The term usually refers to the so-called Dominican Rosary, a pious exercise composed of both vocal and mental prayer. It consists in the recitation of 15 decades of Hail Marys, each preceded by an Our Father, followed by a Glory be to the Father, and accompanied by a meditation, called a mystery. Its 15 mysteries, focusing attention
on the Incarnation, sufferings, and glorification of Christ are a compendium of the life of Jesus and Mary and a summary of the liturgical year. Like the liturgy, the Rosary presents Christian truth comprehensively and graphically, and possesses great power to sanctify those who pray it. A prayer to Jesus and His Mother, it leads through Mary to Jesus, the source of all grace.
The Rosary is begun and terminated in various ways. In the United States, it commences with the recitation of an Our Father, three Hail Marys, and a Glory Be to the Father, and ends with the recitation of the Hail Holy Queen and the prayer from the Feast of the Rosary. Dominicans start the Rosary with the verses that open Matins of the Divine Office. Neither these introductory and concluding prayers nor the Glory Be to the Father following the decades are integral parts of the Rosary. While he recites the vocal prayers, the worshipper does not direct his attention to them but dwells on the mystery assigned to the decade he is reciting. The meditation may be made immediately before or after the decade. It may take a general form or may consider a distinct point of each mystery at successive Hail Marys. The mysteries are divided into three sets of five, namely, the Joyful Mysteries—the Annunciation of Christ's Incarnation to Mary, her visit to Elizabeth, the birth of Christ, His presentation in the temple, His being found in the temple; the Sorrowful Mysteries—the
agony of Christ in the garden, His scourging, His crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross, the crucifixion and death of Christ; the Glorious Mysteries—the Resurrection of Christ, His Ascension into heaven, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption of Mary into heaven, her coronation as Queen of Heaven. In public recitation of the Rosary, the leader of the prayer announces the mystery before beginning the decade. In German-speaking countries, however, the mystery is referred to in each Hail Mary after the phrase, "thy womb, Jesus." Thus, at that point throughout the fifth sorrowful mystery, the leader adds, "who was crucified for us."
Origin. The origin of the Rosary, especially St. Dominic's connection with it, has been the subject of much debate. According to pious tradition, Mary appeared to Dominic when he was working among the Albigenses, giving him the rosary and instructing him to preach it. She promised that much success would attend his apostolate, should he do so. This tradition has been current since the end of the 15th century and is traceable to alan de la roche. It gained general acceptance owing to the widespread propagation of the Rosary Confraternity and to its insertion into papal bulls granting various indulgences for saying the Rosary.
Those who have favored the tradition have not succeeded in mustering convincing proofs to support it. All their evidence directly linking Dominic to the Rosary, when traced back, ends with Alan de la Roche. Their other arguments refer to the various elements that constitute the Rosary and prove only, as is generally admitted, that parts of the Rosary were practiced as independent devotions before or during the lifetime of Dominic. The most telling proof offered for the tradition is its inclusion by at least a dozen popes in bulls or encyclicals. However, the popes issued those documents to foster devotion, not to teach historical truth. They made no claim to have verified the tradition but cited it as piously believed. It was first mentioned in an indulgence bull granted to the Rosary Confraternity by Alexander VI, July 13, 1495. In preparing such bulls the papal chancery justified the grant of the indulgence by reviewing the reasons alleged by the petitioners. In the early Rosary bulls, the chancery inserted cautionary phrases such as, "it is piously believed" or "it is said," to indicate that it passed no judgment on the historicity of the material presented by the petitioners. Later chancery clerks failed to insert the cautionary phrases. Thus, papal documents seem to vouch for the veracity of the tradition.
It has also been alleged that the Rosary originated in Dominic's style of preaching. Inspired by Mary, he expounded the truths of the faith successively. To bring down grace upon his audience, he invited the listeners to recite the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary between his different expositions. This version of the Rosary's origin is unsupported by the sources. It reduces Dominic's share to the vanishing point and proves only that any great preacher who interlarded his sermons with prayer was the founder of the Rosary.
