Question: Where did the Rosary come from?
Answer: The Rosary is perhaps the most common prayer of the Catholic faithful throughout the entire world, and the daily Rosary and family Rosary are recommended as among the most salutary prayers for growth in holiness. If you pray the Rosary, you’ve probably noticed how difficult it is to form a habit of praying the Rosary every day, and to truly meditate on the prayers when you do pray it. As a friend of mine from seminary, now Fr. Travis Burnett, said, “The Rosary is so difficult to pray because it’s so powerful. The devil doesn’t want us praying it.”
The Rosary was originally connected with the Psalter, the book of Psalms in the Old Testament. The ancient Jewish practice of praying the psalms was retained by the early Christians, and was eventually taken up by the monastic communities, especially the Benedictines. They would pray all 150 psalms in a daily or weekly cycle. This practice spread and is now mandatory for all priests and religious. The Laity, however, often couldn’t participate as they usually didn’t have a copy of the Bible (which were copied by hand and extremely expensive) and may not have been able to read anyway. So, even early in Church history people starting reciting 150 Hail Mary’s or Our Father’s every day, which was known as the Angelic Psalter, like the Davidic Psalter in the Bible.
During the Middle Ages, between the 12th and 15th centuries, this practice developed into the modern Rosary. There were several different forms of praying it and many different collections of mysteries. It was probably during this time that it gained the name “The Rosary.” Roses were connected with the Blessed Mother, and the main prayer of the Rosary became the Hail Mary, which were said to be as roses given to the Blessed Mother as each one was prayed. The Rosary was preached and promoted during this time as a way to learn and promote the faith, to ward of heresy, and to grow in the spiritual life. St. Dominic, famously, is said to have had a vision of the Blessed Mother while he was preaching against the Albegensian and Cathar heresies in southern France and Spain. It was latter preached also by Blessed Alan de la Roche in the 15th century for the conversion of sinners. In the 16th century it began gaining popularity in Eastern Europe after the Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453 and began their invasions of Hungary and the Balkans.
In 1570, the Ottoman Turks invaded the island of Cyprus to take it from the Republic of Venice, who were the main power holding them in check in the Mediterranean Sea. They appealed to the Holy Father, Pope St. Pius V, for help, and he organized an alliance of Catholic states, including Spain, Portugal, Venice, Genoa, and the Knights of Malta. By the end of September the fleet was ready to set out, so the Holy Father asked all of the faithful to pray Rosaries and implore the intercession of the Blessed Mother for victory. On October 7, 1570, the the Catholic fleet of around 250 ships met the Muslim fleet of around 350 ships near Lepanto, Greece. The Catholic fleets flagship the Real, under the command of Don Juan and flying a blue banner of Christ crucified, met the Ottoman flagship the Sultana, under the command of Ali Pasha. It came down to hand to hand combat, and in the fighting Ali Pasha was killed and the Ottoman flagship captured, causing a breakdown of morale and discipline in much of the fleet. The fighting was fierce, but by the end of the day the allied victory was complete. The Catholic fleet had lost only 12 galleys and had 8,000 dead, but they had sunk 50 Ottoman galleys, captured 117 galleys, and freed 15,000 slaves. Pope St. Pius V received news of the victory on October 22 and celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Peter’s Basilica. The victory was attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Mother and a feast to Our Lady of Victory was added to the calendar on October 7, the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, which is still celebrated every year as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
To bring the history of the Rosary up to date, Pope St. John Paul II added a set of mysteries, the Luminous mysteries, to the Rosary in 2002 in the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. The mysteries take us through the life of Christ, from His birth in the Joyful Mysteries, to His Passion and death in the Sorrowful Mysteries, to His Resurrection in the Glorious Mysteries. The Luminous Mysteries complet the life of Christ by inviting us to meditate on His public ministry. In the letter, Pope St. John Paul II describes the purpose of the Rosary, saying, “With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty of the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 1).”
Question: I noticed that there are four different Eucharistic Prayers that the priest can choose from in the Mass. Where did they come from and how can we know which one you will choose for Mass?
Answer: You may have noticed, like the questioner, that there are different options that the priest can choose from in the Mass. The central prayer of the Mass, called the Eucharistic Prayer, where the bread and wine are offered to the Lord and become, through the prayer of the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Body and Blood of Christ, has four main options, with five other options that are chosen less often. Let’s look at the history of the main four prayers.
Eucharistic Prayer I, called the Roman Canon was the only option in the Roman Church for most of our history. Very early in the history of the Church the prayers of the Mass differed from place to place, and we have evidence of what these prayers were like in the writings of the early Christians. These prayers typically followed similar patterns but differed in the exact wording. They began to be standardized in the first few centuries of the Church. Some of these ancient prayers, including the Roman Canon, are still used today. Some scholars have suggested that parts of the Roman Canon may go back to St. Peter himself. Pope St. Gregory the Great, around the year 600 A.D., collected the prayers of the Mass all in one book, and it was this form of the Roman Canon that was used in the Church until 1970. In the revisions of the Mass after Vatican II there were a few changes made to the Roman Canon, but it was left mostly intact. The Roman Canon has been used in the Roman Catholic Church for at least 1600 years, and parts of it go back even further.
In the 1960’s a desire began to grow in some parts of the Church for more options in the Eucharistic Prayers, mainly out of a desire for variety. Throughout this time hundreds of unauthorized Eucharistic Prayers were written and distributed in various languages, especially Dutch, French, and German. The committee that was given the task of revising the Mass composed three new Eucharistic Prayers in the 1960’s. They were approved by Pope Paul VI in 1968 and they were issued in 1970. Those are the current Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV.
The three new Eucharistic Prayers are different lengths, on purpose, with II being the shortest, III in the middle, and IV the longest, although IV is still a bit shorter than the Roman Canon. Eucharistic Prayer II is based on the Anaphora of Hippolytus (an anaphora is a Eucharistic Prayer), from The Apostolic Tradition by St. Hippolytus of Rome around 215 A.D. It isn’t a direct translation of that prayer, but it was clearly inspired by it, so this prayer also has a long history in the Roman Church.
Eucharistic Prayers III and IV are based on Eucharistic Prayers written by Fr. Vagaggini, OSB, in the summer of 1966. They aren’t based on any specific ancient prayers, but rather on Fr. Vagaggini’s and other scholar’s study of ancient anaphoras and modern ideas about theology and liturgy. Fr. Vagaggini had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit which can be seen in Eucharistic Prayer III. Eucharistic Prayer IV, on the other hand, is a summary of salvation history.
The GIRM, or General Instruction of the Roman Missal, contains the rules on how to celebrate Mass, and it has the force of law. It tells us that the Roman Canon can be used for any Mass, and that it is especially suited for higher solemnities, feasts of the apostles and saints mentioned in it, and on Sundays. I almost always use it on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and sometimes on other Solemnities and Feasts. Eucharistic Prayer II is suited for weekdays, but it is the one used most often by most priests. Eucharistic Prayer III is suited for Sundays and feast days of saints. I rarely use it on Sundays, but I will often use it for Feast Days that fall on weekdays. Eucharistic Prayer IV can only be used with its own Preface, so it can’t be used during Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter, or on most feast days. I will often use it once or twice a year during Ordinary Time in the summer.
The other Eucharistic Prayers in the Roman Missal are meant for special occasions. I’ve personally never used them. Four options are enough for me.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.