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The rosary (from Latin rosarium, meaning "Crown of Roses" or "garland of roses") is a Roman Catholic sacramental and Marian devotion to prayer and the commemoration of Jesus and events of his life. The term "Rosary" is used to describe both a sequence of prayers and a string of prayer beads used to count the prayers. The word is sometimes written with an initial capital in a Catholic context.
For over four centuries, the rosary has been promoted by several popes as part of the veneration of Mary. The rosary also represents the Roman Catholic emphasis on "participation in the life of Mary, whose focus was Christ," and the Mariological theme "to Christ through Mary," taught by Saint Louis de Montfort.
The sequence of prayers is the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary ten times, and the Glory Be to the Father, sometimes followed by the Fatima Prayer. Each sequence is known as a decade. Five decades are prayed, after beginning with the Apostle's Creed and five initial prayers. The praying of each decade is accompanied by meditation on one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall the life of Jesus.
The traditional fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary were standardized based on the long-standing custom by Pope Pius V in the 16th century. The mysteries are grouped into three sets: the Joyful mysteries, the Sorrowful mysteries, and the Glorious mysteries. In 2002 Pope John Paul II announced a set of five new optional mysteries called the Luminous mysteries, bringing the total number of mysteries to twenty.
The rosary is part of the Catholic veneration of Mary, which has been promoted by numerous popes. In the 16th century, Pope Pius V introduced the rosary into the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (later changed to Our Lady of the Rosary), celebrated on October 7.
Pope Leo XIII, known as "The Rosary Pope", issued twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary and added the invocation Queen of the most Holy Rosary to the Litany of Loreto. Pope Pius XII and his successors actively promoted the veneration of the Virgin in Lourdes and Fatima, which is credited with a new resurgence of the rosary within the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II (whose pontificate had major Marian themes) issued the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae which built on the "total Marian devotion" pioneered by Saint Louis de Montfort.
On May 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the Rosary was experiencing a new springtime: "It is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and his Mother." To Benedict XVI, the rosary is a meditation on all important moments of salvation history.
The Congregation for Divine Worship also emphasizes the importance of the rosary as a formative component of spiritual life.
The theologian Romano Guardini thus defined the Roman Catholic emphasis on the rosary as "participation in the life of Mary, whose focus was Christ." His statement echoed the view that in Roman Catholic Mariology the path to Christ is through Mary, with Mariology being inherent in Christology; a sentiment also expressed by saints such as Louis de Montfort who was a strong rosary advocate. This view had been endorsed by Leo XIII who viewed the rosary as a vital means to participate in the life of Mary and to find the way to Christ.
Devotion to the rosary is one of the most notable features of popular Catholic spirituality. Pope John Paul II placed the rosary at the very center of Christian spirituality and called it "among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation."
Saints and popes have emphasized the meditative and contemplative elements of the rosary and provided specific teachings for how the rosary should be prayed, for instance the need for "focus, respect, reverence and purity of intention" during rosary recitations and contemplations.
From the sixteenth century onwards, rosary recitations often involved "picture texts" that assisted meditation. Such imagery continues to be used to depict the mysteries of the rosary. Saints have stressed the importance of meditation and contemplation. Scriptural meditations on the rosary build on the Christian tradition of Lectio Divina, (literally divine reading) as a way of using the Gospel to start a conversation between the soul and Christ. Padre Pio, who was devoted to the rosary, said: "Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him."
References to the rosary have been part of a number of reported Marian Apparitions spanning two centuries. The reported messages from these apparitions have influenced the spread of rosary devotions worldwide. In Quamquam Pluries Pope Leo XIII related rosary devotions to Saint Joseph and granted indulgences for adding a prayer to St. Joseph to the Rosary during the month of October.
Praying the rosary may be prescribed by priests as a form of penance after confession. Penance in this form is not generally intended as a "punishment"; rather, it is meant to encourage reflection upon and spiritual growth from past sins.
