(Pg. 733-742) The Feast of the Holy Rosary [extended selection from Christ on the Altar]
At that time, as Jesus was speaking to the multitude, “a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to Him: Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the paps that gave Thee suck. But He said: Yea, rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke xi. 27, 28).
The practice of reciting the Rosary, so universal amongst Christians, and so justly dear to them, is a monument erected to the mercy and power of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In reciting the Rosary, we generally use, to count our prayers, a string of beads – for this reason often called a Rosary beads. The practice of using beads or little stones to count prayers is quite ancient; and long before the Rosary was known as introduced by St. Dominic, it was customary for the lay people to recite one hundred and fifty “Hail Marys,” on beads, in imitation of the Clergy, who recite the one hundred and fifty psalms of David, commonly named the Psalter.
The Rosary, when practiced in the most perfect manner, consists of two distinct modes of prayer united in one. It is a combination of mental prayer, or meditation, with vocal prayer. The meditation is made by the consideration of the most memorable or touching “mysteries” or events in the life, passion, and triumph of Jesus Christ and of His holy Mother. The vocal prayer consists of the recitation of the “Lord’s Prayer,” the “Hail Mary,” The “Glory be to the Father,” and the “Creed.”
The mysteries to be meditated on are fifteen in number, and are divided into three parts, which are named the five Joyful, the five Sorrowful, and the five Glorious Mysteries. The Rosary beads, on which the vocal prayers are recited, are also divided, in a corresponding manner, into three parts, and each part into five decades (or tens), each decade consisting of one bead for the “Our Father,” and ten for the “Hail Mary.” The “Glory be to the Father,” at the end of each decade, is recited on the same bead as the “Our Father,” which begins the decade that follows.
The chaplet, or, as it is sometimes called, “the Rosary of the five decades,” constitutes only a third part of the whole Rosary.
The nature and object of this devotion are beautifully expressed in the following prayer, read at the Mass of this day: “O God, Whose only-be-gotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, hath purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech Thee, that, mediating upon those mysteries, in the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may both imitate what they contain and arrive at what they promise.” The origin of this devotion is related as follows by our present Pontiff, Leo XIII.:
“You all know how great trouble and grief God’s holy Church suffered, toward the close of the twelfth century, from the Albigensian heretics, who sprung from the sect of the later Manicheans, and who filled the south of France and other portions of the Latin world with their pernicious errors, and, carrying everywhere the terrors of their army, strove far and wide to rule by massacre and ruin. Our merciful God, as you know, raised up against these direful enemies a most holy man, St. Dominic, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the integrity of his doctrine, in his example of virtue, and in his apostolic labors he proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms, but trusting wholly to that devotion which he was first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary, which was disseminated through the length and breadth of the earth by him and his pupils. Guided, in fact, by divine inspiration and grace, he foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful, warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety. Such was indeed the result. Thanks to this new method of prayer, when adopted and properly carried out, as instituted by the holy father St. Dominic, piety, faith, and union began to return, and the projects and devices of heretics to fall to pieces. Many wanderers also returned to the way of salvation, and the wrath of the impious was restrained by the army of those Catholics who had determined to repel their violence” (Supremi Apostolatus).
In order to understand the excellence of the Rosary, it suffices to recall to mind, first, the prayers used in its recitation.
We begin by making the sign of the cross, with the usual words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Hoping to glorify the Holy Trinity, with the angels in heaven, we love on earth to repeat often His praise.
The “Our Father,” recited at the beginning of every decade, came from the very heart of Our Saviour, and was first pronounced by His sacred lips when that apostles requested Him to teach them how to pray. The “Our Father,” “Pater Noster,” is on this account called the “Lord’s Prayer.” It is therefore the most excellent of all prayers. It contains all that we can desire for the glory of God, for our needs of body and soul; also for the welfare of our neighbor. It fills the heart with confidence toward Him Whom we call and know to be our Father; it replenishes us with joy, as it reminds us that we are called to enter into His glorious, eternal kingdom.
What can be sweeter than the “Hail Mary,” taught us chiefly by the angel Gabriel, partly by St. Elizabeth, divinely inspired, and partly by the Church? It is good for us that we have a Mother also in heaven, and that she is so holy, so powerful with her Son. We need not wonder that, long before the institution of the Rosary, it was the practice of devout Catholics to offer to the holy Mother a crown of prayers in the shape of one hundred and fifty “Hail Marys;” neither need we be surprised to see how dear to the children of the Church is the practice of reciting the Rosary.
In fact, the time spent in reciting the Rosary is a time spent with God our Father, with the Queen of Heaven, and with the saints. It is equally true that the Rosary is the only comfort that millions of people enjoy in this world.
But we love this devotion not merely on account of its admirable prayers: we prize it also because of the meditations connected with it. In saying the Rosary as taught by St. Dominic, we should meditate upon the chief events or mysteries of the life of Our Lord and of His holy Mother.
