What is the origin and meaning of the rosary?

It’s a repetitive customary prayer of “Hail Mary, the lord’s prayer, glory be, and oh my Jesus”.

  • The "Oh my Jesus" Fatima prayer ... that one? Jan 9, 2020 at 17:22

2 Answers 2


Short answer, another name for the Rosary is the Angelic Psalter. It is a repetition mainly of the words of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary announcing the Birth of Jesus and the words spoken by St. Elizabeth when Mary visited her shortly before the birth of John the Baptist, when he "leapt in her womb". The reason for its simplicity is that it is for lay-people to pray who wouldn't have access to a regular psalter, like priests and other religious would have. Originally, there were 150 Hail Marys which was close enough to the 150 Psalms in the Book of Psalms.

From the time Saint Dominic established the devotion to the holy Rosary up to the time when Blessed Alan de la Roche re-established it in 1460, it has always been called the Psalter of Jesus and Mary. This is because it has the same number of Hail Marys as there are psalms in the Book of the Psalms of David. Since simple and uneducated people are not able to say the Psalms of David, the Rosary is held to be just as fruitful for them as David's Psalter is for others.

St. Louis De Montfort - The Secret of the Rosary

While praying the Rosary, for repetitions of the Hail Mary, you're expected to meditate on one of the central events or themes of the Gospel and/or the Life of Mary. Like I said, originally there were 15 decades with 3 groups of mysteries (Joyful: pertaining to the Birth of Jesus; Sorrowful: Pertaining to His Passion; Glorious: Pertaining to events after the Resurrection) or thing to mediate on, in 2000, the Year of the Rosary, St. John Paul II added another Mystery (the Luminous Mysteries, which are about the works of Jesus). People who pray the Rosary every day rotate between these mysteries with one to think about every day, almost like priests will do with the Liturgy of the Hours.

The origin of the Rosary itself are a little nebulous as it seems to have been given and redicovered several times since the turn of the second millennium (St. Domininc and Alan De La Roche being key figures). But from all the Visions and Marian Apparitions (Fatima especially) it's clear that Our Lady wants us praying the Rosary. The reason there are 10 Hail Mary's in each decade is interesting, especially since I never considered it before figured it just came naturally like a clock with 12 numbers on it. But there is special significance to the number 10

The Dominican tradition consolidated the combination of Hail Marys and events of Jesus' life added to each Hail Mary. Over time fifteen mysteries (events of Jesus' life) were retained and combined with the Hail Marys for each one of the mysteries. Independently from this historical reason, there is a symbolic reason. Ten has the meaning of totality and unity, meaning that each one of Christ's mysteries is part of his total person and work and expresses its unity and totality, as well as its thorough contemplation by the person who says this decade of the rosary.

Why 10 Hail Mary's

The most widely read history of the Rosary can be found in St. Louis De Montfort's Secret of the Rosary a much better answer than mine can be found in Pope John Paul II's encyclical Rosarium Viginis Mariae

The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), “the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn”.

  • Ok thank you very much for this and the links. Are you able to provide a reference in the 150 psalms that reconcile with the 150 prayer repeat in the rosary? If so, do they have to some kind of stages that relate to a single prayer and why it’s not a repeat prayer? eg.: 10 Hail Mary is = to what
    – Kaylee A
    Jan 9, 2020 at 7:57
  • @KayleeA The words of the prayer repeat, but the mediation does not. This is personal advice as a person who prays the rosary regularly, your mind often gets distracted praying the same words over again, especially if you pray it out loud. Therefore having something to meditate on will distract you in the right direction.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 9, 2020 at 14:24
  • Yes, I just can’t avoid getting distractions and sometimes proceeding immediately to the next mystery without mentioning first the type of mystery this is because I have petition every beginning of the mystery. Anyhow I’m quite happy with your answer but still would like to know more about what are the 150 psalms prayer compare to the rosary. Are these psalms prayer a repetition also? Also Buddhist have some kind of beads. Do you think they borrowed these form of prayer?In my understanding Semitic was earlier than Buddhism.
    – Kaylee A
    Jan 9, 2020 at 19:43

What are the origins and meaning of rosary?

The Holy Rosary or Rosarium in Latin, is in the sense of "crown of roses" or "garland of roses"),also known as the Dominican Rosary, or simply the Rosary and refers to a set of prayers used in the Catholic Church and to the string of knots or beads used to count the component prayers.

The tradition of praying with the use of knot beads goes back to the Desert Fathers and in a sense is a precursor to the modern rosary that we know.