Some forms of the Roman Catholic rosary are aimed at reparation including the sins of others. An example is the Rosary of the Holy Wounds first introduced at the beginning of the 20th century by the Venerable Sister Mary Martha Chambon, a Roman Catholic nun of the Monastery of the Visitation Order in Chambéry, France. This rosary is somewhat similar in structure to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, is said on the usual rosary beads, and is intended as an Act of Reparation to Jesus Christ for the sins of the world.
There are differing views on the history of the rosary. According to tradition, the concept of the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition by the Virgin Mary in the year 1214 in the church of Prouille. This Marian apparition received the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. In the 15th century it was promoted by Alanus de Rupe (aka Alain de la Roche or Saint Alan of the Rock), a learned Dominican priest and theologian, who established the "15 rosary promises" and started many rosary confraternities. However, most scholarly research suggests a more gradual and organic development of the rosary.
The practice of meditation during the praying of the Hail Marys is attributed to Dominic of Prussia (1382–1460), a Carthusian monk, who called it "Life of Jesus Rosary". The German monk from Trier added a sentence to each of the 50 Hail Marys, using quotes from scriptures. In 1569, the papal bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices by the Dominican Pope Pius V officially established the devotion to the rosary in the Catholic Church.
From the 16th to the early 20th century, the structure of the rosary remained essentially unchanged. There were 15 mysteries, one for each of the 15 decades. In the 20th century the addition of the Fatima Prayer to the end of each decade became more common. There were no other changes until 2002 when John Paul II instituted five optional new Luminous Mysteries.
The rosary has been featured in the writings of Roman Catholic figures from saints to popes and continues to be mentioned in reported Marian apparitions, with a number of promises attributed to the power of the rosary.
As early as the 15th century, through Saint Dominic and Alan de la Roche the Virgin Mary is reputed to have made 15 specific promises to Christians who pray the rosary. The Fifteen rosary promises range from protection from misfortune to meriting a high degree of glory in heaven. In support of this statement Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes of New York provided his imprimatur to this effect.
In the 18th century, the French priest Louis de Montfort elaborated on the importance of the rosary and its power in his widely read book Secret of the Rosary. He emphasized the power of the rosary and provided specific instructions on how it should be prayed, e.g. with attention, devotion and modesty (reverence), with reflective pauses between the beads and smaller pauses between phrases of the prayers.
One of the forces that drove the spread of the rosary during the 19th century among Roman Catholics was the influence of the Rosary Pope, a title given to Leo XIII (1878–1903) because he issued a record twelve encyclicals and five Apostolic Letters on the rosary, instituted the Catholic custom of daily rosary prayer during the month of October and, in 1883, added the invocation Queen of the most Holy Rosary to the Litany of Loreto.
Leo XIII explained the importance of the rosary as the one road to God, from the father to the son, to his mother, and from her to the human race. He said that no human creature can change this and therefore there exists only one road for the faithful, to the mother and from her to Christ and through Christ to the Father, and that the rosary was a vital means to participate in the life of Mary and to find the way to Christ. This emphasis on the path through Mary to Christ (which was also a basis for some of Louis de Montfort's writings) has since been a key direction in Roman Catholic Mariology, with Mariology being viewed as inherent in Christology, and the rosary paving that path.
The use of Novenas which include a rosary is popular among Catholics. As in other Novenas, the traditional method consists of praying the rosary on nine consecutive days, and submitting a petition along with each prayer. Indulgences are provided for rosary Novenas that include specific prayers, e.g. a prayer to Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Dominic.
The longer "54-day Rosary Novena" consists of two parts, 27 days each, i.e. three repetitions of the 9 day Novena cycle. It is an uninterrupted series of Rosaries in honor of the Virgin Mary, reported as a private revelation by Fortuna Agrelli in Naples, Italy in 1884. The Novena is performed by praying five decades of the Rosary each day for twenty-seven days in petition. The second phase which immediately follows it consists of five decades each day for twenty-seven days in thanksgiving, and is prayed whether or not the petition has been granted. During the novena, the meditations rotate among the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries.
The structure of the Catholic rosary devotion is as follows:
Common pious additions to the Rosary occur after each decade and after recitation of the Hail Holy Queen. Some Catholics recite the Fatima Decade Prayer at the end of each decade following the Glory Be. Some add the Miraculous Medal prayer "O Mary, conceived without sin..." or the Fatima Ave refrain ("Ave, Ave, Ave Maria! Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!"). Others add a praying of a pious Eucharistic prayer "O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine" at the end of each decade in honor of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In the practice of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, there is an additional decade for the intentions of the students or the Virgin Mary.
