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On the Rosary...

The Rosary:
The Rosary (from Latin rosarium, means "rose garden" or "garland of roses") is a popular and traditional Roman Catholic devotion. Both Catholics and a lot of non-Catholics are no strangers to the rosary. At least, many can tell what it looks like. Given the wide encounter with the rosary, one can say for certain that these different encounters are inspired by many different reasons. These reasons vary from fashion to true devotion. Our concern as Dominicans is singular, the true devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the rosary.

The rosary beads come in many varieties and can be very decorative, their function is simple, to count prayers. The idea of rosary beads is not uniquely Catholic. Iit is said that the Hebrews used to tie 150 knots on a string to symbolize the 150 Psalms and Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims also use strings of beads to keep track of prayers and mantras. In Catholicism, the prayers that are counted on rosary beads are collectively called the rosary.

History of the Rosary:
The rosary as we know it today has evolved since it was given to St. Dominic. The ultimate source of the rosary as a prayer form is the Book of Psalms in the Bible. From the very beginning, the Church claimed the psalms as part of its Jewish heritage and placed their recitation at the heart of its liturgy and daily prayer. The practice of praying an Our Father instead of a psalm caught on in the early medieval period, and this marked the birth of the rosary devotion. "In order to keep count of the prayers, strings of beads were used, and these would gradually become our rosary beads."

Soon, to each of the 150 Our Fathers people began to add a short phrase about Jesus and Mary, thus linking vocal prayer to contemplation of the mysteries of the faith. Then, they substituted brief meditations on Jesus and Mary from the Annunciation to the Resurrection of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary.

Various means of counting prayers have been used in Christianity since the early church. A fourth-century hermit named Paul is said to have used pebbles to keep a record of his 300 daily Our Fathers. Later monks are said to have used knotted cords to keep a track of their prayers, and in the 11th century the cords were replaced by beads of wood or clay. In the 12th and 13th centuries the culture of using stringed beads to count the Hail Marys started.

Today, the rosary is not the only set of prayer beads used in Catholicism. There are different approved circlets of beads used to guide prayers in the Catholic Church. Each of these circlet is used for a particular type of prayer. For example, prayer to the Holy Spirit, meditation on the Seven Sorrows, the Sacred Heart, or the Holy Face, prayer to various saints, and prayer to Mary under her many different titles. These prayers, and the beads used to count them, are referred to as chaplets.
The rosary, however, far surpasses all the chaplets in popularity. According to Catholic tradition, the rosary was instituted by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. In the 13th century, she is said to have appeared to St. Dominic (1170-1221, founder of the Dominicans). In this particular encounter, the Blessed Virgin Mary gave St. Dominic a rosary, and asked that Christians pray the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be prayers. The rosary that was given to St. Dominic had 15 decades.

The Dominicans and the Rosary
From the time of this apparition, different Dominicans have popularized the Rosary. Alan de la Roche (1428-1475), a Breton Dominican with a great reputation for sanctity. He organized Rosary Confraternities for people, who wanted indulgences in periods of war, famine, schism, and for those eager "to be preserved from sudden death and the assaults of the devil".

Pius V, that austere and devout Dominican Pope, attributed to the Rosary the victory of Lepanto where, thanks to Don Juan of Austria, the advance of the Turks into Europe was checked in 1571. As the Venetian Senate recorded it, it was neither courage nor arms nor leaders who won the victory, but "Mary of the Rosary", honored under the title of "Our Lady of Victory".

In 1521, Alberto de Costello, another Dominican, was the first to use the term "mystery" to refer to the meditations for each decade of the rosary. He attached a mystery to each of the 15 Our Fathers while retaining 150 sub-mysteries for each Hail Mary.

During the 16th century, the 15-decade rosary became quite popular, and in 1470 still another Dominican, Blessed Alan de la Roche, founded the Confraternity of the Psalter of Jesus and Mary, which contributed enormously to the rosary's popularity.

No one will deny that through the centuries a special bond was established between the Rosary and the Order of St. Dominic. It was to a Dominican, an Inquisitor moreover, Jacques Sprenger (I436 1496), the famous co author of Hammer of the Witches but also founder of a Rosary Confraternity in Cologne, that the division of the mysteries into joyful, sorrowful and glorious events, which has rhythmically supported the piety of whole generations, was attributed.
(Source : Bedouelle, Guy. Saint Dominic. The Grace of the Word. Ignatius, 1987.)

