On the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B. The Liturgical Year, Vol XIV, pp. 296-298
In its present form, the rosary was made known to the world by St. Dominic at the time of the struggles with the Albigensians, that social war of such ill-omen for the Church. The rosary was then of more avail than armed forces against the power of Satan; it is now the Church’s last resource. It would seem that, the ancient forms of social prayer being no longer relished by the people, the Holy Ghost has willed by this easy and ready summary of the liturgy to maintain, in the isolated devotion of these unhappy times, the essential of that life of prayer, faith, and Christian virtue, which the public celebration of the Divine Office formerly kept up among the nations. Before the thirteenth century, popular piety was already familiar with what was called the psalter of the laity, that is the angelical salutation repeated one hundred and fifty times; it was the distribution of these Hail Marys into decades, each devoted to the consideration of a particular mystery, that constituted the rosary. Such was the divine expedient, simple as the eternal Wisdom that conceived it, and far reaching in its effects; for while it led wandering man to the Queen of Mercy, it obviated ignorance which is the food of heresy, and taught him to find once more “the paths consecrated by the Blood of the Man-God, and by the tears of His Mother.” (Leo XIII, Magnæ Dei Matris, 8 September 1892)
Thus speaks the great Pontiff who, in the universal sorrow of these days, has again pointed out the means of salvation more than once experienced by our fathers. Leo XIII, in his encyclicals, has consecrated the present month [of October] to this devotion so dear to heaven; he has honored our Lady in her litanies with a new title, Queen of the most holy rosary (Letter “Salutaris,” 24 December 1883); and he has given the final development to the solemnity of this day, by raising it to the rank of a second class feast, and by enriching it with a proper office explaining its permanent object. (Decrees of 11 September 1887 and 5 August 1888.) Beside all this the feast is a memorial of glorious victories, which do honor to the Christian name.
Soliman II, the greatest of the Sultans, taking advantage of the confusion caused in the west by Luther, had filled the sixteenth century with terror by his exploits. He left to his son, Selim II, the prospect of being able at length to carry out the ambition of his race: to subjugate Rome and Vienna, the Pope and the Emperor, to the power of the crescent. The Turkish fleet had already mastered the greater part of the Mediterranean, and was threatening Italy when, on October 7, 1571, it came into action, in the Gulf of Lepanto, with the pontifical galleys supported by the fleets of Spain and Venice. It was Sunday; throughout the world the confraternities of the rosary were engaged in their work of intercession. Supernaturally enlightened, St. Pius V watched from the Vatican the battle undertaken by the leader he had chosen, Don John of Austria, against the three hundred vessels of Islam. The illustrious Pontiff, whose life work was now completed, did not survive to celebrate the anniversary of the triumph; but he perpetuated the memory of it by an annual commemoration of our Lady of Victory. His successor, Gregory XIII, altered this title to our Lady of the rosary, and appointed the first Sunday of October for the new feast, authorizing its celebration in those churches which possessed and altar under that invocation. A century and a half later, this limited concession was made general. As Innocent XI, in memory of the deliverance of Vienna [from the Moslems] by [the Polish general, John] Sobieski, had extended the feast of the most holy name of Mary to the whole Church; so in 1716, Clement XI inscribed the feast of the rosary on the universal calendar, in gratitude for the victory gained by Prince Eugene at Peterwardein, on August 5, under the auspices of our Lady of the snow. This victory was followed by the raising of the siege of Corfu, and completed a year later by the taking of Belgrade.
Meditating On The Mysteries
In Dom Guéranger’s article (above) the great Pope Leo XIII speaks of the Rosary as helping us to find once more “the paths consecrated by the Blood of the Man-God, and by the tears of His Mother.” In the Abbot’s own words, each of the decades is “devoted to the consideration of a particular mystery” and it is that consideration “that constitute[s] the rosary.” More than just a number of Hail Mary’s the Rosary is meditation on the lives of our Lord and Lady. In order to pray the Rosary properly we must be prepared to meditate. Like all meditative prayer, it requires that we be acquainted with our subject matter and be prepared to call the points of meditation easily to mind.
There are many good sources of Rosary meditation. The daily missal is a good place to begin— most of them have a section on the Rosary with something to say about each mystery, and perhaps, a particular virtue to strive for in light of the meditation. Yet there is probably no substitute for being familiar with the accounts of the fifteen events as they are found in Sacred Scripture. The following is a list of the more obvious biblical references, but a regular reading of the Sacred texts will enable you to find more and to better appreciate the ones you already know.
Feel free to consider the mysteries in their wider sense. For example, in the first mystery there is some insight to be gained in reading Matthew 1 (which applies more directly to Saint Joseph) as well as in reading Luke 1—and Genesis 3 wouldn’t hurt at all—nor John 1….
The Joyful Mysteries
For the love of humility
Gabriel informs Mary that she has been chosen Mother of God. The Incarnation: Luke 1, Matthew 1, John 1.
For charity towards neighbors
Mary visits Elizabeth, pregnant in her old age with John the Baptist: Luke 1.
For the spirit of poverty
The birth of our Lord at Bethlehem: Luke 2, Matthew 1 & 2, John 1, Psalm 2.
Presentation in the Temple:
For the virtue of obedience
Jesus is take to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the Mosaic Law. Luke 2, Exodus 13, Leviticus 12.
Finding in the Temple:
For the virtue of piety
At twelve years old, “I must be about My Father’s business.” Luke 2.
The Sorrowful Mysteries
Agony in the Garden:
For true contrition
Our Lord prays over His imminent crucifixion: Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22.
Scourging at the Pillar:
For the virtue of purity
Our Lord is beaten with leaded whips by the Romans: Matthew 27, Mark 15, John 19, Isaias 53.
Crowning with Thorns:
For moral courage
He is crowned in mockery of His kingship. Matthew 27, Mark 15, John 19.
Carrying the Cross:
For the virtue of patience
He carries the instrument of His own execution, and our salvation: Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23.
Agony and Death on the Cross:
For final perseverance
The unique Sacrifice of the New Testament: Matthew 27, Markÿ15, Luke 23, John 19, Hebrews 9-10, Psalm 21, Zacharia 12-13.
The Glorious Mysteries
For the virtue of faith
On the third day He rose again from the dead: Matthew 28, Luke 7, John 11, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21.
For the virtue of hope
Ascending into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father: Mark 16, Luke 24, Acts 1.
Descent of the Holy Ghost:
For the love of God
The apostles were all filled with the Holy Ghost: Acts 2, Joel 2.
For devotion to Mary
Sinless Mary is taken to heaven, body and soul: Not mentioned in scripture, but Cf. Proverbs 8, Psalm 15, Luke 1, Apocalypse 12.
Coronation of Mary:
For eternal happiness
Mary reigns in heaven as Queen; spouse of the Holy Ghost, mother of Christ the King: Not mentioned in scripture, but Cf. Judith 13, Ecclesiasticus 24, Apocalypse 12.
O God, whose only-begotten Son, by His life, His death, and His resurrection, has purchased for us the reward of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating on these mysteries in the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may both imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.