After the Hail, Holy Queen many Catholics add the prayer "O God, by Your Only Begotten Son...", the prayer to Saint Michael, and a prayer for the intentions of the Pope. In some cases, the Litany of Loreto may be recited at the end.
Among Filipino and Spanish Catholics, the Rosary prayers are often recited in a varying format commonly used in their respective parishes. The format was devised in order to break the monotonous repetition of the rosary which sometimes causes dizzyness or boredom. While the introductory prayers are generally standard, the Mysteries begin with the leader reciting the Our Father while the congregation responds at Give us our daily bread..."
However, in the second and fourth mystery, the congregation recites the beginning of Our Father and Hail Mary while the leader takes on the remaining half of the prayers.
As a climax reminder, the leader recites "Glory...Holy Mary, Mother of God..." on the 10th Hail Mary in order to remind the faithful that their next prayer is Glory be to the Father. Pious recitations among Filipino Catholics often invoke the ejaculatory prayers of Our Lady of Fatima, as well as the purgatorial prayers of Sister Consolata Betrone, along with any specific invocation to a particular title of the Blessed Virgin Mary (varies by Marian patronage and title). The common Dominican format of the Rosary is then followed.
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The Mysteries of the Rosary are meditations on episodes in the life and death of Jesus from the Annunciation to the Ascension and beyond, known as the Joyful (or Joyous) Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. Each of these Mysteries contemplates five different stages of Christ's life. Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (October 2002), recommended an additional set called the Luminous Mysteries (or the "Mysteries of Light").
The full rosary consists of praying the three traditional sets of mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious), with sometimes the addition of the Luminous mysteries. The complete rosary, with all 15 or 20 mysteries, can be prayed each day. Alternatively, one set can be prayed each day, traditionally in the order:
|Day of praying||With the Luminous Mysteries||Without the Luminous Mysteries|
|Sunday||The Glorious Mysteries|
|Monday||The Joyful Mysteries||The Joyful Mysteries|
|Tuesday||The Sorrowful Mysteries||The Sorrowful Mysteries|
|Wednesday||The Glorious Mysteries||The Glorious Mysteries|
|Thursday||The Luminous Mysteries||The Joyful Mysteries|
|Friday||The Sorrowful Mysteries||The Sorrowful Mysteries|
|Saturday||The Joyful Mysteries||The Glorious Mysteries|
The rosary beads provide a physical method of keeping count of the number of Hail Marys said as the mysteries are contemplated. The fingers are moved along the beads as the prayers are recited. By not having to keep track of the count mentally, the mind is supposed to be freed to meditate on the mysteries. A five decade rosary contains five groups of ten beads (a decade), with additional large beads before each decade. The Hail Mary is said on the ten beads within a decade, while the Lord's Prayer is said on the large bead before each decade. A new mystery is meditated upon at each of the large beads. Some rosaries, particularly those used by religious orders, contain 15 decades, corresponding to the traditional 15 mysteries of the rosary. Both five and 15 decade rosaries are attached to a shorter strand, which starts with a crucifix followed by one large, three small, and one large beads before connecting to the rest of the rosary.
The praying of the rosary is started on the short strand, reciting the Apostles' Creed at the crucifix, the Lord's Prayer at the first large bead, three Hail Marys on the next three beads (for faith, hope and charity), then the Glory be to the Father on the next large bead. The praying of the decades then follows. Although counting the prayers on a string of beads is customary, the prayers of the rosary do not actually require a set of beads, but can be said using any type of counting device, by counting on the fingers, or by counting without any device at all.
Single-decade rosaries, also referred to as chaplets, can also be used to pray the Rosary; the devotee counts the same ring of ten beads repeatedly for every decade. During religious conflict in 16th and 17th century Ireland severe legal penalties were prescribed against practicing Roman Catholics. Small, easily hidden rosaries were thus used to avoid identification and became known as Irish penal rosaries. Sometimes rather than a cross, other symbols of specific meanings were used, such as a hammer to signify the nails of the cross, Cords to represent the scourging, a Chalice to recall the Last Supper, or a crowing rooster signifying the resurrection.
A rosary ring is a ring worn around the finger with 10 indentations and a cross on the surface, representing one decade of a rosary. These rosary rings were given to some Catholic nuns at the time of their solemn profession. Some ring rosaries have a small bearing on the inside of the ring to facilitate turning. A finger rosary is similar to a ring, but is somewhat larger. Rosaries like these are used by either rotating or just holding them between a finger and thumb while praying. A hand rosary is a decade in a complete loop, with one bead separated from ten other beads, this is meant to be carried while walking or running, so as not to entangle the larger type. Smaller ring rosaries became known as soldiers' rosaries, because they were often taken into battle by soldiers, most notably during World War I.
In addition to a string of beads, single-decade rosaries are made in other physical forms. A ring rosary, also known as a "Basque rosary", is a finger ring with eleven knobs on it, ten round ones and one crucifix. A rosary bracelet is one with ten beads and often a cross or medal as well. The most modern form is the rosary card. A rosary card is either one with a "handle" that moves like a slide rule to count the decade, or it has a whole rosary with bumps similar to Braille.
The beads can be made from any materials, including wood, bone, glass, crushed flowers, semi-precious stones such as agate, jet, amber, or jasper, or precious materials including coral, crystal, silver, and gold. Rosaries are sometimes made from the seeds of the "rosary pea" or "bead tree". Today, the vast majority of rosary beads are made of glass, plastic, or wood. It is especially common for beads to be made of material with some special significance, such as jet from the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela, or olive seeds from the Garden of Gethsemane. In rare cases beads are made of expensive materials, from gold and silver to mother of pearl and Swarovski black diamond designs. Early rosaries were strung on thread, often silk, but modern ones are more often made as a series of chain-linked beads. Catholic missionaries in Africa have reported that rosaries made of tree bark have been used there for praying due to the lack of conventional rosaries. Our Lady's Rosary Makers produce some 7 million rosaries annually that are distributed to those considered to be in economic and spiritual need.
Most rosaries used in the world today for praying are made of simple and inexpensive plastic or wooden beads connected by cords or strings.The major cost is labour for assembly. A large number of inexpensive rosary beads are manufactured in Asia, especially in China and Taiwan. Italy has a strong manufacturing presence in medium- and high-cost rosaries.
Rosaries are often made for sale; hundreds of millions have also been made and distributed free of charge by Roman Catholic lay and religious apostolates worldwide. There are a number of rosary-making clubs around the world that make and distribute rosaries to missions, hospitals, prisons, etc. free of charge, distributing tens of millions of rosaries every year.
A set of blessed rosary beads is considered to be a sacramental. Beads may be made to include enclosed sacred relics or drops of holy water. One Catholic catechism instructs the faithful to wear the rosary as "it will help them to love Jesus more" and serve as a "protection from Satan." In addition, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort encouraged Christians to wear the rosary, stating that doing so "eased him considerably". Many households that cannot afford Christian artwork or a crucifix, hang up a rosary.
Many religious orders wear the rosary as part of their habit. A rosary hanging from the belt often forms part of the Carthusian habit. A person may be wearing a rosary as a statement of faith, to keep it handy for praying throughout the day, or to avoid losing it. Canon 1171 requires individuals to treat all sacred objects reverently.
"The Rosary and the Scapular are inseparable" were words attributed to the Virgin Mary by Lucia Santos, one of the three children who reported the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima in 1917 (declared "worthy of belief" by the Catholic Church) and later the Pontevedra apparitions in 1925, Fátima, Portugal and Pontevedra in Galicia, Spain. In these apparitions, the Virgin Mary reportedly called herself The Lady of the Rosary and in one of the final Fátima appearances on October 13, 1917 had a Brown Scapular in one hand and a Rosary in the other. The Lady of the Rosary, reportedly encouraged the praying of the Rosary and the wearing of the Brown scapular.