Rosary as we have it today:
Finally, in 1569, Pope St. Pius V published a papal bull that is often called the magna carta of the rosary, Consueverent Romani Pontifices. In doing this, Pope St. Pius V formally established the prayer form that had been developing for centuries and standardized the 15 Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries that we know today. He also made a lasting contribution by definitively linking meditation on the mysteries of Christ's life to the prayer of the rosary.

Since then, many popes have devoted much attention to the rosary, notably Pope Leo XIII, Blessed John XXIII, and Pope Paul VI. In his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus, Paul VI reminded the Church that the rosary is a "prayer with a clearly Christological orientation." On October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II surprised the world with the most significant document on the rosary in over four centuries, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, and proclaimed Ocober 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the Rosary. In this apostolic letter, John Paul II appeals to Christians throughout the world to rediscover the spiritual richness of the rosary. He proposes some theological considerations that for him will renew the centuries-old devotion and deepen its contemplative dimension. He also responded to contemporary objections to the rosary, noting that its Marian and repetitive dimensions do not detract from but actually enhance its Christological and prayerful depth.

In this light, John Paul II suggested five new "mysteries of light" for meditation. This for him was "to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary." This he called "luminous mysteries".

Pope John XXIII saw the rosary as "a very commendable form of prayer and meditation. [for him,] in saying it one weaves a mystic garland of Ave Maria's, Pater Noster's, and Gloria Patri's. And as one recite these vocal prayers, one meditates upon the principal mysteries of our religion; the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Redemption of the human race."

For us Dominicans in Nigeria like Pope John XXIII, "We want to declare in complete frankness and simplicity that the years have made Mary's rosary all the dearer to Us. We never fail to recite it each day in its entirety."

Relivance of the Rosary to us in Nigeria and indeed the whole of Africa
In 2000, pope John Paul II blessed the Jubilee Icon of Mary so that this Icon can travel to the different countries of the world and rekindle devotion and resolve the crisis of faith. This Icon made it to Africa, beginning with Nigeria in December of 2009. With this visit, Dominicans in Nigeria feel more than ever the need for the intercession of our Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patroness of Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country so blessed with loads of human and natural resources. Enough for all her citizens to have and experience the dignity due human beings, but we all know that a lot is amiss morally, spiritually, economically, psychologically, politically etc.

As Dominicans in Nigeria and Ghana, we intend to renew our history as promoters of the rosary and commit our countries Nigeria and Ghana into the hands of our Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, ever full of grace and mediatrix of all graces. In doing this, we want Our Blessed Mother to present our nations and ourselves to her son, just as she presented the request for wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. (John 2:1-10). We take our courage from the Apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II.

On the day that he began the 25th year of Pope John Paul II's pontificate, he published the apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary). He called all Catholics to reclaim the full meaning of the rosary." The rosary, he said, "deserves to be rediscovered" because it is "an inner journey which [brings] the faithful into living contact with the mystery of Christ and his Blessed Mother." The rosary for him is "the school of Mary" in which we are "led to contemplate the beauty of the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love." There, one is "offered the ‘secret' which leads easily to a profound and inward knowledge of Christ." The rosary "is a means of learning to ‘read' Christ, to discover his secrets, and to understand his message." For "Mary constantly sets before the faithful the ‘mysteries' of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power." Through the rosary "in Mary's company" we are enabled "to share [Christ's] deepest feelings.

For us in Nigeria and Ghana, the revival of the rosary is crucial because "today we are facing new challenges" that require recourse to the mediation of our mother Mary. The letter speaks of the urgent need to "counter a certain crisis of the rosary" caused when the rosary is devalued and, therefore, "no longer taught to the younger generation." For this reason, the Holy Father places the focus of the revival of the rosary on Christian families since renewed devotion to the rosary within family life "will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this crisis typical of our age." At the same time, with the Holy Father, we call for a "revival of the rosary…to implore from God the gift of peace." For "the rosary is by its nature a prayer for peace…. One cannot recite the rosary without feeling caught up in a clear commitment to advancing peace.”

