The Origin of the Rosary

"The Highest himself hath founded her."

Ps. Ixxxvi.

 

My dear brethren, in our consideration on the Rosary let us to-day reflect upon its origin. Its origin and age bestow on this devotion a great dignity. From the earliest times of Christianity it has been the custom of the Christians to observe in their prayers method and perseverance. Thus it was the custom of the hermits of the Orient, as far back as the fourth century, to devise a sequence of certain prayers, which they counted on pebbles. We also know that long ago in England a so-called Paternoster-cord was used for this purpose. St. Gregory, at the end of the fourth century, spoke of such a method of devotion in veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This pious bishop thought a wreath of spiritual r6ses would be more pleasing to the blessed Virgin than the natural roses with which the faithful adorned her altar. He selected, therefore, a number of prayers, in praise of the blessed Virgin, and united them into a wreath. And this was the origin of the Rosary, woven by pious hands for the veneration of Mary, the mystical rose.

 

In the fifth century, St. Brigid urgently commended the devotion of the Rosary, and she chose as its prayers the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed, and united them into a wreath of prayers. In order to count their recital she strung little beads of stone or wood and made a wreath of them. This custom subsequently spread through all Christian lands, and through the centuries, to our own days. That this devotion was always in great favor and esteem among pious Christians may be concluded from the fact that in the grave of St. Norbert, who died in 1134, a Rosary similar to ours was found. We have proof, then, that the devotion of the Rosary, such as we have it, was practiced already in the early days of Christianity. And it was practiced not only by monks and nuns, but found adherents among all the faithful.

 

The particular manner in which we now pray the Rosary was brought into vogue by St. Dominic. This is attested by the tradition of six centuries. Twelve Popes bear witness to this fact. We will now speak of the introduction by St. Dominic, and will also refer to the great efficacy of this devotion since its inception. May our reflections contribute to the greater honor of God, and of the glorious Queen of the Rosary.

 

The devotion of the Rosary in its present form dates its origin from the thirteenth century, and St. Dominic was selected by God as the instrument of its introduction. Spain was the home of this great saint. In one of the valleys of Castile there is situated a humble little village named Calarunga, where his parents possessed a small estate. He was born there in the year 1170. While being baptized his sponsor saw, as if in a vision, a brilliant star over the forehead of the future saint, shedding its brilliant light through the church. As Dominic advanced in years he increased in wisdom, virtue and piety. In due time he devoted himself to theology, believing that in this pursuit alone he could find the wisdom of God. Not in the pleasures of this world, but in the knowledge of God, he sought his pastime. His favorite place was the church and the solitude of the sanctuary. Two incidents from his schooldays throw a light upon his character. At the time of a famine Dominic gave all that he possessed to the poor, even all but the necessary clothes, and when he had nothing more to give, he sold even his beloved books and gave the proceeds to the poor. When berated by people for his excessive generosity, he said:

 

"How could I dare indulge in these lifeless books, when human lives are in danger of starvation ?"

 

At another time St. Dominic met a woman who was weeping bitterly because she had no money with which she could release her brother, who had been imprisoned by the Saracens. Dominic offered to sell himself into bondage to release this brother ; but since God had destined him to release sinful mankind from the bondage of sin, of error and unbelief, He did not permit Dominic to do as he offered.

 

At the age of twenty-five he was appointed upon the chapter of the cathedral at Osma. Here he was conspicuous among his brethren on account of his humility, holiness, and zeal for prayer.

 

He spent nine years in Osma, during which time divine Providence prepared him for his important and great vocation. This vocation became plain to him when, in the year 1204, he went to France and saw the terrible devastation which the prevailing heresies had wrought against the Church of Christ. The sight of this disaster nearly broke his heart. The poison of heresy had spread among the faithful with great rapidity, and principally in southern France. From the city of Albi the heretics had assumed the name Albigenses.

