All right, we know the prayer of the Holy Rosary has been in use for centuries, and we also know for a long time Our Lady has been encouraging her children to take up the daily practice of this prayer. But how did this very significant devotion come to be? What’s the history behind it?
The story of the rosary begins with Saint Dominic in the year 1214. The amount of sins were severe, obstructing the conversion of the Albigensians, and this deeply troubled Saint Dominic. One day he withdrew into a forest near Toulouse, and prayed continuously for three days and three nights. He wept, and did harsh penances to appease the anger of God, so much so that he ultimately fell into a coma.
It was then Blessed Mother appeared to him, accompanied by three angels, and said,
“Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?”
“Oh, my Lady,” answered Saint Dominic, “you know far better than I do, because next to your Son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation.”
Our Lady replied, “I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the battering ram has always been the Angelic Psalter which is the foundation-stone of the New Testament. Therefore, if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter.”
Comforted by Our Lady’s words, and burning with renewed zeal, Saint Dominic set out for the Cathedral, where unseen Angels rang the bells to gather the people, and he began to preach. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, and guided by Our Lady, Saint Dominic explained the importance and value of the Rosary with such fervency that almost all the people of Toulouse embraced it and abandoned their false beliefs. People began leading Christian lives, giving up former bad habits, and all in a very short amount of time. Great improvement was seen in the town.
Saint Dominic continued preaching the Rosary for the rest of his life. He did so by his example and his sermons everywhere. In cities, country towns, to the poor and wealthy, to scholars and uneducated, to both Catholics and non-Catholics. Saint Dominic would recite the Rosary every day before his sermons and also immediately afterwards. It was Our Lady’s wish for this devotion to be spread throughout the world.
However, a century later after Saint Dominic’s institution of the Rosary, its fervor began to decline until it was forgotten completely. The “wicked scheming and jealousy of the devil,” as St. Louis De Montfort writes in his Secrets of the Rosary, were the prime suspects for causing people to neglect the Rosary.
In 1349 a terrible chastisement swept all over Europe called the Black Plague. Beginning in the east, it spread all over Italy, Germany, France, Poland, Hungary, bringing devastation everywhere. Large cities, towns, villages, and monasteries were nearly almost completely emptied during the three years this epidemic lasted.
It was some years after this scourge and other heresies, Blessed Mother chose Blessed Alan de la Roche to reignite devotion to the Rosary. The people needed the kind of peace and reassurance that only this prayer could bring more than ever.
Blessed Alan belonged to the same order Saint Dominic founded. He was a Dominican preacher from Brittany, and in 1460 Alan was visited by Our Blessed Lord Jesus. He gave him a warning:
“How can you crucify Me again so soon?” Jesus questioned Alan. “You crucified Me once before by your sins and I would willingly be crucified again rather than have My Father offended by the sins you used to commit. You are crucifying Me again now because you have all the learning and understanding that you need to preach My Mother’s Rosary, and you are not doing so. If you only did this you could teach many souls that right path and lead them away from sin – but you are not doing it and so, you yourself are guilty of the sins that they commit.”
Our Lord’s words penetrated Blessed Alan so deeply he solemnly resolved to preach the Rosary unceasingly, and went out into the world with as much fervor as Saint Dominic had.
Blessed Mother, too, also spoke to Alan one day:
“You were a great sinner in your youth but I obtained the grace of your conversion from my Son. Had such a thing been possible I would have liked to have gone through all kinds of suffering to save you because converted sinners are a glory to me. And I would have done this also to make you worthy of preaching my Rosary far and wide.”
Alan was also visited by his mentor Saint Dominic:
“See the wonderful results I have had through preaching the Holy Rosary! You and all those who love Our Lady ought to do the same so that, by means of this holy practice of the Rosary, you may draw all people to the real science of the virtues.”
This is the history of how Saint Dominic established the Holy Rosary, and of how Blessed Alan de la Roche restored it. Later in 1521 another Dominican preacher named Alberto de Castello created a book titled The Rosary of the Glorious Virgin Mary. This was the first time the Rosary appeared in the form as we know today.
The Holy Rosary is the best way to honor Our Lady, the mother of Jesus. We not only can attain peace, strength, and graces, but most importantly we are drawn closer to Jesus. The Rosary is most pleasing to Our Blessed Lord, as it is a prayer He permitted and desired to be propagated, and He will not allow us to forget its vast saving power!