ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII
ON THE ROSARY
To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs,
Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other
Ordinaries having Grace and
Communion with the Apostolic See.
Venerable Brethren, Greeting and Apostolic Benediction.
At the coming of the month of October, dedicated and consecrated as it is to the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary, we recall with satisfaction the instant exhortations which in preceding years We addressed to you, venerable brethren, desiring, as We did, that the faithful, urged by your authority and by your zeal, should redouble their piety towards the august Mother of God, the mighty helper of Christians, and should pray to her throughout the month, invoking her by that most holy rite of the Rosary which the Church, especially in the passage of difficult times, has ever used for the accomplishment of all desires. This year once again do We publish Our wishes, once again do We encourage you by the same exhortations. We are persuaded to this in love for the Church, whose sufferings, far from mitigating, increase daily in number and in gravity. Universal and well-known are the evils we deplore: war made upon the sacred dogmas which the Church holds and transmits; derision cast upon the integrity of that Christian morality which she has in keeping; enmity declared, with the impudence of audacity and with criminal malice, against the very Christ, as though the Divine work of Redemption itself were to be destroyed from its foundation-that work which, indeed, no adverse power shall ever utterly abolish or destroy.
2. No new events are these in the career of the Church militant. Jesus foretold them to His disciples. That she may teach men the truth and may guide them to eternal salvation, she must enter upon a daily war; and throughout the course of ages she has fought, even to martyrdom, rejoicing and glorifying herself in nothing more than in the occasion of signing her cause with her Founder's blood, the sure and certain pledge of the victory whereof she holds the promise. Nevertheless we must not conceal the profound sadness with which this necessity of constant war afflicts the righteous. It is indeed a cause of great sorrow that so many should be deterred and led astray by error and enmity to God; that so many should be indifferent to all forms of religion, and should finally become estranged from faith; that so many Catholics should be such in name only, and should pay to religion no honour or worship. And still sadder and more beset with anxieties grows the soul at the thought of the fruitful source of most manifold evils existing in the organisation of States that allow no place to the Church, and that oppose her championship of holy virtue. This is truly a terrible manifestation of the just vengeance of God, Who allows blindness of soul to darken upon the nations that forsake Him. These are evils that cry aloud, that cry of themselves with a daily increasing voice. It is absolutely necessary that the Catholic voice should also call to God with unwearied instance, "without ceasing;"(1) that the Faithful should pray not only in their own homes, but in public, gathered together under the sacred roof; that they should beseech urgently the all-foreseeing God to deliver the Church from evil men(2) and to bring back the troubled nations to good sense and reason, by the light and love of Christ.
3. Wonderful and beyond hope or belief is this. The world goes on its laborious way, proud of its riches, of its power, of its arms, of its genius; the Church goes onward along the course of ages with an even step, trusting in God only, to Whom, day and night, she lifts her eyes and her suppliant hands. Even though in her prudence she neglects not the human aid which Providence and the times afford her, not in these does she put her trust, which rests in prayer, in supplication, in the invocation of God. Thus it is that she renews her vital breath; the diligence of her prayer has caused her, in her aloofness from worldly things and in her continual union with the Divine will, to live the tranquil and peaceful life of Our very Lord Jesus Christ; being herself the image of Christ, Whose happy and perpetual joy was hardly marred by the horror of the torments He endured for us. This important doctrine of Christian wisdom has been ever believed and practised by Christians worthy of the name. Their prayers rise to God eagerly and more frequently when the cunning and the violence of the perverse afflict the Church and her supreme Pastor. Of this the faithful of the Church in the East gave an example that should be offered to the imitation of posterity. Peter, Vicar of Jesus Christ, and first Pontiff of the Church, had been cast into prison, loaded with chains by the guilty Herod, and left for certain death. None could carry him help or snatch him from the peril. But there was the certain help that fervent prayer wins from God. The Church, as the sacred story tells us, made prayer without ceasing to God for him;(3) and the greater was the fear of a misfortune, the greater was the fervour of all who prayed to God. After the granting of their desires the miracle stood revealed; and Christians still celebrate with a joyous gratitude the marvel of the deliverance of Peter. Christ has given us a still more memorable instance, a Divine instance, so that the Church might be formed not upon his precepts only, but upon His example also. During His whole life He had given Himself to frequent and fervent prayer, and in the supreme hours in the Garden of Gethsemane, when His soul was filled with bitterness and sorrow unto death, He prayed to His Father and prayed repeatedly.(4) It was not for Himself that He prayed thus, for He feared nothing and needed nothing, being God; He prayed for us, for His Church, whose prayers and future tears He already then accepted with joy, to give them back in mercies.
