Catholic CornucopiadCheney

XI. The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church

“Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and became incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” How profound the mystery honored by the priest of God on bended knees in the adorable sacrifice of the Mass! How full of meaning the words that follow in the symbol of our faith: “He was crucified also for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures.” The Incarnation is the central point of the world’s history. The end of the Incarnation was the Redemption, the most stupendous work of divine love. The wisdom of the Church is admirably displayed in uniting these two greatest of her mysteries in a devotion so simple that it is within the range of the most limited intelligence, and so profound as to afford subjects of meditation for the deepest mind. The holy Rosary! What a vast mine of spiritual wealth! what an inexhaustible fountain of grace! The humiliation of the Incarnation and the suffering and ignominy of the Redemption are the remedies which the Eternal Father, in His infinite wisdom, proposed for the pride of poor fallen nature. The remembrance of them, which the Rosary places before our minds, cannot but be a sovereign remedy for the evils of the unhappy times in which we live.

Before entering upon our subject I shall premise by saying that it is the common Rosary of fifteen mysteries that I propose to treat of, and not any of the various other chaplets or rosaries now in use among Christians.1 Such of them as are approved by the Church are good and to be commended; but they do not enter into the scope of this essay.

Our divine Saviour foretold to His Apostles that they and their followers should be hated by all men for His name’s sake; that they were to meet with persecution because they were not of the world, as He was not of the world. But the Church was soon to discover that her enemies were not always to be of the same character, nor were they to wage war against her with the same weapons. Extraordinary trials were to be encountered at intervals, which were to be a test of the constancy, not only of her ordinary children, but also of the elect. She also learned that He who permitted these trials provided also a remedy, as her history in all ages amply testifies. An Arius was to have his Athanasius, an Abelard his Bernard, a Luther his Ignatius, and so of her other enemies. But we are now concerned with the Albigenses, who rose in the southeast of France in the eleventh century, and devastated the Church at the same time that they defied the civil power. But no sooner was His flock threatened than the Good Shepherd came to its relief.

Many efforts having been made both by the civil and the religious power to suppress the outbreak of these heretics, but of which it does not enter into our present purpose to give a detailed account, St. Dominic — or Dominic Guzman, as he is called in profane history — entered the field against them with that burning zeal with which only a saint can be animated for the conversion of sinners. Dominic was born at Calarnega, a village of Old Castile, Spain, in the year 1170. He studied for the Church, and was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-three. He entered on the mission of preaching for the conversion of the heretics about the year 1205; founded the Order of St. Dominic, or Friar Preachers, as they are commonly called, on the 15th of August, 1217; and, finally, died at Rome, August 4, 1221. He employed his sanctity and eloquence in endeavoring to stem the tide of evil that had been set in motion by the Albigenses; but his efforts, though heroic, were of comparatively little avail. At length he ventured to complain to the holy Mother of God, for whom he entertained the tenderest devotion, and to ask her to instruct him in the way he could labor most successfully for the conversion of those misguided souls for whom her divine Son had laid down His life. His prayer was acceptable, and Mary revealed to him the devotion of the holy Rosary. He was told to give his time more to the propagation of this devotion than to preaching, and greater success would attend his efforts. This revelation took place about the year 1206, but the precise date cannot be ascertained.

