Our Lady of the Rosary
I t was on 7 October 1571 that the great naval battle of Lepanto was fought against the invading Turks. The victory of Europe in this famous battle saved Christian civilization. It was to gratefully commemorate Mary’s role in this victory that Pope St Pius V instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory on this date. Later popes, in keeping with the fact that the victory was basically the fruit of the rosary, termed it the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
The origin of the Rosary itself dates to a revelation in a vision by Our Lady herself to St Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, in the 13th century. The Rosary devotion as such, however, was popularized by a Dominican preacher, Alan de la Roche (d.1475) and his confreres, in northern France and Flanders, whence it spread to the rest of Europe. Pope Leo X accorded the Rosary official approbation in 1520 and went on to declare October the month of the Holy Rosary. The feast was permanently placed on the liturgical calendar of the Universal Church in 1716 when Prince Eugene won another important victory over the same enemy in Hungary and rightly so, for the 15 mysteries (now 20) of the rosary are virtually a summary of the Church’s liturgical year, presenting as they do Christian truth comprehensively and graphically.
The term “rosary” comes from the Latin rosarium that alternately implies a rose garden, a bed of roses, a garland of flowers, and a collection of nice quotes. The roots of the Christian rosary lie in an ancient daily prayer devotion of reciting 150 times the Our Father, later simplified to the Hail Mary 150 times, the largely illiterate Christians of the Middle-Ages using strings of beads to keep count. The Rosary as we use it today is a simplified version of the Dominican Rosary which consisted of 15 decades of the Hail Mary to the accompaniment of a meditation on 15 mysteries pertaining to the life, suffering, death and glorification of Jesus and of Mary based on scripture. These mysteries fall into three divisions, called “chaplets”, of 5 mysteries each, viz., the “Joyful Mysteries” the annunciation of Christ’s incarnation to Mary (Lk 1:26-38), her visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1:39- 56), the birth of Jesus (Lk 2:6-7), his presentation in the temple (Lk 2:22-38), his being found in the temple (Lk 2:41-52); the “Sorrowful Mysteries” which constitute a single great mystery, viz., the passion of Christ the agony of Christ in the garden (Mt 26:36-46), his scourging (Mt 27:26), his crowning with thorns (Mt 27:28-3]), the carrying of the cross (Jn 19:16-1 7), the crucifixion and death of Christ (Jn 19:18-30); the “Glorious Mysteries” the resurrection of Jesus (Mt 28:1-11), his ascension into heaven (Lk 24:50-52), his sending of the Holy Spirit on the apostles (Acts 2:1-4), the assumption of Mary into heaven and her coronation as Queen of heaven and earth. The last two, of course, are derived not from scripture but from the prayer life of Christians and help sharpen our appreciation of prayer as a means of meditation. That Mary is “assumed” means that she is the disciple most “awake”, and thus the most suitable to hear us express ourselves in prayer. With her as listener, we develop the art of praising the Triune God to a “third person”. The “coronation” signifies Mary’s traditional queenly role whereby she carries our prayers to Jesus, her Lord and King and ours, absorbing them into her own and leaving aside whatever may be unworthy. The rosary thus possesses great power to enlighten and sanctify those who pray it, and, according to Pope Pius XII, has a special efficacy of intercession.
Pope John Paul II, through his Apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae of 16 October 2002, has added a set of five new mysteries to the rosary, viz., the “Luminous Mysteries”: The Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan (Mt 3:1-17), his self- manifestation at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-12), Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom with a call to conversion (Mk 1:14- 15), his Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-35) and the institution of the Eucharist as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery (in 13:1-15).
The rosary is a perfect form of prayerful tribute to the Trinity, commencing as it does with the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, followed by the Our Father, the Hail Mary thrice and the Doxology. Each decade of the Hail Mary is then preceded by the Our Father and concludes with the Doxology, thus highlighting the significance of the Lord’s Prayer, which remains the key prayer of the rosary. The Doxology is then followed by Mary’s own prayer given at Fatima in 1917: “0 my Jesus, forgive us our sins! Save us from the fires of hell! Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who most need your mercy!” Each set of 5 decades, however, concludes with the recitation of the “Hail Holy Queen!”, thus acknowledging Mary’s ongoing role in our salvation as only next to that of Jesus.