Militating against the tradition is the long silence about Dominic until the end of the 15th century. In his Apology, Alan de la Roche allegedly asserted that Dominic's connection with the Rosary is proved "both from tradition and from the testimony of writers," but justification for this broad claim has not been found. In all the sources where a reference to Dominic and the Rosary might be expected, there is absolute silence: in the acts of his canonization, in his early biographies, in sermons preached on his feast, in medieval art, notably his tomb and the paintings of Fra Angelico, in Dominican chronicles and collections of sermon materials, in the official records of the order, such as the Constitutions, the acts of general and provincial chapters, and letters of the masters general.
The most satisfying explanation of the Rosary's origin is that it developed gradually as various Christological and Marian devotions coalesced. The origins are traceable to the tender devotion to Jesus and Mary that arose in the 12th century, and to the desire to give the unlettered faithful closer participation in the liturgy. It appears that the recitation of 150 Our Fathers emerged as a substitute for the recitation of the psalms. The Our Fathers were often divided, as were the psalms of David, into sets of "three fifties." Strings of beads, called "paternosters," were used to count these prayers. Marian devotion followed a similar trend. Mary's clients celebrated her joys by saluting her with liturgical antiphons, especially the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, believing that when they did so she relived the joy of the Annunciation. Hence they multiplied their Hail Marys, especially in "chaplets" of 50 (mystical crowns placed on Mary's brow), groups of 100, or psalters of 150. Because Mary experienced her joy in intimate association with Jesus, the words of Elizabeth, "Blessed art thou among women," were added to the Hail Mary in the early 12th century. During the next century the name of Jesus was added to the Hail Mary.
The development of the Rosary mysteries followed a parallel course. Psalters of Our Lord Jesus Christ or of the Blessed Virgin Mary, applying the psalms to Christ or His Mother, were formed by adding to each psalm a phrase that referred it to Jesus or Mary. In a later stage the psalms were omitted and the phrases evolved into brief lives of Jesus or Mary extending from the Annunciation to their glorification in heaven. Commemoration of Mary's joys also influenced the formation of the mysteries. At first only the Annunciation joy was recalled, but soon sets of 5, 10, 15, or 20 other joys, often in connection with the liturgical feasts, were fashioned, either by using liturgical antiphons or by composing brief phrases, often rhymed, recounting the joys. This devotion coalesced with the recitation of the Hail Mary. During the recitation of a chaplet of Hail Marys, the Annunciation joy would be considered. During a second or third 50, a second or third joy would be taken up. As devotion to Mary's sorrows arose during the 14th century, the second chaplet was dedicated to them. Logically, the third chaplet was set aside for her heavenly joys. Along with this development, chains of 50, 100, or 150 phrases, referring to as many joys, were composed or drawn from the lives of Jesus and Mary that had evolved from the Psalters of Jesus or Mary and were attached to the recitation of the Hail Marys, one phrase to each Hail Mary. The Carthusian dominic of prussia popularized this practice soon after 1409, when he linked 50 phrases referring to Jesus and Mary to 50 Hail Marys, undivided by the Lord's Prayer. Such a series of 50 points was called a rosarium (a rose garden), a common term used to designate a collection of similar material. In preempting this term, Mary's clients applied the rose, the symbol of joy, to Mary. The name was later transferred to the recitation of 50 Hail Marys; "psalter" was reserved for 150 Hail Marys.
Meanwhile, the method of using the vocal prayers of the Rosary was evolving. First, the psalter of 150 Hail Marys was united with the psalter of 150 Our Fathers, a Hail Mary following each Our Father. Early in the 15th century, Henry Kalkar (d. 1408), Carthusian visitator on the Lower Rhine, bracketed the Hail Marys into decades by inserting 15 Our Fathers between them. It was a logical next step to separate chaplets of 50 Hail Marys by inserting five Our Fathers.
Thus, from the early 15th century, the Rosary was recognizable and its elements had amalgamated: Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and mysteries, though these latter, and the mode of attaching them to the vocal prayers, were still far from standardized.
