October 8, 2021


The rosary is the perfect prayer

For Catholics, it’s by far the most popular devotion. Catholics throughout the world pray the rosary daily.

Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh prayed three rosaries a day after macular degeneration made it impossible for him to read the Liturgy of the Hours. St. Teresa of Calcutta in India always seemed to have a rosary in her hand, as did St. Pope John Paul II.

People pray the rosary in front of abortion centers. In many remote places where people can’t get to Mass, they can, and do, say a daily rosary.

Although it’s the most popular devotion, it is not as popular as it was during the middle of the 20th century. Then, families prayed the rosary together, usually right after the evening meal. It was known as the “family rosary,” and people knew the slogan, “The family that prays together, stays together.”

That slogan was coined by Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton, known as “the Rosary Priest.” From the time he was a seminarian until his death in 1992 at age 83, he traveled the world and used radio, television and movies to spread devotion to family prayer and the rosary. He was always able to get the most popular Hollywood actors of his day—Helen Hayes, Princess Grace of Monaco, Loretta Young, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Stewart—to perform. He also conducted “Rosary Crusades” in 40 countries, attracting 28 million people.

How things have changed. In today’s secular society, it appears that fewer families pray together. Many don’t even eat together.

The rosary has been called the perfect prayer because it 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.

Both the Our Father and the Hail Mary are scriptural prayers. Jesus himself taught the Apostles the Our Father, and the Hail Mary includes the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the time of the Annunciation and Elizabeth’s exclamation “Blessed art thou among women” at the time of the visitation.

Although the prayer said most often with the rosary is the Hail Mary, addressed to Jesus’ mother, the main focus is on the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

These are the “mysteries” or events that we think about while praying the rosary. The joyful mysteries include the events in the Gospel according to Luke up to when Jesus was 12, the luminous mysteries are about events from the time of Jesus’ baptism through his institution of the Eucharist, the sorrowful mysteries are about Jesus’ passion and death, and the glorious mysteries are about his resurrection and ascension, plus the descent of the Holy Spirit and the assumption and coronation of Mary.

St. Pope Paul VI called the rosary “a compendium of the entire Gospel.”

The rosary has been an important part of Catholicism for about eight centuries. Back in the late 12th century, laity who lived near monasteries began to pray 150 Hail Marys in imitation of the 150 Psalms the monks chanted. St. Dominic and other Dominicans popularized the devotion in the 13th century.

In the early 15th century, a Carthusian monk also named Dominic divided the 150 Hail Marys into three sets of 50. He also called each of 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 of the devotion.

Another 15th-century Carthusian monk, Henry of Kalkar, then divided the 50 Hail Marys into decades with an Our Father between each. A book published in 1483 listed the 15 mysteries that we meditated about through the 20th century except that the fourth glorious mystery combined Mary’s assumption and coronation and the fifth glorious mystery was the Last Judgment.

St. Pope John Paul II added the luminous mysteries in 2002.

If the rosary is not part of your life, we encourage you to add it. If it once was but isn’t now, perhaps this month dedicated to the rosary is a good time to resume the practice.

“Hail Mary, full of grace …”

—John F. Fink

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!