Our Blessed Mother whose feast we celebrate on 7th of October across the universal church is for all times best described as the sweet benediction in the eternal curse. God through the fiat of our blessed mother undid the curse which was laid upon humanity through the sin of Adam. Mary through her divine motherhood became for all times, the model of all who would lay bare the barren soil of their being to the life-giving dew contained in the Angelic message: "Hail (Rejoice) O highly favoured one, the Lord is with you." Mary is the second Eve, the new help mate to humankind. In her grace filled personality, the brokenness of our humanity is healed. Together with her son, she lifts the burden from her oppressed humanity and teaches us to walk with our heads high into the healing light of God's kingdom.
Numerous canonised saints have seen the devotion to the Rosary or the lack of it as revelatory of the state of a person's interior life. How did we receive the Rosary? What is its history? This will be traced in the following discussion:
Origin of this Feast
From their rise at the beginning of the 7th century, the Muslims sought to spread their religion by means of the sword just like many of them still do today. The "scourge of God" as they were called, poured out of the Arabian peninsula and within a matter of years subjected the Holy Land, Iraq, North Africa and the lands of the middle east that were Christian to a threat of forceful conversion or annihilation. They conquered many parts of Africa and made incursion into Europe. In fact it was in 1492 that Spain were able to liberate itself from this catastrophic invasion. However and quite unfortunately, great as was the triumph in the West, the mohamedians had won similar and larger victory in the east about 39 years earlier on. That was when Constantinople, the capital of the once mighty Byzantine empire fell to the forces of Sultan Mohammed II in 1453. With this fall, Europe was open to attack from the east and quite soon did it come in all ferociousness. Europe was vulnerable then as it is now. The rise of nationalism and internal strife especially after the protestant revolt of the fifteenth century made her so. Sultan Mohammed II boasted that he would top St. Peters in Rome with crescent and wrap the Pope's head in a Turban.
St Pius V who became Pope in 1566 rallied a few European leaders to fight off this evil force and threat. He gathered a navy of ship from Venice, Spain, Genoa, Knights of Malta, smaller Italian states, and the Holy See. Don Juan of Austria, son of Charles V was named the commander-in-chief of the army which was placed directly under the protection of our lady Queen of the most holy rosary. The enemies met off the gulf of Corinth at dawn on October 7, 1571. The battle ended at 5.00 pm in favour of the Christians who were much fewer in number with lesser ships. Thousands of Christian slaves were freed and so many Turks were slaughtered. 8000 of them were taken prisoners. The soldiers and venetian senate declared that "it was not generals, nor battalions, nor armies that brought us victory, it was our Lady of the Rosary." Hence, Europe was saved.
The purpose of this feast was to thank God for the victory of Christians over the Turks and mohamedians at Lepanto on the first Sunday in October 1571, a victory attributed to the praying of the rosary. It was the day that the rosary confraternities held their procession. Pope Pius (a Dominican) had appealed for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He relied especially on the rosary. Following this victory, the Pope decreed that a commemoration of this victory be made at mass annually on October 7. In 1573 Pope Gregory XIII instituted the feast of the most holy rosary which is now kept on this same date each year. However, Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.
Devotion to the Queen of the Holy Rosary
According to St Louis Marie de Montfort, our aim in establishing a solid devotion to the most blessed virgin, is none other than to establish more perfectly, the worship of Jesus Christ, and to provide an easier and safer way by which we can find Jesus Christ.
In his encyclical "Crossing the threshold of Hope", Pope John Paul II reflects: “During the second world war, while I was employed as a factory worker, I came to be attracted to Marian devotion. At first, it seemed to me that I should distance myself a bit from Marian devotion of my childhood, in order to focus more on Christ. John Paul II further reflects: "...at one point I began to question my devotion to Mary, believing that, if it became too great, it might end up compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ". Thanks to Saint Louis of Montfort, I came to understand the true devotion to the mother of God is actually christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the incarnation and redemption.” Reflecting again in another of his many apostolic letters titled "Rosarum Virginis Mariae", St. John Paul recalled that the inspiration leading to the choice of his apostolic motto (Totus Tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Proebe mihi cor tuum, Maria -I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart) came from Louis de Montfort's book "True devotion to Mary”.
Development of Rosary Devotion
Common sense suggests that some simple device is desirable for counting prayers if they are many or recited in groupings of a certain number. So it is that adherents of many religions besides the one True faith use devices including sets of beads, to help them keep track of prayers or acts of worship. In Christianity, monks and hermits of the earliest years would gather pebbles and then toss them away, one by one as they said each prayer or made each genuflection or sign of the cross. Later, string of beads, berries, bone discs, pebbles or knots were employed. The very word "bead" reflects this. It is derived from the old english word of prayer.
