The Rosary is my favorite prayer. A marvelous prayer. Marvelous in its simplicity and its depth.— Pope St. John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 2
The Rosary is not merely a string of beads with a crucifix attached. It is a centuries-old beloved prayer of the Catholic Church and has an interesting background. Some say that the use of beads to count prayers dates back to the Middle Ages. In fact, the Desert Fathers used beads for keeping track of prayers in the fourth century. The Rosary itself was gradually developed between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. Tradition holds that St. Dominic (d. 1221) received the Rosary from the Blessed Mother and went on to preach the use of the Rosary through his missionary work in France among the Albigensians, who did not believe in the Incarnation of Christ. There is some disagreement about whether the fully evolved Rosary was initiated by St. Dominic.
Some scholars say the Rosary is not mentioned in the earliest accounts of his life, nor is he associated with the Rosary in any of the Dominican constitutions. Some say that the Rosary took on a long and gradual development beginning before St. Dominic’s time and that it had attained its final form well after St. Dominic’s time. Whether or not St. Dominic devised the Rosary, he certainly passionately and successfully preached its use to convert sinners and those who had lost their faith. As well, several popes have paid tribute to St. Dominic’s affiliation with the Rosary.
It is believed that a miracle occurred when St. Dominic placed a rosary over a possessed man’s neck: thousands of demons were expelled. A couple of centuries later, Blessed Alain de La Roche (d. 1475) worked tirelessly to restore the devotion of the Rosary, which had fallen out of popularity. He established Rosary confraternities and developed the Dominican Rosary.
Some people complain that it takes too long to pray the Rosary or that it is repetitive. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen artistically described the prayer of the Rosary. He said, “The Rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the Rosary is beyond description.”
Archbishop Sheen was certainly not the only one who believed in the power of the Rosary. Many of the saints and many popes have extolled its efficacy. St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, teaches that although the Rosary has been around for ages, it “has lost none of the freshness.” He said it is “destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness” (no. 1). St. Padre Pio called it the “weapon” for our time. He said, “Some people are so foolish that they think they can go through life without the help of the Blessed Mother. Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today. All graces given by God pass through the Blessed Mother.”
The prayer of the Rosary is responsible for an amazing victory in the 1500s, when Muslim Turks attacked Eastern Europe. In 1571, Pope Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria, the half brother of King Philip II of Spain. The pope asked the faithful to pray that God would grant victory to the Christians through praying the Rosary and begging the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Victory. On October 7, 1571, the Christian and Muslim fleets fought the Battle of Lepanto. The Christian flagship flew a blue banner to symbolize Christ crucified. Although the Christians were ridiculously outnumbered, the Muslims were defeated in the battle. The following year, Pope St. Pius V established October 7 as the feast of the Holy Rosary. This beautiful feast reminds us of this great victory and calls us to be thankful and not to hesitate to beseech the Mother of God through her Rosary.
During his homily on May 13, 1982, St. John Paul II connected the Mother of God and her Rosary with the universal call to repentance. He stated, “The call to repentance is a motherly one, and at the same time it is strong and decisive. The love that ‘rejoices in the truth’ (cf. 1 Cor 13:6) is capable of being clear-cut and firm. The call to repentance is linked, as always, with a call to prayer.” Our Lady of the Rosary requests our prayers and prays with us. Throughout her apparitions she asked the shepherd children to pray the Rosary daily. St. John Paul II pointed out, “In harmony with the tradition of many centuries, the Lady of the message indicates the Rosary, which can rightly be defined as ‘Mary’s prayer’: the prayer in which she feels particularly united with us. She herself prays with us.”
The Rosary is powerful. Sr. Lucia had poignantly stated, “The Most Holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families, . . . that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the Holy Rosary.”
As we move through this third week of Advent, we see that Lucia gives us great counsel about the Rosary’s power to solve problems. St. John Paul II told us that Mother Mary prays with us when we pray the Rosary. We should find this to be quite amazing! The pontiff also reminded us of our responsibility to repent and that “the call to repentance is linked, as always, with a call to prayer.” Our Lady of Fatima consistently requested the daily Rosary for peace, to prevent future catastrophes, and for the conversion of sinners. St. John Paul II told us that the Rosary is “destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.” Let’s be sure to do our very best to pray the Rosary with attention and love, and let us pray that the triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart be accomplished very soon.
Dear Jesus and Our Lady of Fatima, please help me not to be stingy in my prayers this Advent. Help me to be generous like Lucia, Francisco, and little Jacinta! Our Lady of Fatima and St. John Paul II, please pray for me.
Pray the Rosary today in honor of Our Lady of Fatima and for peace in the world.
Offer a sacrifice in reparation for sinners, as Our Lady of Fatima has asked. Offered lovingly, our sacrifices please God and help to convert sinners, as well as transform our own souls! Strive to convert your heart today with God’s grace and Mother Mary’s help, remembering that conversion of heart should be a daily occurrence.
Also check out Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s latest book, Family Consecration to Jesus through Mary: 33 Days of Preparation with Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. You can read a free excerpt in the article “True Devotion to Mary Unites Us With Jesus”.