Pope Pius XI in his Encyclical INGRAVESCENTIBUS MALIS, (September 29, 1937) talked about the elegance of the Rosary. He said that the "Our Father" as our Divine Redeemer Himself pronounced when His disciples asked Him: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke xi, 1); is a very holy supplication which both offers us the way as far as it is possible for us to render glory to God, and also takes into account all the necessities of our body and soul.(No. 10)

Next to the "Our Father”, he said, is the Angelic Salutation, which begins with the eulogies of the Archangel Gabriel and of St. Elizabeth, and ends with that very pious supplication by which we beg the help of the Blessed Virgin now and at the hour of our death. To these invocations, said aloud, is added the contemplation of the sacred mysteries, through which they place, as it were, under our eyes the joys, sorrows and triumphs of Jesus Christ and of His Mother, so that we receive relief and comfort in our sorrows. Following those most holy examples, we ascend to the happiness of the heavenly country by steps of ever higher virtue." (No. 11)

From history one also finds that "there is an innumerable multitude of holy men of every age and every condition who have always held it dear. They have recited it with great devotion, and in every moment they have used it as a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight, to preserve the integrity of life, to acquire virtue more easily, and in a word to attain real peace among men." (No. 14)

16...And We do not wish here to pass over in silence the fact that the Blessed Virgin herself, even in our times, has solicitously recommended this manner of prayer, when she appeared and taught it to the innocent girl in the Grotto of Lourdes.
17. Therefore why should We not hope for every grace if We supplicate Our Heavenly Mother in this manner with due disposition and holiness?

VISION FOR NIGERIA AND AFRICA
Given the beauty and value of the rosary as testified to by different Popes, the Dominicans in Nigeria and Ghana have a vision to renew confraternities; spread the devotions in families; make available the form of the rosary in every major dialect in nigeria and Ghana; this will be in audio and print, we will make available write-ups on the rosary and testimonies from the intercession of Mary, and above all, renew the first Saturday devotion and establish a national shrine of the Holy rosary.

This vision cannot be more apt given the fact that Mary is the Patroness of Nigeria. We are inspired by the words and experiences of Pope Leo XIII (LAETITIAE SANCTAE, no. 16) when he said that there are "fruitful advantages which are to be derived from the use of the Rosary, and the healing power which this devotion possesses for the evils of the age and the fatal sores of society. These advantages, as we may readily conceive, will be secured in a higher and fuller measure by those who band themselves together in the sacred Confraternity of the Rosary, and who are thus more than others united by a special and brotherly bond of devotion to the Most Holy Virgin."

17.[It is with this experience and conviction that we restate the words of Pope Leo XIII, asking for] the "renewed zeal ...in the founding, enlarging, and directing of these confraternities, and that not only by the sons of St. Dominic, to whom by virtue of their Order a leading part in this Apostolate belongs, but by all who are charged with the care of souls, and notable in those places in which the Confraternity has not yet been canonically established."

3. [Confident that she did it before,] when Europe was threatened with ruin and slavery, upon the suggestion of the Sovereign Pontiff the protection of the heavenly Mother was fervently implored and the enemy was defeated and his ships sunk. Thus the Faithful of every age, both in public misfortune and in private need, turn in supplication to Mary, the benignant, so that she may come to their aid and grant help and remedy against sorrows of body and soul. And never was her most powerful aid hoped for in vain by those who besought it with pious and trustful prayer (INGRAVESCENTIBUS MALIS, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, September 29, 1937.)

21.[We are confident that] if, then, all will do this with due disposition, with great faith and with fervent piety, as in the past, so in our day, the Blessed Virgin will obtain from her divine Son favours desired and our country and invariably our continent will be a peaceful garden for us all to live in.

28. [We implore] the fathers and mothers of families particularly [to] give an example to their children, especially, in the midst of their heavy daily activity or after their day’s work, within the domestic walls. They should pray the Holy Rosary on bended knees before the image of the Virgin, together fusing voice, faith and sentiment. This is a beautiful and salutary custom, from which certainly there cannot but be derived tranquillity and abundance of heavenly gifts for the household.

As Pope Pius XII said (INGRUENTIUM MALORUM, Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, 15 September 1951) "...If the evils and the assaults of the wicked increase, so likewise must the piety of all good people increase and become ever more vigorous. Let them strive to obtain from our most loving Mother, especially through this form of prayer, that better times may quickly return for the Church and society."

The Mysteries of the Rosary
To prevent the praying of the rosary from being a mindless repetition, there developed the practice of meditating on events in the lives of Jesus Christ and Mary, which are called "mysteries." These mysteries are the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. Each consists of five events, which correspond to the five decades of the rosary.