But though we owe the Rosary in its present form to St. Dominic, the idea was not original with him. The custom of repeating the same form of prayer, whether of praise or petition, is of great antiquity, and is natural to man, especially when he is under the influence of strong emotion. The Jews were familiar with it, as may be learned from various passages of the Psalms, but more particularly from the 135th Psalm, in which the same words “for His mercy endureth forever” are repeated twenty-seven times. Influenced no less by the custom of their fathers, the Jews, than by the example of our divine Redeemer, who on a most solemn occasion in the Garden of Gethsemani thrice repeated “the self same words,”2 the Christians early adopted the form of repetition in their private as well as in their public devotions. This would especially be the case with the “Our Father,” which Jesus Christ Himself was pleased to teach His children as the most perfect form of praise and petition. The custom of this frequent repetition would naturally lead to the resolution, on the part of the more devout at least, of reciting daily a certain number of these prayers; and this in its turn would suggest the propriety of adopting some means of counting them. The early Christians, being lovers of poverty, would naturally adopt some simple means, and this is proved from ecclesiastical history. Thus St. Palladius relates that St. Paul, the first hermit, who lived in the fourth century, was accustomed to recite three hundred “Our Fathers” daily, and used little pebbles or grains to count them. These counters were in time strung upon a string for greater convenience, and were called Pater Nosters. Beads of different material, varying in value according to the ability, or perhaps in some cases, as at the present day, according to the vanity of those who possessed them, eventually came into use; but it would be impossible to fix the date; indeed, from the very nature of things, their introduction must have been gradual. It may be remarked, in passing, that the word bead is of Christian origin, and proves by its derivation the use to which it was first applied. It is simply the Anglo-Saxon word bead, which means prayer, and which is allied to the German word beten, to pray, especially to petition.

Butler informs us that in early times, when many of the faithful were accustomed to assist at the public recitation of the Divine Office, or, if prevented, to perform some devotions at the same hours at their homes, “those who could neither read nor recite the Psalter by heart supplied this by a frequent repetition of the Lord’s Prayer; and the many illiterate persons performed, at all the canonical hours of prayer, regular devotions, corresponding to those of the Psalter recited by the clergy and many others. When the number of ‘Our Fathers’ was told by studs fastened on the belts which people then wore, these prayers were reckoned by so many belts. The ordinary use of the Angelical Salutation in this manner was not so ancient. Erimannus, in the twelfth age, mentions a lady who recited every day sixty Angelical Salutations.”3 From this circumstance the Rosary came to be called the Psaltery of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The name Rosary is derived from the title Mystical Rose, by which the Church salutes the holy Mother of God.

St. Albert of Crispin and Peter the Hermit are mentioned long before the time of St. Dominic as having taught the laity who could not read the Psalter to say a certain number of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” in lieu of each canonical hour of the Divine Office; but, says Maurel (p. 223), “in its present form, conformably to repeated testimonies of the Roman Pontiffs, the Rosary has for its author St. Dominic.”

From the beginning the devotion of the holy Rosary became very popular with the faithful, and pontiffs and prelates were loud in its praises. A few of these expressions of praise will no doubt be interesting to the reader, and will tend to increase his veneration for a devotion that is so highly commended. And first we have the words of the ever blessed Mother of God to St. Dominic: “Preach the Rosary, which is a shield against the shafts of the enemy, the rampart of the Church of God, and the Book of Life. . . . Exhort everyone to be devout to the Rosary, and thou shalt produce wonder ful fruit in souls.” Says Pope Leo X.: “The Rosary has been established against the dangers which threaten the world.” St. Pius V.: “By the Rosary the darkness of heresy has been dispelled, and the light of the Catholic faith shines out in all its brilliancy.” Clement VII.: “The devotion of the Rosary is the salvation of Christians.” Adrian VI.: “The Rosary scourges the devil.” Sixtus V.: “The Rosary has been established by St. Dominic, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, for the utility of the Catholic religion.” Gregory XVI. “The Rosary is a wonderful instrument for the destruction of sin, the recovery of God’s grace, and the advancement of His glory.” The well-known devotion of Pius IX. to the Blessed Virgin, and the extraordinary importance which Leo XIII. attaches to the Rosary, are too recent to require comment.

