The Rosary and Us

An article by Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

October is the month of the rosary. Allow me to reflect on this ancient yet ever new form of prayer. Why October? It all started when Pope Pius V, a Dominican, dedicated October 7 as the feast of Mary Our Lady of the Rosary after the battle of Lepanto. In this naval battle of October 7, 1571, the smaller Christian army fought the much larger and powerful Ottoman Turks’ forces that planned to invade Europe at the Gulf of Lepanto in Greece. While the battle was being waged, the Holy Pontiff and all Christians prayed the rosary asking the intercession of Our Lady. After hours of confrontation, the enemy’s fleet was roundly defeated.

However, the devotion to the rosary itself began even much earlier. In fact, the prayer was a product of a long evolution. The devotion actually began as a lay spiritual movement. In the early middle ages, the monks and nuns in the monasteries recited 150 Psalms of the Old Testament as part of their daily prayer. The practice was ideal to sanctify the entire day as the recitation of the Psalms was distributed during the important hours of the day (thus, Liturgy of the Hours). Yet, this was not for the lay people. They had no copy of the Bible, least the ability to read it. Thus, the lay people who desired to make their day holy, started to recite 150 ‘Our Father’. To keep track of the prayer, they also made use of a long cord with knots on it. After some time, they prayed 50 Our Father at three different times of the day.

In the 12th century, the Angelic salutation formula “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” became part of this 150 ‘Our Father’ prayer. Shortly after this, the meditation on mysteries of the life of Jesus and Mary began to be incorporated into this devotion. Gradually, it evolved into 150 ‘Hail Mary’. St. Dominic de Guzman and his Order of Preachers received special mandate from the Virgin herself to promote this ‘Psalter of Mary’. In the 15th century, that devotion acquired the name Rosarium (rose garden). In 1569, the same Pope Pius V issued the papal decree ‘Consueverunt Romani Pontifices’ that regulated and standardized the praying of the Rosary, taking into account its long history and its Dominican tradition. He also affirmed the efficaciousness of the rosary as one of the many means to obtain graces and indulgence. The praying of the rosary continues to evolve even to this day. The latest major innovation was from Saint John Paul II who added five mysteries of Light.

October then turns to be a fitting time to intensify our praying of the rosary and to remember the role of Mary and her rosary in the life of the Church and our lives. I guess more importantly we remember that rosary was born from the desire of lay people to be holy. The rosary came from the simple hands of ordinary people who recited the Our Father and Hail Mary and meditated on the mysteries of salvation. We pray the rosary because it is a devotion that comes from the hearts of the laity. When we pray the rosary, we pray together with Mary who is a lay woman. When we pray the rosary, because we, just like countless people, desire to be closer to God in a simplest and humblest way.