 

These Albigenses discarded the doctrines of Christianity and constructed new doctrines that played havoc with morality and social order. They were violent enemies of Church and State, and preached disobedience and rebellion against spiritual and temporal authority. An enemy of the Church is invariably also an enemy of the State ; history and experience prove this. In southern France the Albigenses secured the support of Prince Raimond, of Toulouse, a wealthy and mighty, but, at the same time, a most godless and immoral prince of that time. He had several wives; associated with heretics, and even gave his children to be educated by them. This prince undertook the leadership of the heretical Albigenses, and with them, and other rabble by which France at that time was overrun, scoured the country, robbing and plundering wherever they went. This lawless band, under the direction of this godless prince, robbed churches of their treasures, murdered priests, even tore open the tabernacles and desecrated the most holy Sacrament. A messenger of Pope Innocent III was murdered by one of these knaves, who then found the protection of this depraved prince. Under these conditions the Pope finally saw the necessity of preaching a crusade against these heretics, who surpassed even the Saracens in the outrages committed. A terrible war then ensued, in which these enemies of Church and State were subdued, but not converted. For this there was necessary an extraordinary spiritual effort, and divine Providence had already prepared the instrument. St. Dominic was the tool in the hand of God to introduce and apply an efficacious remedy, and this remedy was the Rosary.

 

Dominic had for many years taught the doctrines of the Catholic Church to the heretics, and had converted a number of them, but not enough to satisfy his holy zeal. He often turned with humility to God and besought Him with tears, and deeds of penance, that He might let him know how to accomplish better results. Since childhood he had been a faithful servant of Mary, and had often said that the devotion to her was a powerful means of converting heretics and sinners.

 

Finally his prayers were heard in a miraculous way. One day, while on his way from Toulouse, Dominic threw himself down on his knees and resolved not to cease praying until his prayers were heard. Then, so the legend tells us, the glorious Queen of heaven appeared to him, spoke words of encouragement, and taught him how to pray the Rosary, assuring him that this would be the right weapon to conquer error and sin. With joy Dominic arose and returned to Toulouse, and began to spread the use of the Rosary, as Mary had taught him and in the way we now recite it. He preached this devotion, explained it, and taught the people how to pray it. It proved indeed a most efficacious means for the conversion of apostates, heretics, and sinners. Since the lack of knowledge in matters of faith had been the real cause why heresy so quickly spread, the principal truths of faith and morals were now communicated to the people through the Rosary, and the principles of a Christian life were taught them in this most sublime prayer of the Church. This was bound to bring results, and we will give now some thought to these results.

 

According to the historians of those ages the effects of the Rosary sermons of St. Dominic were truly wonderful. In all cities where he preached, the people gathered in great numbers to hear his heaven-inspired words and to pray the Rosary with St. Dominic. Sinners were converted, the faithful were strengthened and fortified, and many thousands of those who had been led into heresy opened their hearts again to the true faith and returned to the holy Church. The inspired words of St. Dominic met with such splendid results that, even if the tradition did not tell us so, the miraculous effects of this devotion would prove its heavenly inspiration, and Pius IX, Leo XIII, as many Popes before them, have publicly avowed their belief that St. Dominic received the Rosary from our blessed Mother.

 

The promise which Dominic received was fulfilled. Where all other means had failed, the humble prayer of the Rosary accomplished the victory over heresy. Thus divine wisdom and infinite power make use of humble things to effect great achievements. Of this the great work of the redemption gives us an example. God made the Cross the instrument of the redemption. The despised Cross, once a shame and disgrace, was raised on the height of Calvary and became the instrument of the redemption for all the world, the fountain of grace, a blessing for time and eternity, the symbol of victory and glory.

 

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, writes:

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not in loftiness of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of Christ. For I judge not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And my speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the showing of the spirit and power. That your faith might not stand on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness: But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God; for the foolish ness of God is wiser than men; but the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. That no flesh should glory in his sight";

(I Cor. i and ii).

