The Church’s Sacred Tradition teaches that the feast of the Holy Rosary had its beginning when the Albigensian heresy was destroying the country of Toulouse in France. Shortly after September 12, 1213, St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers, turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the triumph of Catholic arms. As St. Dominic was kneeling before the sacred altar in the Church of St. Jacques, Our Lady appeared to him and instructed him to preach the Rosary among the people as a cure for heresy and sin.
In thanksgiving to Our Lady for the miraculous victory that followed, it is asserted that the crusaders erected a chapel in the Church of St. Jacques and dedicated it to Our Lady of the Rosary. Based on this Tradition, it appears that the devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary had its origin in those days.
Over and above the defeat of the Albigensian heretics at the battle of Muret in 1213, it is believed that the grace of God frequently shined upon the world through the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Moreover, even though the spread of the Rosary has been credited to the great saint, Father Dominic de Guzman, the forms of prayer portrayed in the Rosary had their origin since the earliest centuries of Christianity prior to 13th century and were being patterned in the Book of Psalms. As far back as the eight century, the Lord’s Prayer was already recited 150 times by different religious communities. In 1569, the late Pope Pius V officially approved the Rosary as it was known throughout the world.
On the other hand, the use of PRAYER BEADS as used in praying the Rosary is neither a modern Catholic invention nor of paganic origin. The early Christians used various means of counting their shorter prayers. St. Paul of Thebes (228-343 AD), for example, used to have a bag with 300 pebbles and placed one pebble for each prayer he said into another, empty bag. In Ethiopia, prayer sticks were devised and notches were made on staffs used as supports for people standing during the long services. Forty-one notches were made since Ethiopian Christians repeated prayers forty-one times in honour of their belief that Christ received forty-one lashes during His Passion.
However, in the course of the fourth century, St. Pachomius (292-348 AD), Father of Spiritual Communal Monastic Life, had a vision of an Angel who recommended the use of the Jesus Prayer on a knotted cord of one hundred knots. One hundred Jesus Prayers were called a “Prayer”by the Angel. He recommended the recitation of 12 Prayers (1200 Jesus’ Prayers) during the day and 12 Prayers at night along with a further 12 during an all-night vigil. He recommended 300 prayers to be recited at 3:00 pm every day, that time being when our Saviour Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins. Prayer ropes consisting of 100 to 300 knots or beads were employed to keep track of one’s counting, since it was believed that this prayer must cleave to the lips, heart and mind of people through constant, incessant repetition. That is in accordance with St. Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
Furthermore, the Father of Orthodox Monasticism, St. Anthony the Great (251-356 AD), also tied a leather rope with a simple knot for every time he prayed “Kyrie Eleison” (Lord have Mercy). The Greek monks also made what they call, “martyria” or strings, attached to the prayer rope with moveable beads to keep track of the hundreds of times the prayer was recited.
Then, St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547 AD), in his devotion to the Psalter of David, asked his disciples to pray only 150 Psalms of the Bible at least once a week using the prayer ropes wherein they divided them into three parts composed of fifty psalms each. The “Three Fifties” were then commonly recited for the dead and for all manner of other intentions as well by both monastics and lay-people.
There were even prescribed numbers of times that the Psalter was to be recited. For example, when a bishop died in Old England, before the Conquest, the Psalter was to be said by monks and laity no less than 600 times. When a lay-person died, the Psalter was said over the body immediately and then individuals would take turns reciting it a further four times throughout the night. St. Patrick (5th century), bishop of Ireland, and other Celtic saints would recite the first “fifty” and then stand in cold water to recite the next — this to keep alert and awake.
Meanwhile, in the late fifth century, St. Brigit of Kildare (451-525 AD) urgently commended the devotion of a Prayer chain in which she chose as its prayers the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed, and united them into a wreath of prayers. In order to count their recital, she strung little beads of stone or wood and made a wreath of them.
Subsequently, since that was a large assignment for the memory, a substitution of 150 Pater Nosters (“Our Fathers”) from the 150 Psalms was allowed. The faithful used beads to count the paters, and this string of 150 beads became known as a Paternoster. It was Lady Godiva (1040-1067), an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman only with unusual horsemanship, who was credited of the first recorded mention of Christian prayer beads. She bequeathed her Paternoster beads of precious gemstones to the convent she founded in 1057 — a Benedictine house for an abbot and 24 monks on the site of St. Osburg’s Nunnery at Coventry, England.
This devotion was always in great favor and esteem among pious Christians as shown from the fact that in the grave of St. Norbert of Xenxen (1080-1134), archbishop of Magdeburg, a rosary-like (Paternoster cord) similar to present Rosary was found. It was a proof then that the practice was not only done by monks and nuns, but found adherents among all the faithful.
It was then that after the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the use of prayer beads aside from prayer ropes was propagated by St. Dominic. To modify the Paternoster (150 Our Father’s) and in compliance with the instruction in the apparition, the design of the Saint Dominic Rosary came in to existence. The great saint set apart fifteen mysteries of the rosary, grouped them in to three sets of five decades each. From then on until the present, the structure of the rosary remained essentially unchanged.
PRAY THE ROSARY
St. Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968), the famous stigmatic, said, “Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today.”
And from the very words of the Blessed Virgin Mary during her apparitions to the three children in Fatima, she said: “Recite the rosary every day to obtain the peace for the world and the end of the war.”