THE ORIGIN OF THE ROSARY
 
The most holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a
new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that
there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal
or, above all, spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of
our families, of the families of the world, or of the religious
communities, or even of the life of peoples and nations, that cannot
be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter
how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the holy
Rosary. With the holy Rosary, we will save ourselves; we will sanctify
ourselves; we will console our Lord, and obtain the salvation of many
souls. [1] (Conversation between Sr. Lucy of Fatima and Fr. Fuentes,
Dec. 26, 1957)
 
These statements of Sr. Lucy certainly form the most beautiful
apologia that can be made for the Rosary. Certainly, the prayer most
effective for touching the heart of God is without a doubt liturgical
prayer: the holy Mass and the Divine Office (the breviary recited by
priests and monks and nuns). The Rosary has never claimed to replace
the liturgy. "But inversely, the liturgy does not eclipse the Rosary,
which has its own irreducible character."[2] Taking up the mysteries
of the Lord's life celebrated by the liturgy in the Christmas and
Easter cycles, the Rosary considers them in a particular way: "by
focusing attention on the place that our Lady holds in each one." [2]

AN EPIC: FROM MARIAN SALUTATIONS TO THE AVE
 
In history, rarely does a devotion appear suddenly. The divine
pedagogy often takes centuries to prepare souls to receive it. The
Rosary, one can say, stemmed from the habit of the early Christians
of thanking the Virgin Mary for all the benefits she had brought
mankind; such are the lines of verse by Sedulius in the fifth century
inserted in the liturgy: Gaudia Matris habens cum virginitatis honore/
Nec primam similem visa est, nee habere sequentem. [4] The Ave Maris
Stella and the Salve Regina, among others, sprang from a similar
inspiration. All sorts of salutations flourished in the piety of the
clergy and the laity, more or less developed according to the
inspiration. [5] This form of piety developed especially during the
Middle Ages following the great Marian devotion inspired by St.
Bernard. [6]
 
The contemplation of the Virgin Mary, her privileges, and the favors
she bestows on her children was considered a joy exceeding all other
joys. It was this joyful piety of the "Hail, Our Lady" that gave the
name of the Rosary. In the Middle Ages, the symbol of joy was the
rose. To crown one's head with a garland of roses (a chaplet) was a
sign of joy. The Virgin Mary was even called "a garden of roses." In
medieval Latin, a garden of roses is rosarium. [7]
 
It was felt that at each salutation, the Virgin Mary herself
experienced an echo of the joy of the Annunciation. It was not merely
a matter of cheering oneself at the thought of our Lady; the purpose
was also to rejoice the heart of Mary. The salutations were conceived
of as so many spiritual roses presented to the Virgin Mary by
fashioning for her a crown, a chaplet. In return, our Lady would
place upon the heads of her children an invincible diadem of roses,
of spiritual graces.
 
HOW THE AVE MARIA CAME ABOUT
 
In this fervor to greet our Lady, it is not surprising that the most
popular salutation was taken directly from the Gospel, from the
episodes of the Annunciation and the Visitation, which everyone
knows: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou
among women" (Lk. 1:28). "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is
the fruit of thy womb" (Lk. 1:42). These two salutations formed the
first part of the Ave Maria. According to common opinion, they were
joined around the 11th century. At the beginning of the 17th century,
the second part of the Ave Maria was not yet in general usage, and the
Ave often remained incomplete, comprising only the first part.
 
THE INSTITUTION OF THE ROSARY BY ST. DOMINIC
 
In vain would one expect to find in the literature of the 13th and
14th centuries a detailed account of the institution of the Rosary by
St. Dominic. That was not the literary genre of the time. These
writers were more anxious to edify their readers-which is the most
important thing-than to write history. The origins of the Rosary are
thus as if covered by a mysterious shadow. Providence wanted it thus,
with all due respect to modern rationalists. It is a secret between
the Virgin Mary and her servant Dominic. But it would be a great
impiety and an astounding lack of common sense and reason to use this
shadow to deny to St. Dominic the invention of this prayer as the
moderns do: It would be great impiety because the institution of the
Rosary by St. Dominic belongs to the most assured tradition, not only
of the Dominican Order, but also of the Roman Church. That is the
major argument. It would be a lack of good sense and reason, because
the documents of the 13th and 14th centuries offer indication of it
so numerous and so evident that they suffice to situate the
institution of the Rosary in a time neither before nor after St.
Dominic. We shall develop these two points about which modern
criticism is completely silent.
 
