The Rosary and Evangelization

– Father Johann Roten, S.M.

There exists an important relationship between the Rosary and Evangelization.

1. The Complete Rosary is a prayer comprising 200 Hail Marys divided into 20 decades, each of which serves to meditate on a mystery of Christ and Mary. All decades are preceded by an Our Father and conclude with Glory to the Father, and to the Son, etc. (Ordinarily, to "pray the Rosary" means to pray five of the 20 decades.)

The name Rosary is also given to the Rosary beads themselves, which are separated into groups of ten separated by larger individual beads. This device or instrument of counting (beads, 14th century) grew out of a similar one that was used for counting Our Fathers. Recourse to beads or counters in repetitive prayer extends beyond Christianity.

2. The history of the Rosary is very complex. It includes elements of all forms of Marian piety in the Middle Ages.

In the 12th century appears the repetition of the Hail Mary in conjunction with the Five Joys of Mary: Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption. Later came the seven delights, and gradually the fifteen joys corresponding to the 15 decades of the Psalter (150 psalms = 150 Hail Marys).

In the 13th and 14th centuries, Franciscans and Servites spread devotion to the Five Sorrows, then to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, for example, Simeon's prophecy, Flight into Egypt, Loss of Jesus in Jerusalem, Ascent to Calvary, Crucifixion and Death of Jesus, Deposition of Jesus, and Entombment of Jesus.

In the 14th century the name Rosary could also mean a florilegium, a collection of thoughts or little poems. The name Rosaries of Mary was also given to a whole series of little poems (50, 150...) rhyming with Ave and followed each by the Ave Maria of the Gospel.

Finally, the 15th century saw the appearance of two Marian Rosaries still prayed today:

  • The Rosary of Dominic the Carthusian (St. Alban, near Trier, Germany in about 1410): a succession of 150 Hail Marys to which were appended as many (150) moments in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. For example, "and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus Christ, whom at the announcement of the angel you conceived by the Holy Spirit," etc.
  • The New Psalter of the Virgin which Alain of Roche, a Dominican, began to preach at Douai, France in 1464. It seems that to him is owed the structure of the three groups of mysteries: the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries corresponding to the fundamental aspects of the mission of Jesus Christ" Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection.

The Marian prayer of Alain spread rapidly. Its popularity was largely the work of Confraternities of the Rosary, the first of which was established by Cologne Dominicans in 1475. The Traditional list of 15 mysteries, helped along by the invention of printing, became the norm between 1480 and 1500. All in all, what Alain preached in the Rosary of today.

3. Paul VI, recalling the traditional teaching of the Popes, spoke of the Rosary as a "compendium of the entire Gospel," a prayer "centered on the redemptive Incarnation," in which "the litany-like succession of Hail Marys becomes an unceasing praise of Christ" (Marialis Cultus, 46).

4. Finally, John Paul II in his letter apostolic letter on the Rosary (2002) added five new mysteries, the so-called luminous mysteries. Jesus Christ is the "light of the world" (Jn. 9:5) in his person and his teaching. The luminous mysteries, therefore, commemorate Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.

To pray the Rosary is to contemplate with Mary the Lord made flesh, crucified, and raised for our salvation.

There can be little doubt that the Church regards the Rosary as a spiritual treasure and a prayer of its own. Popes since Eugene IV (1431-1447) have all warmly recommended the recitation of the Rosary and gone out of their way to set aside October for the recitation.

5. Here are some reasons why the Rosary is a real treasure, spiritually and humanly, and thus becomes a powerful instrument in Evangelization.

  • The Rosary fosters faith. "The great power of the Rosary is that it makes a prayer of the Creed" (Cardinal Newman). It covers the entire range of the Mysteries of the Faith and enables us, so to speak, to hold our "entire faith in the hand" (Cardinal Newman).
  • The Rosary is a humble prayer of petition. Like every prayer it implies the recognition of a need or insufficiency, and so is an appeal for God's help. The Rosary is a persistent prayer. In the Gospel, Christ acknowledges and praises the poor and the humble who press their petitions until they are heard: like the Canaanite woman (Mt. 15:21-28), or the widow in the parable of the corrupt judge (Lk. 18:1-8). When repetition is the sign of deep distress together with a confidence that will not be disappointed, it is a sign of authentic prayer.
  • The Rosary has the rhythm of human life. "The Rosary is marvelous in its simplicit and in its depth... Against the background of the words 'Hail Mary' there pass before the eyes of the soul the main episodes in the life of Jesus Christ" (John Paul II). At the same time we bring all the concerns of our own life and that of others to the Rosary.
  • The Rosary highlights Mary's maternal role. It acquaints us with the Spiritual Motherhood of Mary, and especially as regards her motherly role of educatrix in prayer. It teaches us to talk to Mary as we talk with our mother, opening our heart to her humility and love, and so acquiring the spiritual sensitivity fundamental for the Kingdom of God. We move close to Jesus and ultimately to the Father.

6. There is indeed an intimate link between the Rosary and Evangelization. Mary highlights and strengthens this link. It is especially at Calvary and on Pentecost that Mary becomes a powerful model of Evangelization.

In both instances, at Calvary and Pentecost, Our Lady plays a pivotal role. She is Our Lady of Promise at Calvary, and she is Our Lady of Fulfillment at Pentecost.

  • At Calvary, in the hour of apparent disaster, Mary represents hope. At the foot of the Cross, she stands (with the beloved disciple) for the proverbial new skins and new wine. At Calvary, the mother of the living is about to conceive again her Son. This time, no longer in her body; Mary now receives her glorious Son to pass it on to the community of his believers. And thus, at Calvary, Mary is Our Lady of Promise.
  • Again, she plays the pivotal role at Pentecost. She is a magnet and beacon for the future pilgrim church. In the midst of the disciples, she represents fulfillment. She is a coworker and witness of Christ's redemption. Mary is a sign of his presence. In her person, for everybody visible, Christ has set a model of human existence accomplished in faith. And so, at Pentecost, Mary is Our Lady of Fulfillment. This is what is meant by the title, Queen of Apostles: Mary is to be Our Lady of Promise and Our Lady of Fulfillment.

Calvary and the Cenacle anticipate and inaugurate—what we used to call—the time of the Church, the time when Jesus Christ no longer walks with his disciples, the time when alone and together they have to learn how to be Church—with the Holy Spirit Spirit dwelling in the depth of their souls.

More Information

International Marian Research Institute

300 College Park 
Dayton, Ohio 45469 

Connect