The Prayer, Preaching, and Promotion of the Rosary
For over 800 years now, the men and women of the Order of Preachers have been praying, preaching, and promoting the Rosary in new and creative ways. There are many ways of praying in our Dominican tradition and the one of these is using the crucifix or cross, beads, and string or wire forming what we can hold in our hands to pray the Rosary. Let us consider the image of the diamond once again. For there to be reflections coming from the diamond there must be a source of light, and so it is with the Rosary as well. The Source of the light causing the Rosary to come alive is Jesus Christ Himself: “I am the light of the world.”, Jesus said (John 8.12a).
For those who pray the Rosary, the light then comes when we pray the mysteries of the Incarnation, that is, the events of the life of Jesus Christ, of God becoming human. The light of Christ, by entering these mysteries, illuminates the joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries of our own lives, to be combined with and transformed by the mysteries of Christ in all of His humanity and divinity. The Rosary must be prayed therefore from a human heart vulnerable and open to belong to Christ’s own heart and life.
This belonging to Christ also includes a human heart willing to be sent out on mission for this is the way of the true disciple of Christ, as our guide in the prayer of the Rosary, Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, most certainly is. She offers us hope in her guidance through the mysteries we enter; Mary encourages us to know her Son intimately as our Savior and as our friend.
At times, the prayer of the Rosary is like entering a garden replete with flowers, rose bushes, ponds, and fauna where we can experience solace and refreshment for body and soul. At other times, the prayer of the Rosary is like entering the Garden of Gethsemane, with its fears and agonizing moments. It is in this way that the prayer of the Rosary brings up into contact with Jesus Christ in the present, living with us in this world. When we contemplate the second joyous mystery, we are moved to be with Mary and Elizabeth and the infants forming in their wombs, not only as a sacred memory in our faith, but also in the living present with those in our lives who want us to share in their joy. Can we take the risk to do so? When we contemplate any of the mysteries of the Rosary, can we take the risk to envision ourselves with Christ in the present who is hungry for our presence in loving accompaniment in action on mission? Each human person has her or his joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries. Each one carries the God-given grace to evangelize as well.
When we are on mission, sent out by Christ in cooperation with the prayer of the Rosary, we are preaching. When we say, “Dominicans preach the Rosary,” we are really saying, “We preach the Word of God, the Living God.” Preaching the Rosary is certainly accomplished in Rosary pilgrimages, processions, prayer gatherings, conferences, confraternities, and many other forms of devotion using the prayer of the Rosary. The good of this over the centuries, including in our own time, is incalculable. We stand at a Springtime moment in the Proclamation of the Reign of God in our time by using the Rosary in our ways of Holy Preaching. Preaching the Rosary is a preaching of the Order of Preachers. With this truth we are able, all by the grace of God, to develop new strategies for preaching the heart of the Rosary which is found in the encounter with Christ in the Mysteries of the Incarnation. The Rosary is an evangelizing prayer which has everything to do with relationship with Christ and with one another. It is also a locus for our own conversion.
Together let us evangelize with the prayer, preaching, and promotion of the Rosary, a holy prayer, a prayer of love, a prayer directly from Sacred Scripture. Out from one decade of the Rosary, prayed with love in the heart, can come forth a plentiful sea of missionary life. Listening to the voices from the living scenes of the mysteries of the Incarnation, we can pay attention to Jesus’ Mother Mary, saying to the stewards at the wedding feast in Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2.5.
The Dominican friar Alain de la Roche played a unique role in a longer historical process of the genesis of the Rosary. He divided the Hail Mary prayer, repeated 150 times, into three groups according to the mysteries of the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a preacher, Alain decided to propagate the prayer of the Rosary among the Christian people. For this purpose he had founded a Rosary Confraternity in Douai around 1468, which was approved by the Order of Preachers in 1470. The tradition that St. Dominic had already received the Rosary from the Blessed Virgin and spread it afterwards goes back to Alain’s visions of Virgin Mary. However, Alain was able to follow an earlier tradition of the Marian confraternities spread by the Order of Preachers.
A further milestone in the Dominican Rosary tradition was the establishment of a Rosary Confraternity at the Dominican Priory in Cologne by br. Jacob Sprenger in 1475. In the statutes of the Confraternity, which was in principle accessible to all Christians – men and women, poor and rich, married and single – the principle of mutual spiritual solidarity was emphasized: all members shared in the spiritual fruits of all prayer. The prayer of the Rosary, which the Popes endowed with numerous indulgences, became more and more popular: the confraternities, established especially at Dominican priories, spread in the Christian world.
In the course of the 16th century the Rosary was “monopolized” by the Order of Preachers. Pope Pius V, who was himself a Dominican, played an important role in this process. In the breve Consueverunt of 1569, he not only did finally determine the form of prayer as a summary of the Gospel meditated upon with Mary, but he also confirmed the unique privilege of the Dominicans to establish confraternities. The Order, which at the General Chapter of 1574 confessed to the Rosary as its “holy heritage”, demanded the friars to be zealous in spreading the prayer through their preaching. Among many who devoted themselves eagerly to this task in the following centuries was the Italian friar Timoteo Ricci: the form of the “Perpetual Rosary” spread by him since 1629 attracted the interest of devout faithful. Members of such a fraternity should divide this time of the year for prayer so that at least one of them always prayed the Rosary.
Even today the Rosary is an important tool in Dominican preaching. Brothers, sisters and dominican laity use books, magazines, websites, blogs and other media to spread the Rosary. An official “Rosary website” for the whole Order is https://www.rosarium.op.org/. The prayer is highly recommended: the contemplation of the Incarnate Word in the society of His and our Mother Mary can lead to a more intense experience of unity with God, which gives inner peace and serenity.