Spirituality Year of the Rosary

The year running from Oct. 2002 - Oct. 2003 has been declared the "Year of the Rosary" by Pope, John-Paul II (cf. Apostolic Letter "Rosarium Virginis Marić", 16th of October 2002). We will post articles on this "prayer loved by so many saints and encouraged by the Magisterium of the Church".

September - October 2003

Rosary and contemplation

July - August 2003

Leo XIII and the Rosary

May - June 2003

Encyclical of Pope Piux XII: Ingruentium Malorum

March - April 2003

The Battle of Lepanto and the Holy Rosary

January - February 2003

The Ave Maria

November - December 2002

History of the Rosary

September - October 2003: Rosary and contemplation

Mary, model of contemplation
10. The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7).
Thereafter Mary's gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of a mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).

Mary's memories
11. Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son's side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.
Even now, amid the joyful songs of the heavenly Jerusalem, the reasons for her thanksgiving and praise remain unchanged. They inspire her maternal concern for the pilgrim Church, in which she continues to relate her personal account of the Gospel. Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.

The Rosary, a contemplative prayer
12. The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI clearly pointed out: “Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: 'In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words' (Mt 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed”.
(John-Paul II in "Rosarium Virginis Marić", 16th of October 2002) 

July - August 2003: Leo XIII and the Rosary

Pope Leo XIII is known for his development of the social doctrine of the Church, but few people remember that he used to be called the Pope of the Rosary. In an age “when all evils combine to oppress the Church under their weight”, Leo XIII had recourse to a line of action that had born rich fruits in the past, and exhorted a return to the Holy Rosary of St. Dominic and St. Pius V.

This is why in his encyclical of 1st September 1883 he “decrees and orders that throughout the whole Catholic world the following feast of Our Lady of the Rosary be celebrated with a particular piety and with all the solemnities of the cult: from 1st October to 2nd November at least five decades of the Rosary are to be recited piously in all parish churches followed by the Litanies of Loretto.“ In a declaration of 24th December 1883 the Holy Father expressed his joy that the Catholic people had everywhere been so obedient to his orders. He asked for perseverence in this practice. On 30th August 1884 he renewed for the month of October the prescriptions of the previous year. “Since the attack by the enemies of Christianity is unrelenting, the constancy and energy of the defenders should be no less vigorous…”

On the 20th August 1885 a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites ordered that the practice be continued every year as long as this sad state of affairs lasts for the Church and for public affairs.” In the course of the extraordinary jubilee of 1886 the Pope decided to place the jubilee under the patronage of Our Lady of the Rosary. The jubilee year had not ended, with the devotions of the month of the Rosary still in progress, before the Pope wrote to Cardinal Parocchi on the 26th October 1886, his vicar for the city of Rome, that he should establish the daily recitation of the Rosary in the parishes of Rome.

On the 15th August 1889, this time in an encyclical, he inculcated once more in the faithful the necessity of constant prayer to the celestial powers in the combat against the forces of Satan. Having shown in a wonderful fashion the importance of St. Joseph’s titles as patron of the Universal Church, he asked that this great saint be invoked during the month of October at the same time as Mary. This is the reason why a prayer to St. Joseph composed by Leo XIII is recited every day of this month after the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament.

In short, since 1st September 1883 when the Pope had established by concrete facts the marvellous power of the prayer of the Holy Rosary, he was pleased to insist upon its recitation no less than seven times more. In an encyclical of 22nd September 1891, while changing his method and raising the tone, he considered the Rosary in itself. In magisterial fashion he analysed this Marian devotion and revealed the secret of its incomparable value. He shows how Mary is the Mediatrix in the Economy of Salvation. Our prayers must therefore be addressed to her with confidence, and of all the methods of prayers that there are none is to be preferred to the Holy Rosary: it is such a marvellous composition of meditation and vocal prayer that one would not imagine a method more agreable to the Virgin or more salutary for our souls.

For several years in a row at the approach of the month of October great encyclicals continued to appear on the Rosary. That of 7th September 1892 resumed in a first section the line of teaching begun in the previous encyclical, and went on to develop the idea of the Rosary as a remedy against the corruption of the world, because it is such an easy means of impressing upon the mind the principal dogmas of the Christian faith.

All of his encyclicals on the Holy Rosary would develop this guiding principle, with the exception of the encyclical of 1895 which was concerned to show how the Rosary is a method of achieving the spiritual union of souls.

Leo XIII wrote his last encyclical on the Rosary in 1898, announcing in it his intention to crown his work by a final document, a constitution on the rights and privileges enjoyed by the Confraternities of the Rosary. This apostolic constitution of 2nd October 1898 was followed on 30th August 1899 by the official catalogue of the indulgences of the Rosary. With his Marian work accomplished, Leo XIII gave up his soul to God on the 20th July 1903.

