24)
What exactly is meditation? Meditation is the prayerful pondering of the mind and heart on some supernatural truth or object. Generally, authentic Christian meditation has at least three basic elements: consideration, application and resolution. (25)
Consideration is when the mind intellectually but prayerfully considers the spiritual subject in question, for example, pondering prayerfully the event of the Annunciation.
Application is when the person in meditative prayer applies the truths of the spiritual subject, for example, a mystery of the Rosary, to one’s own spiritual life. It is to answer questions like, “What does the Annunciation have to do with me and my own spiritual life? How do I, like the Virgin of Nazareth in answer to the Angel Gabriel’s message, respond to God’s daily and oftentimes surprising manifest will?”
Resolution is to make some practical resolve in my own spiritual life based on the truth and application of the Gospel mystery. It is to say, for example, I resolve with the help of God’s grace to be more receptive to God’s daily will and to meet it with the “fiat” of Mary to the best of my ability.
Although generally there need not be an explicit step by step use of these elements of meditation as just described, the acts of consideration, application and resolution are nonetheless organic parts of authentic Christian meditation and, thereby, parts of the praying of the Rosary.
Some have perceived the Rosary as a monotonous, even boring prayer of repetition that incorporates nothing more than a rather redundant type of vocal prayer. Several popes have responded specifically to this objection to the Rosary. Pope Pius XI responded to the issue of monotony with these words:
They are in error who consider this devotion a boresome formula repeated with monotonous and sing-sing intonations….
… Both piety and love, although always breathing forth the same words, do not, however, repeat the same thing, but they fervently express something ever new which the loving heart always sends forth. (26)
In a similar voice, Pope Pius XII confirmed:
The recitation of identical formulas, repeated so many times, rather than rendering the prayer sterile and boring, has on the contrary, the admirable quality of infusing confidence in him who prays, and brings to bear a gentle compulsion on the motherly heart of Mary. (27)
Even for those who find it challenging to meditate consistently during the praying of the Rosary, the prayerful repetition of vocal prayer is not a fruitless practice, since for vocal prayer to be considered prayer at all, as St. Teresa of Avila points out, it still must be coupled with some attention and devotion. (28) When meditational prayer is a consistent ingredient in praying the Rosary, this favored Marian prayer becomes a spiritual open door into the revealed Gospel mysteries of God, a means of prayer as unlimited in spiritual depth and efficacy as the mysteries are themselves.
John Paul II offers this description of this profound meditational dimension of the Rosary:
The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation. Developed in the West, it is a typically meditative prayer, corresponding in some way to the “prayer of the heart” or “Jesus prayer” which took root in the soil of the Christian East. (29)
This is why the unlimited nature of Gospel meditation in the Rosary prayer can be a springboard even beyond meditation to authentic Christian contemplation. In this regard, Garrigou-LaGrange calls the Rosary:
…a true school of contemplation. It raises us gradually above vocal prayer and even above reasoned out or discursive meditation. Early theologians have compared the movement of the soul in contemplation to the spiral which certain birds—the swallow, for example—move when they wish to attain to a great height. The joyful mysteries lead to the Passion, and the Passion to the door of Heaven. The Rosary well understood is, therefore, a very elevated form of prayer which makes the whole of dogma accessible to all. (30)
The maxim is therefore true, if correctly understood, that to “grow bored” of praying the Rosary is to grow bored of meditating on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The combined effect of vocal prayer and meditation makes up a powerful and efficacious means of spiritual growth, but also an effective instrument of physical and emotional tranquility. One author describes both the spiritual and physical/emotional peace that comes from this vocal-mental prayer harmony of the Rosary:
Isn’t it fascinating that scientists are now turning to meditation in our “hectic” age when so many of us have thrown it out? We have discarded one of the most powerful of all forms of meditation, the Rosary. It is so perfectly designed to fulfill our meditative needs. It is physical—our fingers move over the beads. God has given His children the gift of the Rosary beads on which to count His love. Fifteen mysteries spell it out in a way we can understand. The mind, like a velvet bee droning over a rose, draws the honey of comfort from the story of God. The running rhythm and the repetition, Hail Mary, Holy Mary, steady the mind and settle the heart on God’s work in His powerful mysteries. With Mary’s glance, through the eyes of the heart, we view it afresh. One of the therapies for soldiers who had survived the stresses of World War I was, of all occupations, knitting! It was recognized that the nervous energy of the body passes out through the fingers…. Our worries, tensions, joys and pains are surrendered to God with the Rosary as the rhythmic repetition of the Our Father and the Hail Mary focuses our hearts in peace on the central mysteries of Christ’s life, death and glory which alone offer direction and meaning to our lives. (31)
Hence the emotional life as well greatly benefits from the holistic prayer of the Rosary.