THE TRADITION OF THE ROMAN CHURCH
 
First of all, let us cite the Bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices
(1569) of St. Pius V. There he very clearly writes that St. Dominic
invented and then propagated in the entire holy Roman Church a mode
of prayer, called the Rosary or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
which consists in honoring the Blessed Virgin by the recitation of
150 Ave Marias, in conformity with the number of David's psalms,
adding to each decade of Aves the Lord's Prayer and the meditation of
the mysteries of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
In the Bull Monet Apostolus (1573), which instituted the solemnity of
the holy Rosary, Pope Gregory XIII recalls that St. Dominic in order
to deflect God's wrath and obtain the help of the Blessed Virgin,
instituted this practice so pious that it is called the Rosary or
Mary's Psalter.
 
In 1724, contradictors having called into question the attribution of
the Rosary to St. Dominic, Benedict XIII asked the Congregation for
Rites to study the question. The promoter of the faith, Prospero
Lambertini, the future Benedict XIV, establishing himself on the firm
ground of Roman tradition, annihilated the objections. On March 26,
1726, Benedict XIII made obligatory the lessons of the Roman breviary
for the Matins of the Feast of October 7th, teaching that Mary
recommended to St. Dominic the preaching of the Rosary to the people,
giving him to understand that this prayer would be an exceptionally
efficacious succor against heresies and vices. [8]
 
Benedict XIV, having learned of objections to the attribution of the
Rosary to St. Dominic, declared that the Roman tradition was founded
on the most solid basesvalidissimo fundamentoand he responded to
the adversaries:
You ask us if St. Dominic instituted the Rosary. You declare that you
are perplexed and full of doubts about this matter. But then what do
you make of so many oracles of the Sovereign Pontiffs, of Leo X, of
Pius V of Gregory XIII, of Sixtus V, of clement VIII, of Alexander
VII, of Innocent XI, of Clement XI, of Innocent XIII, of Benedict
XIII, and of still others, all unanimous in attributing to St.
Dominic the institution of the Rosary? [9]
 
THE EVIDENCE OF 13TH AND 14TH CENTURY DOCUMENTS
 
The contemporary documents give evidence of the appearance of a new
custom. We have seen in the early Marian salutations the remote
origin of the Rosary. Nevertheless, it is easy to demonstrate that
the custom of reciting a specific number of Ave Marias was not
practiced; in a word, it did not constitute an institution before St.
Dominic's epoch simply because no document and no tradition make
mention of it. But it is astonishing and convincing to observe that
from St. Dominic's time, the signs of this devotion, which has been
adopted by all, from the cultivated classes to the humble folk, from
the cloister to the world, abound in the archives of the time.
 
The number of 50 and of 150 Ave Marias, appears in the archives in a
significant way.
 
The documents are numerous to prove that, in the convents and
monasteries of the Dominican Order, from the 13th century, they
recited groups of Ave Marias, whether 50 or 150 or 1000....Who gave
this devotion to the Dominican friars and nuns of the 13th and 14th
centuries? Would it not be the founder of the Order, Dominic de
Guzman? [10]
 
Let us cite this beautiful testimony about King St. Louis:
Every evening the king would kneel fifty times, each time rising and
then rekneeling, and each time he knelt he would slowly recite an Ave
Maria. [11]
 
The usage of beads invaded every rank of society at that time also.
In Paris, there were no fewer than three companies making this item.
[12] Another interesting and revealing fact concerns Romee de Livia,
a direct disciple of St. Dominic. In the ancient chronicles we read
that the Blessed Romee, apparently a very lettered clerk because he
was successively prior of the convent at Lyons, then provincial of
Provence, and finally prior of Bourges, died while squeezing tightly
in his hands the knotted cord on which he counted his Ave Marias,
meditating and instructing the friars in this devotion to the holy
Virgin and the Child Jesus. [13]
 
This fact shows that, from the beginning, the first preachers proved
to be very zealous in spreading the devotion of St. Dominic to the
Rosary. The Dominicans, dispersed to the four corners of Christendom,
were to have a decisive influence in the expansion of the Rosary and
its implantation in every class of society. The Reverend Father
Mortier, O. P., eminent historian of the Dominican Order wrote:
The Order founded by St. Dominic developed from its beginning, in an
extraordinary way, the practical devotion to the Ave Maria. This is
incontestable. [14]
 
But the Rosary was not only a new and beautiful custom honoring our
Lady by the repetition of the angelic salutation. From St. Dominic's
time, the Rosary appeared as a weapon against the Church's enemies.
 
