You’ve probably heard the expression, “knock on wood.” But what you may not know is that this popular saying refers to one of our own Catholic traditions – that of the recitation of the Rosary. The Rosary was a physical representation of one’s inner faith, and it was natural to finger or touch it when one was in distress or pain. “Knocking” the rosary beads together, people said, was sure to make one’s wish come true!
The word itself comes from a Latin word, rosarium, meaning “a garden of roses,” which doesn’t sound like it has very much to do with praying! In the thirteenth century, a garland of roses was used to crown a secular lady, and then eventually as a crown for the statues of the holy Lady; and thus this devotion to her took on the name of that garland.
Nothing in life is static. Much of what many Catholics think is “the way it’s always been done,” is in fact relatively recent in practice.
In the thirteenth century, for example, the Hail Mary sounded very different from what we say today. The word “Jesus” didn’t appear as part of the prayer until the fourteenth century; and the last line, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” wasn’t added until after a famous sermon preached by St. Bernard of Siena in 1487 captured pious people’s imaginations and got transferred to their daily devotions.
The Gloria was not part of the Rosary in its earliest stages; and the pendent (comprised of the cross and the five extra beads) was also a later addition.
The most recent change was in 2002, when Pope John Paul II commemorated the 25th anniversary of his pontificate by adding the mysteries of light, or luminous mysteries, to the saying of the Rosary. In his apostolic letter, the Pontiff spoke specifically of using the Rosary as a path to contemplation. In that sense, we can see the Rosary as a unique pairing of both prayer and contemplation, connecting us back to the roots of our tradition and to the practices of the earliest Christians–our ancestors in the faith.
Renew your devotion to Our Lady's rosary.
One could argue that there is less need for the Rosary now than in the past. During the Middle Ages and beyond, people were required to attend a liturgy that was celebrated in a language that they did not understand, often in places where they were unable to even see what was happening. They could, however, continue their private devotions through praying the rosary and feel as though they had been spiritually uplifted by the experience. But the Second Vatican Council brought the liturgy into the languages of the world, and people can now understand what the priest is saying.
So why the Rosary now? Part of the answer has to do with its very intimacy. The rhythm of the prayers, coupled with the fact that many Catholics have been reciting them since early childhood, make the rosary a familiar touchstone in a world that often feels very unfamiliar indeed.
Moreover, one of the truths of the Catholic Church is that it is an incarnational church, concerned with articles of daily life: with bread, wine, homes, and relationships. The fact that the rosary is an object, part of the material world, can help to celebrate the incarnational side of our religion. And remind us all of where we started, and who we are.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir
(This article was abridged and reprinted from an article by Jeannette de Beauvoir in the October 2016 issue of the St. Anthony Messenger)