July 1, 2011

Will You Pray the Rosary?

by Fr. John Abberton
Many have no problem with the Orthodox prayer (the "Jesus prayer") but some people have questions about the five decade Rosary either because they find it difficult or because it is "too Catholic" and not part of their tradition - yet, Jesus and His Mother ask us to use it. As we know from the messages of 'True Life in God', Our Lord, Jesus Christ, wants us to have a proper respect and love for His Mother. She, in her turn says, "Do whatever He tells you".

Research shows that the "Catholic" Rosary was known to Christians in the West before the Reformation. It is, then, a pre-Reformation prayer. Legend tells us that it originated with St. Dominic (founder of the Order of Preachers or the Dominicans), but there is no real evidence for this. The Rosary as we now have it dates from the seventeenth century, but this is a development from vita Christi (The Life of Christ) Meditations dating, at least, from the twelfth century, and Our Dear Lady's Psalter (as set out by a Dominican in 1483). It is worthwhile looking at these two devotions.

It was another Dominic, a Cistercian monk, who put together meditation on the life of Christ with the repetition of Ave Maria in sets of 50 prayers. This is dated as between 1409 and 1415. This is the essence of the Rosary as we know it today.

A study of German devotional writing of the Middle Ages (by Anne Winston) suggests that by the thirteenth century, the 'Marien Rosenkrantz' (Rose Garland or wreath) consisted of the recitation of 50 'Aves' (not, by then the complete 'Hail Mary' as we have it now, although the intention of the second part is virtually the same). To keep track of these prayers, a string of beads came into being (a 'Zapel' or chaplet) which became known as the 'Ave' or 'Paternoster' beads because they were used to mark off these prayers. At the same time the practice of private recitation of the psalms began, as a replacement for the traditional canonical hours. The Marian Psalter included verses as introductions for each psalm interpreting them in relation to Christ or His Holy Mother. As time progressed, the psalms themselves disappeared, leaving the stanzas and then, instead of the psalms, 'Paternosters' or 'Ave Marias'.

Further development is associated with the Carthusians at Trèves. Adolf of Essen and a fellow monk, Dominic of Prussia combined the recitation of 'Ave's' with meditations on the life of Christ and Our Lady and included what came to be known as the 'Jesus Clause'. The Hail Mary became a kind of 'Jesus prayer' because of these additional clauses. From this time we can certainly say that the Marian Rosary was Christocentric.

In 1483 the Dominican book, "Our Dear Lady's Psalter" reduced the 50 meditation points to 15. Except for the last two these correspond to the 15 mysteries we know today. Another Dominican, Alberto da Castello, wrote "The Rosary of the Glorious Virgin" (1521). He was the first to use the term 'mysteries' for the meditation points.

During the sixteenth century the Rosary of 15 mysteries, with the Jesus Clauses, became the accepted form.

Another interesting point is that the first part of the Hail Mary is found in the Eastern Liturgy from the fifth century. Marian devotion is not a Roman Catholic invention. The Orthodox world is rich with both beautiful prayers and magnificent icons relating to the Mother of God. Early Christian Tradition leaves us in no doubt that asking Mary's prayers is a normal part of orthodox Christian life.

If most people no longer use the Jesus Clauses (there are some Rosary books which do) this does not mean that the Rosary is not Christocentric. We need only refer to the writings of modern Popes, like Paul VI and the late John Paul II to see that. The Rosary invites us into the Gospel story in the company of the Mother of Christ. There can be no surer guide.

(Please see the book "Beads and Prayers: The Rosary in History and Devotion" by John D. Miller)

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