The use of beads in a form similar to the rosary as we have it now originated in the eastern church. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) says, "The rosary is conferred upon the Greek Monk as part of his investiture with the mandyas, or full monastic habit, as the second step in the monastic life and is called his spiritual sword. This oriental form of rosary is known in Hellenic Greek church as kombologion (Chaplet), or orliestovka (ladder), and in Rumanian Church as matanie (reverence). The first use of the rosary in a general way was among the Monks of the Orient. The notion of the rosary as a spiritual sword is reflected in western practice. Hence Monks and friars wear the rosary on their habits hanging down their waists on the left side, the same side where gentlemen were once accustomed to wearing their swords.
An early stage in the development of the rosary in the west was the recitation by Monks of the psalms of David. The Monks would recite them in groupings of 50, 100, or all 150. Since most lay brothers could not read, they would say the Our Father instead. An example of this is given in the Ancient Customs by lay brothers to recite 50 our fathers for the deceased of the order. In the 12th century, the knights of Templar were saying 150 our fathers a day for day for a week when one of their own died. Not surprisingly, when the practice of reciting many our fathers spread to laypersons, they came to call the strings of beads on which they counted the prayers "paternosters".
When the Hail Mary came into more popular use, it and the Our Father were said the same number of times. We can readily understand why. As voiced by the Archangel Gabriel to the blessed Virgin Mary when she was asked to become the mother of God, it is a salutation. Even as reigning royalty is still saluted today by repeated firing of cannons or honour is paid to individuals with cheers and applause, and more honours given with additonal cheers and longer applause, so it was fitting to repeat the Hail Mary many times in order to honour the Queen of Heaven. Of this then does the rosary in its rudimentary form consist: common prayers, known and loved by the faithful recited while being counted on beads.
Though Mary’s giving the rosary to Saint Dominic is recognized as a legend, the development of this prayer form owes much to the followers of Saint Dominic. One of them, Alan de la Roche, was known as “the apostle of the rosary.” He founded the first Confraternity of the Rosary in the 15th century. In the 16th century, the rosary was developed to its present form, with the 15 mysteries (joyful, sorrowful and glorious). In 2002, Pope John Paul II added five Mysteries of Light to this devotion.
Influences of the Rosary
St. Dominic, seeing that the gravity of people's sins was hindering the conversion of the Albigensians, withdrew into a forest near Toulouse, where He prayed unceasingly for three days and three nights. During this time, he did nothing but weep and do harsh penance in order to appease the anger of Almighty God. He used his discipline so much that his body was lacerated and finally, he fell into a coma. Our Lady appeared to him accompanied by three angels. She recommended the rosary as the only means to reach those hardened souls. So, Dominic arose, feeling comforted and burning with zeal for the people in that district, made straight for the Cathedral. At once, unseen angels rang the bells to gather the people together and St. Dominic began to preach.
Bl Alan de la Roche
By 1460, people were already forgetting the gift that our Lady had bestowed in the forest of Toulouse through St. Dominic. She raised Bl Alan de la Roche, a dominican priest of Dinan Brittany. Jesus spoke to him through the sacred host and ordered him to say the rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Alan resolved to preach the rosary unceasingly. He set up the confraternity of the most holy rosary. At the time of his death, he had enrolled over 100,000 persons into this confraternity.
La Rochelle, 1628
The Calvinists of France sought to establish protestant regime in that catholic country. They were called the Hunguenots in the english speaking world. They staged uprisings perpetrated massacres, burnt cathedrals, churches, convents, monasteries and libraries, destroying irreplaceable treasures of every kind. In 1622, King Louis the Just (Louis XIII) began the siege of La Rochelle on France's Atlantic coast, the stronghold of Huguenots. On the King's order, the rosary was recited every saturday. The litany of Loreto was also intoned with the Queen mother, court nobles, high prelates, religious and laypersons joining in procession until complete victory came the way of the King and his catholic forces. The faculty of the university of paris proclaimed it a miracle of the most holy rosary.
Although Turkish sea power was vanguished at Lepanto, but on Land, the mohamedians still remained a real threat for a long time. This was the case until a series of christian victories that closely followed one another in the 18th century. The Turks mohamedians had violated the peace treaty and began again their campaign of slaughter and massacre of the innocent. Europe was again aroused. Pope Clement XI directed the formation of an army to combat this evil. It marched on perwardein in Hungary. Victory was won in this battle on August 5, 1716. One year later, in 1717, the Serbian capital of Belgrade occupied and defended bu 150,000 Turks surrended to Prince Eugene of Austria after three weeks of siege. The Turks were forced to accept the terms of the Christians and the peace treaty of passarewitz was signed. In thanksgiving Pope Clement XI extended the feast of the rosary to the universal church. When the battle standards captured from the Turks were sent to Rome, the Pope accompanied by the Cardinals placed them on the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.