May - June 2003: Encyclical of Pope Pius XII Ingruentium Malorum on reciting the Rosary

12. But it is above all in the bosom of the family that We desire the custom of the Holy Rosary to be everywhere adopted, religiously preserved, and ever more intensely practiced. In vain is a remedy sought for the wavering fate of civil life, if the family, the principle and foundation of the human community, is not fashioned after the pattern of the Gospel.

13. To undertake such a difficult duty, We affirm that the custom of the family recitation of the Holy Rosary is a most efficacious means. What a sweet sight - most pleasing to God - when, at eventide, the Christian home resounds with the frequent repetition of praises in honor of the august Queen of Heaven! Then the Rosary, recited in common, assembles before the image of the Virgin, in an admirable union of hearts, the parents and their children, who come back from their daily work. It unites them piously with those absent and those dead. It links all more tightly in a sweet bond of love, with the most Holy Virgin, who, like a loving mother, in the circle of her children, will be there bestowing upon them an abundance of the gifts of concord and family peace.

14. Then the home of the Christian family, like that of Nazareth, will become an earthly abode of sanctity, and, so to speak, a sacred temple, where the Holy Rosary will not only be the particular prayer which every day rises to heaven in an odor of sweetness, but will also form the most efficacious school of Christian discipline and Christian virtue. This meditation on the Divine Mysteries of the Redemption will teach the adults to live, admiring daily the shining examples of Jesus and Mary, and to draw from these examples comfort in adversity, striving towards those heavenly treasures "where neither thief draws near, nor moth destroys" (Luke 12, 33). This meditation will bring to the knowledge of the little ones the main truths of the Christian Faith, making love for the Redeemer blossom almost spontaneously in their innocent hearts, while, seeing, their parents kneeling before the majesty of God, they will learn from their very early years how great before the throne of God is the value of prayers said in common.

15. We do not hesitate to affirm again publicly that We put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils which afflict our times. Not with force, not with arms, not with human power, but with Divine help obtained through the means of this prayer, strong like David with his sling, the Church undaunted shall be able to confront the infernal enemy, repeating to him the words of the young shepherd: "Thou comest to me with a sword, and a spear, and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of armies . . . and all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear, for this is his battle, and he will deliver you into our hands" (I Kings 17, 45-47).

March - April 2003: The Battle of Lepanto and the development of devotion towards the Holy Rosary

The sixteenth century was marked by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.  The Turks, who already occupied most of the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, the Middle East and the Balkanic Peninsula, were threatening Western Europe.  They took Belgrade in 1521, held Rhodes the following year, and then invaded Hungary and sieged Vienna in 1529.  They were driven back by a tiny margin and run aground at Malta, retreating to take Cyprus, a then Venitian possession.

Faced with the Turkish threat, Europe did not combine forces well.  France even maintained friendly relations with Constantinople.  Under such unvafourable circumstances, Pope St Pius V patiently but persistently endeavoured to form a coalition against the Turks amongst the various European kingdoms.  Ha finally managed to establish an alliance with Spain, Venice and Malta.  In May 1571, St Pius V solemnly proclaimed from St Peter's Basilica the establishment of the Holy League.  An impressive fleet was formed, entrusted to Don Juan of Austria, the brother of King Philip II of Spain.  To beseech heavenly protection over the fleet, St Pius V ordered a solemn jubilee together with fasting and the public recitation of the Rosary.

The decisive battle took place on October 7, 1571 in the golf of Lepanto, outside the isthmus of Corinth.  It involved 213 venitian and spanish galleys et some 300 turkish galleys.  Approximately 100,000 men fought on each side.  The Christian fleet won a full victory, due to the heavy artillery that had been taken on board.  Almost all enemy galleys were either taken or sunken.  Turkish Admiral Ali Pacha was made prisoner and beheaded.  Fifteen thousand christian prisoners were freed.  Barely one third of the Turkish fleet managed to get away, thus sweeping away the legend of invincibility of the Turkish fleet.

On the very evening of the battle, Pope St Pius V suddenly left his desk for the window, where he appeared to contemplate a vision.  Then he turned to the surronding prelates and said: "Let us give thanks to God: our army is victorious".  It was October 7 shortly before 5 p.m., that very hour at which Don Juan, victorious, knelt on the bridge of his ship to thank God for His protection.  The news of victory did not reach Rome until October 26, 19 days later, thus confirming the revelation granted to the Holy Father.

In memory of the battle of Lepanto, Pius V added the following invocation to the litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary: "Help of Christians, pray for us", and ordained the institution of the Feast of Our Lady of Victories, which Pope Gregory XIII then established as the Feast of the Rosary in all churches each first Sunday in October.