Fruits of Praying the Rosary
The inestimable spiritual benefits of praying the Rosary daily are such that they can in no way be comprehensively treated or categorized. At best, we can see indications of the tremendous greatness of this Marian prayer by taking a glimpse of the responses to the Rosary by popes, saints, and even the Mother of God herself in her apparitions to the modern world.
The popes have been nothing short of superlative in their praises of the Rosary and its spiritual benefit. The vicars of Christ consistently place the Rosary second only to the Mass and the liturgical prayer of the Church as the most highly recommended prayer form. When one considers the ubiquitous forms of diverse prayer within the universal Church of Christ for the last two thousand years, the popes’ placing of the Rosary second only to the liturgy bespeaks its sublime spiritual value.
Many Roman pontiffs have exhorted the Christian faithful to pray daily and frequently the Rosary by embellishing the prayer with generous Church indulgences.
A Church indulgence is a partial or complete pardon for the remaining atonement needed for sin after the guilt and the eternal punishment for sin has been forgiven. If atonement is not made for sin in this life, “temporal punishment” for sin must be expiated in Purgatory (cf. 2 Mac 12:42-46; Mt 12:32; 1 Cor 3:15). (32)
Apart from the negative association that indulgences received in a time of disciplinary abuse during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Church indulgences remain an extremely valuable spiritual gift of the Church, and the popes have been particularly generous in endowing the praying of the Rosary with Church indulgences.
The Church’s Magisterium has granted plenary indulgences (full remission of temporal punishment due to sin) under the appropriate conditions for the praying of the Rosary. A plenary indulgence may be gained by praying the Rosary (five decades said continuously, with meditation on the mysteries) in any of the following manners: 1) praying the Rosary together as a family; 2) when members of a religious community or pious association pray the Rosary together; 3) praying the Rosary in a church or public oratory. All acts for plenary indulgences must also include Holy Communion, Confession, prayers for the intentions of the pope, and a complete detachment from sin. (33)
The Family Rosary
The Magisterium has also strongly praised the profound spiritual effects of praying the Family Rosary. Since the Family Rosary is endowed with particularly rich indulgences and most highly recommended, the popes have tried to lead Christian families to the spiritual graces and protection received when the family prays the Rosary together daily. As Pope John Paul II (quoting Pope Paul VI) says in his 1981 document on the Christian family:
While respecting the freedom of the children of God, the Church always proposed certain practices of piety to the faithful with particular solicitude and insistence.
Among these should be mentioned the recitation of the Rosary: “We now desire, as a continuation of our predecessors, to recommend strongly the recitation of the Family Rosary…. There is no doubt that…the Rosary should be considered as one of the best and most efficacious prayers in common that the Christian family is invited to recite. We like to think, and sincerely hope, that when the family gathering becomes a time of prayer, the Rosary is a frequent and favored manner of praying.” (34)
John Paul’s 2002 Rosary document contains the plea to families to make the Family Rosary a daily event, with the assurance of these extraordinary effects for today’s family:
The family that prays together stays together. The Holy Rosary, by age-old tradition, has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer which brings the family together. Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God…. It could be objected that the Rosary seems hardly suited to the taste of children and young people of today. But perhaps the objection is directed to an impoverished method of praying it. Furthermore, without prejudice to the Rosary’s basic structure, there is nothing to stop children and young people from praying it—either within the family or in groups—with appropriate symbolic and practical aids to understanding and appreciation. Why not try it? (35)
The special means of spiritual protection and spiritual grace received from the daily praying of the Family Rosary should not be underestimated. This daily practice performed by the family as the Ecclesia Domestica, or Domestic Church, is of tremendous spiritual efficacy and is strongly encouraged by the universal Church.