A number of important questions relating to the holy Rosary will present themselves to the mind of the thoughtful reader, the first of which would naturally be, What are the essential parts of the Rosary? This question is all the more important owing to the numerous indulgences with which the Church has enriched this devotion, and also on account of the various customs of different countries. Inasmuch as these customs are an expression of the devotion of different peoples to the holy Mother of God, a few of them will be placed before the reader. In Rome aid in many other places it is customary to begin the Rosary with the versicle and response: “Incline unto my aid, O God! O Lord, make haste to help me.” This is followed by the “Glory be to the Father,” after which the mysteries are simply announced or named, as the “Annunciation,” the “Prayer in the Garden,” the “Resurrection,” etc., followed by the recitation of the “Our Father,” ten “Hail Marys,” and “Glory be to the Father.” The devotion concludes either with the “Hail, holy Queen,” or the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. In other places, and generally among us, the custom is to begin with the Apostles’ Creed, the “Our Father,” three “Hail Marys,” and the “Glory be to the Father,” after which follow the mysteries in order, with the “Hail, holy Queen,” in the end. Instead of the mere names of the mysteries, some books of devotion have prayers before and after each mystery; these being intended to assist persons who may find it difficult to meditate or place the scene of the mystery vividly before their minds. Still another custom, more general, perhaps, among the Germans than among others, is that of adding a few words, explanatory of the mystery then being meditated upon, after the holy Name of Jesus in the “Hail Mary”; as, “Whom thou, O Virgin, didst conceive of the Holy Ghost,” “Who for us didst sweat blood in the Garden,” “Who didst rise from the dead,” etc. Now, the question arises, How much of this—which is all very good in itself—is necessary to gain the indulgences attached to the recitation of the Rosary? or, in other words, what are the essential parts of the Rosary?

All that is essential is the recitation of the fifteen decades — or, where the Papal Briefs granting the indulgences permit, the recitation of only five decades—of one “Our Father,” and ten “Hail Marys” each, and meditating during the recitation on some mystery in the life of Christ, where the same Papal Briefs require meditation as a necessary condition. It is to be observed, however, that the indulgences granted for the recitation of the whole Rosary are also granted for the recitation of only one-third part of it, or five decades, except where the opposite is expressly declared, as is proven by the decrees of September 23, 1775, and February 25, 1877. The Creed, “Our Father,” three “Hail Marys,” and “Glory be to the Father,” at the beginning of the Rosary; the announcement of the different mysteries, or the prayers before and after them; the “Glory be to the Father” at the end of each decade; the “Hail, holy Queen,” or the Litany at the conclusion, are not essential parts, and may all be omitted without forfeiting the indulgences. The essential parts of the holy Rosary are, then, one “Our Father” and ten “Hail Marys” repeated five times, and nothing more.

Inasmuch as the Rosary in a measure takes the place among the laity which the Divine Office occupies among the clergy, the question arises, Is it permitted to interrupt the Rosary between the decades as it is to interrupt the Office between the different parts or “hours”? The Office must be recited within the twenty-four hours of the day; does the same privilege extend to the Rosary? This question having been proposed for solution to the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences, it was decided by a decree dated January 22, 1858, that the whole Rosary cannot be divided into more than three parts, and that each such part must be said without interruption. “It is not sufficient, then, to recite the entire chaplet on the same day; there must be, moreover, between the different parts of the five decades no notable interruption which would destroy the moral unity of the prayer.” The whole question, then, turns on the point, What is a “notable interruption”?

An interruption of the Rosary, or of any other devotion, may be viewed in a twofold light: either with reference to the actual length of time over which the interruption extends, or with reference to the withdrawal of the mind from the devotion. If a person is called, for example, from the recitation of the beads to transact some secular business, which by its very nature with draws the mind from prayer, it is different from interrupting the Rosary to take part in any other devotion; for while the one by its nature stifles the spirit of prayer for the time, the other only withdraws the mind from one kind of prayer to turn it to another, and leaves the spirit of prayer undisturbed. Says Konings of the Stations of the Cross, which he afterward applies to the Rosary: “An interruption which would be made to hear Mass, to go to confession, or to receive Holy Communion is not morally an interruption, because it does not divert the mind to extraneous things.”4 Hence, according to him, this would not constitute a “notable interruption,” and would not forfeit the indulgences.

