People often ask Catholics – “but where is the Rosary in the Bible?”. It’s reasonable question, depending on how it is asked and the intentions of the questioner in asking it. However, it is based on a false assumption. The Catholic faith does not uphold a belief in ‘sola Scriptura’, or ‘scripture alone’. Our faith produced what we now call the Bible – the Bible did not produce the faith. As Catholics, we believe in tradition as much as in Scripture.
But returning to the question at hand – the Rosary as a completely developed devotion will not be found in the Bible. The writings recorded in Scripture are far too early for that, in the same way that various other things of which the Church believes are not fully laid out in Scripture. Our Catholic understanding tends to grow from seeds and is developed over time, rather as the gardener plants and then tends the seed and the soil, watering them and waiting patiently until the plants grow and finally flower.
The Rosary is a devotion which has – like those seeds – developed slowly over time. You could argue that even now, it is not a ‘completely developed devotion’, as we add things to it from time to time.
To explain what I mean, consider this. Initially, there were no beads – there were perhaps stones or simply fingers upon which to count; the beads came later as a practical solution. And to begin with, there were decades of Our Fathers, not Hail Marys – very early on, the prayer of the Hail Mary had not really taken form in the way we recognise it today.
The combination of Our Fathers and Hail Marys was a later change to the Rosary.
Similarly, the Glory Be only made an appearance as part of the Rosary around three hundred years ago, through the work of St Louis Marie de Montfort.
And that little ‘O my Jesus’ prayer? That only appeared in 1917 with the appearances of Our Blessed Lady at Fatima, added very specifically at Her request.
So, even as recently as just one hundred years ago, the constituent parts of the Rosary were still developing and changing, with new parts being added on. In fact, such additions were being made much more recently than that. Those Luminous Mysteries we now pray? They were added by St John Paul II just twenty one years ago, in 2002, when he published his document ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’.
Now here is the thing.
Things which develop over time tend to have a beginning, a point of origin – and in the same way we can look forward, so we can look backward, too. Take the Universe, for example. We can trace our entire Universe back to the moment of the ‘Big Bang’ – everything that followed came from this point, this moment. The ‘seeds’ were created in that moment – it simply took time for them to ‘germinate’.
Can we do anything similar with the devotion we now call the Rosary? Is there a ‘Big Bang moment’ for the Rosary? And if so – where?
I’ll tell you where I think that moment might be.
Take your Bible and open it at the second chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke and then read these words in the nineteenth verse –
And Mary kept all these things, treasuring them in Her Heart
I wonder if this is the ‘Big Bang moment’ for the Rosary.
Our broad and specific theology developed out of various texts in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments; theologians put forward and expounded various ideas over the course of centuries, and the resulting discussions often provoked furious debate.
This was certainly the case regarding the possibility of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary being declared a dogma, a required belief of the Church. There were various Saints and theologians on both sides of the argument – some arguing in favour, others arguing against. The discussion itself led to a greater and deeper understanding so that finally, in 1854, the Church declared this was indeed a dogma of the Church. Our Blessed Lady then gave Her own approval to this four years later at Lourdes, when She declared Her identity – “I am the Immaculate Conception”.
Saint Luke tells us that Mary treasured the events of the early life of Christ, pondering them in Her Heart. Now, is that ‘pondering’ precisely what we do when we pray the Rosary? Do we, too, not look carefully – or ‘meditate upon’ – those same events in His life? Do we not ponder them and treasure them as Mary is described as doing? And so, are we not following Her own example?
To ponder them leads to treasuring them; and to treasure them means they are important to us, as they were to the Mother of the Lord. Also like Her – look at the account of the finding of Jesus in the Temple – we may not fully understand them, but we can ponder them nonetheless and learn something from them.
In one sense, the prayer of the Rosary is rather like looking at a portrait or photograph of someone we love – in this case, Jesus Christ, as it is He whom we focus upon in the Mysteries which comprise the Rosary. But we do so in a very particular way – that is, we see Him through the eyes of Mary; we look to Her and ask Her to teach us something about Her Son as we pray the Rosary.
Many years ago, my late mother would take out the big tin of old black and white family photographs – of her and my father, of their own parents and of other relatives I never knew. As she did so, I would ask her – “tell me about the olden days”. And this image would lead to the recollection of a story of something which happened a long time ago, but which continued to resonate on some way or another.
And this is precisely what I do today when I pray the Rosary. An image produces the recounting of a story – which, in the prayer of the Rosary, we call a ‘Mystery’.
I ask my other Mother, the Blessed Virgin, to “tell me something” in the mysteries I meditate upon in the prayer of Her Rosary. And She does. She does so every single time. She tells me something about Her Son and also about Herself. And in listening to that telling, I learn. Other times, She chides me or challenges me or gently confronts me as only mothers can do. And I listen. I see Christ with Her eyes. And I see Her with His eyes.
No matter our thoughts on the way the Rosary developed, and no matter the particular view we may have of it as a specific devotion, the fact is that it is the one devotion which the Church has placed before us time and time again for our consideration, using every possible means to encourage us to make use of this prayer. And it is the single devotion which the Mother of God places before us again and again – praying it on eighteen occasions with Bernadette at Lourdes, and requesting it’s prayers at six appearances at Fatima, where She gave Her name as “the Lady of the Rosary”.
For those who consider the Rosary dull or boring, I can say only that the Blessed Virgin has never given me the same thing twice in the course of this prayer; there is something new every single time – an image, a thought, a suggestion, a challenge, an insight, a connection within a Mystery or between Mysteries. She is very kind.
And the point of writing all this at such length? It is nothing more than this; to ask you, pray your Rosary faithfully, every day. The Blessed Virgin is kind and generous – in doing as She requests, She will not be outdone in generosity and your devotion will bring it’s own rewards.
Of course, there is only one way for you to find this out for yourself.