Further, the testimony by the saints over the last half millennium has provided enthusiastic praise of the efficacy of praying the daily Rosary. Saints of the spiritual stature of St. Teresa of Avila, doctor of the Church on Prayer, St. Francis de Sales, St. Louis Marie de Montfort, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Don Bosco, St. Bernadette, and many more, have not only extolled the ineffable graces received in praying the Rosary daily, but have also identified the Rosary as their favorite prayer.
The Rosary Call in Marian Apparitions
A primary source bespeaking the great spiritual value of the Rosary, particularly in our present age, is the testimony of the Blessed Virgin herself through her apparitions to the modern world.
At Lourdes, France in 1858, Mary invited the world to pray the Rosary by her own example. In the first Marian apparition to Bernadette Soubirous on February 11, 1858, the visionary reported that the Blessed Virgin was offering the world the example of praying the Rosary: “The Lady dressed in white…ran the beads of hers through her fingers.” Bernadette prepared for each of the seventeen following apparitions of Mary by praying the Rosary, a practice also adopted by the surrounding crowds. (36)
At Fatima, Portugal in 1917, Mary appeared to three Portuguese children under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary, to make clear the crucial importance of this prayer for the contemporary world quest for salvation and peace. Our Lady of the Rosary explicitly exhorted the world to the daily praying of the Rosary in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of World War I: “Pray the Rosary every day in order to obtain peace in the world and the end of the war” (May 13, 1917). In her last Fatima apparition in 1917, Our Lady of Fatima called the human family to continue always the practice of praying the Rosary daily: “I am the Lady of the Rosary. Always continue to pray the Rosary every day” (October 13, 1917). (37)
More recently, in several reported contemporary apparitions of Mary, the emphatic Marian call for daily Rosary, and even for the full twenty decade daily Rosary, for the conversion of the world has reached an historical climax.
In the reported apparitions of the Queen of Peace at Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina (presently under Church investigation), the Virgin Mary has requested the daily praying of the fifteen decade Rosary for both spiritual and global peace. Her reported message of August 8, 1985 underscores the spiritual power and protection of the Rosary against Satan, Our Lady’s ancient adversary (cf. Gen 3:15):
Dear children, today I call you to pray against Satan in a special way. Satan wants to work more, now that you know he is active. Dear children, put on your armour against Satan: with Rosaries in your hands, you will conquer. (38)
And on June 25, 1985 from the Queen of Peace:
I invite you to call on everyone to pray the Rosary. With the Rosary you shall overcome all the adversities which Satan is trying to inflict on the Catholic Church. (39)
Protestant Christians and the Rosary
A final indication of the efficacy and value of the Rosary can be seen today in the new openness by many Protestant Christians, probably as never before since the Reformation, to the praying of the Rosary. As summarized by one author:
Protestants are now coming to recognize the value of the Rosary as instanced by a number of favorable writings, the formation of Rosary circles in Anglican churches and the active propagation of the Rosary by the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. A German Lutheran minister, Richard Baumann, stated in the early 1970s: “In saying the Rosary, truth sinks into the subconscious like a slow and heavy downpour. The hammered sentences of the Gospel receive an indelible validity for precisely the little ones, the least, to whom belongs the Kingdom of Heaven…. The Rosary is a long and persevering gaze, a meditation, a quieting of the spirit in praise of God, the value of which we Protestants are learning more and more.” A Methodist minister, J. Neville Ward, praises the Rosary as a strong support to prayer and meditation in his book Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy and admits that Protestants have lost much in their neglect of this prayer. (40)
In sum, the Church’s Magisterium, the writings of the saints, and even the realm of Marian private revelation have singled out the Rosary as the greatest Marian prayer in history, a supernatural prayer which sanctifies, protects, and saves. We conclude with this moving passage by Bl. Bartolo Longo, modern “Apostle of the Rosary,” with which John Paul II likewise ended his monumental Rosarium Virginis Mariae:
O Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of Hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we will never abandon you. You will be our comfort in the hour of death: yours our final kiss as life ebbs away. And the last word from our lips will be your sweet name, O Queen of the Rosary of Pompeii, O dearest Mother, O Refuge of Sinners, O Sovereign Consoler of the Afflicted. May you be everywhere blessed, today and always, on earth and in heaven. (41)
This article was excerpted from Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Queenship, Third Edition, June 2006
(1) John Paul II, angelus message, October 29, 1978, L’Osservatore Romano.