St. Dominic knew that the greatest cause of sins amongst all men, even amongst the Christians of his days, was their ignorance of the life and doctrine of Jesus Christ. To this cause also, he attributed the progress of heresy amongst them. For this reason he taught men to recall to mind the chief events of Our Saviour’s life, instructing them thereby to imitate His examples. Now, the life of Our Lord on earth may be divided into three parts, or epochs. There was the time of His hidden life, extending from His conception till the time of His Passion. During this first part of His life, we see Him hidden, unknown to men, in the womb of His Mother; carried by her to the house of Elizabeth, where He sanctified John the Baptist; born in poverty in the stable of Bethlehem; offering Himself as a victim in the Temple, at the hands of His Mother; then lost at the age of twelve by His parents, and found in the Temple, where He listened to the doctors and asked them questions. Those occurrences or mysteries brought joy to the heart of the Blessed Virgin, though partly mixed with sorrow, and we call them “the five Joyful Mysteries.”
The second part of Our Saviour’s life comprises His Passion, which commenced properly on the evening of His death. The interior and exterior torments of Our Lord during His Passion were so many that no man can relate them. In saying the Rosary, we recall to mind the agony in the garden, with the bloody sweat, the treason of Judas, and other ignominies; we next behold Him cruelly scourged at the pillar, so that from the sole of His foot to the top of the head there was not a sound spot in His body. Again we behold Him, made to sit on a broken column in the court of the Praetorium, surrounded by a band of soldiers, who strip Him of His garments, put on Him in derision the old purple cloak of an officer, and, platting a crown of thorns, place it violently on His head; then having put a reed in His hand for a sceptre, they pass around Him in rotation, spitting on His face, striking His head with the reed, kneeling to Him and saying, “Hail, king of the Jews.”
From the hall where He had been so insulted and cruelly treated, He was led to the street or square in front of the palace, and here the heavy cross was put upon His shoulders. He who recites the Rosary accompanies in spirit his Divine Saviour to the very summit of Golgotha, admiring His goodness, adoring and praising Him for all the ignominies and sufferings He underwent in carrying the cross.
Finally he stops with Him on Calvary; he imagines he hears the sound of the hammer sinking the nails in His hands and feet; he listens in imagination to the dying words of the crucified Redeemer; sees Him bleeding from all His limbs, and at last sees Him bow down His head and expire. Those events in the Passion of Our Lord are named the “Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary,” because they brought sorrow to the heart of His Mother, and because they excite in us sentiments of sorrow and compassion.
On the third day after His death Our Lord came forth immortal from the grave, and here begins the third part of His life, His glorious life; and we call the “Glorious Mysteries” those events of the new life of Jesus Christ, and of His Mother, on which we meditate in saying the third part of the Rosary. These mysteries are the Resurrection of Our Lord, His Ascension to heaven, the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven, and her Coronation in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth. It is evident that in those events Our Saviour was glorified on earth and in heaven by men and angels; Mary also was glorified in the triumph of her Son, and received an immense amount of honor and glory in her own Assumption to heaven and in her Coronation as Queen of heaven and earth.
It may be said that there are also three parts in our lives. There is the joyous part, by which we mean those epochs of our lives which are not marked by great trials; but even in our days of happiness, we must not forget our God. We are obliged to practice obedience, charity, and chastity, as Jesus and Mary did during the joyous events of their lives.
The second part of our lives corresponds to the Sorrowful Mysteries of Our Lord. The cross is to be found for us everywhere; in health, in sickness, and in death, we must carry our cross. But the Glorious Mysteries will also come for us after the Sorrowful ones if we are faithful to the end.
Where shall we find light and strength in order to sanctify our joys and our sorrow? This we will find in the meditation on the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Rosary, and in the prayers belonging to that devotion. “Piety, faith, devotion began to return when the Rosary of St. Dominic was first adopted; many wanderers also returned to the ways of salvation.”
In our days many wanderers are brought back through the prayers addressed to the Queen of the Rosary; in our own days peace is restored to families by employing the same intervention; in our days millions of devout children of Mary enjoy peace in sickness and poverty owing to the practice of reciting the Rosary; in our days millions have attained sublime perfection by recourse to Mary of the Rosary; and at every moment of time there are souls appearing with confidence before their Judge because they have poured forth fervent prayers to the Blessed Virgin, and endeavored to walk in her steps and in those of here Divine Son.
“Let, therefore, this kind of prayer be restored to that place of honor which it long held, when no Christian family would suffer a day to pass without the recital of the Rosary. For these reasons we exhort and beseech all to persist religiously and constantly in the daily use of the Rosary” (Leo XIII, Salutaris ille).
Why will you not all resolve to recite the Rosary every day, since you know the practice of this devotion to be a sure means to secure a happy death, and consequently a happy eternity? In the beginning it may be a little hard to recite a part of it every day, but after a time it becomes a source of delight.