Why We Pray the Rosary

8 October 2006: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary


This talk on the rosary will not use the approach in popular piety or traditional catechism. Bernard Lonergan draws our attention to a highly significant change in the contemporary understanding of theology. While theology used to be defined as the science about God with one system valid for all times and places, its task today is to explain the faith in God at each point in history and in different cultural contexts. We shall explain the rosary using studies about its origins, significance and the question of repetitions. The topics or questions are based on the subgroups from the McCann Erickson recent survey:

Senior Citizens (40 and above)

Traditional values, believed and respected institutions

1. How did the practice of praying the rosary begin?

Youth (21 – 39)

Questions and shatters institutions; change is risk-taking

2. Why should we pray the rosary?

Young (20 below)

Reject institutions; celebrates change

3. Why are there repetitions in the rosary?

I. History

  1. The Rosary came from St. Dominic in 1221. In 1328, the treatise, Rosarius, attributed the rosary to St. Dominic. The story tells us that Mary came to St. Dominic and gave him the Rosary to combat Albigensianism. Albigensianism believes that the body is a tomb, thus true freedom is realized only when one is freed from the flesh. The world was created by two supreme beings: a good god and an evil god. The good god created the spiritual world; the evil god created the material world. Thus Jesus, who is good, cannot be human and material; the crucifixion and resurrections were illusions; and the cross was thus rejected. The prayers of the rosary were about the Incarnation; thus, St. Dominic preached that God truly became one like us, in flesh and blood.
  1. The bead circlets to the Rosary. The Rosary is the oldest and most popular of all private Catholic devotions, and one that has been strongly promoted by the church since the fifteenth century. The origin of bead circlets used to aid in prayerful meditations can be traced in ancient Eastern Customs, such as the Chinese Kwan Yin who wears a circlet of beads. They were certainly used in the Middle Ages who counted them by praying the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be as they meditated. In the 13th century, at the height of European Marian devotion was the circlet called a “Rosary” making it a spiritual bouquet named for Mary’s flower.
  1. The Mysteries of the Rosary. When most Christians were illiterate and when books, including bibles, were unavailable except in monasteries, a string of beads or seeds provided a simple means for the faithful to re-create their attachment to the events of the Gospel as they prayed the prayer that Jesus taught and repeated the words of Gabriel and Elizabeth to Mary.
    1. In the 15th century, Alan de la Roche OP, preached the “Psalter of our Lady”, the term he preferred to use for the rosary.
    2. In the 16th century, the mysteries were standardized and minimized into 15 we all know: The Joyful (Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation, and Finding of Jesus in the Temple), the Sorrowful (Agony, Scourging, Crowning with thorns, Carrying of the Cross, Crucifixion & Death), and the Glorious (Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the HS, Assumption, and the Coronation of Mary).
    3. In 2002, Pope John Paul II added the Mysteries of Light, or the “Luminous Mysteries” based on Jesus’ public life (Baptism, Wedding at Cana, Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist).
  1. Church Dates
    1. October 7, 1571. Pope Pius V instituted the feast attributing the victory of the Turkish fleet at Lepanto to the praying of the rosary, from the feast of St. Mary of Victory.
    2. 1573. Pope Gregory XIII, made it obligatory for Rome and for the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary.
    3. 1st Sunday of October celebration: Dominicans. 1716, Pope Clement XI inscribed the feast on the Roman Calendar

II. Significance: The Three Gestures of Mary

a. Mary as Mediator. Prayer for all Christians: In times of danger, worry or grief: To be able to hold a real object while praying is not only comforting, but connects us physically and psychologically with the reality of the Incarnation. We are also brought into contact with the life and message of Jesus and his followers. Springboard to a conversation with God

b. Mary as Mother. Mary who cares for her children.

c. Mary who leads us to Jesus. The rosary is sometimes called “the Gospel on its knees.” When one meditates the mysteries of the rosary, the person experiences the significant moments in the life of Christ. It is what it was meant to be, a simple catechism that leads towards a deepening faith in Jesus.

III. The Question of Repetitions

a. Repetitions are employed in Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Islam and religious groups in India. The aspirations, “Ohm” or mantras are examples of these. The repetitions of the rosary functions as mantras in the meditation of the mysteries in the life of Christ. Repetitions helps the person who meditates to focus.

b. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius advices the spiritual director to encourage his directee to repeat the meditations that the directee finds consoling. He said that we should savor the graces of the Lord once it is given in prayer. Thus, we repeat so that we are able to savor the Lord as much as we can, as we savor food so as to taste and appreciate the food better.

c. Our daily lives are punctuated by repetitions. Meal times and menus cooked by our families are often repeated and repeated. Elements in culture are traditions which derives its meaning from regular practice. Our families gain its identity from common celebrations and traditional fare. For example, Bicolanos abroad yearn for the things repeatedly set at table at home.

d. Repetitions help us become what we repeat. Studies are repetitions. When we study or repeat the lessons in class, the concepts that was once owned by the teacher is ours.

And thus, the repetitions of the rosary helps us. First, like Eastern religions, the repetitions helps us focus and appreciate the mysteries of Christ. Second, the repetitions helps us make the mysteries of the Lord sink into our hearts, that eventually, the life of Christ becomes ours. Simply put, our lives then is transformed or transfigured to the life of Christ.

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