An historical document shows St. Dominic victoriously employing this
prayer in a famous battle against heretics. [15] It is about the
first victory of the Rosary, gained at Muret, near Toulouse, on the
12th of September in 1213 by St. Dominic.
 
Eight hundred Catholic knights, summoned by Pope Innocent III, found
themselves confronted by roughly 34,000 enemy troops (the Cathars
were reinforced by troops from Spain led by Peter II of Aragon).
Dominic with the clergy and the people entered the church at Muret,
and he made them pray one Rosary after the other. Five months after
the event, a notary of Languedoc wrote:
Dominicus afferre
Dum incipit tarn humilis
Dominicus coronas confene
Statim apparet agilis. [16]
 
The notary observes the humility of Dominic, who does not hesitate to
pray the Rosary (a very humble prayer, a prayer of the people); and he
remarks his agility at completing the crowns, that is to say, offering
them one after the other. [17] The victory of the Catholic knights,
led by Simon de Montfort was brilliant and miraculous. [18] The
chronicles relate that the enemies of religion fell upon each other
as the trees of a forest under the axes of an army of lumberjacks.
 
If the crusade of which the Battle of Muret was one of the most
glorious episodes restored political peace, it was especially the
preaching of the Rosary which converted and definitively pacified the
region. Here we come to an essential point. Before being a praise to
Mary, before being a providential arm for defending Christendom, the
Rosary was above all for St. Dominic a method of preaching.
 
At our Lady's recommendation, [20] St. Dominic preached the mysteries
of the faith, and at the same time made his audiences pray Paters and
Aves. He acted this way because speech, however brilliant, does not
suffice to convert. Only God's grace can break the soul's secret
resistances, and this grace can only be obtained by prayer. It is the
prayer of the apostle first of all, and St. Dominic would spend his
nights in prayer. But, says St. Thomas, "it happens that prayers made
for another are not answered... because of an obstacle placed by the
one for whom one prays." However, if the sinner himself begins to
pray, by praying he removes the obstacle to his conversion. There
are, indeed "four conditions the fulfilling of which assure that one
obtain what he asks: it is necessary to ask for what is necessary for
one's eternal salvation, and do it with piety and perseverance." It is
thus the work of an apostle particularly inspired and supernatural to
ally his preaching with the prayer of the one being instructed. [23]
 
This method was particularly appropriate for destroying the Cathar
heresy. For the Cathars, the physical world is the work of the Evil
One, the devil. Therefore God could not have assumed a human body in
the womb of a Virgin and died upon a cross to save us. They thus
denied the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption,
blaspheming against the Blessed Virgin, and they only acknowledged
one prayer, the Our Father, to which they had a superstitious
attachment. If the absence of Catholic preaching had favored the
implantation of Catharism, the popular preaching of the mysteries of
the Rosary joined to the praying of the Pater and the Ave was the
radical remedy to this scourge. A multitude of friars crisscrossed
the land, joining to their words the example of a life of poverty.
During the 13th century, there were no fewer than 118 convents of
religious mendicants (Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites,
Augustinians, Sachets [24] founded in Languedoc. Between 1216 and
1295, one counts 1,100 Dominicans who lived in the region. [25]
 
This union of vocal prayer with the meditation of the mysteries of
Christ and our Lady influenced pious practice, and so quickly that in
1236, for example, it was already mentioned in the Psalter placed in
the hands of the Beguines of Gand. [26] Again, nothing similar is
found before St. Dominic.
 