Knotted prayer ropes were used in early Christianity; the Desert Fathers are said to have created the first such, using knots to keep track of the number of times they said the Jesus prayer.

According to pious tradition, the concept of the Rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition of the Virgin Mary during the year 1214 in the church of Prouille, though in fact it was known from the ninth century in various forms. This Marian apparition received the title of Our Lady of the Rosary.[19] In the 15th century it was promoted by Alanus de Rupe (aka Alain de la Roche or Blessed Alan of the Rock), a Dominican priest and theologian, who established the "fifteen rosary promises" and started many rosary confraternities.

According to Herbert Thurston, it is certain that in the course of the twelfth century and before the birth of St. Dominic, the practice of reciting 50 or 150 Ave Marias had become generally familiar. According to 20th century editions of the Catholic Encyclopedia, the story of St. Dominic's devotion to the Rosary and supposed apparition of Our Lady of the Rosary does not appear in any documents of the Church or Dominican Order prior to the writings of Blessed Alanus, some 250 years after Dominic. However recent scholarship by Donald H. Calloway, which has received the endorsement of some of the Church hierarchy, seeks to refute this claim.

Leonard Foley claimed that although Mary's giving the Rosary to St. Dominic is recognized as a legend, the development of this prayer form owes much to the Order of Preachers.

The original rosary of St. Dominic was very different than the on we say today. For one thing it was much shorter in length.

Another important development in the history of the rosary is found in its roots in the liturgical prayer of the Church. In the medieval period, there was a desire to give the laity a form of common prayer similar to that of the monasteries. Monastic prayer was structured around the Psalter—the recitation of all 150 psalms from the Bible. At that time, however, most laity could not afford a Psalter, and most could not even read.

As a parallel to the monastic reading of the 150 psalms, the practice developed among the laity of praying the Our Father 150 times throughout the day. ­is devotion came to be known as “the poor man’s breviary.” ­The laity eventually were given beads to help them count their prayers.

Now the Marian rosary at the time of St. Dominic employed a shorter form of the Hail Mary. It was formed from the two Scriptural sources from Gabriel’s words, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28) and Elizabeth’s words to Mary at the Visitation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Finally, with the addition of the name “Jesus” in the thirteenth century, the first half of the Hail Mary was in place. ­By the fifteenth century, the 150 Hail Marys had been divided into sets of ten, known as “decades,” with an Our Father at the beginning of each.

It read more like the psalter as it was intended for, as the form of the Hail Mary transformed into a prayer of petition in the 14th century, it eventually became a prayer of devotion in itself.

From the 16th to the early 20th century, the structure of the Rosary remained essentially unchanged. There were 15 mysteries, one for each of the 15 decades. During the 20th century, the addition of the Fatima Prayer to the end of each decade became more common. There were no other changes until 2002, when John Paul II instituted five optional new Luminous Mysteries, although variations of these had already been proposed by the likes of St. Louis de Montfort and St. George Preca and were implemented during the mid-20th Century by figures such as Patrick Peyton. - Rosary

Most sources forget that the addition of the final phrase of the prayer of the Hail Mary was added on due to the Black Plague and not St. Dominic!

The “Hail Mary” prayer that Christians have been praying for centuries is composed of two main parts. The first part of the prayer is derived from the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greeted Mary by saying, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) The next part of the prayer is taken from the Visitation, when Elizabeth greeted Mary with the words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42)

At first the prayer was known as the “Salutation of the Blessed Virgin,” and only consisted of the two verses joined together. However, during the Black Plague (also known as the “Black Death”) the prayer was further developed and a second part was added to it.

This second part (“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death”) is believed by many to have been added during the plague to ask for the Blessed Mother’s protection from the fatal disease.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen explains this origin in his book The World’s First Love.

Since it seizes upon the two decisive moments of life: “now” and “at the hour of our death,” it suggests the spontaneous outcry of people in a great calamity. The Black Death, which ravaged all Europe and wiped out one-third of its population, prompted the faithful to cry out to the Mother of Our Lord to protect them at a time when the present moment and death were almost one.

An expert in Marian devotion, Fr. Donald H. Calloway, confirms this conclusion in his book Champions of the Rosary and explains how, “After the Black Death, the second half of the Hail Mary began to appear in the breviaries of religious communities, especially those of the Mercedarians, Camaldolese, and Franciscans … the people of the 14th century greatly needed the ‘hope-filled’ dimension of the second half of the Hail Mary prayer.”

The prayer took various forms during this bleak period in Europe, but was officially recognized after the publication of the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the full prayer was then included in the Roman Breviary of 1568. - How the Black Plague changed the “Hail Mary” prayer

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