Sunday, March 11, 2007

Devotion to the Rosary

Beads & Prayers : The Rosary in History & Devotion (abridged)

The Legend of St. Dominic

For four hundred years or more it was generally accepted that the Rosary was given by the Blessed Virgin to St Dominic in a vision. This story was to be found in the Roman Breviary and was attested by various Popes including Leo XIII in his Rosary Encyclicals. (1878 - 03)

St Dominic who died in 1221 aged about 49 was born in Old Castile. He joined the Augustinian Canons and became sub prior. While journeying in southern France, Dominic came across the Albigenses who followed the heretical teachings of the Cathari. He began a mission to the Albigenses in the region of Toulouse where he adopted a new style of evangelization as an itinerant mendicant preacher and founded a community, the Order of Preachers.

His mission was not successful and, according to legend, in the year 1241 he retired to a cave in the woods near Toulouse. After three days of fasting and prayer, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him accompanied by three queens and fifty maidens, the number clearly corresponding to the pattern of the psalter. She raised him up and kissed him, and in the style of mediaeval mystical eroticism quenched his thirst with milk from her chaste breast. She then told him that not intellectual thundering against heresy but a gentle remedy against sickness was required. "Therefore if you will preach successfully, preach my psalter." The blessed Virgin then vanished together with her entourage. Restored and armed with the rosary Dominic went forth and reconverted the Albigenses to Catholicism. The Cathars who did not believe that Christ was a real man, born of a real woman, such as he, Dominic, had now experienced her to be, were to be persuaded by the statement proclaiming: "And blessed is the fruit of thy womb".

The belief that it was through Dominic that the Blessed Virgin Mary gave us the devotion of the Holy Rosary, was the firm and constant tradition of the Church supported by a weight of authority which could hardly be called into question without temerity. But this view was challenged by Fr Thomas Esser writing in the 1890s. Fr Herbert Thurston reviewed the evidence very fully at the beginning of the last century and came to the conclusion that there is a complete absence of St Dominic's name in connection with this devotion until 250 years after his death; there is no mention in biography, recorded sermons, in the documents for the process of canonization, nor in paintings or sculpture. None of the many early Dominican saints used the rosary as such though many of them did recite a multitude of Aves. For instance Blessed Benventuro Bojani said 1000 Aves daily and 2000 on Saturdays.

The link between the rosary and St Dominic would seem to have been proposed by Alain de la Roche, a Dominican Friar and founder of the first Rosary Confraternity in 1468. What is certain is that from that time onwards the Dominican Order of Preachers were the main promoters of the Marian Rosary.

The Origins of the Rosary

If it was not St Dominic who gave us the Rosary where did it originate? My reading of the story of the Rosary will show that there was no one point of origin, rather it evolved over a long period and from a variety of sources. The multiplicity of streams of development and other influences are depicted in the Illustration. If we were to compare it to a river system, there are four main rivers or lines of development. Three have their source in Scripture, the Psalms, the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and finally the use of prayer beads.

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By : John Desmond Miller (c) 2002
From : Beads & Prayers : The Rosary in History & Devotion [website]

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