Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
The Rosary, the blessed beads that quietly slip between our
fingers as we pray over the mysteries of Jesus’ redemptive life, has an ancient
origin. Most likely its pre-Christian
ancestor originated in the ancient East, perhaps in India, and not in the
medieval West. It was and still is a
popular prayer device among the Muslims, who use the Arabic term masbahat
, which means to give praise. Devout Muslims used the masbahat
in repeating the
attributes of God, just as it was used by the early Christian hermits. Following the Crusades the Rosary found its
way to the West, and the prayer form kept that name. “Rosary” comes from the Latin rosarium,
which means a rose
garden. Applied to the prayer beads, the
name connotes a crown of roses for the Blessed Virgin Mary. The missionary who worked hardest to spread
this devotion was Abed El-Ahad
Dominic, and his Dominican companions.
The Rosary became a popular method of prayer and spread quickly
in the West during the Middle Ages. For
Christians it has always been “the Gospel strung on beads.” It is a simple and easy prayer that can be
employed for vocal prayer or silent contemplation by individuals, families, and
Since the 16th
century the popes have frequently
encouraged the faithful of East and West to pray the Rosary. The first was a Dominican pope, Saint Pius V,
who wrote a papal letter about the Rosary in 1569 shortly after the Council of
Trent, and instituted the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
In the late 19th
century after the First Vatican Council
the illustrious Pope Leo XIII wrote more than ten encyclicals and instructions
promoting the use of the Rosary.
To make pastoral applications of the Marian teachings of the
Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI in 1974 authored the apostolic exhortation Devotion to Mary (Marialis Cultus).
Paul VI discussed the Rosary at some
length as a summary of the Gospel comprised of prayers based on Gospel
texts. He urged the faithful to pray the
Rosary, and especially recommended the family Rosary in these words:
“We would like now to join our voice to the voices of our predecessors and strongly recommend the
prayer of the Rosary in the family…because
the Christian family is a family church….If the family neglected this communal prayer, it would lose its character
as a Christian family.”
“In addition to the
prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours …the
Rosary of the Virgin Mary would be the
most preferable communal prayer for the Christian family.”
Pope Paul VI concluded
his recommendation by saying: “We would like to repeat that the Rosary is an
excellent and magnificent prayer….”
Pope John Paul II,
enthusiastic devotee of our Blessed Mother, in 2002 issued a pastoral letter
entitled The Rosary of the Virgin Mary
in which he proclaimed October 2002 until October 2003 the Year of the Rosary,
and put forth the Luminous Mysteries based on the public life of Jesus.
Our present Holy Father, Benedict XVI, values the prayer of the
Rosary as a means of contemplating Jesus with Mary’s eyes. For him pondering the mysteries of the Rosary
calms a “restless spirit,” allows the soul to settle into tranquility…and
grants a vision of God.” He associates
the Rosary with consolation and healing, an inner refuge which enfolds us “in
the rhythm of the prayer of the whole Church.” “I do it quite simply,” he said, “just as my
parents used to pray.”
While some Eastern Christians erroneously consider the Rosary foreign
to Eastern spirituality, quite the opposite is the reality. The Rosary is a prayer for all peoples and
for all seasons.
Early on, the Rosary was a common method of prayer in the East
among Christians and non-Christians.
Even though it came to us through Western missionaries, it was and still
is an easy and rich method of prayer to help the faithful fathom the mysteries
of God along the journey of salvation.
And we do so with a special companion, the Mother of God and our
Mother. Praying the Rosary, particularly
in the family, is an excellent method of bringing us together in the faith
under the protection of her who always and everywhere intercedes for all
people. Let us spare no effort to remain
close to her.