St. Louis Marie de Montfort
The great giant of a saint, St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort had a seeming endless love for our Blessed Virgin Mary. He preached the rosary as a missionary in his own country, the catholic France. His preaching bore much fruit, but his success provoked the hostility of many Bishops. Jansenism was behind this hatred. Numerous members of the French hierarchy were polluted by Jansenism at that time. This heresy reduced christianity and catholicism to cold rigid routine, ignoring God's love for his people. St. Louis marie de Montfort fought this evil with all vigour. Devotions were forbidden, our lady, Angels and the saints were cast into obscurity. Our Lord introduced St Margaret Mary Alacoque to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. De Montfort vigorosly preached devotion to the blessed Mother including devotions to the holy rosary.
This great apostle to the Indies, laboured among the Japanese converting thousands and encouraging devotions to the holy rosary. He sent the rosary to the sick and to the places he could not visit encouraging them to say it devotedly. He said his rosary every day. In 1615, 66 years after the faith was first brought to Japan, there were 400,000 catholics in that country. However, the Japanese rulers turned against them. All the missionaries were explled or martyred. Thousands of Japanese faithful won the never fading crown of martyrdom. Only a tiny few were left. They had no priests and could only celebrate two sacraments; baptism and matrimony. In 1859, missionaries were finally allowed to return. One of the very first to arrive was Pere Petitjean. He received a great consolation and surprise on March 17, 1865. The Japanese approached him with three questions: They asked him to determine whether he was a true catholic priest and not a spy to trick them out of hiding. They asked him if he were married (they knew that catholic priests don't marry). Secondly, they asked if he was in communion with the Pope. The last question was, "where is your rosary?". When he produced the last article, he was told the incredible story of how the Japanese catholics had preserved their faith all those years. There were about 50,000 of them at the time.
In the various appearances of our Lady, she has emphatically asked the Visioners and all people to say the rosary. In Fatima she requested for constant and steadfast praying of the rosary, constant penance and devotion to her immaculate heart. In Fatima, she introduced herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary" and asked us to pray the rosary unceasingly for the peace of the world and conversion of sinners.
Since the big fight which led to the expulsion of Lucifer and his apostate angels (this event took place before the creation and sin of Adam), our blessed mother has been fighting.
When the rosary was given to us, it became at once a distinctive badge and powerful weapon of devotees of our Lady. In The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716) wrote that it is the "sign" by which the elect can be distinguished from the reprobate. He based his view on Our Lady's revelation on Bl Alan de la Roche (d. 1475) and his own experience as a missionary in France. "I do not know, "he says, "nor do I see clearly, how it can be that a devotion which seems so small can be the infallible sign of eternal salvation and how its absence can be a sign of God's displeasure, nevertheless, nothing could possibly be more true." One can understand this from the perspective of the curse that God placed on the evil one, the serpent after the fall, "I will put enmities between three and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel (Gen 3:15). This enmity is bound to result in some conflict that is destined to last until the end of time, there are but two sides to it. If we want to be on God's side, we must be the seed of the woman, our only alternative being to live as seed of the old Serpent. But who is the Woman who will crush Satan's head? Who else can it be but the sinless one hailed as "full of grave" and "blessed among women" (Luke 1:28). Mary the Virgin Mother of Jesus who is also the spiritual Mother, given to us by her Son before He died on the Cross (John 19:26-27).
There has always been and always will be, enmity between the children of the devil and the children of Mary. The devil's spawn will never cease to attack Mary's spiritual children, and the latter will be wise always to defend themselves with the most powerful weapons possible, the Rosary which comprise of the Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and glory bes including reflection on the mysteries our salvation.
The purpose of the rosary is to help us meditate on the great mysteries of our salvation. Pius XII called it a compendium of the gospel. The main focus is on Jesus—his birth, life, death, and resurrection. The Our Fathers remind us that Jesus’ Father is the initiator of salvation. The Hail Marys remind us to join with Mary in contemplating these mysteries. They also make us aware that Mary was and is intimately joined with her Son in all the mysteries of his earthly and heavenly existence. The Glory Bes remind us that the purpose of all life is the glory of the Trinity.
The rosary appeals to many and indeed should appeal to all. It is simple, scriptural, and christocentric. The constant repetition of words help create an atmosphere in which to contemplate the mysteries of God. We sense that Jesus and Mary are with us in the joys and sorrows of life. We grow in hope that God will bring us to share in the glory of Jesus and Mary forever.