The History of the Rosary
It is one of the most ancient forms of prayer. The religious exercise of reciting prayers while using a string of beads is, in fact, widespread among other religions. In the Christian church, the practice began in the early days of Christianity. It originated among the early monks and hermits who used a piece of heavy cord knotted at intervals as an aid to recite the prayers. It's also called the psalms of Mary as it parallels the 150 psalms of the bible. It's always been the "prayer of the people" as it is for both the simple and learned. It was the laity's desire to share in the church's daily prayer, the liturgy of the hours (150 psalms). This is what prompted the development of the rosary.
The word "rosary" means "crown of roses" from the Latin "rosarium" or "rose garden". The symbolism stems from the custom of offering spiritual bouquets (gifts of prayers) in honor of other believers. The rose is also one of the early symbols of the Virgin Mary. The rosary combines a long series of invocations to the mother of our lord, held together by scenes from the life of Jesus or Mary on which one meditates while saying the prayers. Through the centuries the religious exercise of reflecting on scriptures has remained a meaningful form of prayer of the church. All of the prayers of the rosary are found in scripture.
In three sets (joyful, sorrowful and glorious) a person meditates on Christian history of salvation. The rosary uses our fingers and our lips to invite our hearts to recall and meditate on scripture.
In the western church, ST. Brigid of Ireland (450-525) used a rosary similar to what we use today. It was an Irish monk who suggested to the people around the monastery to pray a series of 150 our fathers in place of 150 psalms. Strings of beads have been discovered in the tomb of ST. Rosalia (1160). Because the rosary developed over a period of centuries, no one can take credit for it's invention. The rosary beads were simply a tool to keep count of the prayers (psalms).
Throughout the middle ages, the strings of beads were known as "paternosters, Latin for 'our fathers', the lord's prayer. During the 12th century the practice of praying the rosary began to include the first half of what we now know to be the Hail Mary, with the second half being added years later.
ST. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) is credited with inventing the rosary, as we know it today. In a vision from the blessed mother Mary, ST. Dominic was commanded to preach and popularize this devotion for the prosperity of the church.
The Dominican order of priests have been the greatest promoters over the centuries. There were other orders of priests also that contributed greatly. But, it was ST. Dominic of Prussia, a Carthusian monk (1410-1439) that linked the 50 Hail Marys with 50 phrases referring to Jesus and Mary. It was Henry of Kalkaar (1328-1405) who divided these prayers into decades. In 1569 an apostolic letter officially established the devotion of the rosary in the church. There were others such as Peter Cansius (1521) and Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) as well as Popes from Leo XIII to John Paul II that contributed significantly to promotion of the rosary as a personal devotion.
To say or pray the rosary is to take time to meditate on the lives of Jesus and Mary. Because of this, the rosary was called "an epitome of the whole gospel" by Pope Paul VI. It is both a vocal and mental prayer. Archbishop Sheen said the rosary could help us to sanctify all the idle moments of our lives. We can easily pray and meditate on the rosary as we walk, drive, wait in traffic or doctor's offices. At malls etal. These all become opportunities to focus on god's presence in our lives. This helps us to follow St. Paul's invitation to pray at all times and in all circumstances. Through the rosary, Mary's life and her willingness to say "yes" to god's mystery of salvation, becomes for each of us a living sermon, a guide, a sign.
The History of the Rosary
How to Pray the Rosary
The Mysteries of the Rosary
The Fifteen Promises of Mary
Taking the Time to Pray the Rosary
Other Thoughts on the Rosary