It may be further inquired, What omissions in the recitation of the beads would be sufficient to lose the indulgences? All authorities agree that if a person were to omit a “notable part” he would lose these graces, and the same is true in regard to the conditions prescribed for the gaining of any other indulgence; but if the omission, is of only a small part the indulgence is not thereby endangered. But it is difficult to determine what precisely constitutes a “notable part.” In general it may be safely concluded, with Konings and other theologians, that the omission of the fifth part of the prayers or other good works prescribed would be enough to forfeit the indulgence. Whether less would suffice or not they do not say.

Still another inquiry is rendered necessary owing to the fact that human ingenuity has found means of manufacturing beads from an almost endless variety of materials. Of what materials must beads be made in order that the Church will permit them to be indulgenced, and what materials are forbidden? Indulgences may be attached in general to beads—and the same is true of statues and crucifixes—made of any solid material, or such as is not easily broken; and although it was formerly forbidden to indulgence beads, etc., made of wood or iron, that prohibition has been withdrawn. Even glass beads may be indulgenced, if the beads are solid, and not hollow.6

What are we to conclude with regard to giving our beads away or lending them to another?

“1. Beads are indulgenced for one person only. When a number of beads are blessed together it is understood that each of them is blessed for the person who, being the owner of it, or one to whom the owner has given it gratuitously, is the first to use it with the intention of gaining the Rosary indulgences. “2. If a person lend his indulgenced beads to a friend merely to accommodate him to count his beads, and not for the purpose of enabling him to gain the indulgences attached to them, the beads do not in this case cease to be indulgenced for him who lent them. “3. If the beads are lent or given with the intention of enabling another to gain the indulgences, the beads simply cease to be indulgenced at all, as well for the lender as for the receiver. They must be blessed again to become indulgenced. “4. If one took the beads without the knowledge or consent of the owner, they do not in this case, we believe, cease to be indulgenced. The Congregation has decided that the loss of the indulgence applies to the case where the owner lends or gives them for the purpose of enabling another to gain the indulgence.”7

If beads that “have been indulgenced are lost they have no indulgence for the one who finds them, but he may have them indulgenced for himself. The same is true of beads which a person inherits from a parent or friend. It is also to be remembered that a person is not permitted to sell beads that have been indulgenced, even though he charge no more for them than they would sell for before they were blessed. Such sale would cause the beads to lose their indulgence altogether.8 To charge a higher price for them because they are blessed would not only forfeit the indulgence, but would also be the sin of simony.

Once more: the holy Rosary to some extent takes the place of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin; the question thence arose: “That Office is divided in such a manner that the first Nocturn is recited on Mondays and Thursdays, the second on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the third on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Now, can or should the three different series of the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary be recited on these days of the week in the same manner? When this question was proposed to the Sacred Congregation the response was that, although everyone is free to select whichever five mysteries he prefers to recite, yet the custom of dividing off the whole Rosary in the same manner as the Little Office is coming into use, and meets with the approbation of the Holy See. According to this arrangement, the five Joyful Mysteries are recited on Mondays and Thursdays, the five Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the five Glorious Mysteries on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.9

It may be further remarked that, where the Papal Briefs granting indulgences for the recitation require meditation as one of the conditions, it is not enough to meditate on any pious subject; the meditation must always be on some mystery in the life of our divine Redeemer. If this point is neglected the indulgences are not gained.10

There are three forms of blessing by which indulgences are attached to beads: the Dominican, the Bridgetine, and the Papal or Apostolic. And first of the Dominican. The holy Rosary having been revealed to St. Dominic by the Mother of God, it is natural to expect that the Dominicans should have special privileges in the matter of blessing rosaries. And so it is, according to the decrees of several Sovereign Pontiffs. To impart these indulgences a certain form of words and the use of holy water are necessary in blessing the beads.11

So numerous are the indulgences attached to the recitation of the Rosary that no attempt will be made to state them in this place; the reader is simply recommended to form an intention, when reciting the beads, to gain all the indulgences within his reach.

