The Origins of the Rosary


By Wilberforce
The Rosary is a Marian spiritual exercise that connects one with the reality of the life of Jesus Christ. One traces the origin from St Dominic who had an apparition of Our Lady and was instructed on the Holy Rosary. Its mysteries focus on the Incarnation, public ministry, The Passion and glorification of Jesus and Our Lady. In a word, it is a compendium of the life of Jesus and Mary His Mother.

St John Paul II teaches that, “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character; is at heart a Christocentric prayer.” Speaking of the Origin of Rosary, there are two traditions given. The first states of St Dominic who had an apparition of our Lady while the other states the origin around the 12th Century when Christological and Marian devotions rose simultaneously.
The first Tradition states that the rise of the Tradition to Our Lady in connection with St Dominic and it is a debatable issue. This Tradition teaches that Mary appeared to Dominic and advised him to pray; this is propagated significantly by Alan de la Roche. However, it lacks strong supporting facts. Another line of thought connected to St Dominic claims that the Rosary proceeds from St Dominic’s style of preaching. It says that Dominic, highly inspired by Our Lady magnificently and beautifully proclaimed the truths of faith.

The second Tradition states that there was a devotion that came into use in the Church around 1130 which was called “Greeting Psalters”. Greeting psalters originated from the paraliturgical recitation of the Psalms, in which the antiphons were replaced by strophes applying some verse of the relevant psalms to the blessed Virgin. The one hundred and fifty verse antiphons all begin with the angelic greeting. This strophic Psalter was assigned to the seven days of the week, and later the psalms themselves were replaced by Hail Marys and new antiphons, which had no connection with the Psalms, substituted for the original ones.

Marian devotion gradually evolved together with Christological devotions. These devotions attracted many faithful, especially the religious of the time. With the growth of the number of the literate faithful, participation in the liturgy became more for the literate. To encourage the participation of the unlettered, recitation of fifty ‘Our Fathers’ was introduced. This was a substitute for the Psalms which the illiterate could not recite from the breviary. The ‘Our Fathers’ were often divided into sets of fifties taking the form of the Psalms. To make sure that sets were completely done, strings of beads (Paternosters) came into being and were used to count the prayers.

The Marian devotions also took shape taking similar form of ‘Paternosters’. The faithful in sharing the joys of Our Lady saluted her with liturgical antiphons especially Gabriel’s Ave Maria. The belief was that by re-proclaiming Ave Maria, one would re-live the joys of the annunciation. Hilda Graef in the book:Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion says, “The antiphons which would have to be known by heart or read in a book, were left out and simply one hundred and fifty Hail Marys were recited, interspersed with Glorias and divided into groups of fifty which were called rosarium after the Marian title of Rosa Mystica. They were counted on beads, which had also come into use in the first half of the twelfth century”.In the same vein St John Paul II edifies that, “The traditional aid used for the recitation of the Rosary is the set of beads. At the most superficial level; the beads often become a simple counting mechanism to mark the succession of Hail Marys. Yet they can also take on a symbolism which can give added depth to contemplation”.

The Citation of the joy of visitation, the words of Elizabeth “Blessed art thou among women” (Lk 1:42) were added to the Ave in the twelfth Century. In the thirteenth Century the name of Jesus was added in the Hail Mary. Later on the Church added the request for the forgiveness of sins through the intercessions of Our Lady.

These are the origins of the Rosary.With the Rosary, the people of God sit at the school of Mary and are led to ponder the beauty of the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Therefore, it is true to say that, the Blessed Rosary of Mary is a sweet chain linking Christ and the faithful to God.The main message however, whatever its exact origins, it is the beauty of the Rosary and its central role as a major prayer that is given high prominence within the Church and which our Church Fathers always exhort us to pray everyday. Does the Memorare prayer not say that never has anyone who has sought refuge in Mary Our Mother been left handed. Hundreds of testimonies abound of many good things that have happened after the faithful have turned their focus to the Rosary. The Holy Father Pope, and His predecessors are always seen holding the Rosary in their hands. Have you noticed that sometimes when you meet Bishop Mupa, if you look carefully he is often holding the Rosary, hidden from obvious sight and with his fingers somewhere in the middle of the Rosary? A beautiful sight that engenders hope and faith. We can learn from these examples to pray the Rosary whenever we can.

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