If you want lots of heavy theology on the Rosary, go read Rosarium Virginis Mariae.
I’m here because I don’t have time to read that stuff anymore and my suspicion is neither do you, but as an aspiring Lay Dominican, part of our rule is to say a daily Rosary and so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
I have to admit that for much of my life, I considered myself someone for whom the Rosary just “didn’t do it.” I have much preferred Liturgy of the Hours or even the Divine Mercy Chaplet. For some reason, the Marian emphasis of the Rosary just threw me for a loop.
Imagine how I felt, though, when I realized that the Rosary is based on the Psalms.
(Oh no, she didn’t… she seriously must have lost it. Doesn’t she know the prayers and meditations all come from the NEW TESTAMENT? Pshhhh, I’m never coming to this blog ever again.)
Yep, the psalms. I hope to dedicate many more posts to this wonderful devotion, but today the lesson is:
Wayyyyyyy back in the ninth century, the lay people were looking for more ways to pray (good for them!). The monks had it easy, really. They prayed the Psalter (150 Psalms) regularly through the eight Canonical Hours (aka Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours) and let’s face it: just like today, it’s hard to get through all of that praying if you’re trying to run a household and raise a family. Plus, the vast majority of people couldn’t read, so even if they magically got hold of a book they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
And so some bright person thought:
150 psalms. What if I said 150 “Our Fathers” instead?
Some people did this. Others shortened their 150 prayers to the simple Angelic Salutation given by Gabriel to Mary: “Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee!”
The great idea caught on, but there was a little bit of trouble. “How do we keep track of 150 prayers?” Some people kept pebbles in bags (but that got heavy), some people tied knots in ropes (but these ended up being quite long and hard to carry). Finally, a smart person realized that if they just put fifty beads on a string, they could go through the beads three times and that would equal 150! Brilliant!
Then, some time in the thirteenth century, Biblical scholars started looking at the psalms and they said:
“Gee, this is interesting. There are three major categories of psalms: lament, thanksgiving and praise (liturgy). We could think about all the lament psalms in the context of Jesus’ passion and death. We could think about the psalms of thanksgiving in kind of a joyful way and all those liturgical psalms speak of the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection and the great mysteries of the Church.”
— Verbatim Quote from Anonymous Parisian Doctor of Theology
Do you see where I’m going with this?
People were already in the habit of saying THREE rounds of FIFTY Pater Nosters/Angelic Salutations. Now, they had an easy way to divide those rounds and contemplate different aspects of Jesus’ life and mission. At the same time, people were also contemplating the role of Mary in these great mysteries.
Then along comes…
…Father Dominic! This intense man with the fiery red hair and his little band of beggar preachers begins using these meditations and prayers as weapons against the wide-spread Albigensian heresy. He preached the little psalter of Mary as a way to protect oneself against error and to win souls for Christ. Even though Dominic wasn’t the source of the Rosary as legend has often claimed, he and his friars are certainly a primary source of its widespread popularity. Mary may not have fabricated the Rosary in St. Dominic’s mystical vision, but she certainly showed him how to use it.
Over many years, the form of the Rosary has solidified into the three sets of mysteries, each with five decades (totaling 150 Hail Marys). This numerical tie to the Psalter was obscured with the introduction of the Luminous Mysteries by Pope Blessed John Paul II, but the roots of the Rosary remain the same.
The Rosary is still a wonderful weapon against error, encouraging us to meditate on the life of Jesus and to come to know Him through the Immaculate Eyes of His Mother. I cannot say that it has been easy to try and incorporate the Rosary into my daily prayers, but it hasn’t been as difficult as I had expected.
Oh– and if anyone loves trivia as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know:
Dominicans still wear their rosaries as part of their habit, dangling down the left side of their waist– in the place where a soldier would keep his sword.