The conditions required for gaining the Dominican indulgences are stated in the Raccolta (pp. 170, 171) in these words: “To gain these indulgences it is required that the rosaries should be blessed by the religious of the Order of Friar Preachers, and that while the prayers are being said meditation be made on the mysteries of the birth, passion, death, resurrection, etc., of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences, August 12, 1726, approved by Benedict XIII. This Pope declared, moreover, in his Constitution Pretiosus, May 26, 1727, § 4, that those who cannot meditate may gain the indulgence by merely saying the Rosary devoutly.” These indulgences are applicable to the souls in purgatory. It is also to be remembered that in order to gain the Dominican indulgences it is sufficient, when the Rosary is said in common by a number of persons, that one of the company have a string of beads that has been indulgenced, and that he use it in the recitation, in order that all the company may gain the indulgences attached to it; provided, as the decree states, that all those who unite in the recitation withdraw their minds from all other affairs, and apply them to the devotion in which they are engaged.12

As to the Bridgetine indulgence, “this chaplet is so called because we are indebted for it to St. Bridget (of Sweden), who first conceived the notion of circulating its use. She intended by means of the devotion to honor the sixty-three years which, in the opinion of many, the Blessed Virgin spent upon earth. Consequently it is composed of six decades, each containing one ‘Our Father,’ ten ‘Hail Marys,’ and a Creed instead of the ‘Glory be to the Father.’ To make up the number seven, an ‘Our Father’ is added in honor of the Seven Dolors and Seven Joys of Mary, together with three ‘Hail Marys’ to complete the sixty-three years.

“Nevertheless, the indulgences of this chaplet can be applied as well to rosaries as to the ordinary beads of five decades. But for this application a special faculty is requisite, since, agreeably to a decree of January 28, 1842, the ordinary power of indulgencing chaplets is not sufficient. At the same time the Briefs from Rome to bless and indulgence chaplets, medals, etc., generally contain that faculty. Bear in mind also that, in according the power to apply the Bridgetine indulgence to rosaries, the Briefs do not by that act give power to bless the real chaplets of St. Bridget, constituted of six decades, as above. The faculty was reserved to the Superior of the Order of St. Saviour, or of St. Bridget, or to the priests of the same Order deputed for that object. Hence, as this Order does not exist at present, the popes grant permission to annex to ordinary chaplets the indulgences of St. Bridget. Yet, as already stated, this delegation exclusively regards chaplets of five decades, without any reference to the chaplets of St. Bridget made up of six decades. This has been repeatedly declared by the Sacred Congregation, particularly in the decrees of January 15, 1839, September 25, 1841, and January 28, 1842.

“. . . To participate in the indulgences of the chaplet of St. Bridget it is not necessary to meditate on the mysteries of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin.”13 No formula is required for blessing the beads; it is sufficient that the priest merely make the sign of the cross over them, without saying a word, and without sprinkling them with holy water.14

Turning, finally, to the Papal or Apostolic blessing, the history of its origin is given in the Raccolta (p. 444) in these words: “However ancient may have been the custom of the Sovereign Pontiffs to bless and distribute to the faithful sacred articles of gold, silver, or other metals (whence originated the pontifical blessing and distribution of crosses, crucifixes, rosaries, medals, etc.), yet it would seem that previous to the sixteenth century no indulgences were annexed to such articles. Pope Sixtus V., on the rebuilding of the patriarchal Lateran arch-basilica (when by the falling of the walls of the former building in various places were found many medals of gold, on which were impressed the holy cross, and other figures bearing the cross), caused a distribution to be made of them, and granted many indulgences to those who had any of these medals in their possession, provided they fulfilled certain works enjoined them, as we learn from the Constitution Laudemus viros, December 1, 1587. From that time the popes, his successors, annexed indulgences to other objects besides medals blessed by them, — such as chaplets, rosaries, crosses, crucifixes, etc., — persuaded that the usage of these sacred objects excites in the minds of the faithful faith and acts of adoration toward God and reverence for the Blessed Virgin and the saints.”

