The early history of the Rosary Confraternity

The official society of the Rosary is often presented in terms of the obligations and privileges with which it has been enriched by the Church. There are indeed certain prayers to be said and there are blessings to be gained, but if one is to enter into the depths beneath these duties and graces one must search for the spirituality that initially inspired this society.

Alan de la Roche who gives testimony to the Dominican origins of the Rosary describes the Confraternity in amazingly strong terms: the Society of the Slaves of Jesus and Mary in the Chain of the Rosary. The holy and willing slavery together with the chain of the Rosary form the basis of the brother/sisterhood. Alan gives a detailed account of how the members entrust themselves as loyal and loving servants to the Queen of heaven, and how they mutually support each other by the sharing of spiritual riches. St. Louis Marie de Montfort several centuries later seems to have taken inspiration from this statement when he preached the true devotion to Mary.

It was in the year 1486 that Michael de Insulis appeared in the University of Cologne at the time of public debates, with his Defence of the Rosary Confraternity. This author's work was so important and so beautifully designed and illustrated that the five copies that existed in Italy were seized as war booty by Napoleon and brought to the National Library in Paris, where they are to be found today.
The teaching of Michael de Insulis, or Francois de Lille as he is named in the Paris catalogue, is of profound importance for an understanding of the true nature of the Rosary Confraternity. He made it clear that fraternity or fellowship in the Holy Spirit was an essential element of the Rosary as a shared prayer. He took his inspiration from verse 3 of Psalm 118: I share as companion with all those who keep your law.

A complete consecration to Jesus and Mary

This sharing is not confined to the saying of prayers, but embraces concern for the whole spiritual and bodily welfare of one's companions. It is primarily concerned with the sharing of the supernatural values, which arise from the intercessory prayer and good works of all members. Those who wish to join, are asked to make a complete consecration of themselves to the Blessed Virgin, allowing her, in her gracious wisdom, to share out the combined treasury of grace with the whole group. We can see from this, that what we are talking about in the true Rosary fellowship, is not a question of counting of heads, or being together in one place or united in one voice. The oneness aimed at is a oneness in Christ.

William Pepin

That other great preacher of the Rosary Confraternity, William Pepin, a contemporary of Michael de Insulis, has left us a splendid collection of sermons on this subject of the shared spirituality of the Rosary. He pointed to the text: All that I have, is yours...' Luke 15:31: which comes from the story of the Prodigal Son. The father gives the elder son a powerful lesson in the matter of sharing with his brother. In those words, 'All that is mine, is yours,' the father is telling him to assume the authority of an elder brother. The generous father tells his first-born that he is perfectly entitled, indeed obliged, to go into the family treasure- room, and take out what is necessary for the younger needy one. He is being challenged to put the cloak of mercy on his brother's back, to put the shoes on his feet, and the ring of loving relationship on his finger. The cloak is for protection, the shoes are for freedom - only slaves went barefoot. The ring symbolises love, friendship, covenant relationship. Celebrate our brothers and sisters

Members of the true Rosary Confraternity are expected to exercise this same ministry towards their fellow members, that is to support and upbuild each other as the Father of the Prodigal did and as the Elder Brother ought to have done. Far from the begrudgery of one who has 'slaved all these years', the long-standing elders should realise that everything the father has is already their own, and that they are perfectly entitled to kill the fatted calf themselves and to celebrate their brothers and sisters. They claim that authority, not for their own selfish interests, but for the common good of all.

Step out with head held high

The Book of Revelation speaks of those who win the victory and are given the right to share the throne. Rosary leaders then, have should not disclaim this God-given authority. If, out of false humility, they do so, then others suffer by their failure to act as true elder brothers or sisters. William Pepin continues: every member of the Rosary Confraternity should step out with head held high, not only to claim personal inheritance, but to share it in a spirit of Christian fellowship. As persons of the royal blood we enjoy innumerable privileges which, however, bring with them obligations of love and service in the royal household of the Confraternity.