*This is the second essay in a series about ritual and faith. This entry is a joint piece by Thomas Lewis and Rt. Rev. John. *
The rosary is a ritualistic prayer that was revealed to St. Dominic during “the time when he was preaching to the Albigenses,” having complained of little success, Our Lady responded, saying, “Wonder not that until now you have obtained so little fruit by your labours; you have spent them on a barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of Divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it the fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation. Therefore preach my Psalter, composed of 150 Angelic Salutations and 15 Our Fathers, and you will obtain an abundant harvest” (Source). The Angelic Salutation of the time was drawn from Luke 1:28,42: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
In 1569, Pope St. Pius V, a Dominican walking in the steps of St. Dominic, expanded the prayer to include “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” while also recommending that one should meditate “on the mysteries which recall the entire life of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Source). There is no need to explain the Mysteries here, as they are discussed extensively elsewhere as well as being outside the scope of this essay, but this highlights that the rosary is a meditative exercise meant to draw the faithful closer to the Christ and the Blessed Mother. Just two years later, on Sunday, October 7, 1571, the fleet of the Catholic Holy League sailed to confront the Turkish navy “in the strait between the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth, then called Lepanto … at day’s end the Christian fleet had scored a decisive victory” (Source). St. Pius V attributed that great victory to the rosary and those who prayed it, and his successor, Pope Gregory XIII, “established an anniversary Mass of the Rosary on the first Sunday of October 1573.”
This demonstrates that the Holy Rosary as ritual prayer provides not only a focus for a deepening of one’s faith but also an affirmation of the faith itself against the wicked. The Church has used ritualistic prayer for the entirety of its history to bring the faithful closer to God, but the rosary has taken on a special role in that regard. Praying Our Lady’s Psalter regularly is encouraged to induce a greater understanding of the Mysteries contained within the life of Christ and the Assumption and Crowning of the Blessed Virgin.
More recently, the rosary has also been expanded to include the Apostles’ Creed and the Gloria Patri, making it serve almost as a mini-catechism refreshing and reaffirming one’s faith with each recitation. This combined with the meditative state allows one to contemplate the broader Mysteries of the Faith and one’s relationship to God. We are incapable of fully understanding the Divine on our own, but praying the rosary helps us receive the truth that God wishes us to receive. Without the gift of the rosary and the lesson of ritual prayer contained within, many faithful, both past and present, would have been lost or never would have found their way to the Lord. For this gift, we must raise our voices to the heavens in praise and thanks.