To the number of documents we have been commenting on we would like
to add one more of astonishing precision in which, in 1221, the name
of the Rosary is linked to St. Dominic during his lifetime. In it are
indicated the conditions of a perfectly constituted confraternity.
This document is a will conserved in the archives of St. James
College at Palencia, in Spain. One Antonin Sers makes incumbent the
carrying out of his intentions on "the honorable lord Dom Peter
Gonzales Tellme, rector of the Nicolates, and first administrator of
the confraternity founded in honor of the holy Rosary, with the
consent of the Lord Bishop Telle, by the respectable Dominic de
Guzman, confraternity," says the testator, "to which I belong." He
adds: "I desire that the members be gathered to pray for me, and in
compensation, as well as to defray the cost of the candles of the
confraternity which they will carry in their hands, that they receive
38 maravedis and 3 measures of wheat."
 
"What could be clearer?" exclaims Mamachi, [26] not only as to the
name, but as to the confraternity of the Rosary, and that from the
time of St. Dominic, more than two centuries before Alain de la
Roche. And this will and testament of Antonin Sers is drawn from
authentic archives--monumenta ex archivis authenticis extracta; it is
clearly dated-notis chronologicis distincta; it is offered with the
authority of irrecusable witnesses-et fide dignis testimoniis
roborata, that is to say, on the affirmation of notaries
public--publicanorum scribarum, of the auditor of the apostolic
nunciature and of counselors of the crown. If you cannot defer to
such authorities, whom can you believe? [28]
 
Among the documents in evidence of the volume published in the
Annales Ordinis Praedicatorum, the illustrious scholar is careful to
publish, with the will of Antonin Sers, all the attestations in favor
of this act delivered, at the Dominicans' request, by Dom Francisco
Antonino de Angulo, of the Council of His Catholic Majesty, his
secretary and first official of the secretariat of the Chamber and of
the Royal Patronage. [29]
 
How is it possible not to ascribe to St. Dominic the institution of
the Rosary when the Sovereign Pontiffs attribute it to him with
unbroken unanimity, and when documents abound to prove the appearance
of the devotion at the time of the saint and in the order he founded?
 
As to the manner in which the Rosary was given to this great saint,
was it by the ordinary ways of grace, that is, by a simple
inspiration? Or was it rather under the form of a heavenly vision of
which the saint kept the secret and during which the Virgin Mary
would have instructed and consoled her disciple? The last solution
cannot be rejected. It must even have our favor, because it is from a
venerable tradition, too favored by the Church and too ingrained in
the memory of the faithful to be just a pious legend.
 
Where did the revelation take place? The citizens of Toulouse place
it in the forest of Bouconne, not far from their city, where St.
Dominic founded his first convent. 30 The Church of Puy says that it
was in its cathedral. 31 Fr. Petitot speaks of a tradition situating
the event in the sanctuary of Prouille in Languedoc, at the foot of
the village of Fanjeaux, the place where St. Dominic founded the
contemplative Dominican nuns, and whence he sent forth his first
preaching friars into all of Europe on August 15, 1217. [32]
 
