Saint Dominic Institutes the Rosary
"The Rosary. There is no devotion not connected wit the Liturgy or Office of the Church which has been more widely extended, or been taken up, age after age, by persons of every rank and station than the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin. In its present form it was instituted by the great Saint Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the Order of Friars Preachers. But grew out of a devotion older than Christianity, and a mode of prayer that dates back to a very early period. The Psalms of David were in constant use as prayers among the Jews; the primitive Christians adopted them, and the pious, as well as all who, as hermits or monks, sought religious perfection, recited the whole hundred and fifty psalms daily. Of this there are constant proofs in the early ages. Some, who could not read and were too dull to remember so much, were allowed to recite, instead, the Lord’s Prayer the same number of times; later, the Angelical Salutation was substituted for the Lord’s Prayer. To keep the record of these prayers, belts or strings of beads were used; in fact, our word bead is from the same source as the German beten, and means to pray.
That the mind should not be unoccupied during the recital of these prayers, the Life of our Lord and His Blessed Mother was commended as a matter of meditation. Saint Dominic divided the hundred and fifty beads into three parts, each containing five decades of ten beads, and assigned to each part five mysteries of the life of our Lord. The Joyful Mysteries were the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity of our Lord, His Presentation in the Temple, and His Finding in the Temple. The Sorrowful Mysteries, forming the second part, included His Bloody Sweat, His Scourging, His Crowning with Thorns, the Carriage of the Cross, His Crucifixion. The Glorious Mysteries, which were the subject of the third part, were the Resurrection of the Lord, His Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, His Assumption of His Blessed Mother into Heaven, and her Coronation. The division was simple, easily grasped, full of pious thought, and kept before the people the chief events in the history of our Redemption. It became the general devotion in all countries of Europe, and the rosary was said by all, from the king of his throne to the leper and the beggar.
The full fifteen decades form a rosary; that the general use called a chaplet or pair of beads, consists of five decades, each of a large bead for the Our Father and ten smaller ones for the Hail Marys; where the ends join, the chain is continued by three small beads and two larger, a crucifix or medal being attached to the end. These are for the introductory prayers, the Creed, Our Father, and three Hail Marys, with a Glory be to the Father, etc. These form no part of the rosary properly so called.
It is usual, when the rosary is said in public, to call the several mysteries to mind by a few preliminary words. When the rosary is said with others, a leader or person saying it, who need not even be a cleric, recites half of each prayer, and the rest recite the other half. After the five decades are said, it is usual to sing or recite the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.
Saint Dominic, who had labored almost in vain to convert the Albigenses, had no sooner introduced this devotion than a change was at once seen. Hearts that no arguments could move were attracted by this devotion; the work of conversion was rapid. St. Dominic reaped a harvest of souls, and the Blessed Virgin a harvest of glory.
From that day to this the devotion of the rosary has never lost its hold on the affections of the faithful. It became the prayer in which they were gathered together for general particular wants. When Europe was menaced by the Turks the rosary was said with fervor, and while the Sodality of the Rosary were walking in solemn procession through the streets of Rome, praying for victory of the Christian army, the battle was raging at Lepanto, October 7, 1571, and the Turkish power on the seas was broken forever. It was not the band of men that broke the power which had so long threatened Europe; it was the hand of God, put forth in answer to the prayers of the Confraternity of the Rosary.
The reigning Pontiff, St. Pius V., in gratitude for so signal a favor, ordered the first Sunday in October to be observed as an annual commemoration in the Church of St. Mary of Victory; this feast was extended to other churches and countries by other Popes, till at last, after another victory, Clement XI., in 1716, made the Festival of the Rosary a feast for the Universal Church.
There are few devotions to which the Holy See has granted so many indulgences as to the rosary: one hundred days for each Our Father and Hail Mary, and a plenary indulgence once a year to those who approach the Sacrament of Penance, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the wants of the Church. To gain these indulgences, the beads must be blessed by a priest who has received faculties from the Pope, and the person must say the rosary, meditating on the mystery assigned to each decade.
Besides the Confraternity of the Rosary, another has been established in this century. This is the Confraternity of the Living Rosary. In this, five persons are associated, each saying one decade each day, so that the five say the whole chaplet; two similar beads, with them, will thus recite the whole rosary daily. This is called the Living Rosary, and the fruits produced by it have been so great and manifest, that the holy Fathers have enriched it with my indulgences.
Nothing should deter Catholics from adhering to a devotion so holy, so consoling. Many, indeed, think it one of the ignorant only; but this is a grave error. Mediation on the life of our Lord is something to occupy the most exalted and the most cultivated minds, and give them light and strength. The example of officers in the army and navy, who faithfully adhered to this pious practice, would alone suffice to show that the greatest ability and learning are found among the faithful adherents to this devotion, which is, in itself, an almost certain test of real Christianity."
Source: The Catholic Instructor: An Educational Library of Ready Reference [pages 513-515] Published by the Office of Catholic Publications 1910 – Imprimatur Johannes M. Farley, D.D., Archiepiscopus – New York, May 16, 1910
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