History of the Rosary
What is the Rosary?
The Rosary is a scripture-based prayer and devotion in honor of the Virgin Mary. It is made up of several decades, or sets of prayers. Each decade consists of 10 Hail Marys, an Our Father, and a Glory Be. It is also a meditative prayer-- each decade focuses on a different mystery in the lives of Jesus and Mary. This meditation is the essence of the Rosary.
A full Rosary is traditionally made up of 15 decades-- three sets of five. St. Pope John Paul II added a fourth set of five during his papacy, so there are now 20 total. However, many Catholics pray a shortened five-decade Rosary.
The word Rosary comes from the Latin word rosarium, meaning "crown of roses." Roses are traditionally the flower used to symbolize the Virgin Mary, and Catholics believe that praying a Rosary is like making a garland of roses in honor of her.
“The word rosary means “Crown of Roses,” that is to say that every time people say the Rosary devoutly they place a crown of one hundred and fifty-three white roses and sixteen red roses upon the head of Jesus and Mary. Being heavenly flowers these roses will never fade or lose their exquisite beauty.” ~St. Louis De Montfort
Where did the Rosary come from?
The Rosary did not come into existence within a day, a year or even 100 years. Rather, the prayers of the Rosary developed over centuries as the Church and her traditions developed.
As early as the third century, Christian hermits and monks used things like stones and knotted ropes to keep track of the 150 Psalms as they prayed and meditated on them. They also used these ways of counting when praying sets of 10 Our Fathers.
The Hail Mary prayer as we know it developed over the centuries as well. The first half is made up of the words of the Angel Gabriel and Elizabeth to Mary.
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” (Lk. 1:28).
"Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” (Lk. 1:42).
The second half was developed through the ages by several theologians and published in various catechisms.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
The contemporary version of the Hail Mary was officially approved in 1568.
According to a legend believed by many Catholics to be true, the Rosary and its mysteries were given to St. Dominic by the Virgin Mary herself as he was praying in Prouille, France in 1214.
There has been much speculation about this story, but while prayer beads and 15 sets of 10 prayers existed before, there was no record of this specifically Marian Rosary before this. The Rosary became a popular devotion in the years following 1214, leading many to believe the legend is true.
For more detailed information on this topic, you can read this article on The History of the Rosary.