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
1. Bro. Michael of the Blessed Trinity, The Whole Truth About Fatima,
vol. 3 (Buffalo, NY: Immaculate Heart Publications, 1990).
2. Fr. Roger Calmel, O. P., "Dignite du Rosaire," Itineraires, April
1962, p. 142.
3. Ibid.,pp.l42-143.
4. Having both the joy of motherhood and the honor of virginity. No
one else has been seen to possess a like privilege, neither before
her nor after.
5. Let us note St. Hermann-Joseph (1161-1241), a German
Premonstratensian and priest, who wrote in honor of our Lady a long
prayer of 80 stanzas which are salutations to the Madonna. He asks
her to rejoice for all the gifts she has received and for all that
she is. For him, she is "the Rose of love." (Fr. Joseph Andre, Le
chapelain de Notre-Dame, [Abbaye St-Michel de Frigolet,
Tarascon-sur-Rhone, 1955], pp. 128-137.)
 6. On this topic of the relation between joy, the rose, and the
rosary, see the article "Rosaire," by Fr. Gorce, O. P., in the
Dictionnaire de theologie catholique.
 7. A qua  cum monitus esset ut Rosarium populis praedicaret,
velut singulare adversus haereses et vitia praesidium.
8. Cited by Fr. Antonin Danzas, O. P., in his work Etudes sur les
tempsprimitifs de I'Ordre de Saint-Dominique (Paris: Oudin Freres,
1877), vol. 4, p. 59.
9. Fr. Mortier, O. P.,Histoire abregee de I 'Ordre dominicain en
France (Tours: Mame, 1920), vol. 4, p.8.
10. Danzas, Etudes, p.402.
11. Mentioned by Fr. Danzas, ibid., p.406.
12. Bernard Gui, cited by Fr. Petitot, O. P., Vie de saint Dominique
(Saint-Maximin: Editions de la Vie Spirituelle, 1925), p.185. This
book was republished in 1996 under the title Dominique Guzman, un
saint pour le XXIe siecle. Bernard Gui, of whom Fr. Petitot speaks,
is one of the first and most conscientious Dominican historians. He
wrote at the beginning of the 14th century.
13. Ibid., p.8.
14. Fr. Petitot mentions it in his work Vie de saint Dominique in
chapter 9, p. 187. The fact is equally reported by Fr. Danzas on
p.449 in the work cited.
15. Dominic brings roses , he seems so humble when he
begins ; Dominic makes crowns, he seems so agile [at
praying].
16. Petitot, We, pp. 186-87.
17. The Catholics suffered only 8 deaths, and their enemies, 10,000,
among whom was the King of Aragon himself.
18. An excellent book on this subject is unquestionably the work by
Dominic Paladilhe, Simon de Montfort et le drame cathare (Paris:
Librairie Aca-demique Perrin, 1988). Delving into the best sources,
the author shows us the true face of Simon de Montfort, one of the
fairest examples of Christian knighthood at the Church's service.
19. See Matins for October 7th in the Roman breviary.
20. Summa Theologica, IIII, Q. 83, Art. 7.
21. Ibid, II II,Q. 83,Art. 15, ad 2 in fine. In article 16, St.
Thomas adds: "...God hears the sinner's prayer if it proceed from a
good natural desire, not out of justice, because the sinner does not
merit to be heard, but out of pure mercy, provided however he fulfill
the four conditions given above."
22. It is interesting to note that St. Francis Xavier, the great
apostle of Asia, was to use a similar method. His popular catechism
lessons were exercises in prayer as much as in doctrine: "I said the
Credo article by article....! told them that being a Christian is
just simply believing firmly, without hesitation, these twelve
points... .Then I said the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria... .We
recited twelve Paters and twelve Aves in honor of the twelve articles
of the Faith." (A. Brou, Saint Francois Xavier [Paris: Beauchesne,
1912],pp.204-5).
23. Mendicant order founded by a Franciscan c. 1240.
24. These facts are detailed in the work of Fr. Vicaire, O. P., Les
Precheurs et la vie religieuse des pays d'Oc au XIHe siecle
(Toulouse: Privat, 1998), in the chapter entitled L'action de I'
enseignement et de la predication des Mendiants vis-a-vis des
cathares, especially pp.374, 375.
25. Mentioned by Fr. Danzas, O. P., Etudes, p.433.
26. Dominican, deceased in 1792. He was the secretary of the
Congregation of the Index and Master of the Holy Palace under Pope
Pius VI. "The works of Fr. Mamachi suppose a very great erudition"
(Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, vol. 9, col. 1807).
27. Annales Ord. Praed., I, 324.
28. What we report here has been taken from the book by Fr. Antonin
Danzas, O. P., Etudes sur les temps primitifs de I'ordre de saint
Dominique, vol. 4 Blessed Jourdain de Saxe, pp.428-29.
29. This is the account reported by St. Louis-Marie Grignion de
Monfort in Le secret admirable du Tres Saint Rosaire.
30. Proper of the breviary of Puy, on the day of the Dedication of
the cathedral (July 11). Moreover, all the chroniclers and historians
of the Velay, especially in the 17th century, mention the passage of
St. Dominic and his apparition from the Blessed Virgin about the
Rosary.
31. Petitot, Vie de Saint Dominique, p. 189. The several traditions
relating apparitions of our Lady to St. Dominic in different places
in order to give him the Rosary are not contradictory. It is known
that the Blessed Virgin appeared numerous times to St. Dominic during
his lifetime. Our Lady, who had the habit of speaking to St. Dominic,
might well have spoken to him about the Rosary several times, as this
devotion was to be of such importance in the Church's history.