4. But since the salvation of our race was accomplished by the mystery of the Cross, and since the Church, dispenser of that salvation after the triumph of Christ, was founded upon earth and instituted, Providence established a new order for a new people. The consideration of the Divine counsels is united to the great sentiment of religion. The Eternal Son of God, about to take upon Him our nature for the saving and ennobling of man, and about to consummate thus a mystical union between Himself and all mankind, did not accomplish His design without adding there the free consent of the elect Mother, who represented in some sort all human kind, according to the illustrious and just opinion of St. Thomas, who says that the Annunciation was effected with the consent of the Virgin standing in the place of humanity.(5) With equal truth may it be also affirmed that, by the will of God, Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ.(6) Thus as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother. How great are the goodness and mercy revealed in this design of God! What a correspondence with the frailty of man! We believe in the infinite goodness of the Most High, and we rejoice in it; we believe also in His justice and we fear it. We adore the beloved Saviour, lavish of His blood and of His life; we dread the inexorable Judge. Thus do those whose actions have disturbed their consciences need an intercessor mighty in favour with God, merciful enough not to reject the cause of the desperate, merciful enough to lift up again towards hope in the divine mercy the afflicted and the broken down. Mary is this glorious intermediary; she is the mighty Mother of the Almighty; but-what is still sweeter - she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness. As such God gave her to us. Having chosen her for the Mother of His only begotten Son, He taught her all a mother's feeling that breathes nothing but pardon and love. Such Christ desired she should be, for He consented to be subject to Mary and to obey her as a son a mother. Such He proclaimed her from the cross when he entrusted to her care and love the whole of the race of man in the person of His disciple John. Such, finally, she proves herself by her courage in gathering in the heritage of the enormous labours of her Son, and in accepting the charge of her maternal duties towards us all.
5. The design of this most dear mercy, realised by God in Mary and confirmed by the testament of Christ, was comprehended at the beginning, and accepted with the utmost joy by the Holy Apostles and the earliest believers. It was the counsel and teaching of the venerable Fathers of the Church. All the nations of the Christian age received it with one mind; and even when literature and tradition are silent there is a voice that breaks from every Christian breast and speaks with all eloquence. No other reason is needed that that of a Divine faith which, by a powerful and most pleasant impulse, persuades us towards Mary. Nothing is more natural, nothing more desirable than to seek a refuge in the protection and in the loyalty of her to whom we may confess our designs and our actions, our innocence and our repentance, our torments and our joys, our prayers and our desires - all our of fairs. All men, moreover, are filled with the hope and confidence that petitions which might be received with less favour from the lips of unworthy men, God will accept when they are recommended by the most Holy Mother, and will grant with all favours. The truth and the sweetness of these thoughts bring to the soul an unspeakable comfort; but they inspire all the more compassion for those who, being without Divine faith, honour not Mary and have her not for their mother; for those also who, holding Christian faith, dare to accuse of excess the devotion to Mary, thereby sorely wounding filial piety.
6. This storm of evils, in the midst of which the Church struggles so strenuously, reveals to all her pious children the holy duty whereto they are bound to pray to God with instance, and the manner in which they may give to their prayers the greater power. Faithful to the religious example of our fathers, let us have recourse to Mary, our holy Sovereign. Let us entreat, let us beseech, with one heart, Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Mother. "Show thyself to be a mother; cause our prayers to be accepted by Him Who, born for us, consented to be thy Son."(7)
7. Now, among the several rites and manners of paying honour to the Blessed Mary, some are to be preferred, inasmuch as we know them to be most powerful and most pleasing to our Mother; and for this reason we specially mention by name and recommend the Rosary. The common language has given the name of corona to this manner of prayer, which recalls to our minds the great mysteries of Jesus and Mary united in joys, sorrows, and triumphs. The contemplation of these august mysteries, contemplated in their order, of fords to faithful souls a wonderful confirmation of faith, protection against the disease of error, and increase of the strength of the soul. The soul and memory of him who thus prays, enlightened by faith, are drawn towards these mysteries by the sweetest devotion, are absorbed therein and are surprised before the work of the Redemption of mankind, achieved at such a price and by events so great. The soul is filled with gratitude and love before these proofs of Divine love; its hope becomes enlarged and its desire is increased for those things which Christ has prepared for such as have united themselves to Him in imitation of His example and in participation in His sufferings. The prayer is composed of words proceeding from God Himself, from the Archangel Gabriel, and from the Church; full of praise and of high desires; and it is renewed and continued in an order at once fixed and various; its fruits are ever new and sweet.
