As usual I’m late. This time it’s in response to October being dedicated to the rosary, primarily because Oct. 7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This annual feast day commemorates the Battle of Lepanto, when the ships of the Holy League, though outnumbered, defeated an Ottoman fleet on Oct. 7, 1571. Prior to the battle, Pope Pius V requested that the faithful of Europe pray the rosary, asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary in the naval engagement. The pope attributed the victory of the Catholic side more to the rosary than to military prowess.
The history of the rosary can be traced to the Middle Ages, when monks often prayed all 150 psalms each day and the laity were encouraged to recite the Lord’s Prayer 150 times. To keep track of all those prayers, they counted them on a ring of beads. As devotion to Mary became more popular, “Hail Mary” replaced “Our Father.” In the 14th century, the prayers were divided into 15 groups of 10 each, and another 100 years later these decades were arranged as the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. In 2002 Pope John Paul II added the luminous mysteries to the rosary.
I have been Catholic all my life, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I encountered anything other than a five-decade rosary. I’d seen Dominican priests with rosaries dangling from their belts, but never knew those were different in any way other than size from the one I carried in my purse. However, the Dominican rosary has only one bead, not five, between the crucifix and decades, because they begin the rosary in the same way as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A year or so after making that discovery, I was on pilgrimage in Italy, and one of my fellow pilgrims purchased a rosary. Unwrapping it, she discovered it had seven sets of seven beads rather than five sets of 10. This is known as a Servite rosary, which focuses on the seven sorrows of Mary.
Also common are the rosary bracelet and the rosary ring, each with 10 beads. A little research then revealed a chaplet rosary, which varies in the number of beads per group and often has the image of a patron saint whose intercession is sought when the chaplet is prayed. In addition, there is the Franciscan rosary, which comes in two varieties: the Franciscan Crown, with its seven decades and two additional Hail Mary beads; and the 15-decade rosary. Another form of the Franciscan rosary is similar to the traditional five-decade rosary but has a Tau cross in place of the crucifix. Meanwhile, the Bridgettine rosary that traditionally is carried by Discalced Carmelites has six decades.
Another thing I was surprised to learn two years ago is that the “Hail Mary” prayer, until about the 16th century, was simply these two sentences: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” The next word in the prayer as we know it today, Jesus, was probably added in the 13th century; the last sentence – “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” – was tacked on during the 16th century.
Saints and popes throughout the ages extol the benefits of praying the rosary. Pope Leo XIII wrote 12 encyclicals on the devotion. Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter “On the Most Holy Rosary,” proclaimed, “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.”
St. Therese of Lisieux called the rosary “a long chain that links heaven and earth. … The rosary prayer rises like incense to the feet of the Almighty. Mary responds at once like a beneficial dew, bringing new life to human hearts.”
Then there is Our Lady herself, who told St. Dominic, “If you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my rosary.”
Therefore, let us pick up our beads and begin to pray.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.