October 9, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Praying the rosary

John F. Fink(Thirty-fifth in a series)

October is observed as the month of the rosary. This devotion, an important part of Catholicism for eight centuries, combines prayer, meditation and Scripture. The repetition of prayers is meant to create an atmosphere in which to meditate on the mysteries of our salvation as revealed in Scripture.

The main focus of the rosary is on the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. These are the “mysteries” or events that the pray-er thinks about while praying the rosary.

The rosary consists of a string of beads divided into five sets known as decades because each set has one large bead and 10 smaller beads. While meditating, the person prays the Our Father on the large beads and the Hail Mary on the smaller beads. Sometimes those praying the rosary will add a few additional prayers, but five Our Fathers and 50 Hail Marys basically make up the rosary.

The Our Father and Hail Mary are scriptural prayers. Jesus taught his Apostles the Our Father (Mt 6:9-13, Lk 11:2-4). The Hail Mary includes Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28) and Elizabeth’s exclamation, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Lk 1:42). The prayer then concludes with the petition, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

The rosary was begun in the late 12th century when laity began to pray 150 Hail Marys in imitation of the 150 psalms. St. Dominic and his followers popularized it in the 13th century, adding the meditations about the life of Jesus.

In the early 15th century, the Carthusian monk Dominic of Prussia began to call the 50 points of meditation a rosarium (rose garden) because the rose was a symbol of joy and Mary was “the cause of our joy” for bearing Christ. Thus the name “rosary” became the name for the devotion.

For more than 500 years, there were 15 official mysteries: five joyful, which concern the beginning of our redemption (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the presentation in the Temple and finding the child Jesus in the Temple); five sorrowful, which pertain to Christ’s Passion (the agony in the garden, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross and the Crucifixion); and the glorious (the Resurrection, the Ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption and the Coronation of Mary).

There was an obvious gap between the finding of Jesus in the Temple when he was 12 and his Passion and death.

Therefore, in 2002, Pope John Paul II added the five luminous mysteries or mysteries of light, recalling events in Jesus’ public ministry—his baptism, the wedding feast at Cana, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the Transfiguration and the institution of the Eucharist.

With those additions, the rosary really is what Pope Paul VI called it in his 1974 apostolic exhortation “Marialis Cultus”— “a compendium of the entire Gospel.” †

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