(3) Cf. Leo XIII, Apostolic Letter Salutaris ille, December 24, 1883.
(4) Pius XII, Encyclical Mediator Dei, November 20, 1947, No. 174; AAS 38, 1947.
(5) John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, October 16, 2002, No. 4.
(6) Cf. Ibid., No. 21.
(7) R. Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., Mother of Our Savior and the Interior Life, tr. Bernard Kelly, C.S.Sp., Golden Eagle Book, Dublin, Ireland, 1948, p. 293.
(8) Cf. John Hardon, S.J., “Albigensianism,” Colliers Encyclopedia, 1994, Vol. 1, pp. 495-496.
(9) R. Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., Mother of Our Savior, p. 297.
(10) Cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical Octobri mense, September 22, 1891, No. 8; AAS 24; Pius XI, Encyclical Ingravescentibus malis, September 29, 1937, No. 12; AAS 29, 1937; George Shea, “The Dominican Rosary,” Juniper Carol, O.F.M., ed., Mariology, Vol. III, Milwaukee: Bruce, 1961. For diverse opinions, cf. Michael O’Carroll C.S.Sp, “Rosary,” Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Delaware, Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983.
(11) Cf. Emmanuele Testa, O.F.M., Maria Terra Vergine, Vol. II: Il Culto mariano palestinese, Jerusalem, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1984.
(13) Cf. A. Walz, O.P., Compendium Historiae Ordinis Praedicatorum, ed. 2, Romae, 1948.
(14) Cf. Shea, “The Dominican Rosary,” Mariology, III.
(15) Cf. John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, No. 19.
(17) Cf. St. Pius V, Apostolic Constitution Consueverunt Romani Pontifices, 1569.
(18) Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, February 2, 1974, No. 42.
(19) In the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a commentary on the Hail Mary that consisted of a treatment of what we today consider to be only the first part of the prayer, concluding with the name, “Jesus.”
(20) John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, No. 1.
(21) Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, No. 46.
(22) Leo XIII, Encyclical Iucunda semper, September 8, 1894, No. 7; ASS 27, 1894-1895.
(23) Cf. St. Louis Marie de Montfort, Secret of the Rosary, Ch. 1-3.
(24) Maisie Ward, The Splendor of the Rosary, 1945, p. 11-12.
(25) Cf. Blessed Louis of Granada, O.P., Summa of the Christian Life, Vol. I.
(26) Pius XI, Encyclical Ingravescentibus malis, Nos. 12, 13.
(27) Pius XII, Encyclical Ingruentium malorum, September 15, 1951, No. 9; AAS 43, 1951.
(28) Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, First Mansion.
(29) John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, No. 5.
(30) Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., Mother of Our Savior, p. 294.
(31) Rev. Gerard McGinnity, Celebrating with Mary, Dublin, Veritas, 1987, p. 28.
(32) Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos., 1031-1032, 1471-1479.
(33) Handbook of Indulgences: Norms and Grants, 1985 English edition, 1988, No. 48.
(34) John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, November 22, 1981, No. 61.
(35) John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Nos. 41, 42.
(36) René Laurentin, Lourdes, Documents Authentiques as translated in Alan Heame, The Happenings at Lourdes, London: Catholic Book Club, 1968, pp. 82-131.
(37) Sr. Lucia, Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs, Fourth Memoir.
(38) Miravalle, The Message of Medjugorje: The Marian Message to the Modern World, University Press of America, 1986, Ch. I.
(40) McGinnity, Celebrating with Mary, p. 30.
(41) Bl. Bartolo Longo, Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary, 1883.