WHY DO CATHOLICS SAY THE ROSARY?
Repeating the same prayer or formula many times is a practice in some religions. It is thought that repetition makes the prayer more effective. The idea of repetition prevails in the use of mantrams and tantric formulae.
Among Christians too there arose from the early Middle Ages the practice of repeating especially the Lord's Prayer. The Irish monks, who came as missionaries to the European continent, required that the lay brothers in their monasteries should say fifty psalms or fifty Our Fathers for a deceased monk. The practice of reciting Our Fathers instead of the psalms was taken up by the laity too. The fifty Our Fathers became the ’psalter of the laity’. To count the prayers, strings of beads were used, from which originated the custom of Rosary beads.
There is the story that in a vision the Blessed Virgin revealed the Rosary to St Dominic (1170-1221), founder of the Friars Preachers or Dominicans. However, it was by a gradual process that the Rosary, as we know it now, took shape.
Following the pattern of recitation of fifty Our Fathers, there evolved towards the end of the 12th century the practice of reciting, from devotion to Mary, 150 Hail Marys, corresponding to the 150 psalms of the Old Testament psalter. In the early part of the 15th century, a Carthusian, Dominic of Prussia, helped to popularize the recitation of this psalter of Hail Marys. Another Carthusian, Henry of Kalkar, divided the Hail Marys into decades, inserting an Our Father at the commencement of each decade. Meditation on the mysteries, while reciting the Hail Marys, was a feature added to the psalter. A book of 1483 by a Dominican, Our Dear Lady's Psclzlter, speaks of fifteen mysteries.
Finally the Rosary, as now being used, was officially established in the Church by Pope St Pius V (1566-1572) by his bull of 1569. It was two years later, on 7 October 1571, that the Christian forces of the Holy League, under the command of the Spanish admiral, Don Iohn of Austria, gained a decisive victory over the Turks at the battle of Lepanto, a victory ascribed to the power of the Rosary. The feast of the Holy Rosary, on 7 October, was instituted as a feast of the universal Church by Pope Clement XI (1667-1669).
The Rosary is a simple, practical and devotional form of prayer to Our Lady that has evolved from Christian piety in the course of history and has become popular throughout the Catholic world. It combines both vocal and mental prayer, for while the lips pronounce the Hail Marys, the mind reflects on the divine mysteries.
Of saints who had a great regard for the Rosary and sought to popularize it, mention may be made of St Louis Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716). His book The Secret 0f the Rosary is well known.
It is significant that both at Lourdes and Fatima Our Lady appeared with the Rosary and particularly at Fatima urged the pious recitation of it. In this way she reveals her predilection for this particular type of prayer and sets the seal, as it were, on what had spontaneously originated from the piety of the faithful.