09 The Story of the Rosary - Dr. Renu Rita Silvano, OCV, S.T.D

posted Oct 5, 2017, 10:32 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Oct 5, 2017, 10:32 AM ]
Divine Providence itself has guided the evolution of the powerful prayer method we know as the Rosary. Here is how it developed over many centuries to meet the urgent needs of the times. Already before St Dominic, people were reciting what was called the Marian Psalter: the first half of the Hail Mary was prayed 150 times on prayer beads, to imitate the 150 psalms in the Bible.

It was in the 6th century, the Church combined the Angelic Salutation ("Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!") with the Evangelical Salutation which is the inspired greeting of Elizabeth to Mary: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" These were put together in the Offertory Prayer for the Mass of the last Sunday of Advent, and formed the first half of what would become known as the 'Ave Maria' or 'Hail Mary'. This went on till the 11th century. It was understood by the Church to be a prayer of praise in which Mary was honoured. Though the Hail Mary did not yet have an explicit intercessory dimension, it was viewed as a preparatory prayer said before formally petitioning her for a particular grace.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen explains: "The second half of the Hail Mary was not introduced until the latter part of the Middle Ages. Since it seizes upon the two decisive moments of life: 'now' and 'at the hour of our death', it suggests the spontaneous outcry of people in a great calamity. The Black Death, which ravaged all Europe and wiped out one third of its population, prompted the faithful to cry out to the Mother of Our Lord to protect them at a time when the present moment and death were almost one." (In The World's First Love, 1996, p.207).

For four years till 1351, the Black Plague swept through all of Europe at a rate that affected and devastated every city and town, and wiped out one third of the population (about 25 million people) of Europe. The death, chaos, confusion and turmoil of the era had a devastating effect upon the practice of the Rosary. But in His Divine Providence, God grafted onto the existing Hail Mary a new development – an addition to the Hail Mary that emanated from the hearts of God's afflicted people and that gave the Hail Mary the added dimension of urgent petition and supplication: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."