8. Moreover, we may well believe that the Queen of Heaven herself has granted an especial efficacy to this mode of supplication, for it was by her command and counsel that the devotion was begun and spread abroad by the holy Patriarch Dominic as a most potent weapon against the enemies of the faith at an epoch not, indeed, unlike our own, of great danger to our holy religion. The heresy of the Albigenses had in effect, one while covertly, another while openly,overrun many countries, and this most vile off spring of the Manicheans, whose deadly errors it reproduced, were the cause in stirring up against the Church the most bitter animosity and a virulent persecution. There seemed to be no human hope of opposing this fanatical and most pernicious sect when timely succour came from on high through the instrument of Mary's Rosary. Thus under the favour of the powerful Virgin, the glorious vanquisher of all heresies, the forces of the wicked were destroyed and dispersed, and faith issued forth unharmed and more shining than before. All manner of similar instances are widely recorded, and both ancient and modern history furnish remarkable proofs of nations saved from perils and winning benedictions therefrom. There is another signal argument in favour of this devotion, inasmuch as from the very moment of its institution it was immediately encouraged and put into most frequent practice by all classes of society. In truth, the piety of the Christian people honours, by many titles and in multiform ways, the Divine Mother, who, alone most admirable among all creatures, shines resplendent in unspeakable glory. But this title of the Rosary, this mode of prayer which seems to contain, as it were, a final pledge of affection, and to sum up in itself the honour due to Our Lady, has always been highly cherished and widely used in private and in public, in homes and in families, in the meetings of confraternities, at the dedication of shrines, and in solemn processions; for there has seemed to be no better means of conducting sacred solemnities, or of obtaining protection and favours.
9. Nor may we permit to pass unnoticed the especial Providence of God displayed in this devotion; for through the lapse of time religious fervour has sometimes seemed to diminish in certain nations, and even this pious method of prayer has fallen into disuse; but piety and devotion have again flourished and become vigorous in a most marvellous manner, when, either through the grave situation of the commonwealth or through some pressing public necessity, general recourse has been had-more to this than to even other means of obtaining help - to the Rosary, whereby it has been restored to its place of honour on the altars. But there is no need to seek for examples of this power in a past age, since we have in the present a signal instance of it. In these times - so troublous (as we have said before) for the Church, and so heartrending for ourselves - set as We are by the Divine will at the helm, it is still given Us to note with admiration the great zeal and fervour with which Mary's Rosary is honoured and recited in every place and nation of the Catholic world. And this circumstance, which assuredly is to be attributed to the Divine action and direction upon men, rather than to the wisdom and efforts of individuals, strengthens and consoles Our heart, filling Us with great hope for the ultimate and most glorious triumph of the Church under the auspices of Mary.