 

And so did God choose the Rosary, this humble prayer, to work such great things, that human effort had not been able to accomplish. What an incentive to put all our trust in God, rather than in our own strength ! The devotion of the Rosary soon spread from southern France to all other Catholic lands, and all peoples welcomed it with joy and prayed it with great zeal. Rosary societies were formed and approved of by the Popes, and were richly endowed with many "indulgences. Ever since there has been no other prayer practiced so diligently as the Rosary. And often there have been recorded miraculous effects of this devotion, no less miraculous than the conversion of the heretics in the south of France. The devotion as now practiced is therefore in use over seven hundred years. The wonderful origin, its great age and the remarkable miracles that were wrought by its use at all times, bestow a great dignity on this devotion. When we consider the conditions that prevailed at the time of the origin of the Rosary, and for the betterment of which divine Providence provided this devotion, we can not fail to realize a similarity of conditions in our own times. Materialism and unbelief, connected with widespread immorality, are now prevalent as they were then. They are causing great injury to Church, State, and homes, and will become more destructive if not checked by the right weapon. Pope Pius IX, as also Pope Leo XIII, have declared the Rosary to be that weapon, and have exhorted Christianity to resort to the zealous use of it. If all Christians would follow the advice of these supreme Pontiffs, we should soon see the Catholic faith and good morals come into their own again, and ample blessing would, through this devotion, be bestowed upon private and public life. All the insistent endeavors of world-wise scholars and reformers will be of no avail if God s blessing does not rest upon their work. Only then, when the true faith and a life of faith are made the standard of public and private merit and ethics, will the temporal, no less than the eternal, welfare of nations and of individuals be assured.

 

Let us, through the Rosary, call to Mary for her powerful intercession in the battle of the Church against the enemies of faith and morals, and with her intercession we shall be sure of victory. Amen.

 

THE POWER OF THE Rosary

 

"Lo, here is the sword of Goliath. . . . There is none like that, give it me."; I Kings xxi, 9.

 

SYNOPSIS. David, ivith God s assistance, his only weapon a pebble, slew the giant. God gives us, as our weapon, the Rosary. This has proven efficacious in the battles of the Church against heretics and heathen armies. Examples: Albigenses; Turks at Lepanto and Belgrade; many epidemics abated or averted by the power of the Rosary. This devotion is just as powerful for the individual and for the family. God has shown us that He wishes many to co-operate with the Church and with the Christian in their fight for faith and salvation. Let all use this weapon. My dear brethren, in the first book of Kings we read how the Philistines went forth to battle against the Israelites. The Philistines arrayed their forces on a mountain, and the Israelites occupied a mountain on the opposite side, so that the valley was between them. Then there went out from the hordes of the Philistines a man named Goliath, a giant of enormous strength, who challenged the Israelites to let one of their men fight him hand to hand, the result of this contest to decide the victory or defeat of either army. A youth named David, inspired and urged by the spirit of God, went forth with a few smooth stones and a sling to meet this Philistine, and as Goliath rushed toward him David cast the stones with the sling and struck the Philistine in the forehead, and he fell upon his face to the earth. David then ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and slew him. Israel thus gained the victory over the Philistines. But when for this victory exceeding praise was given to David, King Saul became angry and sought the life of the youthful hero. In his flight David came to Nobe. Not having any weapon, he said to the high priest Achimelech : "Hastthou here at hand a spear or a sword ?"; The high priest answered : "Lo, here is the sword of Goliath, whom thou slewest in the valley of Terebinth, if thou wilt take this, for there is no other but this"; And David said, "There is none like that, give it me."; These last words, which I have made the text for my address to-day, we may fitly apply to the holy Rosary. For the Rosary has ever since its origin proven itself a conquering weapon for the Church, as also well as for the individual Christian, against the most powerful enemies of God and of His Church. Let us consider the fact for the greater glory of God and of the Queen of the Rosary.

 

Since the introduction of the Rosary by St. Dominic, for more than six hundred years therefore, the great victories of Christianity against the many and ferocious enemies of the Church are ascribed to the devotion of the Rosary. The Church has at all times had enemies, who with all their power and in all their evil ways have opposed and persecuted her. Nor is this surprising. Ever since Satan succeeded in beguiling our first parents into sin, he has continued to sow dissention among mankind. Beginning with Cain and Abel, there have been children of God who obeyed God's commandments, and, on the other hand, children of Satan, as Holy Scripture calls them, who seek their salvation in the pleasures of this life. Since the time of Cain and Abel, mankind has been split into two divisions, one seeking the kingdom of God, the other the kingdom of the world, the kingdom of Satan. When our Savior conquered Satan He left him power over those who make themselves slaves to the sensual pleasures, and thus there exists an evil force against the Church, and it will exist to the end of time. This is a fact that we must keep in view in order to fully understand and judge the conditions. The realm of darkness, Satan s realm, stands opposed to the realm of Christ. Satan and his adherents carry on the warfare against the Church of Christ, as they assaulted Christ Himself. "As they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you"; so did Christ prophecy. The Church of Christ demands the subjection of the flesh; she preaches against luxury, pride and selfishness. She preaches chastity and submission to the commandments of God ; she preaches penance alike to those of high and low station in life. This angers all those who would indulge in the evil things of this world. They cry: "Let us break her bonds asunder; and let us cast away her yoke from us"; But as Christ foretold the persecution of His Church, so He also foretold that the gates of hell would not prevail against her. The Church of God will in due time conquer all her enemies, some will be converted, while others who are obstinate will perish in the battle. In all these battles and victories of the Church, Mary, blessed mother of her divine Founder, co-operates with the Church through her intercession. Mary was already spoken of in paradise as the one who would come to tread upon the head of the serpent, the spirit of darkness. This she has done by becoming the mother of God, by bringing forth the Redeemer. And as Jesus through Mary's cooperation came into this world, so He desires her cooperation in ruling the world. The history of the contests and victories of the Church verify this throughout the centuries. The evil spirit has a twofold weapon with which he assails and combats God s Church ; namely, the godless rulers of the world and heresy. Through the godless authorities of the world Satan has endeavored since the beginning to crush the Church; through heresy he attempts to destroy the Church by internal dissension. Both weapons are used together, for heresy and calumny can not prevail without substantial support, and heretics seek worldly power and assistance. On every page of Church history we find recorded the clashes planned by these evil forces, from which the Church always came out not conquered, but a conqueror. The history of the veneration of Mary tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary helped to win these victories. During the early times, when fierce battles against the Church were raging, bishops and priests knew of no more efficacious means to avert these dangers than to exhort the faithful to pray to the Blessed Virgin. Thus we read in history that the holy bishops and martyrs Ignatius and Irenaeus did this in the second century, and in the third century it was Pope Calixtus who advised the faithful to take refuge with the Blessed Virgin in time of persecution of the Church. And so on through all Christian times.

 

Since the introduction of the Rosary by St. Dominic all great victories have been credited to the devotion of the Rosary. The first great conquest of the Church effected by the Rosary was the victory over the Albigenses, who had spread heresy in southern France and had caused great havoc in Church and State. St. Bernard complained in those times : "The churches are empty, the people without priests, the Sacraments without reverence. People on their deathbed refuse the assistance of the Church, ridicule penance.";

 

How the weapon with which this heresy was conquered was the Rosary we have related in a previous sermon. This was the first glorious victory through the devotion of the Rosary. It was the sword with which the Church slew the proud Goliath of heresy. Another wonderful victory through this miraculous weapon of Christianity was the defeat of the Turkish navy at Lepanto, on October 7, 1571. The so-called reformation, of which Martin Luther was the originator, had spread over the whole of Europe, bringing in its trail destruction, dissension and war. The Turks, who had long thirsted for vengeance upon the Christians, found conditions favorable for their plans. They gathered all their forces to assail the Christian lands. The princes of Europe were either indifferent, or were besieged with difficulties in their own lands, and Luther even said he preferred the Turks to the papacy. Pope Pius V alone realized the great danger that threatened Christianity, and he called upon the Christian people to defend country and Church against the common enemy.