Throughout the catholic people the victory of Lepanto soon contibuted to the rapid expansion of devotion towards the Rosary et gave rise to the creation of many confraternities.  It remains a key date in the history of Marian devotion.

January - February 2003: The Ave Maria

We normally think of the Lord’s Prayer as the prayer received from God, but the Hail Mary is another such prayer. The difference is that the Lord’s Prayer was received from God: from Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself; whereas the Hail Mary was received indirectly from God: from the Angel Gabriel who brought the annunciation from the Most Holy Trinity, and from St. Elisabeth who blessed the Holy Virgin on the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The words of the Angel Gabriel began: Hail full of Grace the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women. The words of St. Elisabeth began: Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. She goes on to say: whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Comparing these salutations with our prayer we notice that in our prayer the names Jesus and Mary are added; that the blessing “blessed art thou amongst women” is (on the inspiration of God) repeated in the words of St. Elisabeth; that the words “Mother of my Lord” become in our prayer “Mother of God” (noting that the name Lord refers to God in the Bible).

As St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort remarks in his book The Secret of the Rosary, the Hail Mary is a prayer formulated by God announcing the Incarnation and hence giving unlimited glory to the Blessed Trinity, Our Blessed Lord and the Blessed Virgin. Let us now briefly look at the four parts of the prayer: the forms of address (‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Mother of God’), the Grace possessed by Our Lady, and the petition at the end of the prayer.

First then, the form of address “Hail Mary”. Saint Louis-Marie recounts a vision of St. Mechtilde in which Our Blessed Lady said: “My daughter, I want you to know that no-one can please me more than by saying the salutation which the Most Adorable Trinity sent to me and by which He raised me to the dignity of Mother of God.” There follows an interpretation of the salutation of which we shall repeat only the beginning. “By the words Ave (which is the name Eve, Eva), I learned that in His infinite power God has preserved me from all sin and its attendant misery which the first woman had been subject to. The name Mary which means ‘Lady of Light’ shows that God has filled me with wisdom and light like a shining star, to light up heaven and earth…”

Let us proceed to look briefly at the title Mother of God. Already contained in the address of St. Elisabeth, this title was proclaimed dogmatically in the Council of Ephesus in the year 430. This Council condemned the heresy of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople. The Nestorian heresy teaches that the two natures of Christ, the Divine and the human nature, belong to two persons, a Divine and a human person united in Christ: the Blessed Virgin is the Mother only of the human person. The truth by contrast is that the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human natures, belong to one person who is the Divine Person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son. Since the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of this Divine Person, she is truly the Mother of God.

Now a word about the fullness of Grace that the Blessed Virgin Mary possesses. This fullness of Grace derives from the fact that she is the Mother of God: She is full of Grace because the Lord is with her; she is blessed amongst women because the fruit of her womb is blessed. St. Thomas explains that she possesses the fullness of Grace because she is in the closest proximity to the source of Grace, Who is Christ. This fullness of Grace therefore exceeds the degree of Grace of the highest angels and saints, so that the Blessed Virgin may indeed be compared to a shining star that illuminates heaven and earth.We conclude with the interpretation of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort of the petition at the end of the prayer: ‘Pray for us now during this short life so fraught with sorrow and uncertainty, pray for us now – now because we can be sure of nothing except of the present moment. Pray for us now that we are being attacked night and day by powerful and ruthless enemies. Pray for us now and at the hour of our death: so terrible and full of danger when our strength is waning and our spirits are sinking, and our souls and bodies are worn out with fever and pain. Pray for us, then, at the hour of our death when the devil is working his hardest to enslave us and to cast us into perdition. Pray for us at the turning point when the die will be cast once and for all and our lot forever and ever will be Heaven or Hell… Intercede for us and ask thy Son to forgive us and let us into the ranks of the blessed, thy elect, in the realm of everlasting glory.’ Amen.

November - December 2002: History of the Rosary

I. The origins of the Rosary: from Psalter to Ave Maria

In order to understand how the devotion of the Rosary developed, one must look above all to another, much older form of piety: the recitation of the psalms. Since the very beginnings of Christianity the psalter has enjoyed the primary place as form of prayer, both collective and personal. Composed of 150 psalms, the psalter is divided - probably by Origen (d. 254 A.D.) - into three equal parts of 50 psalms each. This division was in reference to the Holy Trinity, according to St. Hilary of Potiers, commenting a hundred years later (d. 367 A.D.). This distribution of the psalms, even if not used for the recitation of the Divine Office, continues to be used in various ways. We see, for example, in religious orders that upon the death of a fryar, while the priests offered the Sacrifice of the Mass, the lay brothers recited 50 psalms for their deceased brother.
150 psalms, three groups of 50: this is the distant origin of the Rosary - 150 Ave Marias, 5 "decades" in each of the mysteries.