10. But there are some who, whilst they honestly agree with what We have said, yet because their hopes - especially as regard the peace and tranquillity of the Church - have not yet been fulfilled, nay, rather because troubles seem to augment, have ceased to pray with diligence and fervour, in a fit of discouragement. Let these look into themselves and labour that the prayers they address to God may be made in a proper spirit, according to the precept of our Lord Jesus Christ. And if there be such, let them reflect how unworthy and how wrong it is to wish to assign to Almighty God the time and the manner of giving His assistance, since He owes nothing to us, and when He hearkens to our supplications and crowns our merits, He only crowns His own innumerable benefits;(8) and when He complies least with our wishes it is as a good father towards his children, having pity on their childishness and consulting their advantage. But as regards the prayers which we join to the suffrages of the heavenly citizens, and offer humbly to God to obtain His mercy for the Church, they are always favourably received and heard, and either obtain for the Church great and imperishable benefits, or their influence is temporarily withheld for a time of greater need. In truth, to these supplications is added an immense weight and grace - the prayers and merits of Christ Our Lord, Who has loved the Church and has delivered Himself up for her to sanctify her . . . so that He should be glorified in her.(9) He is her Sovereign Head, holy, innocent, always living to make intercession for us, on whose prayers and supplication we can always by divine authority rely. As for what concerns the exterior and temporal prosperity of the Church, it is evident that she has to cope with most malicious and powerful adversaries. Too often has she suffered at their hands the abolition of her rights, the diminution and oppression of herliberties, scorn and affronts to her authority, and every conceivable outrage. And if in their wickedness her enemies have not accomplished all the injury they had resolved upon and striven to do, they nevertheless seem to go on unchecked. But, despite them the Church, amidst all these conflicts, will always stand out and increase in greatness and glory. Nor can human reason rightly understand why evil, apparently so dominant, should yet be so restricted as regards its results; whilst the Church, driven into straits, comes forth glorious and triumphant. And she ever remains more steadfast in virtue because she draws men to the acquisition of the ultimate good. And since this is her mission, her prayers must have much power to effect the end and purpose of God's providential and merciful designs towards men. Thus, when men pray with and through the Church, they at length obtain what Almighty God has designed from all eternity to bestow upon mankind.(10) The subtlety of the human intelligence fails now to grasp the high designs of Providence; but the time will come when, through the goodness of God, causes and effects will be made clear, and the marvellous power and utility of prayer will be shown forth. Then it will be seen how many in the midst of a corrupt age have kept themselves pure and inviolate from all concupiscence of the flesh and the spirit, working out their sanctification in the fear of God;(11) how others, when exposed to the danger of temptation, have without delay restrained themselves gaining new strength for virtue from the peril itself; how others, having fallen, have been seized with the ardent desire to be restored to the embraces of a compassionate God. Therefore, with these reflections before them, We beseech all again and again not to yield to the deceits of the old enemy, nor for any cause whatsoever to cease from the duty of prayer. Let their prayers be persevering, let them pray without intermission; let their first care be to supplicate for the sovereign good - the eternal salvation of the whole world, and the safety of the Church. Then they may ask from God other benefits for the use and comfort of life, returning thanks always, whether their desires are granted or refused, as to a most indulgent father. Finally, may they converse with God with the greatest piety and devotion according to the example of the Saints, and that of our Most Holy Master and Redeemer, with great cries and tears.(12)
11. Our fatherly solicitude urges Us to implore of God, the Giver of all good gifts, not merely the spirit of prayer, but also that of holy penance for all the sons of the Church. And whilst We make this most earnest supplication, We exhort all and each one to the practice with equal fervour of both these virtues combined. Thus prayer fortifies the soul, makes it strong for noble endeavours, leads it up to divine things: penance enables us to overcome ourselves, especially our bodies - most inveterate enemies of reason and the evangelical law. And it is very clear that these virtues unite well with each other, assist each other mutually, and have the same object, namely, to detach man born for heaven from perishable objects, and to raise him up to heavenly commerce with God. On the other hand, the mind that is excited by passions and enervated by pleasure is insensible to the delights of heavenly things, and makes cold and neglectful prayers quite unworthy of being accepted by God. We have before Our eyes examples of the penance of holy men whose prayers and supplications were consequently most pleasing to God, and even obtained miracles. They governed and kept assiduously in subjection their minds and hearts and wills. They accepted with the greatest joy and humility the doctrines of Christ and the teachings of His Church. Their unique desire was to advance in the science of God; nor had their actions any other object than the increase of His glory. They restrained most severely their passions, treated their bodies rudely and harshly, abstaining from even permitted pleasures through love of virtue. And therefore most deservedly could they have said with the Apostle Paul, our conversation is in Heaven13) hence the potent efficacy of their prayers in appeasing and in supplicating the Divine Majesty. It is clear that not every one is obliged or able to attain to these heights; nevertheless, each one should correct his life and morals in his own measure in satisfaction to the Divine justice: for it is to those who have endured voluntary sufferings in this life that the reward of virtue is vouchsafed. Moreover, when in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, all the members are united and flourish, it results, according to St. Paul, that the joy or pain of one member is shared by all the rest, so that if one of the brethren in Christ is suffering in mind or body the others come to his help and succour him as far as in them lies. The members are solicitous in regard of each other, and if one member suffer all the members suffer in sympathy, and if one member rejoice all the others rejoice also. But you are the body of Christ, members of one body. (14) But in this illustration of charity, following the example of Christ, Who in the immensity of His love gave up His life to redeem us from sin, paying Himself the penalties incurred by others, in this is the great bond of perfection by which the faithful are closely united with the heavenly citizens and with God. Above all, acts of holy penance are so numerous and varied and extend over such a wide range, that each one may exercise them frequently with a cheerful and ready will without serious or painful effort.
12. And now, venerable brethren, your remarkable and exalted piety towards theMost Holy Mother of God, and your charity and solicitude for the Christianflock, are full of abundant promise: Our heart is full of desire for thosewondrous fruits which, on many occasions, the devotion of Catholic people toMary has brought forth; already We enjoy them deeply and abundantly inanticipation. At your exhortation and under your direction, therefore, thefaithful, especially during this ensuing month, will assemble around the solemnaltars of this august Queen and most benign Mother, and weave and offer to her,like devoted children, the mystic garland so pleasing to her of the Rosary. Allthe privileges and indulgences We have herein before conceded are confirmed andratified. (15)
13. How grateful and magnificent a spectacle to see in the cities, and towns,and villages, on land and sea - wherever the Catholic faith has penetrated - manyhundreds of thousands of pious people uniting their praises and prayers with onevoice and heart at every moment of the day, saluting Mary, invoking Mary, hopingeverything through Mary. Through her may all the faithful strive to obtain fromher Divine Son that the nations plunged in error may return to the Christianteaching and precepts, in which is the foundation of the public safety and thesource Of peace and true happiness. Through her maythey steadfastly endeavour for that most desirable of all blessings, therestoration of the liberty of our Mother, the Church, and the tranquilpossession of her rights - rights which have no other object than the carefuldirection of men's dearest interests, from the exercise of which individuals andnations have never suffered injury, but have derived, in all time, numerous andmost precious benefits.
14. And for you, venerable brethren, through the intercession of the Queen ofthe Most Holy Rosary, We pray Almighty God to grant you heavenly gifts, andgreater and more abundant strength, and aid to accomplish the charge of yourpastoral office. As a pledge of which We most lovingly bestow upon you and uponthe clergy and people committed to your care, the Apostolic Benediction.
Given at Rome, St. Peter's, the 22nd day of September, 1891, in the fourteenthyear of Our Pontificate.
1. Thes 5.17.
2. 2 Thes 3.2.
3. Acts 12.5.
4. Lk 22.44.
5. III. q. xxx, a. 1.
6. Jn 1.17.
7. Ex sacr. liturg.
8. S. August. Epi CXCIV al 106 Sixtum, c. v., n. 19.
9. Eph 5.25-27.
10. S. Th. II-II, q LXXXIII, a. 2, ex S. G. reg. M.
11. 2 Cor 7.1.
12. Heb 5.7.
13. Phil. 3.20.
14. 1 Cor 12. 25-27.
15. Cf. ep. encycl. Supremi Apostolatus officio (September 1, 1893); ep. encycl. Superiore anno (August 30, 1884); decree S. R. C. Inter plurimos (August 20, 1885); ep. encycl. Quamquam pluries (August 15, 1889).
The most holy Virgin in these last times in which we live has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or, above all, spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families, of the families of the world, or of the religious communities, or even of the life of peoples and nations, that cannot be solved by the Rosary. There is no problem, I tell you, no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot resolve by the prayer of the holy Rosary. With the holy Rosary, we will save ourselves; we will sanctify ourselves; we will console our Lord, and obtain the salvation of many souls.1 Conversation between Sr. Lucy of Fatima and Fr. Fuentes, Dec. 26, 1957
These statements of Sr. Lucy certainly form the most beautiful apologia that can be made for the Rosary. Certainly, the prayer most effective for touching the heart of God is without a doubt liturgical prayer: the holy Mass and the Divine Office (the breviary recited by priests and monks and nuns). The Rosary has never claimed to replace the liturgy. "But inversely, the liturgy does not eclipse the Rosary, which has its own irreducible character." 2 Taking up the mysteries of the Lord's life celebrated by the liturgy in the Christmas and Easter cycles, the Rosary considers them in a particular way: "by focusing attention on the place that our Lady holds in each one." 2
An Epic: From Marian Salutations to the Ave Maria
In history, rarely does a devotion appear suddenly. The divine pedagogy often takes centuries to prepare souls to receive it. The Rosary, one can say, stemmed from the habit of the early Christians of thanking the Virgin Mary for all the benefits she had brought mankind; such are the lines of verse by Sedulius in the fifth century inserted in the liturgy: Gaudia Matris habens cum virginitatis honore/ Nec primam similem visa est, nee habere sequentem. 4 The Ave Maris Stella and the Salve Regina, among others, sprang from a similar inspiration. All sorts of salutations flourished in the piety of the clergy and the laity, more or less developed according to the inspiration. 5 This form of piety developed especially during the Middle Ages following the great Marian devotion inspired by St. Bernard. 6
The contemplation of the Virgin Mary, her privileges, and the favors she bestows on her children was considered a joy exceeding all other joys. It was this joyful piety of the "Hail, Our Lady" that gave the name of the Rosary. In the Middle Ages, the symbol of joy was the rose. To crown one's head with a garland of roses (a chaplet) was a sign of joy. The Virgin Mary was even called "a garden of roses." In medieval Latin, a garden of roses is rosarium. 7
It was felt that at each salutation, the Virgin Mary herself experienced an echo of the joy of the Annunciation. It was not merely a matter of cheering oneself at the thought of our Lady; the purpose was also to rejoice the heart of Mary. The salutations were conceived of as so many spiritual roses presented to the Virgin Mary by fashioning for her a crown, a chaplet. In return, our Lady would place upon the heads of her children an invincible diadem of roses, of spiritual graces.
How the Ave Maria Came About
In this fervor to greet our Lady, it is not surprising that the most popular salutation was taken directly from the Gospel, from the episodes of the Annunciation and the Visitation, which everyone knows: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women" (Lk. 1:28). "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" (Lk. 1:42). These two salutations formed the first part of the Ave Maria. According to common opinion, they were joined around the 11th century. At the beginning of the 17th century, the second part of the Ave Maria was not yet in general usage, and the Ave often remained incomplete, comprising only the first part.
The Institution of the Rosary by St. Dominic
In vain would one expect to find in the literature of the 13th and 14th centuries a detailed account of the institution of the Rosary by St. Dominic. That was not the literary genre of the time. These writers were more anxious to edify their readers which is the most important thing than to write history. The origins of the Rosary are thus as if covered by a mysterious shadow. Providence wanted it thus, with all due respect to modern rationalists. It is a secret between the Virgin Mary and her servant Dominic. But it would be a great impiety and an astounding lack of common sense and reason to use this shadow to deny to St. Dominic the invention of this prayer as the moderns do: It would be great impiety because the institution of the Rosary by St. Dominic belongs to the most assured tradition, not only of the Dominican Order, but also of the Roman Church. That is the major argument. It would be a lack of good sense and reason, because the documents of the 13th and 14th centuries offer indication of it so numerous and so evident that they suffice to situate the institution of the Rosary in a time neither before nor after St. Dominic. We shall develop these two points about which modern criticism is completely silent.
The Tradition of the Roman Church
First of all, let us cite the Bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices (1569) of St. Pius V. There he very clearly writes that St. Dominic invented and then propagated in the entire holy Roman Church a mode of prayer, called the Rosary or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which consists in honoring the Blessed Virgin by the recitation of 150 Ave Marias, in conformity with the number of David's psalms, adding to each decade of Aves the Lord's Prayer and the meditation of the mysteries of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Bull Monet Apostolus (1573), which instituted the solemnity of the holy Rosary, Pope Gregory XIII recalls that St. Dominic in order to deflect God's wrath and obtain the help of the Blessed Virgin, instituted this practice so pious that it is called the Rosary or Mary's Psalter.
In 1724, contradictors having called into question the attribution of the Rosary to St. Dominic, Benedict XIII asked the Congregation for Rites to study the question. The promoter of the faith, Prospero Lambertini, the future Benedict XIV, establishing himself on the firm ground of Roman tradition, annihilated the objections. On March 26, 1726, Benedict XIII made obligatory the lessons of the Roman breviary for the Matins of the Feast of October 7th, teaching that Mary recommended to St. Dominic the preaching of the Rosary to the people, giving him to understand that this prayer would be an exceptionally efficacious succor against heresies and vices. 8
Benedict XIV, having learned of objections to the attribution of the Rosary to St. Dominic, declared that the Roman tradition was founded on the most solid bases validissimo fundamento and he responded to the adversaries:
You ask us if St. Dominic instituted the Rosary. You declare that you are perplexed and full of doubts about this matter. But then what do you make of so many oracles of the Sovereign Pontiffs, of Leo X, of Pius V of Gregory XIII, of Sixtus V, of clement VIII, of Alexander VII, of Innocent XI, of Clement XI, of Innocent XIII, of Benedict XIII, and of still others, all unanimous in attributing to St. Dominic the institution of the Rosary? 9
The Evidence of 13th and 14th Century Documents
The contemporary documents give evidence of the appearance of a new custom. We have seen in the early Marian salutations the remote origin of the Rosary. Nevertheless, it is easy to demonstrate that the custom of reciting a specific number of Ave Marias was not practiced; in a word, it did not constitute an institution before St. Dominic's epoch simply because no document and no tradition make mention of it. But it is astonishingand convincing to observe that from St. Dominic's time, the signs of this devotion, which has been adopted by all, from the cultivated classes to the humble folk, from the cloister to the world, abound in the archives of the time.
The number of 50 and of 150 Ave Marias, appears in the archives in a significant way.
The documents are numerous to prove that, in the convents and monasteries of the Dominican Order, from the 13th century, they recited groups of Ave Marias, whether 50 or 150 or 1000....Who gave this devotion to the Dominican friars and nuns of the 13th and 14th centuries? Would it not be the founder of the Order, Dominic de Guzman? 10
Let us cite this beautiful testimony about King St. Louis:
Every evening the king would kneel fifty times, each time rising and then rekneeling, and each time he knelt he would slowly recite an Ave Maria. 11
The usage of beads invaded every rank of society at that time also. In Paris, there were no fewer than three companies making this item. 12 Another interesting and revealing fact concerns Romee de Livia, a direct disciple of St. Dominic. In the ancient chronicles we read that the Blessed Romee, apparently a very lettered clerk because he was successively prior of the convent at Lyons, then provincial of Provence, and finally prior of Bourges, died while squeezing tightly in his hands the knotted cord on which he counted his Ave Marias, meditating and instructing the friars in this devotion to the holy Virgin and the Child Jesus. 13
This fact shows that, from the beginning, the first preachers proved to be very zealous in spreading the devotion of St. Dominic to the Rosary. The Dominicans, dispersed to the four corners of Christendom, were to have a decisive influence in the expansion of the Rosary and its implantation in every class of society. The Reverend Father Mortier, O. P., eminent historian of the Dominican Order wrote:
The Order founded by St. Dominic developed from its beginning, in an extraordinary way, the practical devotion to the Ave Maria. This is incontestable. 14
But the Rosary was not only a new and beautiful custom honoring our Lady by the repetition of the angelic salutation. From St. Dominic's time, the Rosary appeared as a weapon against the Church's enemies.
An historical document shows St. Dominic victoriously employing this prayer in a famous battle against heretics. 15 It is about the first victory of the Rosary, gained at Muret, near Toulouse, on the 12th of September in 1213 by St. Dominic.
Eight hundred Catholic knights, summoned by Pope Innocent III, found themselves confronted by roughly 34,000 enemy troops (the Cathars were reinforced by troops from Spain led by Peter II of Aragon). Dominic with the clergy and the people entered the church at Muret, and he made them pray one Rosary after the other. Five months after the event, a notary of Languedoc wrote:
Dum incipit tarn humilis
Dominicus coronas confene
Statim apparet agilis. 16
The notary observes the humility of Dominic, who does not hesitate to pray the Rosary (a very humble prayer, a prayer of the people); and he remarks his agility at completing the crowns, that is to say, offering them one after the other. 17 The victory of the Catholic knights, led by Simon de Montfort was brilliant and miraculous. 18 The chronicles relate that the enemies of religion fell upon each other as the trees of a forest under the axes of an army of lumberjacks.
If the crusade of which the Battle of Muret was one of the most glorious episodes restored political peace, it was especially the preaching of the Rosary which converted and definitively pacified the region. Here we come to an essential point. Before being a praise to Mary, before being a providential arm for defending Christendom, the Rosary was above all for St. Dominic a method of preaching.
At our Lady's recommendation, 20 St. Dominic preached the mysteries of the faith, and at the same time made his audiences pray Paters and Aves. He acted this way because speech, however brilliant, does not suffice to convert. Only God's grace can break the soul's secret resistances, and this grace can only be obtained by prayer. It is the prayer of the apostle first of all, and St. Dominic would spend his nights in prayer. But, says St. Thomas, "it happens that prayers made for another are not answered... because of an obstacle placed by the one for whom one prays." However, if the sinner himself begins to pray, by praying he removes the obstacle to his conversion. There are, indeed "four conditions the fulfilling of which assure that one obtain what he asks: it is necessary to ask for what is necessary for one's eternal salvation, and do it with piety and perseverance." It is thus the work of an apostle particularly inspired and supernatural to ally his preaching with the prayer of the one being instructed. 23
This method was particularly appropriate for destroying the Cathar heresy. For the Cathars, the physical world is the work of the Evil One, the devil. Therefore God could not have assumed a human body in the womb of a Virgin and died upon a cross to save us. They thus denied the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption, blaspheming against the Blessed Virgin, and they only acknowledged one prayer, the Our Father, to which they had a superstitious attachment. If the absence of Catholic preaching had favored the implantation of Catharism, the popular preaching of the mysteries of the Rosary joined to the praying of the Pater and the Ave was the radical remedy to this scourge. A multitude of friars crisscrossed the land, joining to their words the example of a life of poverty. During the 13th century, there were no fewer than 118 convents of religious mendicants (Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians, Sachets 24 founded in Languedoc. Between 1216 and 1295, one counts 1,100 Dominicans who lived in the region. 25
This union of vocal prayer with the meditation of the mysteries of Christ and our Lady influenced pious practice, and so quickly that in 1236, for example, it was already mentioned in the Psalter placed in the hands of the Beguines of Gand. 26 Again, nothing similar is found before St. Dominic.
To the number of documents we have been commenting on we would like to add one more of astonishing precision in which, in 1221, the name of the Rosary is linked to St. Dominic during his lifetime. In it are indicated the conditions of a perfectly constituted confraternity. This document is a will conserved in the archives of St. James College at Palencia, in Spain. One Antonin Sers makes incumbent the carrying out of his intentions on "the honorable lord Dom Peter Gonzales Tellme, rector of the Nicolates, and first administrator of the confraternity founded in honor of the holy Rosary, with the consent of the Lord Bishop Telle, by the respectable Dominic de Guzman, confraternity," says the testator, "to which I belong." He adds: "I desire that the members be gathered to pray for me, and in compensation, as well as to defray the cost of the candles of the confraternity which they will carry in their hands, that they receive 38 maravedis and 3 measures of wheat."
"What could be clearer?" exclaims Mamachi, 26 not only as to the name, but as to the confraternity of the Rosary, and that from the time of St. Dominic, more than two centuries before Alain de la Roche. And this will and testament of Antonin Sers is drawn from authentic archives monumenta ex archivis authenticis extracta; it is clearly dated notis chronologicis distincta; it is offered with the authority of irrecusable witnesses-et fide dignis testimoniis roborata, that is to say, on the affirmation of notaries public-publicanorum scribarum, of the auditor of the apostolic nunciature and of counselors of the crown. If you cannot defer to such authorities, whom can you believe? 28
Among the documents in evidence of the volume published in the Annales Ordinis Praedicatorum, the illustrious scholar is careful to publish, with the will of Antonin Sers, all the attestations in favor of this act delivered, at the Dominicans' request, by Dom Francisco Antonino de Angulo, of the Council of His Catholic Majesty, his secretary and first official of the secretariat of the Chamber and of the Royal Patronage.29
How is it possible not to ascribe to St. Dominic the institution of the Rosary when the Sovereign Pontiffs attribute it to him with unbroken unanimity, and when documents abound to prove the appearance of the devotion at the time of the saint and in the order he founded?
As to the manner in which the Rosary was given to this great saint, was it by the ordinary ways of grace, that is, by a simple inspiration? Or was it rather under the form of a heavenly vision of which the saint kept the secret and during which the Virgin Mary would have instructed and consoled her disciple? The last solution cannot be rejected. It must even have our favor, because it is from a venerable tradition, too favored by the Church and too ingrained in the memory of the faithful to be just a pious legend.
Where did the revelation take place? The citizens of Toulouse place it in the forest of Bouconne, not far from their city, where St. Dominic founded his first convent. 30 The Church of Puy says that it was in its cathedral. 31 Fr. Petitot speaks of a tradition situating the event in the sanctuary of Prouille in Languedoc, at the foot of the village of Fanjeaux, the place where St. Dominic founded the contemplative Dominican nuns, and whence he sent forth his first preaching friars into all of Europe on August 15, 1217. 32