Meditating on the Mysteries: The Soul of the Rosary

Was the Rosary truly historically given by the Blessed Virgin Mary to our founder St. Dominic de Guzman? Unfortunately, even though more than ten popes have attributed the Rosary to St. Dominic, it is not so easy to prove. There are virtually no references to any “Rosary” in the earliest writings from the Order, and the practice of saying prayers along with rocks or beads apparently predates St. Dominic.

However, whether the Rosary originates with St. Dominic depends on what is meant by “the Rosary.” To properly define the Rosary, let’s take a “Scholastic” approach and try to understand it according to Aristotle’s “four causes;” four ways of explaining its existence.

First, the Rosary exists because of its final cause, that is, its purpose: the conversion of hearts and minds from the corruption of sin and heresy.

The Rosary exists because of its agent cause, that is, who or what brought it into being: the Holy Trinity, the teacher of prayer who brings everything into existence. We might call Mary and St. Dominic instruments of the Rosary’s existence insofar as God gave us the Rosary through them. You and I would be instruments of the Rosary’s existence, too, every time we pray it!

The Rosary exists because of its material cause, that is, what it is made of: merely beads, some string, and a cross. More importantly, however, it is made up of the frequent recitation of the best verbal prayers ever written: our Lord’s Prayer and the “Hail Mary,” which are both found in Sacred Scripture.

Finally, the Rosary exists because of its formal cause, that is,what makes it to be what it is: the meditation on the Mysteries. It is this unique feature that is the “soul” of the Rosary, making it more than vain repetition. It elevates our minds to the contemplation of God in a way most suited to us, through our senses and imagination, meditating on the most noble human subjects ever: Jesus the Incarnate God and His Mother.

We can therefore define the Rosary as a series of inspired prayers recited along with the mind’s meditation on the physical lives of Jesus and Mary, which was given to St. Dominic by Our Lady to save souls by destroying sin and heresy.

It is not merely a string of beads or a tool to count mindless prayers. These existed before St. Dominic’s time. St. Dominic gave the Rosary a special purpose, and it is a tool masterfully crafted for that purpose. Just as we are composedof both body and soul, the Rosary is made of vocal prayers infused with the meditation on the Mysteries, which St. Paul VI called a “Compendium of the Gospel.”

The Albigensian heresy held that the body was inherently evil. With the Rosary, we meditate on how Jesus took up a bodily nature, suffered, died and rose again in that body, in order to redeem our own bodies from everlasting death.

Even if St. Dominic was not the first to create all the elements in the Rosary, he gave it a special form for a specific purpose: upholding the goodness of our bodily nature, crushing heresy, and saving souls.

Br. Francis Dominic Nguyen, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE