OCTOBER 7th is the feast day of the Blessed Virgin and the Rosary prayer in honor of her. That this day was at one time called Our Lady of Victories is telling: the Rosary is recognized to be a weapon in spiritual warfare.
The word ‘Rosary’ comes from the middle English word for a rose garden, that in turn comes from the Latin word rosarium, meaning the same thing. Gardens have a typological or analogical meaning: while some have said that the Rosary is like a private chapel of the soul, it is perhaps better seen as a pleasant private garden, where the soul can retreat for a while and achieve a certain rest from the worries of the world. Let us recall that while roses are beautiful and fragrant, they also have thorns which can pierce the flesh. Beauty and suffering go together in this world, as the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary remind us. However all of the mysteries have both a joyful and a sorrowful component to them.
As a devotion, the Rosary signifies much of Latin Catholicism, especially of the more traditional sort:
- It is a physical sacramental; an actual chain of beads is blessed by a cleric and is used in the prayer.
- The prayer addresses many persons: God the Father and God the Son individually, the Trinity, and Mary, the Mother of God.
- It has an essential feminine aspect to it, like the churches of old which were adorned like a bride for her wedding.While we are not surprised by a young mother praying the Rosary while suckling her infant, we can be quite edified by a soldier on a battlefield doing the same.
- It has developed over a very long time, and many regional and linguistic variations can be found.
- It is an exceedingly humble prayer, especially since it is simple and mainly addressed to Mary. The proud reject the Rosary.
- The Rosary incorporates number symbolism in its counting and repetition of the prayers, including the number 3, a symbol of the Trinity and the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love; the number 5, a symbol of the Virgin Mary, and the number 10, a symbol of the human body with its ten fingers and toes. Many other symbolic interconnections among the mysteries and number can be elaborated.
- It incorporates the human imagination, especially when meditating on the various mysteries. The rhythm of the Rosary helps encourage a meditative state.
- It can be prayed individually, but just as easily in community.
- The prayers in both Latin and the vernacular are familiar, even in our present day.
Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio, greatly recommends the Rosary, especially in its use against the evils of heresy and aggression:
There is none among you, venerable brethren, who will not remember how great trouble and grief God's Holy Church suffered from the Albigensian heretics, who sprung from the sect of the later Manicheans, and who filled the South of France and other portions of the Latin world with their pernicious errors, and carrying everywhere the terror of their arms, strove far and wide to rule by massacre and ruin. Our merciful God, as you know, raised up against these most direful enemies a most holy man, the illustrious parent and founder of the Dominican Order. Great in the integrity of his doctrine, in his example of virtue, and by his apostolic labours, he proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms; but trusting wholly to that devotion which he was the first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary, which was disseminated through the length and breadth of the earth by him and his pupils. Guided, in fact, by divine inspiration and grace, he foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety. Such was indeed its result. Thanks to this new method of prayer-when adopted and properly carried out as instituted by the Holy Father St. Dominic-piety, faith, and union began to return, and the projects and devices of the heretics to fall to pieces. Many wanderers also returned to the way of salvation, and the wrath of the impious was restrained by the arms of those Catholics who had determined to repel their violence.It is significant that the Saint Dominic's Order of Preachers, known for their philosophy, are also known for the humble Rosary — but isn't that fitting? If you want to master worldly learning, you ought to be humble in matters spiritual, otherwise pride will destroy you.
The efficacy and power of this devotion was also wondrously exhibited in the sixteenth century, when the vast forces of the Turks threatened to impose on nearly the whole of Europe the yoke of superstition and barbarism. At that time the Supreme Pontiff, St. Pius V., after rousing the sentiment of a common defence among all the Christian princes, strove, above all, with the greatest zeal, to obtain for Christendom the favour of the most powerful Mother of God. So noble an example offered to heaven and earth in those times rallied around him all the minds and hearts of the age. And thus Christ's faithful warriors, prepared to sacrifice their life and blood for the salvation of their faith and their country, proceeded undauntedly to meet their foe near the Gulf of Corinth, while those who were unable to take part formed a pious band of supplicants, who called on Mary, and unitedly saluted her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring her to grant the victory to their companions engaged in battle. Our Sovereign Lady did grant her aid; for in the naval battle by the Echinades Islands, the Christian fleet gained a magnificent victory, with no great loss to itself, in which the enemy were routed with great slaughter. And it was to preserve the memory of this great boon thus granted, that the same Most Holy Pontiff desired that a feast in honour of Our Lady of Victories should celebrate the anniversary of so memorable a struggle, the feast which Gregory XIII. dedicated under the title of “The Holy Rosary.” Similarly, important successes were in the last century gained over the Turks at Temeswar, in Pannonia, and at Corfu; and in both cases these engagements coincided with feasts of the Blessed Virgin and with the conclusion of public devotions of the Rosary. And this led our predecessor, Clement XL, in his gratitude, to decree that the Blessed Mother of God should every year be especially honoured in her Rosary by the whole Church.
We find further recommendation in the encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariæ by Pope John Paul II:
A number of historical circumstances also make a revival of the Rosary quite timely. First of all, the need to implore from God the gift of peace. The Rosary has many times been proposed by my predecessors and myself as a prayer for peace. At the start of a millennium which began with the terrifying attacks of 11 September 2001, a millennium which witnesses every day innumerous parts of the world fresh scenes of bloodshed and violence, to rediscover the Rosary means to immerse oneself in contemplation of the mystery of Christ who “is our peace”, since he made “the two of us one, and broke down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). Consequently, one cannot recite the Rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace, especially in the land of Jesus, still so sorely afflicted and so close to the heart of every Christian.Amen.
A similar need for commitment and prayer arises in relation to another critical contemporary issue: the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole. The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age.