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History of the Rosary 

      In the dark ages of ninth century Ireland, the Monks recited or chanted the 150 Psalms of David day-after-day as a community prayer or "Praise to the Lord". The local peasants outside the monastery wanted to join in with their brothers in Christ in this praise, but they could neither read nor write, so they would instead recite the Lord's Prayer or the greeting of the Angel Gabriel when he announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Son of God. (We call this the "Hail Mary".) (Luke Chap. 1 & 2).  St Peter Damian (d. 1072) was the first to mention this form of prayer. Soon the Angelic Salutation replaced the 50 Our Fathers.

      As peasants moved away from the monastery, they wished to continue this practice and so would stop what they were doing at that time of the day and kneel in prayer and say 50 (50 = bouquet or rosarium and thus the name Rosary) or 150 Our Fathers or Hail Marys and count these prayers by small stones in a pouch or by knots on a string. In this way, they were joining in a "community of prayer" no matter where they were.

      Some medieval theologians considered the 150 Psalms to be veiled mysteries about the life, development, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They began to compose "Psalters of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" 150 praises in honor of Jesus. Soon psalters devoted to 150 praises of Mary were composed. 

      In about the 12th century a meditation on the life of Christ was incorporated into every rosary. So that in actuality each time we say a Rosary, we re-live a part of the lives of Mary and Christ.

      In about 1365, the salutations were grouped into decades and an Our Father was put before each decade. This combined the Our Father and the Angelic Salutation for the first time.

      In 1409, Special thoughts, meditations, were attached to each Hail Mary bead.

      In 1470, the Dominican Order spread the form of the "new rosary" throughout Western Christendom.

      1400-1500, the thoughts or meditations on the 150 Hail Mary beads took the form of woodcuts (graphic pictures). This exhausted the practice easily because of the volume of pictures. Picture rosaries were shortened to one picture/thought for each Our Father as it is today.

      In the early 1900's a movement was begun attempting to return to a form of the medieval rosary – one thought for every Hail Mary.

      The present devotion, differing from the medieval version, is composed almost entirely of direct quotations from the Bible. It is appropriately called "the Scriptural Rosary".

      The rosary is made up of twenty decades (ten beads), divided into five Joyful, five Sorrowful, five Luminous, and five Glorious mysteries, which make up a complete meditation on the life of Jesus and the life of His mother.

      An interesting way to pray a scriptural Rosary is to enter into the mystery as a participant. In other words, be one of the persons involved in that mystery, and to follow them through that part of the life of Christ. For example, be St. Peter in the Sorrowful Mysteries and follow him as Peter from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion; next time be Judas – and then Mary, Pilate – and then be Jesus as He meets each one of them on the way. The entire picture of each mystery comes together in a more meaningful way.

      The Rosary is the queen of Catholic devotions. It is the spiritual solace of Catholics. It is a compendium of Christian doctrine. It embraces both mental and oral prayer. The devout practice of this devotion preserves and enlivens faith; leads through Mary to Jesus; unfolds to the minds of Mary’s children the treasures the truth and grace hidden in the life of her soul. The devotion is so extensive within the Catholic Church that over 150 papal briefs have been issued in favor of this devotion. Pope urban VIII called the Rosary "the multiplier of Christians". Gregory XIV called it "the destruction of sin and the procurer of the grace and glory of God". Paul V called it “the treasury of Grace". Julius III called it the “tree of life".

     The idea in saying the Rosary is not simply to repeat words. The words are meant to serve as a background for thought and meditation. One might meditate on many things, but it has been customary for a long time to think about certain events in the life of Our Lord and Our Lady, which are called mysteries. There are twenty altogether divided into the five Joyful Mysteries, the five Luminous Mysteries, the five Sorrowful Mysteries and the five Glorious Mysteries. 


The Joyful Mysteries

(Said on Mondays, Saturdays, Sundays of Advent, and Sundays from Epiphany until Lent)


First Joyful Mystery - The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:26).

Second Joyful Mystery - The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39).

Third Joyful Mystery - The Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1).

Fourth Joyful Mystery - The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22)

Fifth Joyful Mystery - Finding Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41)


The Luminous Mysteries

(Said on Thursdays throughout the year)

First Luminous Mystery - The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan (Matthew 3:17).

The Second Luminous Mystery - The Wedding at Cana, Christ Manifested (John 2:11).

The Third Luminous Mystery - the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15).

The Fourth Luminous Mystery - The Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:2).

The Fifth Luminous Mystery - The Last Supper, the Holy Eucharist (Matthew 26:26).


The Sorrowful Mysteries

(Said on Tuesdays, Fridays, and daily from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday)

First Sorrowful Mystery - Agony of Jesus in the Garden (Matthew 26:36).

Second Sorrowful Mystery - Jesus is Scourged at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26).

Third Sorrowful Mystery - Jesus is Crowned With Thorns (Matthew 27:27)

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery - Jesus Carries His Cross (Matthew 27:32)

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery - The Crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27:33)


The Glorious Mysteries

(Said on Wednesdays, and Sundays throughout the year)

First Glorious Mystery - The Resurrection of Jesus (John 20:1).

Second Glorious Mystery - The Ascension of Jesus (Luke 24:36)

Third Glorious Mystery - The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1).

Fourth Glorious Mystery - The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

Fifth Glorious Mystery - The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth

© 2003 – Victor R. Claveau

Part or all of this article may be reproduced without obtaining permission as long as the author is cited.

“The Mother of God is the ladder of Heaven.

God came down to earth by this ladder,

That men might by Mary climb up to Him in heaven.”

–St. Fulgentius




Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved