THE ORIGIN OF THE HOLY ROSARY
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Saint Dominic Receiving the Rosary from the Virgin Mary
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The Dominican Tradition
For centuries people believed that the Holy Rosary was given to the world by the Mother of God through Saint Dominic. This belief has been in the tradition of the Dominican Order since its inception. In his book, The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) related the story, originally given by the holy Dominican, Fr. Alan de la Roche (1428-1475), about how the rosary devotion began. According to this story Saint Dominic in 1214 was so distressed about his failure to convert the Albigensian heretics that he went to a forest near Toulouse to pray. Realizing that it was the people’s sins that were preventing the heretics from returning to the Faith, he spent three days and three nights praying and doing harsh penances to appease God’s wrath. Due to the severity of his penitence, his body was so debilitated that he fell into a coma. It was then that the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and said, “I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the principal weapon has always been the Angelic Psalter, which is the foundation-stone of the New Testament. Therefore, if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter.” See The Secret of the Rosary, #11.
In another paragraph of the same book the Virgin Mary explained, “Do not be surprised that your sermons fail to bear the results you had hoped for. You are trying to cultivate a piece of ground which has not had any rain. Now when God planned to renew the face of the earth, he started by sending down rain from heaven - and this was the Angelic Salutation. In this way God reformed the world.” The Secret of the Rosary, #16. (Italics added.)
Fr. Alan de la Roche said that there were other occasions when the Blessed Virgin and our Lord appeared to Saint Dominic urging him to preach the Psalter as a weapon against sin and heresy (Secret of the Rosary, #15). Perhaps this would explain why some people said that St. Dominic saw the Blessed Virgin Mary in the forest, while others said that he saw her at a chapel in Prouille, and still others said that he saw her in the sanctuary of Notre Dame du Puy, for he saw her more than once.
Henceforth Saint Dominic started to preach the Angelic Salutation (or the “Hail Mary”) to the people, and had them pray it, too. This time his sermons were followed by numerous conversions. Unlike the sermons of St. John Chrysostom or Saint Augustine, Saint Dominic's sermons, if they were written, are no longer extant. So we do not know what his sermons looked like. But some Dominicans suggested that wherever and whenever Saint Dominic preached the mysteries associated with the life (JOYFUL), passion (SORROWFUL) and resurrection (GLORIOUS) of Christ, he interspersed his preaching with the frequent recitation of the Hail Marys, so that, as Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange noted, “what the word of the preacher was unable to do, the sweet prayer of the Hail Mary did for hearts.” See The Mother of the Saviour and Our Interior Life, Part II, Chapter 6, Art. II, p. 297.
Therefore, it was essentially the Rosary that Saint Dominic was training the people to pray when he preached the Faith. It was the people’s habit of listening to the homily and learning about the mysteries of the Faith, followed or accompanied by the frequent recitation of the Hail Marys, that slowly evolved into the beautiful meditative-vocal prayer that we now call the “Rosary.” The meditation took the place of the preacher’s preaching when the people prayed in their homes.
The Attack Against the Tradition
In the seventeenth century a group of Jesuit scholars – known as the Bollandists – challenged the belief that the rosary originated from St. Dominic. Early in the twentieth century Fr. Herbert Thurston, S.J., brought up the same objections previously presented by the Bollandists, in an article published in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The tradition, which links the beginning of the rosary to Saint Dominic, was ably defended by the Dominicans, such as by Rev. Reginald Walsh, O.P., and later by Fr. Andrew M. Skelly, O.P. In spite of this, the objections against the Dominican tradition have persisted to this day and could still be heard from time to time, partly because Fr. Thurston’s article still remains published in the venerable pages of the Catholic Encyclopedia. Thus, it is worthwhile to review the issues once again.
The reasons advanced by those who objected to giving St. Dominic the credit for founding the rosary devotion were the following:
The method of using beads to count repetitive prayers had been in use long before Saint Dominic;
The recitation of Paternosters ("Our Fathers") and Aves ("Hail Marys") in groups of 50, 100, or 150, seem to have been practiced before the time of Saint Dominic;
The early Dominicans, the biographers and witnesses to the canonization of St. Dominic, as well as the early Constitutions of the Order of Preachers, were all silent about the Holy Rosary;
The practice of praying the rosary as we understand it (meditation + vocal prayer) does not date earlier than the end of the fifteenth century, when Fr. Alan de la Roche, O.P. promoted and popularized this devotion.
In view of the above, it was asserted that either the rosary was invented before the time of St. Dominic, or it became widely used only nearly three hundred years after the death of St. Dominic when Fr. Alan de la Roche, O.P. popularized this devotion. In either case the conclusion was that St. Dominic had nothing to do with the origin of the rosary, and that the popularity of this devotion was due mostly to the work of Fr. Alan de la Roche, O.P. See Fr. Thurston's article, “The Rosary,” in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Defense of the Tradition
To these objections the following reply can be made. First, it is true that the use of beads to count prayers was practiced long before the time of St. Dominic. Even Muslims and Buddhists used this technique to count their prayers. It may also be granted that the praying of the Paternosters and Ave Marias in groups of 50, 100 or 150, might have been practiced by a few individuals before the time of St. Dominic. However, the Marian Psalter that existed before the time of St. Dominic, which consisted simply of 150 Hail Marys accompanied by genuflections or other bodily gestures, was neither a popular practice nor was it necessarily the same as the rosary that St. Dominic preached. The mere recitation of 150 Ave Marias does not constitute the rosary. The true rosary is a meditative-vocal prayer that relives the mysteries of the Faith in the minds and hearts of the praying faithful. This kind of rosary, which includes a meditation on the mysteries of the Faith together with vocal prayer, was simply unheard of before the time of St. Dominic.
Second, the critics put a heavy weight on the argument that the early biographers of St. Dominic, the first Dominicans, as well as the Constitutions of the Order of Preachers were all silent about the Rosary. Yet, we must be cautious of arguments based merely on silence. As an illustration of the danger of relying solely on the argument from silence, consider that the Rev. Reuben Parsons once doubted that Giordano Bruno, an apostate friar arrested by the Inquisition in 1592, actually died at the stake. The reasons for his doubt were precisely the fact that the Vatican Archives, although containing the documents of the trial, had no record of Bruno’s condemnation and execution; whereas in similar cases these facts were described in detail. Also, the relatives of foreign ambassadors resident at the Holy See, who normally wrote of such events, were silent about the matter. So, did Giordano Bruno really die at the stake? Two years after writing his essay the Rev. Parsons himself abandoned his doubt when he cited the discovery of a document from the journals of the Confraternity of San Giovanni Decollato, whose members devoted themselves to praying for, and persuading heretics who were capitally condemned. This document proved conclusively that Bruno, indeed, perished at the stake on February 16, 1600. The Rev. Parsons therefore added an Appendix to his book amending his original position. This beautifully illustrates that the mere absence of solid evidence, which was the state of affairs before the discovery of this important document, was NOT an evidence for the non-occurrence of the contested event. See Rev. Reuben Parsons, Some Lies and Errors of History (Notre Dame, Indiana: 1893), pp. 33-36; and Appendix, pp. 335-336.
We can therefore say similarly that the silence of the Dominicans regarding the role that St. Dominic played in introducing the rosary to the world does NOT necessarily mean that he did not have anything to do with its origin. It only means that the biographers failed to mention it, and it could be for any number of reasons unknown to us, but one of which might be the fact that the early biographers were more focused on collecting isolated incidents and episodes in the life of St. Dominic, rather than reporting in systematic fashion events of historic importance. In fact, there were other equally important things that St. Dominic did that they were silent about. For example, none of his biographers and witnesses to his canonization mentioned the fact that he also founded the Third Order of Preachers. We only learned it from Blessed Raymond of Capua who happened to mention it in the biography of St. Catherine of Siena that he wrote in 1381. He said that St. Dominic founded the Militia of Jesus Christ (for men) and the Sisters of Penance (for women), which were essentially the Third Order of Preachers. He said that he got this information “from manuscripts which I consulted in Italy, from information taken from the seniors of the Order, and the members of it most worthy of trust, and the history of our blessed Founder St. Dominic.” Bl. Raymond of Capua, Life of Catharine of Sienna, Part 1, Chapter 7, paragraph 1, p. 54.
So, there were manuscripts which Bl. Raymond of Capua consulted, manuscripts that are now sadly lost and not available to us. But thanks to Bl. Raymond for writing this down because, although the manuscripts he consulted are no longer with us, we are at least assured that St. Dominic indeed was the founder of the Third Order of Preachers (presently called the “Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic”). The idea that the Third Order was instituted by Munio de Zamora, a Master General of the Order, is untrue. He might have been the first to publish a Rule for the Third Order, but he did not institute the Third Order. It was already existing, thanks to St. Dominic.
But what about Fr. Alan de la Roche (also known as Alan de Rupe), who said that St. Dominic founded the rosary, as well as the first Confraternities of the Rosary in the thirteenth century? Are we equally grateful to him for his testimony regarding St. Dominic? Critics of the rosary were quick to dismiss the testimony of Alan de la Roche because the miracle stories of St. Dominic that he related were based on writers, such as Johannes de Monte and Thomas de Templo, whose writings could not be located anymore. Certainly, the ravages of time and the burning of religious houses that occurred during the Protestant Reformation could easily explain the loss of Alan's source manuscripts. What is important to note is that Alan’s contemporaries, who also read his books and knew about the books he used for reference, did not complain of not finding these reference documents. This could be because these documents, or copies of these documents, were still extant during the second half of the fifteenth century when Alan wrote his books. Whether they read these reference books or not was another issue, but they never complained of not finding them. But the critics of later centuries, unable to find Alan’s source books, did not simply report that these documents were no longer available to confirm his stories. Instead, they made an unfounded assumption that these source books (and their writers!) did not exist at all, and that Alan only made them up. Unbelievable! Alan de la Roche was a Master of Sacred Theology and taught the subject for 16 years in Paris, Lille, Douay, Ghent, and Rostock in Germany. He was a tireless Dominican scholar and knew where to find his sources. To say that he was “delusional” or to hint that he would fabricate imaginary writers to support his miracle stories, is irresponsible scholarship. Because Alan, as the same critics admit, was also a very devout and pious man: adeo apud omnes pietatis ac sanctitatis fama inclaruit (“the reputation of his piety and sanctity made him famous among all”). Scriptores Ordinis Praedicatorum, Vol. 1, p. 849.
Muslim prayer beads
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Japanese Zen Buddhist prayer beads
Photo by ja:利用者:pack372sd
CC BY-SA 3.0 license: commons.wikimedia.org
Did the Rosary Devotion Exist Before Alan de la Roche?
The silence of the early Dominicans regarding the rosary devotion prior to the time of Alan de la Roche led many critics to think that the rosary devotion was non-existent until Alan de la Roche began to promote it. It is not easy anymore to find extant manuscripts, dating to the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, that prove decisively that the rosary devotion started before the time of Alan de la Roche. Many manuscripts have already been lost. Fortunately, we do not need to get very many documents and evidences to prove that the existence of the Rosary antedated Alan’s preaching. One weakness of a universal proposition, such as the universal denial of the rosary devotion before the time of Alan de la Roche, is that it can easily be destroyed by one single instance that shows its opposite. (“There is none” is easily destroyed by “There is one.”) So, was there any evidence that the Rosary existed before the time of Alan? The critics say, “There is none.” But the good news is, there is one. Strangely enough, the evidence is found in a compilation of manuscripts published by the Bollandists themselves, the Acta Sanctorum, which is now available online. The evidence is from a biography written by a Dominican nun about her contemporary, the Blessed Clara Gambacorta (1362-1419), which said that when Blessed Clara was about twelve years old (year 1374), she would, with her little girl friends around her, pray the Rosary kneeling down, “nunc flexis genibus Rosarium dicere…” Acta Sanctorum, Aprilis Tomus Secundus, Septima Decima Aprilis, Vita, Caput I, #4, p. 504.
This little evidence shows that nearly one hundred years before Alan began preaching the Rosary, there was a 12-year old girl praying it with her friends. The manuscript was written in 1420. The evidence does not link the rosary directly with St. Dominic, but it proves that the practice of reciting the rosary was NOT a new invention during the time of Fr. Alan.
However, there was also an Apostolic Letter, Ordo Fratrum Predicatorum, by Pope Clement VIII confirming that it was in the Church of St. Sixtus in Rome that St. Dominic first preached and established the recitation of the Holy Rosary. A copy of this letter (in Latin) is still preserved in an antique book, originally published by Rev. Pere Jean Rechac in 1647, entitled La Vie du Glorieux Patriarche S. Dominique, pp. 344-346. It is not indicated in the letter whether all the mysteries of the Rosary were then defined, but the evidence links St. Dominic, not merely to a preaching-praying method, but to the actual rosary. St. Dominic was in Rome in 1218.
The Popes and the Rosary
If the rosary devotion started before the time of Alan de la Roche, then who started it? The traditional belief is that it was Saint Dominic.
The objections to this belief have been raised by the Bollandists, Fr. Thurston, and others. Those who answered the objections and defended the traditional belief include, but are not limited to, the following:
Rev. A. M. Skelly, O.P., St. Dominic and the Rosary, 1913.
Rev. R. P. Devas, O.P.., The Rosary Tradition Defined and Defended, in The American Quarterly Review, Vol. XLI, 1916, p.128.
Donald H. Calloway, MIC, Champions of the Rosary, 2016.
The last book cited above is very recent and is not freely available online. The link gives a truncated preview from googlebooks, but is still a good read.
Because many documents have now been lost, it will not be easy to prove historically that the rosary originated from Saint Dominic. However, although the belief is not easy to prove historically, it is possible to show why it is reasonable and justified to hold the traditional belief. The reason is because, against the skepticism of the critics is a strong Papal tradition pointing to Saint Dominic as the author of the Rosary. Below is a partial list of extant Papal documents on the Rosary. The paragraph numbers indicated contain the teaching that Saint Dominic instituted the Rosary. Click the links to read the paragraphs.
1569 - Pope Pius V, in the Encyclical Consueverunt Romani (Call to Prayer), #1.
1883 - Pope Leo XIII, in Supremi Apostolatus Officio (On Devotion to the Rosary), #3, #5.
1891 – Pope Leo XIII, Octobri Mense, (On the Rosary), #8
1892 – Pope Leo XIII, Magnae Dei Matris, (On the Rosary), #8
1897 – Pope Leo XIII, Augustissimae Virginis Mariae, (On the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary), #7, #8
1921 - Pope Benedict XV, Fausto Appetente Die (On St. Dominic), #11.
1937 – Pope Pius XI, Ingravescentibus Malis (On the Rosary), #12
1974 – Pope Paul VI, Marialis cultus (On the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary), #43.
2002 – Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, (On the Most Holy Rosary), #17
Note particularly paragraph #5 of Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio above, in which the scholarly Pope Leo cited the testimony of Pope Urban IV regarding the beneficial practice of reciting the rosary. This is significant because Pope Urban (d. 1264) made this remark just four decades after the death of St. Dominic and, therefore, two and a half centuries before the time of Alan.
There are more Popes that could be cited who explicitly taught that St. Dominic was the founder of the Rosary. Unfortunately, many of the early Papal documents are also no longer extant. However, the words of earlier Popes are preserved in the many quotations from their writings made by later Popes and by other historians. Some of these quotations are listed in Appendix 2 below. The value of such quotations is inestimable, especially now that the original documents are lost.
One must also consider that the Popes of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries were already aware of the objections raised by the Bollandists during their time, yet they were steadfast in their teaching that the rosary originated from St. Dominic. This could be because they still had access to manuscripts, or copies of manuscripts, not available to us anymore. It is one of the principles of honest historical criticism not to ignore, nor regard as fraudulent, the testimony of those who had access to the old manuscripts, just because the same documents are no longer available to us. It is insane to close one’s eyes on a Papal tradition that spans over 740 years (from Pope Alexander IV to Pope John Paul II) – all pointing to St. Dominic as the author of the rosary. How could all these Popes – who were great scholars and had access to earlier Papal documents – be wrong?
That the rosary was given to Saint Dominic by the Mother of God is based on an apparition or private revelation. Like any private revelation, the apparition itself cannot be rigorously proved, nor are we obliged to believe it. However, the Holy Rosary as a devotion has a merit independent of the apparition itself. The excellence of its prayers, the richness of its mysteries, and the virtues they lead us to, all make the Holy Rosary worthwhile promoting regardless of whether we believe in the apparition or not.
Miracles of the Holy Rosary
This may be a little off topic, so a full discussion will not be given. Instead, a link to a few noteworthy articles will be provided for those who are interested in the marvelous beneficial effects of praying the Holy Rosary:
Blessed Clara Gambacorta (also known as Chiara Gambacorti), – married at 12, widowed at 15, – was encouraged to enter the religious life by Saint Catherine of Siena. She initially entered the Convent of Poor Clares, but after having been withdrawn from it by her brother, eventually returned to the religious life and became a Dominican nun.
Blessed Clara Gambacorta
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Pope Leo XIII
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A Catholic Rosary
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APPENDIX 1: Extant Papal Documents on the Rosary
1569 – Pope Pius V, Consueverunt Romani, Call to Prayer
1883 – Pope Leo XIII, Supremi Apostolatus Officio, On Devotion to the Rosary
1884 – Pope Leo XIII, Superiore Anno, On the Recitation of the Rosary
1885 – Pope Leo XIII, Quod Auctoritate, Proclaiming a Jubilee
1887 – Pope Leo XIII, Vi E Ben Noto, On the Rosary and Public Life
1891 – Pope Leo XIII, Octobri Mense, On the Rosary
1892 – Pope Leo XIII, Magnae Dei Matris, On the Rosary
1893 – Pope Leo XIII, Laetitiae Sanctae, Commending Devotion to the Rosary
1894 – Pope Leo XIII, Iucunda Semper Expectatione, On the Rosary
1895 – Pope Leo XIII, Adiutricem, On the Rosary
1896 – Pope Leo XIII, Fidentem Piumque Animum, On the Rosary
1897 – Pope Leo XIII, Augustissimae Virginis Mariae, On the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary
1898 – Pope Leo XIII, Diuturni Temporis, On the Rosary (#4 cites other Popes who supported the rosary)
1921 – Pope Benedict XV, Fausto Appetente Die, On St. Dominic
1937 – Pope Pius XI, Ingravescentibus Malis, On the Rosary
1951 – Pope Pius XII, Ingruentium Malorum, On Reciting the Rosary
1959 – Pope John XXIII, Grata Recordatio, Grateful Memory
1966 – Pope Paul VI, Christi Matri, Encyclical on the Mother of Christ
1974 – Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, On the Right Ordering and Developing Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
2002 – Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, On the Most Holy Rosary
APPENDIX 2: Quotations from Papal Documents cited by other Authors
1491, Pope Innocent VIII, Bull Splendor Paternae Gloriae, continued to give indulgences to those who add the name of Jesus at the end of the Hail Mary:
“We grant to one and all the enrolled brothers and sisters, truly penitent, who carry the Rosary with them now and throughout life, an indulgence of one hundred years and one hundred quarantines; and for those enrolled in this same confraternity (of the Most Holy Rosary), we grant, mercifully in the Lord, an indulgence of five years and five quarantines for pronouncing the Name of Jesus at the end of each Hail Mary.” Source: Bro. Cyril Dore, O.P., The Popes and the Rosary, p. 17.
1495, Pope Alexander VI, Illius qui perfecta caritas est:
“…this confraternity, ordained by divine help in honor of the Angelic Salutation, extends throughout the whole Dominican Order and includes both the living and the dead; that it was through the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the zealous preaching of this devotion by Saint Dominic that the whole order of the world was preserved.” Source: Bro. Cyril Dore, O.P., The Popes and the Rosary, p. 17.
1572, Pope Pius V, Bull Salvatoris, attributing the victory of the Battle of Lepanto to Mary:
“Mary, the Mother of Mercy, the Lover of Piety and the Consoler of the Human Race, by her intercession before the throne of God, did not cease to pour forth prayers and supplication for the safety of her people; and by virtue of her prayers and petitions, a decisive victory, which must never be forgotten, was gained over the Turks on October 7, 1571.” Source: Bro. Cyril Dore, O.P., The Popes and the Rosary, p. 18.
1573, Pope Gregory XIII, Encyclical Monet Apostolus:
“On the seventh day of October which is now the first Sunday in October, we request all the Confraternities of the Rosary throughout the world to march in procession and to pour forth pious prayers to the Omnipotent God, and at the same time to offer a token of thanks to the Blessed Virgin Mary for her intercession. We, hereby, proclaim a solemn Feast with a Duplex Major Office under the name of the Most Holy Rosary to be celebrated every year on the first Sunday in October.” Source: Bro. Cyril Dore, O.P., The Popes and the Rosary, pp. 18-19.
1586, Pope Sixtus V, Bull Dum ineffabilia:
“Remembering, therefore, how fruitfully to our religion was instituted by the Blessed Dominic, founder of the Order of Friars Preachers, inspired by the Holy Ghost, as it is believed, the devotion of the most holy ‘Psalter’ called ‘of the Rosary of the glorious and ever Virgin Mary,’ the tender Mother of God; and what gifts were conferred, and are daily more and more conferred on the world by it; and remembering, besides, that confraternities of the faithful of both sexes under the invocation of the Rosary of the same Blessed Virgin Mary were canonically instituted in the churches, chapels and altars of the whole world; and that the brothers and sisters of the same confraternities merited to obtain not only confirmation and increase, but also indulgences and privileges, and indults from very many Roman Pontiffs, our Predecessors, and several Nuncios of the Holy See with legatine powers, de-latere; and in particular from Urban IV, John XXII and also Sixtus IV; also from Innocent VIII, and Alexander VI, and Julius II, and Leo X, and Adrian VI, and Clement VII, and Paul III, and also Julius III and Pius V, and, lastly, Gregory XIII; We, following in the footsteps of our aforesaid predecessors, …” Source: Rev. A. M. Skelly, O.P., Saint Dominic and the Rosary, pp 57-58
1727, Pope Benedict XIII, Bull Pretiosus:
“Moreover, we confirm, renew, and, as far as is necessary, once again grant indulgences by whomsoever and in what manner soever granted, to the Society of the most Holy Rosary, instituted by the founder himself of the Order of Preachers, our holy Father Saint Dominic, with extraordinary fruit to souls, and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and nominally, by the aforesaid Saint Pius V, ‘Interdesiderabilia,’ 28th of June, 1509, and by Sixtus V, ‘Dum ineffabilia,’ 30th of January, 1586; by Urban IV, by John, called XXII, Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, and Leo X, …” Source: Rev. A. M. Skelly, O.P., Saint Dominic and the Rosary, p. 58
1740, Pope Benedict XIV, formerly Prospero Lambertini, to the Bollandists:
“You ask us if St. Dominic is really the author of the Rosary. You say that you are perplexed and full of doubt on this point. But what do you make of so many utterances of the Sovereign Pontiffs of Leo X, Pius V, Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Clement VIII, Alexander VII, Innocent XI, Clement XI, Innocent XIII, Benedict XIII, and still others, all unanimous in attributing the institution of the Rosary to St. Dominic?” Source: Augusta Theodosia Drane, The History of St. Dominic, 1891, p. 136.
1741 (?) Pope Benedict XIV
“When thirty-four years had elapsed since the death of Saint Dominic, i.e., 1254, an indulgence was granted by Pope Alexander IV to the confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary erected in the Church of the Friars Preachers in the City of Piacenza. Copies of this apostolic letter drawn from the archives of the Dominican Convent of St. John, in the said city, are printed at length at the end of the second volume of the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica” compiled by Peter Campi in the ‘Regestra Privilegiorum,” No. 108, page 406, tom. II, where the same writer, on page 216, refers to the institution of the said confraternity in the church of the same Friars Preachers.” Source: Rev. A. M. Skelly, O.P., Saint Dominic and the Rosary, pp. 59-60.
