The Church dedicates the month of October to the rosary, that simple but beautiful prayer filled with holy power. The rosary offers us a great weapon in spiritual battle. After the Mass, no other prayer has been encouraged so regularly by the Church. Our Lady, across many of her apparitions, asks us to pray it every day. Why? In part because the 20 minutes of prayer it requires forms a basis for the daily practice of meditation, which is necessary for growth in the Christian life. Though many people complain that it can become formulaic, the rosary should become a profound form of personal prayer, as the prayers of each bead address God and Our Lady directly: “Our Father,” “Hail (or even “hello”) Mary,” Glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and “O My Jesus.” Meditating on the mysteries of our salvation draws us daily into the reality of our faith. The rosary serves as a means of fighting against the many forces of evil that oppress us by drawing us close to Jesus and Mary. As an act of love, it also makes reparation for sin — both our own sins and for a world that has turned against God.
The rosary in particular has been used for teaching the faith and overcoming difficulties. St. Dominic often receives credit for popularizing the rosary in his efforts to preach to the Albigensians of southern France in the 13th century. The historical record points to a more gradual development that engages all of the major religious orders. Strings of beads first became common in the 11th century, with the name Paternosters because they were used for reciting 50 Our Fathers. By the next century, Ave Marias were added, beginning the practice of the rosary in rudimentary form. It was the Cistercian Order that began the practice of praying a Marian Psalter of 150 Hail Marys taking the place of psalms, with the monk Stephen of Sallay encouraging the meditation of 15 Marian joys in the 13th century (shortly after the time of St. Dominic).
It was a Carthusian, Dominic of Prussia, who added the Our Father and Glory Be to the rosary while meditating on the mysteries in the 15th century, while the Franciscans promoted their own version of the rosary, a Crown of Roses dedicated to the Seven Joys of Mary. Bl. Alan de la Roche, also in the 15th century, promoted the Dominican version of the rosary and established the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. This Dominican version became formalized for the entire Church under the fifteen classic mysteries of joy, sorrow, and glory by the Dominican Pope, St. Pius V, who also established the feast of the Our Lady of the Rosary in 1571, in thanksgiving for the Battle of Lepanto. Even afterward, the rosary continued to take shape, with Our Lady of Fatima asking for the addition of the “O My Jesus prayer” at the end of each decade in 1917 and St. John Paul II adding Luminous Mysteries in 2002.
Rooted in ancient prayers to Our Lady and taking shape in the Middle Ages, the rosary has been put forward as a great weapon against the evils of our age. When Our Lady appeared to the three children in Fatima in 1917, she asked them to “Say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” By adding a prayer to the rosary, she pointed us to the need to pray for those “most in need,” asking mercy for them, especially that all of us would be saved “from the fires of hell,” which the children were shown. She also asked specifically for prayers of reparation: “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifice: ‘O Jesus, it is for Thy love, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.’” Mary said that praying the rosary and honoring her Immaculate Heart on the First Saturday of the month would end World War I and overcome the horrors of Communism.
The rosary offers us such a simple solution, which, therefore, can be easily overlooked. Jesus has already overcome all evil and sin in the world, but he invites us to cooperate with his work for our salvation. Mary asks us to spend time with her and Jesus each day as an act of love and reparation in order to obtain peace and conversion. In praying the rosary, we are standing alongside of our fellow sinners, praying for them when they are not and asking the Lord to have mercy on them. As an act of love, this makes reparation, which the Catechism’s glossary describes as “making amends for a wrong done or for an offense, especially for sin, which is an offense against God.” Let’s not overlook such a simple answer to the world’s problems. Prayer truly provides the means forward for humanity as we recover our obedience to God and make amends for turning away from him.