“With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones.” Ephesians 6: 18

The exhortation by St. Paul to the Ephesians rings true today. With our modern day obligations and work, how do we “pray at every opportunity in the Spirit”? Perhaps, we can take a leaf from the Saints, who frequently turned to Mother Mary for help. For when we pray and call upon the name of Our Blessed Mother, Mother Mary marches in full battle array with all the Saints of heaven, under the victorious banner of Christ our King, on our behalf. As the Catina recited by the Legion of Mary proclaims, “Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array!”

St. Padre Pio had a special devotion to Our Lady. From the age of a child, he would go to the church in Pietrelcina to greet and speak to Our Lady of Graces. He also kept a picture of Mother Mary close to him, which he would gaze at tenderly as he contemplated the Saviour’s love for mankind through Our Lady. He was also known as the Friar of the Rosary, and would always carry one in his hands. He also placed rosaries under his pillow, and on the bureau of his bedside. He also called the rosary his weapon.

“Some people are so foolish that they think they can go through life without the help of the Blessed Mother. Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today. All graces given by God pass through the Blessed Mother.”

 -Saint Padre Pio

What makes the rosary such a powerful weapon for the evils of our times which weigh heavily upon us on all fronts? An indication may be found in the origins of the use of vocal prayer, prayed on actual roses worn by the early martyrs of the Church. The term Rosary comes from the Latin Rosarium, which means “crown of roses” or “garland of roses.”

As young virgins prepared to walk into the arena of the Colosseum to face the beasts that would tear them, they made ready to meet Jesus Christ, King of Kings, for whom they were offering their lives. They fittingly adorned themselves in festive garments, with crowns of roses for their heads. They joined their Savior in His Passion.

At night, the faithful would gather up the martyrs’ crowns and say their prayers on them, one prayer for each rose. Their prayer was a journey, perhaps, into the mystery of what they had witnessed.

Using a device to count prayers was common in the Church. In the fourth century, the Desert Fathers kept track of their devotions on prayer cords. In the fifth century, Saint Brigid of Ireland strung pieces of stone and wood together to form a little wreath, and upon these pieces, she would pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed.

During this same time, it became the custom of Christians in both East and West to divide the psalter into three groups of fifty psalms each and pray or chant them in public. The custom was adapted for those who were uneducated or poor, or who toiled in the fields far away from the churches. These substituted fifty repetitions of the Angelic salutation (Ave Maria) for the fifty psalms. These Aves were recited along with verses from the Gospel relating to the joys of Mary, such as the Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption. This style of prayer became known as a Rosarium.

According to writings by the Venerable Bede, churches in England and France were making prayer beads available to the faithful by the eighth century.

The first clear historical reference we have to the Rosary as we know it today dates back to the thirteenth century, from the life of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans. According to tradition, Dominic devised the Rosary after Our Lady appeared to him and told him to pray in this manner as an antidote for heresy and sin.

He obeyed, and he preached the Rosary with great success in France during the time of the Albigensian heresy.

By Brian Bartholomew Tan