The Rosary, a quintessentially Catholic prayer, appeals to many of the faithful. Its simple repetition of words instills in the individual a certain clarity of mind and soul that is not easily replicable. It was praying the Rosary which led Christian troops to victory over the Moslem Turks at Lepanto on October 7, 1571 thus saving Christendom from utter destruction. In thankfulness, Pope St. Pius V established the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1573. Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.
Pope Benedict pointed out that ''the Rosary is a spiritual weapon in the struggle against evil, against all violence, for peace in hearts, in families, in society and in the world.''
Legend tells us that St. Dominic preached the Rosary inspired by a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mother. Admittedly, the use of 150 Hail Marys had been popular for many years prior to St. Dominic's birth but the systemization of Rosary as we know it today might very well have been created by him.
Whether or not he actually received the Rosary from the inspiration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his Order of Preachers popularized the prayer form. The Rosary is a common prayer used by Catholics, and some Anglicans and Lutherans. It should be seen more as a timing mechanism rather than as a counting device as there is no special mystical significance to the number of prayers used — other than that there are 150 Psalms. That is, the key to the Rosary is to rest in God's presence and not to "get through" as many prayers as possible.
The Rosary facilitates the meditation of twenty key mysteries of Christ's life and, at the same time, a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mother. The word rosary is derived from the Latin word rosarium meaning "rose garden." Throughout Scriptures and Church tradition, Mary is associated with roses, thus the connection with the Rosary. It can be used as oral prayer, as part of one's silent mediation or as an aid for contemplation. Even without a set of rosary beads, one can still pray the Rosary simply by using one's fingers. In fact, Giuseppe Rivella, a waiter in a Roman restaurant, counted his customers' heads who sat in groups of ten at the tables he waited upon. Every ten patrons constituted a decade of the Rosary. When he died, Vatican Radio announced: "A holy man has died in Rome."
The Rosary starts off with reciting the Apostle's Creed, followed by an Our Father, three Hail Marys and one Glory Be. This is followed by fifty Hail Marys in groups of ten referred to as "decades." Each decade is preceded by an Our Father and capped off with a Glory Be and a Fatima Prayer.
As mentioned previously, prior to Dominic's popularization of the Rosary, the 150 Psalms in Scriptures are used in the Liturgy of the Hours and are said or sung every day by monks, priests, brothers, nuns and religious sisters around the world. St. Eligius, the seventh-century Bishop of Noyon-Tournai, prayed 150 Hail Marys of the Psalter of Mary and used a proto-rosary to keep track of them. Ninth-century Irish monks replaced the 150 Psalms with Our Fathers for illiterate Christians who hoped to emulate the monks' holiness. Eventually, the Hail Marys came to replace the Our Fathers as the prayer most associated with the devotion. The 12th-century English anchorites' monastic rule, known as the Ancrene Wisse, specified how groups of fifty Hail Marys were to be broken into five sets of ten prayers each. Eventually, each decade came to be preceded by an Our Father. In the 13th century, Dominic of Prussia (1382-1460), a Carthusian mystic, associated meditations on Christ's life — specifically, His ministry, death and resurrection and that of His mother. He referred to the prayer as the "Life of Jesus Rosary" and became formalized and dedicated as a meditative practice becoming recognizable as the Rosary contemporary Christians recite. The Rosary soon become popular among Carthusian and Benedictine monks. In her apparitions at Lourdes in France (1858) and Fatima in Portugal (1917) Mary encouraged the Faithful to pray the Rosary. In fact, an additional prayer was added because she requested it:
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Your mercy. Amen.
Though some Catholics and non-Believers might think the Rosary to be quaint and outdated, the truth is, the gentle repetition of simple prayers is very soothing and is sure to calm the hyperactive mind and soothe the troubled soul. While praying the Rosary, the individual feels the sensation that the Rosary is praying him and, in this passive, receptive mode, the Holy Spirit imbues the individual with love, peace, faith and hope — the very essentials of life.
St. Louis de Montfort, an 18th century French Dominican Tertiary, was particularly devoted to the Rosary. Among his admonitions, he warned against mechanistic, repetitive prayer. This is not to say one must struggle to constantly produce uniquely-worded prayer. Repeating prayers like the Hail Mary and the Our Father are perfectly acceptable as long as one doesn't repeat them unthinkingly. In his book The Secret of the Rosary, one of the best books ever written on the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort emphasized the importance of being pure in our intentions; otherwise we risk the possibility of attempting at being manipulative, in which case, we aren't practicing spirituality at all but rather magic instead. He also pressed the importance of the proper spiritual attitude and mental preparation before and during prayer. We would naturally be reverent and respectful of our grandparents or a friend, spouse or our children. It follows that in prayer when we meet our Creator, He Who brought us out of chaos and into His Light; surely we should be meet Him reverently.
As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 2002 Apostolic Letter:
The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer. It has all the depth of the gospel message in its entirety. It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb...It can be said that the Rosary is, in some sense, a prayer-commentary on the final chapter of the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium, a chapter that discusses the wondrous presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church.