The Joyful Mysteries are prayed on Mondays and Saturdays. The events all have to do with Christ's birth.
1. The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-28)
2. The Visitation (Luke 1:39-56)
3. The Nativity (Luke 2:1-21)
4. The Presentation (Luke 2:22-38)
5. The Find of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)

The Luminous Mysteries (or Mysteries of Light) are prayed on Thursdays. They were instituted by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
1. The Baptism in the River Jordan (Matthew 3:13-16)
2. The Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1-11)
3. The Preaching of the Coming of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15)
4. The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8)
5. The Institution of the Holy Eucharist (Matthew 26)

The Sorrowful Mysteries relate to Jesus' suffering and death. They are prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays.
1. The Agony of Jesus in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-56)
2. The Scourging at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
3. The Crowning with Thorns (Matthew 27:27-31)
4. The Carrying of the Cross (Matthew 27:32)
5. The Crucifixion (Matthew 27:33-56)

The Glorious Mysteries remind the faithful of Jesus' resurrection and the glories of heaven. They are prayed on Wednesdays and Sundays.
1. The Resurrection (John 20:1-29)
2. The Ascension (Luke 24:36-53)
3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-41)
4. The Assumption of Mary into Heaven
5. The Coronation of Mary in Heaven

How to Pray the Rosary
Following are the steps for praying the rosary using rosary beads.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit, Amen.
1. Holding the crucifix, say the Apostles' Creed.
2. Holding the next large bead, pray the Our Father.
3. On each of the first three small beads, pray the Hail Mary.
4. After the three Hail Marys, pray the Glory Be.
5. Announce the first mystery (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful or Glorious).
6. Holding the large bead, pray the Our Father.
7. On each of the ten beads, pray the Hail Mary.
8. After the tenth Hail Mary, pray the Glory Be.
9. And then add the Fatima Prayer here: O Jesus! Forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell, lead all souls to heaven especially those in need of your mercy.
10. Repeat steps 5 through 9 for the next four decades.

Why We Pray the Rosary?
There are Blessings, Benefits and Promises that go with praing the rosary.

Blessing of the Rosary:
Sinners are forgiven.
Souls that thirst are refreshed.
Those who are fettered have their bonds broken.
Those who weep find happiness.
Those who are tempted find peace.
The poor find help.
Religious are reformed.
Those who are ignorant are instructed.
The living learn to overcome pride.
The dead (the Holy Souls) have their pains eased by suffrages.

Benefits of the Rosary:
It gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ.
It purifies our souls, helps with penance for sin.
It gives us victory over all our enemies.
It makes it easy for us to practice virtue.
It sets us on fire with love of Our Lord.
It enriches us with graces and merits.
It supplies us with what is needed to pay all our debts to God and to our fellow men; and finally, It obtains all kinds of graces for us from Almighty God.

Our Lady's 15 Promises for Praying the Rosary
1) Whosoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the Rosary shall receive signal graces.
(Signal Graces are those special and unique Graces to help sanctify us in our state in life. St. Louis de Montfort states emphatically that the best and fastest way to union with Our Lord is via Our Lady) [True Devotion to Mary, chapter four].

2) I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.
(Our Lady is our Advocate and the channel of all God's Grace to us. Our Lady is simply highlighting that She will watch especially over us who pray the Rosary. (see Lumen Gentium chapter VIII - Our Lady #62) [a great more detail is available on this topic in True Devotion to Mary, chapter four, by St. Louis de Montfort].

3) The Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell, it will destroy vice, decrease sin and defeat heresies.
(This promise, along with the next, is simply the reminder on how fervent prayer will help us all grow in holiness by avoiding sin, especially a prayer with the excellence of the Rosary. An increase in holiness necessarily requires a reduction in sin, vice, and doctrinal errors (heresies). St. Louis de Montfort states "Since Mary alone crushed all heresies, as we are told by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary)..." [True Devotion to Mary #167]

4) It will cause good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire for Eternal Things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.
(This promise, along with the previous, is the positive part, that being to live in virtue. Becoming holy is not only avoiding sin, but also growing in virtue. (see Lumen Gentium chapter V - The Call to Holiness #42)

5) The soul which recommends itself to me by the recitation of the Rosary shall not perish.
(Since Our Lady is our Mother and Advocate, She always assists those who call on Her implicitly by praying the Rosary. The Church reminds us of this in the beautiful Memorare prayer, " Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided . Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of vigins, my mother, to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen."

