The Rosary – The Great Prayer

The Rosary – The Great Prayer February 24, 2022

The Blessed Virgin Mary Holding The Rosary

The Rosary as we have it today originated in the mid- to late fifteenth century, though legend has it that it first arose from St. Dominic, in the early thirteenth century, before falling into disuse. The Rosary was based on prayer traditions using multiple repetitions of the same prayer, at first the Lord’s Prayer, using knots on a rope to keep count.


In ninth century Ireland, the laity began using a string of beads to keep count of the one hundred fifty Our Fathers they said to mirror the number of Psalms said by the regular clergy of convents in the Divine Office; at that time it was called “Our Lady’s Psalter”. In the similar practice in the Eastern Church, the laity usually used knotted rope.

The intention was to mirror the 150 Psalms. In the first few centuries, some said 150 Our Fathers, some 150 Hail Marys, some 150 praises to Jesus, some 150 praises to Mary. By the fourteenth century, brief meditations were attached to each repetition of the primary prayer, there being sets of 50, of 100, and of 150.

The Angelic Salutation in the East

Contrary to popular belief, the Angelic Salutation is not just a Western aberration.

Nearly all Eastern translations into English render the first word as “Rejoice!” rather than “Hail!”. St. Jerome, who translated the Vulgate from Greek into Latin, was far from being a linguistic savant. The Greek word “Chaire” does mean “Rejoice” just as “Ave” does mean “Hail”. Where Jerome has “gratia plena”, or “full of grace”, the original Greek has the word “kerecharitomene”, or “favored one”.

In the East, the two sentences from Luke joined as one were used in a regular prayer as early as the fifth century. In fact, it has been a part of the Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem, or St. Mark of Alexandria, of St. Basil the Great, and of the Abyssinian Jacobites. Some Eastern scholars and theologians surmise that its use goes back to the fourth century, or dates back to the introduction of the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431.

In composing his formula for the Sacrament of Baptism in 647, St. Severus, Patriarch of Alexandria, included the prayer thus: “Peace be with thee, Mary, favored one, for the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Holy Mary, Theotokos, pray for us sinners. Amen”. This is the first instance known of a petition being added to the end of the Angelic Salutation, but it never spread in the East.

More About The Rosary in the Catholic Church

In 1198, the Order of the Most Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives began saying the Rosary of the Holy Trinity on a chaplet of three groups on nine beads. The prayer around which the chaplet was structured is the Trisagion.

In 1233, the Order of the Servants of Mary, known as the Servites, instituted their rosary known as the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. The form is used with a chaplet of seven decades.

In 1422, the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans) established the Rosary of the Seven Joys of Our Lady, also known as the Franciscan Crown. This rosary is said with seven decades of Hail Marys, book-ended by an Our Father and a Minor Doxology, with two more Hail Marys added at the end.

In 1851, the Vatican approved the Chaplet of St. Michael, consisting of nine groups of three small beads separated by a large bead. The prayers used are the Paternoster and the Ave Maria.

In 1912, the Order of the Visitation instituted the Rosary of the Five Wounds, said on a chaplet of five decades but with different prayers.

In 1935, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy instituted the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, said on a chaplet of five decades but using special prayers.

In 1983, the visionaries at Medjugorje, Croatia, introduced, or revived, a form known as the Jesus Rosary.  This consists of seven meditations of five beads each, before which the mystery and intention are said aloud, followed by five Our Fathers, concluding with this collect: “O Jesus, be strength and protection for us”. At the end, seven Minor Doxologies are recited.

The Rosary is cherished in the Catholic Church. Archbishop Fulton Sheen did say,

“The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.”


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