1869, Pope Pius IX, Apostolic Letter Egregiis suis:
“In fact just as St. Dominic made use of this prayer as an invincible sword to destroy the nefarious heresy of the Albigensians which threatened to ruin the peace and tranquility of Christendom, so also the faithful, clothed with the armor of the daily recitation of the rosary, will more easily bring it about that the many monstrous errors which have been circulated everywhere will be uprooted and eradicated through the powerful help of the Immaculate Mother of God and the authority of the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, which we have convoked and is soon to begin.” – Source: The Holy Rosary, Selected and Arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, Tr. By Rev. Paul J. Ologny, O.F.M (St. Paul Editions, 1990), p.37
Q & A
1. So, did the Blessed Virgin Mary really give the Rosary to St. Dominic? Some scholars doubt it.
Response: Personally I believe that the Blessed Virgin did give the Rosary to St. Dominic, as described in the apparitions cited in the blog above. However, the Rosary that the Blessed Virgin gave to St. Dominic was the primitive form of the Marian Psalter, not the form of the Rosary as it exists today (with 20 decades, including the Luminous Mysteries). During the time of St. Dominic they prayed only the first half of the Hail Mary, and there were only 150 Hail Marys in the Rosary, which matched the 150 psalms of King David. Also, although meditation on the joyful, sorrowful and glorious events in the life of our Lord accompanied the prayer, the 15 mysteries were not fully defined yet.
The claim made by the Bollandists and by Fr. Herbert Thurston, S.J., that the apparition was pure legend appears to be a reckless and unfounded claim. The critics said that the legend was merely invented by the holy Dominican Blessed Alan de la Roche to increase devotion to the Rosary. But it would be sinful to invent a story like that just to propagate a devotion. This is unthinkable and most unlikely, considering the sanctity and scholarly character of Blessed Alan. I think that the truth is Blessed Alan learned about the apparitions from early sources that are no longer extant, but he did not just fabricate them.
The story about the Virgin Mary giving the Rosary to St. Dominic had been depicted in many works of art. One painting, which was deteriorating when it was discovered, has been restored and is shown below.
In 1965 Pope Paul VI made an allocution in remembrance of Bartolo Longo's restoration of the image of the Blessed Virgin. The Italian homily, which was addressed to the pilgrims of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompei, is significant because in this homily Pope Paul VI called the Holy Rosary a "chain of salvation," which was the first time that the Holy Rosary was described by that title. The fourth paragraph of the allocution was translated into English by Google Translator (with some editorial modifications) and is printed below:
“We are therefore all the more pleased to give back to your Shrine the blessed picture restored by the Olivetan Monks with great respect and rare skill. You know how appropriate this restoration was, considering the conditions of decay in which both the venerated painting and the canvas that bore it were found. Now an art which we can all admire, as perfect as it is artful, has restored integrity and freshness to the sacred image, which in its simple, but worthy and pious composition, will pour out on the praying souls and on the devout crowds, the sweet and attractive impression of the maternal and royal figure of the Mother of Christ, seated on her lap, while Jesus and Mary offer Saints Dominic and Catherine, prostrate before them, the beads of the Holy Rosary, as if inviting them to make them the object of devotion and confidence. The pious and popular rosary emerges like a chain of salvation, which hangs from the hands of the Savior and His most blessed Mother, and which points out whence every grace descends to us, and to where all our hopes must rise.” Translated from Omelia di sua Santita Paolo VI, April 23, 1965.
Madonna di Pompei
A painting at St. Peter of the Vatican
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The painting of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompei was restored through the help of Bl. Bartolo Longo (1841-1926), who raised the funds for this important project. Blessed Bartolo Longo was an Italian lawyer and former satanist who returned to the Catholic Faith and became a lay Dominican. He was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1980.