6) Whosoever shall recite the Rosary devoutly, applying himself or herself to the consideration of its Sacred Mysteries shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise him in His justice, he shall not perish by an unprovided death; if he/she be just, he/she shall remain in the grace of God, and become worthy of Eternal Life.
(This promise highlights the magnitude of Graces that the Rosary brings to whomever prays it. One will draw down God's Mercy rather than His Justice and will have a final chance to repent (see promise #7). One will not be conquered by misfortune means that Our Lady will obtain for the person sufficient Graces to handle said misfortune (i.e. carry the Crosses allowed by God) without falling into despair. As Sacred Scripture tells us, "For my yoke is sweet and my burden light." (Matthew 11:30)

7) Whoever shall have a true devotion for the Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church. This promise highlights the benefits of obtaining the most possible Graces at the hour of death via the Sacraments of Confession, Eucharist, and Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Sick). Being properly disposed while receiving these Sacraments near death ensures one's salvation (although perhaps with a detour through Purgatory) since a final repentance is possible.

8) Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the Light of God and the plenitude of His Graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the Merits of the Saints in Paradise.
(Our Lady highlights the great quantity of Graces obtain through praying the Rosary, which assist us during life and at the moment of death. The merits of the Saints are the gift of God's rewards to those persons who responded to His Grace that they obtained during life, and so Our Lady indicates that She will provide a share of that to us at death. With this promise and #7 above, Our Lady is providing the means for the person to have a very holy death.

9) I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.
(Should one require Purgatorial cleansing after death, Our Lady will make a special effort to obtain our release from Purgatory through Her intercession as Advocate.)

10) The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of Glory in Heaven. This promise follows from promises #3 and #4 since anyone who truly lived a holier life on earth will obtain a higher place in Heaven. The closer one is to God while living on earth, the close that person is to Him also in Heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states "Spiritual progress tends toward ever more union with Christ." (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2014)

11) You shall obtain all you ask of me by recitation of the Rosary.
(This promise emphasizes Our Lady's role as our Advocate and Mediatrix of all Graces. Of course, all requests are subject to God's Most Perfect Will. God will always grant our request if it is beneficial for our soul, and Our Lady will only intercede for us when our request is good for our salvation. (see Lumen Gentium chapter VIII - Our Lady #62)

12) All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.
If one promotes the praying of the Rosary, Our Lady emphasizes Her Maternal care for us by obtaining many Graces (i.e. spiritual necessities) and also material necessities (neither excess nor luxury), all subject to the Will of God of course.

13) I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire Celestial Court during their life and at the hour of death.
(Since Our Lady is our Advocate, She brings us additional assistance during our life and at our death from all the saints in Heaven (the Communion of Saints). See paragraphs 954 through 959 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

14) All who recite the Rosary are my Sons and daughters and brothers and sisters of my only Son, Jesus Christ.
(Since the Rosary is a most excellent prayer focused on Jesus and His Life and activities in salvation history, it brings us closer to Our Lord and Our Lady. Doctrinally, Our Lady is our Mother and Jesus is our Eldest Brother, besides being our God. (see Lumen Gentium chapter VIII - Our Lady #62)

15) Devotion to my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.
Predestination in this context means that, by the sign which is present to a person from the action of devoutly praying the Rosary, God has pre-ordained your salvation. Absolute certainty of salvation can only be truly known if God reveals it to a person because, although we are given sufficient Grace during life, our salvation depends upon our response to said Grace. (See Summa Theologica, Question 23 for a detailed theological explanation). Said another way, if God has guaranteed a person's salvation but has not revealed it to Him, God would want that person to pray the Rosary because of all the benefits and Graces obtained. Therefore the person gets a hint by devotion to the Rosary. This is not to say that praying the Rosary guarantees salvation - by no means. In looking at promises #3 and #4 above, praying the Rosary helps one to live a holy life, which is itself a great sign that a soul is on the road to salvation. (See also paragraphs 381, 488, 600, 2782 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.) In fact, St. Louis de Montfort says even more strongly that "an infallible and unmistakable sign by which we can distinguish a heretic, a man of false doctrine, an enemy of God, from one of God's true friends is that the hardened sinner and heretic show nothing but contempt and indifference to Our Lady..." [True Devotion to Mary, #30]

Reminder: these promises mean that, by faithfully and devoutly praying the Rosary, Our Lady will obtain for us the necessary Graces to obtain said promises. It is still up to each individual soul to respond to those Graces in order to obtain salvation.

 


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