In order to gain these indulgences it is necessary that the beads—for we are treating of them only—should be blessed by the Sovereign Pontiff, or by a priest having the requisite faculties from him. The bishops of this and other missionary countries are as a rule empowered to grant this faculty to their priests; and for that reason the priests of the United States are able to attach the Apostolic indulgences to rosaries, and thus place these indulgences within the reach of such of the faithful as may wish to gain them. No particular formula is required for this blessing: it is sufficient to make the sign of the cross over the objects, without saying a word, or sprinkling them with holy water.

It is further to be noted that these indulgences are not attached to the beads themselves, or to their recital, as those of St. Dominic and St. Bridget are; on the contrary, the beads in this case hold the place of some other blessed object— as a cross, a medal, etc. Hence, with out reciting the beads, the person may gain the Apostolic indulgences, provided he fulfil the conditions prescribed. “To gain these indulgences it is necessary for one to carry about him the blessed object, or, at any event, to have it in his possession. Moreover, the pious considerations or prayers assigned as conditions for sharing in the indulgences must be made either while carrying the articles, or at least when kept in one’s room, or other suitable place in the house, so that the prayers be recited before them.”15 From this the reader will perceive that actual ownership and possession of the beads, or any other object to which these indulgences have been attached, are necessary conditions for partaking of these spiritual favors, and that, consequently, it is not enough, as in the case of the Dominican indulgences, that one person of the company, when a number of persons recite the Rosary together, should have an indulgenced string of beads. The Apostolic indulgences are applicable to the souls in purgatory.16

The Bridgeline, the Apostolic, and the Dominican indulgences may all be attached to the same string of beads, and may all be gained by the person who recites them, provided he fulfils the conditions required for each.

Considering the excellence of the holy Rosary in itself and the numerous indulgences, both plenary and partial, with which it has been enriched by the Holy See, need we wonder that the spirit of evil should make it the object of his most violent and insidious attacks, and that he should succeed in making it unpopular with many persons? Poor, deluded mortals! Let them learn from those who were real lights in the Church, real servants of the Mother of God, the mistake they are making. St. Dominic, to whom the Rosary was revealed, and whose Order is justly regarded as one of the most learned in the Church, was not ashamed to recite the beads, and with all his energy, eloquence, and zeal recommended the devotion to all who came within his reach. St. Alphonsus Liguori was most devoted to the Rosary, and we read in his Life that it was revealed to him that his eternal salvation depended upon his daily performance of this devotion. Of St. Francis of Sales it is related that he spent an hour everyday in the recitation of the holy Rosary. Yet these were men as remarkable for their learning as they were for their sanctity. No; to underestimate the holy Rosary is not an evidence of learning, but a sign of ignorance and pride, and of a very low standard of piety. I can have no patience with such people; let us have no more of them.

1 The fifteen decades of the Rosary are divided into the five joyful mysteries, the five sorrowful mysteries, and the five glorious mysteries. The joyful mysteries are: 1. The Annunciation; 2. The Visitation; 3. The Birth of Our Saviour; 4. The Presentation of our Lord in the Temple; 5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. The sorrowful mysteries are: 1. The Bloody Sweat of Our Saviour in the Garden; 2. The Scourging at the Pillar; 3. The Crowning with Thorns; 4. Jesus carrying His Cross; 6. The Crucifixion of Our Lord. The glorious mysteries are: 1. The Resurrection of Our Lord; 2. The Ascension of Our Lord; 3. The Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles; 4. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven; 5. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin in Heaven.
2 St. Matthew, xxvi. 44.
3 “Lives of the Saints,” Festival of the Holy Rosary.
4 Maurel, p. 227.
5 “Theologia Moralis,” N. 1788, 3.
6 Decree of February 29, 1890.
7 Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 1883, pp. 195, 196. Decrees of January 10, 1889; March 12, 1855; and February 13, 1845.
8 Decree of June 4, 1821; Maurel, pp. 257, 258.
9 Decree, July 1, 1839.
10 Decree, August 13, 1726.
11 Decree, February 29, 1864.
12 Decree, January 22, 1858.
13 Maurel, pp. 273, 275.
14 Irish Eccl. Record. 1882, p. 753.
15 Maurel, pp. 259, 264. note.
16 Raccolta, p. 448.