Today is Rosary Sunday, which includes the blessing and distribution of what might seem a rather random sacramental.
With the Rosary, the Christian people sit at the school of Mary and are led to contemplate the beauty of the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love — John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae
Why bless roses on Rosary Sunday?
For many centuries, devotion to the Rosary has been entrusted by the Church in a special way to the Dominican Order. Even today, Dominican parishes observe Rosary Sunday with a public recitation of the Holy Rosary, the blessing of rosaries, and the blessing and distribution of roses (or rose petals). Now rose petals might seem a bit random for a sacramental, but there is a real genius to connecting this particular flower and the powerful prayer of Our Lady.
A rose by any other name
The name of the Rosary stems from the Latin word rosarium, meaning a garland or bouquet of roses. As early as the 4th century, Gregory of Naziansus speaks of “weaving a chaplet for the Virgin Mary.” Chaplet here means the same thing as crown or wreath. Further, according to 13th-century German and Spanish legends, a monk saw the “aves” he offered to Mary turn into a chain of roses. These Hail-Marys-seen-as-roses would be rendered into English as the Rosary.
What a lovely image! Pope Leo XIII says, “For as often as we greet Mary with the angelic salutation, ‘full of grace,’ we present to the Blessed Virgin, in the repetition of our words of praise, roses which emit the most delightful perfume.” Each prayer offered through Mary takes on the sense of a rose being lovingly arranged.
Evoking the Passion
Lest our concept of the Rosary be reduced to the romantic sentimentality of presenting flowers, we ought to recall that roses have a darker side, too. The thorns of their stems should remind us of the crown our Savior wore during his passion. Red petals evoke the drops of blood he shed. Their slender stalks? They recall the reed he held as he was cruelly mocked and the rods which beat him. Their leaves? The clothes stripped from his tortured body.
It is no accident that Christians would take the rose, which the Greeks associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and apply it to Mary. Mary leads us deeper into the mystery of the love of Christ, all the while reminding us that all true love requires sacrifice. For Christians, the rose is a catechism of the charity of Christ.
Sign of grace
Finally, roses are signs of the graces Divine Providence accords Mary to offer. Roses tumbled from the tilma of Juan Diego. A rose graced the Virgin’s brow at Knock. At La Salette roses crowned her head, a wreath of roses adorned her cloak, and a third garland surrounded her slippers. At Lourdes, St. Bernadette saw upon each of her feet a blossoming rose.
The repeated appearance of the rose indicates its privileged place in connection with devotion to Our Lady. Mary herself has chosen them as one of her signs.
Among the many things the rose represents, we should interpret them as manifestations of, says Pope Pius XII, “the fullness of her perfections and the delicacy of her goodness.”
Squander them not
Phrases like “gather ye rosebuds” and “stop to smell the roses” show us that the rose is synonymous with beauty and good fortune, but can be passed by or ignored.
Take advantage this October, the month of the Holy Rosary, to seize the bouquets of grace Our Lady wants to offer. Pick up the rosary, and lay your prayers at her feet.
Blessing of Roses
For the Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary
From the Dominican Breviary
O God, Creator and Preserver of the human race, who grant us the Holy Spirit with His seven-fold gifts, and who generously bestow eternal salvation:
Sanctify, we pray, and bless these roses. We present them before You today, and seek Your blessing upon them, to express our thanks to You, and our devotion towards the blessed Ever-Virgin Mary and her Rosary.
You created these roses as a source of pleasant fragrance and gave them to us to lift our spirits. Then through the power of the holy Cross pour out upon them Your heavenly + blessing.
Signed by the holy + Cross may they receive so powerful a blessing that in the houses and hospitals where they are taken, the sick may be healed. From the places where they are kept, may the powers of evil flee in fear and terror, nor may they presume again to disturb Your servants.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.