Queen of Peace, pray for us!
For hundreds of years, the Church has turned to the rosary in times of strife. St. Dominic called the rosary "a spiritual weapon" and the Popes have called Mary the "conqueror of heresies" invoking her help to battle everything from Albigensienism to Communism.
The devotion of the rosary developed slowly over the course of some 500 years.
The Rosary is a prayer constituted of reciting 150 (or 200) Hail Marys, preceding each decade with an Our Father and ending it with a Glory Be. During the Rosary one meditates on the mysteries of the life of Christ and His Mother.
Although popular tradition attributes the origin of the Rosary to St. Dominic (1170-1221), updated historical research shows that the rosary devotion developed slowly over time. John Paul II himself seemed to affirmed this in his letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae" (2002), which he opened by recalling that the Rosary "gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God."
The Rosary and the Psalter of Mary
While an exact history of how the Rosary developed is not clear, Father Etienne Richer explained in "Mariology" that by the end of the 11th century, which would have been almost 100 years before St. Dominic, "a Marian devotion characterized by numerous Aves with rhythmic prostrations was already known and practiced in honor of the Virgin, first in honor of her joys, then in honor of her sorrows." The name Rosary became associated with the practice.
In this same time period, Cistercian brothers and monks, who were not up to the task of memorizing the 150 Psalms that their order prayed each week, would recite 150 Pater Nosters (Our Fathers). The laity soon copied this form of praying, but substituted the Hail Mary for the Our Father. The name given to this devotion was the Psalter of Mary.
The prayer that will not fail
Around the year 1200, it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and told him to "Pray my Psalter and teach it to your people. That prayer will never fail". Dominic did spread devotion to the Psalter of Mary, and as Father Richter stated, the devotion was "divinely incorporated in the personal vocation of St. Dominic."
Over the next decades, the Rosary and the Psalter of Mary converge, and the devotion takes the specific form that we know today—the 150 Hail Marys are divided into decades, an Our Father is inserted between them, and the three sets of mysteries—Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious—are established.
Mysteries of Light
In 2002, John Paul II added five more mysteries to the Rosary, called the Luminous mysteries. He proposed the additional mysteries so as to “bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary” as they would “include the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.”
The Rosary is the Church's spiritual weapon that puts "demons to flight."
Since the 12th century, the Church has turned toward the Rosary in times of trouble and tribulation. In 1569, St. Pius V officially consecrated the Rosary, attributing to its recitation the destruction of heresy and the conversion of many peoples. He urged the faithful to pray the Rosary in those times of "so many heresies, and grievously troubled and afflicted by so many wars, and by the deprave morals of men."
The prolific Leo XIII (1878-1903), known mostly for his encyclicals on social issues, namely "Rerum Novarum" (1891) on the condition of labor, wrote at least 16 documents on the Rosary, including a dozen encyclicals.
This "Rosary Pope" wrote his first encyclical on the rosary in 1883, thus marking the 25th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes. In the text he recounts the role of St. Dominic and his preaching of the rosary helped to defeat the Albigensian heretics in southern France in the 12th and 13th centuries. St. Dominic, the Pope wrote, "proceeded undauntedly to attack the enemies of the Catholic Church, not by force of arms, but trusting wholly to that devotion which he was the first to institute under the name of the Holy Rosary."
"Guided by divine inspiration and grace," the Pontiff continued, "he foresaw that this devotion, like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety."
He also commented on the "efficacy and power" of the rosary in the historic battle at Lepanto between Christian and Muslim forces in 1521. The Islamic forces had advanced to Spain, and were at the point of overcoming Christendom, when Pope Pius V called upon the faithful to pray the rosary. The Christians won, and in honor of this victory, the Pope declared Mary the Lady of Victory and declared her feast day to be held on Oct. 7, the Feast of the Holy Rosary.
Returning to the need for the rosary in his times, the Pope wrote: "It is one of the most painful and grievous sights to see so many souls, redeemed by the blood of Christ, snatched from salvation by the whirlwind of an age of error, precipitated into the abyss of eternal death. Our need of divine help is as great today as when the great Dominic introduced the use of the rosary of Mary as a balm for the wounds of his contemporaries."
For peace among men
Pius XI (1922-1939) dedicated his last encyclical on the rosary "Ingravescentibus malis" Sept. 29, 1937, the same year he wrote "Mit brennender Sorge" (With burning concern), which criticized the Nazis, and "Divini Redemptoris", in which he said that atheistic Communism "aims at upsetting the social order and at undermining the very foundations of Christian civilization."
Criticizing the spirit of the age, "with its derisive pride," the Pope called the rosary a prayer that has "the perfume of evangelic simplicity," and which "requires humility of spirit."
"There is an innumerable multitude of holy men of every age and every condition who have always held it dear," he wrote. "They have recited it with great devotion, and in every moment they have used it as a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight, to preserve the integrity of life, to acquire virtue more easily, and in a word to attain real peace among men."
In 1951, Pius XII (1939-1958) wrote "Ingruentium malorum" (on reciting the rosary). "We do not hesitate to affirm again publicly," he wrote, "that We put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils which afflict our times. Not with force, not with arms, not with human power, but with Divine help obtained through the means of this prayer, strong like David with his sling, the Church undaunted shall be able to confront the infernal enemy."
To know Christ, we need to return to Mary.
In 1985, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, admitted in the book-interview "The Ratzinger Report" with Vittorio Messori, that he thought the declaration that Mary is "the conqueror of all heresies" to be somewhat "exaggerated".
He explained that "as a young theologian in the time before (and also during) the Council, I had, as many did then and still do today, some reservations in regard to certain ancient formulas, as, for example, that famous 'De Maria nunquam satis' [concerning Mary, one can never say enough]."
It must be noted that Joseph Ratzinger grew up in a very Marian environment. We learned in the book "My Brother the Pope" by his brother Msgr. George Ratzinger, that their grandparents were married at the Shrine of Our Lady of Absam, and that his own parents met through a personal ad that his father took out (twice) in the newspaper of the Marian Shrine of Altotting. The Ratzingers prayed the rosary together most nights, and in May they attended numerous celebrations of Mary and the rosary.
Yet, for all his familiarity with Mary and Marian devotion, he didn't seem convinced.
As told in “Ratzinger Report,” the cardinal, as prefect of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, experienced a bit of a conversion. "Now," he said, "in this confused period where truly every type of heretical aberration seems to be pressing upon the doors of the authentic faith–now I understand that it was not a matter of pious exaggerations, but of truths that today are more valid than ever."
"It is necessary to go back to Mary if we want to return to that 'truth about Jesus Christ'," he confirmed, "'truth about the Church' and the 'truth about man'."
"The recitation of the rosary allows us to fix our gaze and our hearts upon Jesus, just like his Mother, the supreme model of contemplation of the Son," Benedict XVI said in 2010 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. "Meditating upon the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries as we pray our Hail Marys, let us reflect upon the interior mystery of Jesus, from the Incarnation, through the Cross, to the glory of the Resurrection; let us contemplate the intimate participation of Mary in the mystery of our life in Christ today, a life which is also made up of joy and sorrow, of darkness and light, of fear and hope.
“Grace invades our hearts, provoking a wish for an incisive and evangelical change of life so that we can say with Saint Paul: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21) in a communion of life and destiny with Christ."