Queen of the most holy Rosary, in these times of such brazen impiety, manifest thy power with the signs of thine ancient victories, and from thy throne, whence thou dost dispense pardon and graces, mercifully regard the Church of thy Son, His Vicar on earth, and every order of clergy and laity, who are sore oppressed in the mighty conflict. Do thou, who art the powerful vanquisher of all heresies, hasten the hour of mercy, even though the hour of God's justice is every day provoked by the countless sins of men. For me who am the least of men, kneeling before thee in supplication, do thou obtain the grace I need to live righteously upon earth and to reign among the just in heaven, the while in company with all faithful Christians throughout the world, I salute thee and acclaim thee as Queen of the most holy Rosary.
Queen of the most holy Rosary, pray for us.
(Indulgence: 500 days, per Leo XIII, July 3, 1886)
The History of the Rosary
The rosary, an icon of Catholicism and one of the Church’s most beloved prayers, began its glorious history in the humble realm of pebbles, knotted chords and the hearts of simple peasants.
Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have been using rosary-like counting devices for prayer and penitential exercises. Mostly comprised of knotted rope, pebbles, or chains, penitents originally used them to count the number of “Our Fathers” to be recited in a day, a devotion they referred to as a “Paternoster.”
Evidence dating back to the 4th century proves that the Desert Fathers used similar prayer chords to keep track of their devotions and Venerable Bede (d. 733) tells us about churches in France and England that were making prayer beads available for use by the faithful during his era.
But it was not until the Middle Ages that the rosary as we know it today began to take shape. This was when Christians began using strings of beads to recite 50 Hail Marys which they called “Aves” because the second half the Hail Mary wasn’t added until sometime later. These Aves were recited along with verses from the Gospel relating to the joys of Mary, such as the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension and Assumption. This style of prayer became known as a rosarium, which means rose garden.
The first clear historical reference we have of the rosary as we know it today comes from the life of St. Dominic (d.1221), founder of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans. According to tradition, Dominic devised the rosary after receiving a vision of Our Lady during which she told him to pray in this manner as an antidote for heresy and sin. He obeyed, and preached the rosary with great success in France during the time of the Albigensian heresy.
One of the most famous miracles of the Rosary was performed at the hands of St. Dominic. It occurred when the saint expelled thousands of demons from a possessed man in front of a crowd of 12,000 eyewitnesses after putting a rosary around the man’s neck.
In spite of this and many other spectacular miracles, the rosary fell into disuse and it wasn’t until two centuries later when a Dominican theologian named Alain de Roche (d. 1475) made it his life’s mission to restore the devotion. He is credited with establishing Rosary Confraternities to promote the rosary and is believed to have developed what is known as the “Dominican Rosary” which was structured in three groups of mysteries related to the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Since the end of the 15th century, this became the most popular and commonly used form of the rosary.
The beads underwent many changes during this time with special devotions, local customs, and even the latest fashions impacting the style of beads in use. For instance, a short form of the rosary containing only ten beads and known as a “tenner” was a favorite among men in past centuries. Women liked the longer version and often adorned their rosaries with gems, pearls, miniature figurines, and even scented fruits and flowers. Rosaries have been known to be made of everything from pure gold to painted apricot pits. Filigree rosaries were popular in the 18th century and chain-stitched rosaries were the rage during the 19th century. It was also during this time that the three beads for faith, hope and charity were added to the beginning of the rosary.
The rosary grew in popularity and became the spiritual weapon of choice during the 1500s when Moslem Turks were ravaging Eastern Europe. In 1571, when it seemed as though the whole continent would fall under their control, Pope St. Pius V organized a fleet to ward off the invaders. He then asked all of the faithful to say the rosary and beg for Mary’s intercession under the title Our Lady of Victory for victory against the Turks.
The famous battle, now known as the Battle of Lepanto, took place October 7, 1571, and even though the Moslems outgunned the Christians in both vessels and sailors, the much smaller Christian fleet managed to prevail. In thanksgiving, the pope established the Feast of the Holy Rosary on October 7 to forever memorialize the great victory wrought by the powerful intercession of the Mother of God.
Since that time the rosary has been adorned with a steady stream of papal honors. Pope Adrian VI called it the “scourge of the devil” and Pope Paul V called it a “treasure of graces.”
Pope Leo XIII issued a record 12 encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary during his pontificate (1878-1903) and instituted the custom of praying the rosary daily during the month of October.
Pope Pius X taught that “amidst all prayers, the Rosary is the most beautiful, the richest in graces, and the one that most pleases the Most Holy Virgin.” His successor, Pius XI called it “a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight.”
In 1974, Pope Paul VI issued the Apostolic letter Marialis Cultus which devotes 14 sections to the use of the rosary within the Church.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced the Luminous Mysteries (Mysteries of Light) in the Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae.
Added to this list of admirers are some of the Church’s most revered saints, such as Saint Francis de Sales who named the rosary as the greatest method of prayer. St. Thomas Aquinas once preached for 40 days in Rome on just the Hail Mary and the legendary St. John Vianney, patron of priests, was rarely seen without a rosary in his hand. St. Pio of Pietrelcina called it “the weapon” and when Mother Teresa died, she owned nothing but the sari she was wearing and her beloved rosary.
The rosary is still the best antidote to sin and heresy and remains the weapon of choice for Christians. As Pope Pius IX so aptly said, “Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world."