The Rosary - The Greatest Marian Prayer

Updated: May 30, 2020




“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 materi