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Where did the Rosary Come From?

The prayers spring from Scripture. Jesus Himself taught us the Our Father (Matthew 6:9–13, Luke 11:2–4). The Hail Mary comprises the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary (Luke 1:28), her cousin Elizabeth’s words of praise (Luke 1:42), and a petition for Mary’s help that developed from popular devotion and received its final form after the Council of Trent (1545-63). The Glory Be draws upon St. Paul’s frequent expressions of giving glory to God (e.g. Romans 11:36, Galatians 1:5, Ephesians 3:21) and has existed in the form we know it since the seventh century.

These prayers began to be gathered and prayed in association with various mysteries of Christ’s life around the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Religious and others who had not learned to read would pray the Hail Mary 150 times, once for each of the 150 Psalms. This gradually developed into three sets of five mysteries, each mystery meditated upon during the course of ten Hail Marys. In his 2002 letter on the rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, St. Pope John Paul II recommended an additional set of five mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, to join the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious.

The rosary is closely associated with the Dominican Order. It developed at the historical moment when St. Dominic was founding his Order of Friars to preach the truth about Christ under Mary’s protection. St. Dominic himself is said always to have begun his own preaching with a Hail Mary, and his spiritual sons, particularly Bl. Alan de la Roche, St. Louis de Montfort, and St. Pius V promoted the devotion among the faithful. The Dominican habit includes a fifteen-decade rosary hung from the cincture on one’s left side.

The name “rosary” originates in the description of the Bride in the Song of Songs as a “rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys” (Song 2:1). When we pray the rosary, we offer the prayers as a bouquet or crown of roses to our beloved Mother.

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