The change from reciting psalms to repeating a single prayer occurred sometime afterwards when the lay brothers, lacking instruction, had need of more simple forms of prayer. Some recommended they recite a single verse 2606 times (the total number of verses in all 150 psalms), recite the same psalm 150 times, or again, substitute an Our Father for each psalm.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Marian piety grew together with the Ave Maria, considered now as one of the prayers to be learned by heart. At that time the Ave consisted of the two angelic salutations of St. Gabriel and St. Elisabeth, the name of Jesus being attributed to Pope Urban IV around the year 1263.

Thanks to the influence of the Cistercians who made it popular, the Ave Maria became a repeated invocation added or even substituted for the Our Father. By analogy with the psalter, the Ave Maria began to be recited in groups of 50 and, in order to avoid the danger of a purely mechanical recitation, the prayer was enriched with Marian antiphons in the same way as the psalms.

The Rosary became, therefore, "Our Lady’s Psalter", sometimes called a "chaplet" (chapeau, French for hat) in reference to the crown of flowers offered to images of the Blessed Virgin.


II. The mysteries of the Saviour

The framework of the rosary was thus constituted and it was on this framework that the meditation of the salvific work of Christ would develop.
The life of Jesus, of course, was the subject of contemplation long before the institution of the Rosary: already in the 3rd century Tertullien and St. Cyprien linked the hours of the Divine Office to the memory of the different moments of Christ’s Passion. In the middle ages this practice grew more complete. The sermons of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153 A.D.) on the Canticle of Canticles provided the basis for a meditation on the life of Jesus, the Annunciation, and the apparition of the Risen Saviour to St. Madeleine. But it was St. Aldred of Rielvaux (d. 1167 A.D.), in his Life of a Recluse, who was the first to put into practice a systematic meditation, prefiguring the method of the Carthusian, St. Rudolph of Saxony, and that of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In this context, the Ave Maria - which concluded at this time with praise of the fruit of the Mary’s womb - lent itself to meditation on the life of the Son of God, made flesh and born of the Virgin.

According to what we now know, it was towards the year 1300 that a series of Ave Marias was recited systematically with a meditation on the fruits of the Incarnation. This happened in the Cistercian monastery of St. Thomas-on-Kyll, in the region of Trier. The Marian prayer was recited a hundred times, each time followed by a phrase intended to aid in contemplating a redemptive work of Christ: "Hail Mary...and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus, …because he has created us in His image and likeness...because He chose you from all eternity to be his mother...."

A century later, Dominic of Prussia (d. 1460 A.D.) of the Saint Alban Carthusian monastery of Trier, affirmed in his biography that he was the first to add the subjects of meditation during recitation of the Rosary. It is he at least who had the idea to systematically link the recitation of the Rosary with contemplation of the life of Christ, dividing the prayer into 50 groups and editing a short text intended to follow each Ave Maria. He extended this method to the entire Marian psalter and composed three series of 50 phrases on the infancy, public life and Passion of Our Lord. The double principle of the Rosary, both Marial and Christocentric, was thus achieved.


III. Later developments

In the 14th century and during the centuries that followed, the Rosary underwent various additions and modifications, touching more the form than the principle itself of this prayer.
The division of the Rosary into 10 "decades", each separated by the recitation of an Our Father, was the contribution of a Carthusian from Cologne, Henry Egher of Kalkar (d. 1408 A.D.).

Confraternities of the Rosary began to appear at the end of the 15th century, of which the first was founded in Cologne in 1475. This became the means for the Dominicans to spread the Rosary throughout all of Christianity. At the same time, the many meditations of the life of Christ - or "mysteries" - were fixed at 15, divided into the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries.

Under the influence of popular piety, the text of the Ave Maria was enlarged and transformed into a prayer of supplication. It was in the time of St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597) that the invocation "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners" gradually spread. We also find other additions: "now and at the hour of our death" (15th century). The Ave Maria took its definitive form with St. Pius V when he included it in the Breviary of 1568.
According to his missionary methods, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Monfort (1673-1716) preceded the recitation of the Rosary by the praying of a Credo, an Our Father and three Hail Marys.

On July 13th 1917, Our Lady, appearing at Fatima, requested that after each "decade" we pray "Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy."

Finally, after announcing the beginning a Marian year from October 2002-2003, the current Holy Father proposed the addition of a fourth "decade" entirely centered on the public life of Jesus - the Luminous Mysteries : the baptism of Our Lord, the miracle at the Marriage of Cana, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the Transfiguration and the institution of the Holy Eucharist.