So long as the Rosary meditations consisted of multiples of 50, the Rosary had to be a "read" prayer; the worshipper had to have a book before him listing the points. The Rosary could not become a universal devotion or a communal prayer until it was simplified. As early as 1480, Rosaries of 50 mysteries were reduced to five, one for each decade. In 1483, a Rosary book written by a Dominican, Our Dear Lady's Psalter, cut down the 150 points to 15, all of which, except the last two, corresponded to the present mysteries. The Coronation was combined with the Assumption and the Last Judgment was the 15th mystery. The Dominican Alberto da Castello, in 1521, in his book The Rosary of the Glorious Virgin Mary, united the old and the new form of the mysteries (a term he was the first to apply to the meditations). To each Our Father he attached a mystery, but kept the old series of 150 in connection with the Hail Marys. These became submysteries for the mystery of the Our Father. During the 16th century, the Rosary of 15 mysteries gradually prevailed.
The vocal prayers of the Rosary were completed during the same century with the addition of the Glory Be to the Father and the second half of the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, etc." Since the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, the prayer taught by Mary to the children has often been added to each decade: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in greatest need."
A Rosary bull of Pius V, in 1569, and the introduction of the Feast of the Rosary in 1573, helped to standardize the Rosary by presenting it as a combined vocal and mental prayer and regarding the meditations as essential parts of the devotion.
Spread of the Rosary. Though the Carthusians had made significant contributions to the development of the Rosary, the Dominicans did most to propagate it and render it a general, community prayer. They accomplished this with their Rosary books, preaching, and promotion of the Rosary Confraternity. Other orders soon joined them, and great saints, notably Peter Canisius, Philip Neri, and Louis de Montfort became Rosary advocates. Beginning with Leo XIII, the "Pope of the Rosary," the popes worked to maintain the Rosary as a traditional, popular prayer and to propagate it. The many indulgences that enrich its use, especially the plenary indulgence granted by Pius XI in 1938 for reciting it in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, enhance its appeal to the faithful. Even while extolling the liturgy, Pius XII did not neglect to commend the Rosary and other venerable devotions.
Bibliography: f. m. willam, The Rosary: Its History and Meaning, tr. e. kaiser (New York 1953). j. g. shaw, The Story of the Rosary (Milwaukee 1954). m. ward, The Splendor of the Rosary (New York 1945). h. thurston, "The Rosary," Month 96 (1900) 403–18, 513–27, 620–37; 97 (1901) 67–79, 172–88, 286–304. a. duval, "Les Frères Prêcheurs et le rosaire," Maria, ed. h. du manoir de juaye (Paris 1949–) 2:768–82. m. mahÉ, "Aux Sources de nôtre rosaire," La Vie spirituelle Supplement 4 (1951) 100–20. Works favorable to the St. Dominic tradition. w. g. most, Mary in Our Life (3d ed. New York 1959) 228–33, 279–87. d. mÉzard, Étude sur les origines du rosaire (Caluire, France 1912). m. m. gorce, Le Rosaire et ses antécédents historiques (Paris 1931).
[w. a. hinnebusch/eds.]
Prayer beads are also used in other religions (e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism: see MĀLĀ; Jap. Buddhism: see NENJU), and are referred to in English as ‘rosaries’. Thus, many Sikhs use a rosary (mālā) to assist meditation. See also NĀM SIMARAN. In Islam, the subḥa (Arab., sabbaḥa, ‘praise God’, cf. subḥān Allāh, ‘Glory to God!’) is the Muslim string of prayer beads, in three groups, divided by two larger beads (imām), with a larger piece serving as a handle. By different reckonings, the total is always 100—Allāh + his Ninety-nine Beautiful Names. See NĀFILA.
ro·sa·ry / ˈrōzərē/ • n. (pl. -ries) (in the Roman Catholic Church) a form of devotion in which five (or fifteen) decades of Hail Marys are repeated, each decade preceded by an Our Father and followed by a Glory Be: the congregation said the rosary. ∎ a string of beads for keeping count in such a devotion or in the devotions of some other religions, in Roman Catholic use 55 or 165 in number. ∎ a book containing such a devotion.
The word comes (in late Middle English, in the sense ‘rose garden’) from Latin rosarium rose-garden, from rosa ‘rose’. In the 16th century (from which this meaning dates) the word was also used as the title of a book of devotion.