An old priest once said, “It is no coincidence that rosaries look like lassos, as Our Lady wraps them around lost souls and pulls them out of the depths of hell.”
This thought is comforting but provokes inquiry – what exactly is the Rosary, how does one pray it, and why should one pray it?
There are two putative origins of the Rosary. For many centuries, it was believed that the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Dominic and exhorted him to encourage the use of the Angelic Salutation – or Hail Mary – for the conversion of souls and comfort of the afflicted. Modern scholarship traces the Rosary back to ninth century Irish monasticism. Monks would pray all 150 psalms or “psalters” every day, a form of prayer too complicated for uneducated laypeople without access to copies of Scripture. So many began reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Angelic Salutation in response to each psalm, keeping count with pebbles or a knotted rope. Through many centuries, the Rosary evolved into three sets of five mysteries, each mystery consisting of 10 Angelic Salutations and one Lord’s Prayer recited while meditating upon the life, death or glory of Jesus Christ.
In The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort expounds the dynamics of the Rosary. The prayer consists of both vocal or exterior prayer, and meditative or interior prayer. The first vocal component of the Rosary, the Creed, is important because faith is “the foundation of all Christian virtues, of all eternal virtues, and also of all prayers that are pleasing to Almighty God.” The Lord’s Prayer is the “perfect prayer” to the God of heaven because it was authored by Christ, is free of all human limitations, and “contains all the duties we owe to God, the acts of all the virtues and the petitions for all our spiritual and corporal needs.” The Hail Mary blesses the name of Mary and her Divine Son and implores her powerful intercession as mediatrix of graces.
But the Rosary is not simply a physical incantation. Vocal prayer is accompanied by contemplation of the mysteries of Christ’s life and the virtues of the Virgin Mary. It is by lifting the incorporeal soul in prayer that one quiets the passions, tastes the peace of Christ, marvels at His loving plans and promises, and grows in the desire to emulate Him and His sinless mother. Because the soul animates the body, a strengthened soul means nobility of action and a will that is commensurate with the will of God. As Louis de Montfort says, “The Rosary is a blessed blending of mental and vocal prayer by which we honor and learn to imitate the mysteries and the virtues of the life, death, passion and glory of Jesus and Mary.” The Rosary’s emphasis on both vocal and meditative prayer caters to man’s nature as an embodied soul – one’s entire being, both physical and spiritual, cries out to God in praise, repentance, thanksgiving, and supplication.
Thus, it is no surprise that the magisterium and countless saints have encouraged devotion to the Rosary. Pope St. John Paul II said of the prayer, “The Rosary is my favorite prayer, marvelous in its simplicity and its depth.” The late pontiff also added five more “luminous” mysteries to the Rosary to help the faithful meditate upon significant moments in Christ’s earthly ministry.
The old priest was correct in asserting that the Blessed Virgin uses the Rosary to convert lost souls. However, the words of the Memorare must be remembered: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that any one who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession, was left unaided.”