Throughout history, the Rosary and the Scapular as Catholic Sacramentals for devotions and prayers have been supported, encouraged and linked by a number of Catholic figures such as popes, saints and cardinals and specific promises and indulgences have been associated with them.
Following their joint growth in the 18th and 19th centuries, by the early 20th century the Rosary and the devotional Scapular had gained such a strong following among Catholics worldwide that the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1914 stated: "Like the Rosary, the Brown Scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic." In the mid 20th century, the United States "Scapular Magazine" helped enroll one million Americans to pray the Rosary based on the Our Lady of Fatima messages. The Rosary and the devotional scapular continue to be linked in the 21st century.
Many similar prayer practices exist in other Christian communities, each with its own set of prescribed prayers and its own form of prayer beads, such as the prayer rope in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. These other devotions and their associated beads are usually referred to as "chaplets". The rosary is sometimes used by other Christians, especially in Lutheranism, the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Church. Other Protestants, however, such as Baptists and Presbyterians, do not use it and actively discourage their members from using this method of prayer.
Rosary beads are at times used to say rosary based prayers which do not primarily involve the Hail Mary and the mysteries of the rosary. In Catholicism examples include the Chaplet of Divine Mercy introduced by Saint Faustina Kowałska, and the Rosary of the Holy Wounds introduced by Sister Mary Martha Chambon. These prayers often use rosary beads, but their words and format do not correspond to the Mysteries. Both Kowałska and Chambon attributed these prayers to Jesus as part of their visions of Jesus.
Another example of rosary-based prayers includes the non-denominational Ecumenical Miracle Rosary, "a set of prayers and meditations which covers key moments in the New Testament"; according to the maker's Web site it has gained a favourable response from both Catholic and Protestant Christians.
The use of the Roman Catholic Rosary is also fairly common among Anglicans of Anglo-Catholic churchmanship. Many Anglo-Catholic prayer books and manuals of devotion contain the Roman Catholic Rosary along with other Marian devotions. The public services of the Anglican churches, as contained in the Book of Common Prayer, do not directly invoke the Blessed Virgin or any other saint in prayer as the Thirty-Nine Articles reject the practice of praying to saints, but many Anglo-Catholics feel free to do so in their private devotions. Anglicans who pray the Roman Catholic Rosary tend not to use the Luminous Mysteries or the Fátima decade prayer.
Anglican prayer beads, also known informally as the "Anglican Rosary", are a recent innovation created in the 1980s. They consist of four "weeks" (the equivalent of a decade) of seven beads each. The weeks are separated from each other by single beads termed "cruciform beads." A variety of different prayers may be said, the most common being the Jesus Prayer.
No "power and promises" are associated with the Anglican Prayer Beads by those who pray on them. The Anglican Prayer Beads are not a Marian devotion, and there are no appointed meditations. Although it is sometimes called the "Anglican rosary," it is distinct from the Holy Rosary of Our Lady as prayed by Catholics, Anglicans, and other Western Christians.
A small minority of Lutherans pray the Rosary. However, while following the Catholic format of the Rosary, each "Hail Mary" is replaced with the "Jesus Prayer". The only time the "Hail Mary" is said is at the end of the Mysteries on the medal, where it is then replaced with the "Pre-Trent" version of the prayer (which omits "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death"). The final "Hail Mary" can also be replaced by reciting of either the Magnificat, or Martin Luther's "Evangelical praise of the Mother of God".
A number of churches around the world are named after the Rosary. These range from small churches in Poland, Canada, Brazil and Hong Kong to key basilicas at Lourdes and Fatima with millions of pilgrims per year.
Since the 17th century, the Rosary began to appear as an element in key pieces of Roman Catholic Marian art, often in art that depicts the Virgin Mary. Key examples include Murrillo's Madonna with the Rosary at the Museo del Prado in Spain, and the statue of Madonna with Rosary at the church of San Nazaro Maggiore in Milan. Several Roman Catholic Marian churches around the world have also been named after the rosary, e.g. Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica, in Rosario Argentina, the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes and Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Madonna with the Rosary by Murillo, 1650
Madonna of the Rosary statue, Naples, Italy
Rosary Madonna, Porto Alegre, Brazil
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