 

The Christian forces which could be assembled were very small compared with those of the Turks. Nevertheless Pius V knew of another power which he realized would be a mighty ally. With all his energy he exhorted his people to implore the Blessed Virgin and glorious Queen of heaven, through the Rosary, to come to the assistance of the Christian army. It was, as Leo XIII said in his commendation of the Rosary, an ennobling sight, which drew the eyes of the whole world; on one side, not far from the Corinthian Sea, the Christians prepared to sacrifice life for religion and country ; while gathered on the other side, imploring through the Rosary Mary s assistance for the fighting Christians, were many Christians unable to take up arms. The small army of Christians attacking the great force of the Turkish fleet was an undertaking similar to the assault of David upon the giant Goliath. On October 7, 1571, the deciding battle was fought, in the Bay of Lepanto. The battle raged from six o clock in the morning until six o clock at night. It was one of the most terrific battles ever fought. And, lo! In the evening, toward six o clock, the battle ended in the victory of the Christians over their powerful enemy. This wonderful victory of the Christians was undoubtedly due to the assistance of the Blessed Virgin. Pope Pius V so declared, and in memory of this wonderful achievement he added to the litany of the Blessed Virgin the supplication : Help of Christians, pray for us ! " He also ordained that the anniversary of this victory be celebrated as the feast of ";Our Lady of Victory,"; which Gregory XIII subsequently styled the "Feast of the Rosary"; In the annals of the Church there is another great victory over the Turks recorded which once more demonstrated the power of the Rosary. It was the great victory in the campaign against the Turks at the beginning of the eighteenth century. After the Turks had been defeated at sea, they endeavored to conquer on land. They forced their way to Hungary, and had taken possession of eight provinces, when Emperor Charles VII sent an army against them under the command of Prince Eugene. This army was composed of only seventy thousand men. With this meager force Prince Eugene defeated two hundred thousand Turks and laid siege to Belgrade, their stronghold. Prince Eugene, before engaging the enemy, implored the help of the Blessed Virgin, through the Rosary, and then with confidence in God s assistance went to battle and to glorious victory. Thirty thousand Turks were slain on the battlefield; the others fled. The Rosary again had won the victory, and on the feast day of the Blessed Virgin.

 

In the same manner as the Rosary was a successful weapon against heretics and other enemies of the Church, it has demonstrated its wonderful efficiency in individual cases of stress, and of such I will mention a few instances. In the year 1578 a fearful epidemic devastated the city of Pavia. The terrified people made a public vow to build a chapel to our Blessed Lady of the Rosary if the epidemic would cease. And the very day the vow was made the epidemic did abate. A similar case happened in Cologne, where people were saved from an epidemic after such a vow had been made. That cases like these are innumerable is manifested by trie many chapels built as a result of such vows, and by the votive tablets in pilgrimage churches dedicated to Mary. Sight is restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, the use of their limbs to the crippled, diseases of all kind are cured, by invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin by means of the devotion of the Rosary.

 

The conversion of a hardened sinner is, after all, a greater miracle than all cures of disease. And such conversions to this day are as numerous as they were at the time the Rosary was introduced. Entire nations, provinces and cities have been converted to God through his devotion. Blessed John, a companion of St. Dominic, wrote a book about the miraculous power of the Rosary. The blessed Alanus de la Roche tells of a bishop, in whose diocese morality was decadent, who finally took up the devotion to the Rosary, explained it to his people, prayed it with them, and had it introduced in all parishes. Soon the people abandoned their evil ways.

 

St. Clement Hofbauer assures us : "When I am called to a sick man of whom I know that he is averse to making his peace with God, on the way I pray my Rosary, and when I reach him I am sure to find him desirous to receive the Sacraments.; "The holy doctor Alphonsus of Liguori relates from his experience: ";The walls of Jericho did not collapse more quickly at the trumpet call of Josue than false teachings disappear after the earnest praying of the Rosary. The swimming pool of Jerusalem was not as healing for the bodily sick as the Rosary is as remedy for the spiritually diseased.";

 

• REFERENCE: The Excellence of the Rosary Conferences for Devotions in Honor of the Blessed Virgin by Rev. M. J. Frings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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