Among the devotional practices of the Church, perhaps none is more popular and more widely prayed than the rosary. On October 7, the Church observes the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, highlighting the significance of Mary in salvation history, and placing a spotlight on praying the rosary for the entire month.
Throughout history, there have been many apparitions of Mary where she has promised her protection and special graces. The origins of the rosary date back to the early thirteenth century, when according to tradition, in 1208, the Blessed Mother appeared in a private revelation to St. Dominic in Prouille, France. This apparition became known as Our Lady of the Rosary. During St. Dominic's meeting with the Blessed Mother, she gave him the rosary as a means of converting heretics and sinners, and asked him to pray it and tell others to do the same. Unfortunately, there are no writings within the Dominican Order or the Church to provide the details of the apparition.
Many years later, a Dominican priest and theologian, St. Alain de la Roche, received a vision from Jesus, urging him to spread the devotion of praying the rosary. Known as the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans taught others to pray the rosary through their widespread preaching. Since most Christians, including those in monasteries were illiterate, the rosary became a parallel prayer to the 150 psalms that are read and prayed during the liturgy of the hours.
Pope St. Pius V, a Dominican, who became pope in 1566, promoted the praying of the rosary. In 1569 the pope approved the rosary in its current form, issuing a papal bull. Since that time, the practice of praying the rosary has grown and remained popular among the faithful, making it perhaps the most popular Catholic devotion.
The word rosary means a "crown of roses." Our Lady has revealed that with each Hail Mary prayed, we are presenting her with a beautiful rose. Roses are considered one of the most beautiful of all flowers, and when we offer her fifty Hail Mary's each one represents a rose that forms a crown of love and honor, whose luster draws the attention of Christ.
Modern spiritual writers have said that the praying of the rosary is like a mantra, a repetitive prayer that aids in meditation. Meditation is the practice of focusing on the meaning of thoughts or teachings in light of one's love for God so as to grow in a personal relationship with Him. One reason why the rosary is such a great prayer is that it contains the entire story of our salvation. When we pray the Hail Mary's, we meditate on the mysteries of joy, sorrow, glory and light, and Mary acts as our guide, helping us to know Jesus more deeply, especially as He is present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Throughout the centuries, praying the rosary has been a significant practice for growth in the spiritual life. During this month of October, we might rediscover the rosary and the spiritual benefits it has for us. Through this devotion, our Blessed Mother leads us to deeper friendship with Christ, and that is the heart of our faith.