The History of the Catholic Rosary
The history of the rosary is largely connected to one of the main prayers of the ancient Catholic Church: the Liturgy of the Hours also known as the Divine Office. If done properly, the Divine Office would allow for the recitation of all 150 psalms in a single day. However, most lay people at that time could not read and, therefore, could not learn the psalms. The rosary developed as an alternative prayer for the illiterate. Instead of praying the 150 psalms, the lay people would pray the Hail Mary 150 times. To keep count of the prayers, the people would use pebbles, knotted cords, or, eventually, strands of beads.
After a while, the rosary became a collection of five decades of Hail Marys interspersed with the Our Father and the Glory Be prayers. The people were also encouraged to meditate on the lives of Jesus and Mary while saying the prayers. Eventually, there were developed three sets of five “mysteries”, the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious, that, if prayed every day, would retain the original 150 prayers.
Saint Dominic (1170-1221), the founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans, played a major role in the history of the rosary. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and promised that his new order would flourish if he spread devotion to her and to the rosary. There is also a legend that she handed him the first beaded rosary. The fact that the rosary is now so popular is often attributed to the work of Saint Dominic. To this day, the Dominicans still pray the original 150 prayer rosary.
There are two important events in the history of the rosary that have taken place in relatively modern times. During the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, the Blessed Virgin asked that the “O my Jesus” or the “Fatima Prayer” be recited after every decade of the rosary. As devotion to the apparitions spread, the prayer became more and more common and is now considered a necessary part of the rosary.
The other modern event in the history of the rosary is the inclusion of a new set of mysteries. In 2002, Pope John Paul II created a new set called the Luminous mysteries.
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