Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How St. Louis de Montfort Changed the Rosary

April 28th, Feast of St. Louis Marie de Montfort

Have you ever noticed that there is no separate bead for the Glory be prayer in the Rosary? Containing 59 beads, the Rosary string has specific beads only for the 53 Hail Marys and the six Our Fathers. Although certain methods of praying the Rosary will assign the Glory be or Fatima prayers to one bead or another, there is clearly no universally solidified practice – in many places the Glory be will be prayed on the “chain” between the final Hail Mary bead of one decade and the Our Father bead of the following decade.

The cause for this slight “confusion” (if we can call it that) as to in which place the Glory be is to be prayed is found in the fact that the Rosary did not originally include the Glory be (or, of course, the Fatima prayer). This little prayer was added by the great Apostle of the Rosary, St. Louis Marie de Montfort, showing the essentially Trinitarian character of his Marian devotion.

A Short History of the Development of the Rosary Chain

Without going into the debated historical points about the formation of the Rosary prayer through the centuries leading up to the time of St Dominica and the formation of the traditions of the Dominican Rosary during the time of Blessed Alan de la Roche, we can sketch a quick and simple history of the development of the Rosary string or chain as we know it today.

There can be no doubt that the early Christians would use small objects to count out their prayers – whether stones or pieces of bone or other such items. It is only practical to bring these little items together upon a string (or, as in some places, to mark the prayers upon a board after the fashion of the modern cribbage board). In the first instance, 150 such small objects were placed upon a string or chain to mark out 150 Our Fathers said in honor of the 150 psalms. Such strings were even called Paternosters after the Latin title Pater Noster.

So as to be easier to carry and use, it became common to shorten these strings to include only 50 objects (which, in Old English, were called bedes meaning “prayers” from gebed “to pray” and eventually came to be called “beads”), and one would naturally mark the starting place with a little hanging Cross. Again for the sake of ease, these 50 beads would be separated upon the chain into sets of 10 – allowing the Christian to move through the prayers a decade at a time.

Around the twelfth century, the Our Fathers had commonly come to be substituted with Hail Marys (although, at this time the Hail Mary included only the Angelic Salutation and did not finish with the second half of the prayer as it is known today). An additional bead was added at the start of each of the decades of Hail Marys, and upon this bead was prayed the Our Father prayer. It was also customary to include a brief exposition of some mystery of our Savior’s life with the Our Father bead, though which 15 mysteries were to be assigned to each decade was a matter of much freedom and left to the devotions of each place and people.

Finally, with St. Dominic and the Dominican order, the Rosary took the form in which we know it today, with 15 specific mysteries assigned to each of the 15 decades (indeed, now St John Paul II has offered an additional set of 5 mysteries which may be used, although the Rosary remains only 15 decades in honor of the 150 psalms). However, even in the time of Blessed Alan de la Roche (that is, the mid-fifteenth century) the Glory be had not yet been introduced to the Rosary! And thus there was no bead to mark this prayer!

The addition of the Glory be to the Rosary

While there were certainly many people in various places who added the Glory be to each decade of the Rosary as a matter of private devotion, the practice was mostly unknown until the servant of Mary, St. Louis Marie de Montfort began preaching the Rosary throughout France and all of Europe. The Apostle of the Rosary taught this prayer with the Glory be as the standard conclusion to each decade of Hail Marys. And, although there was no bead to mark this prayer, the practice of adding the Glory be was received as most acceptable to the Christian spirit and to the logic of Marian devotion.

By the end of St. Louis Marie’s life (d. 1716), the practice of praying the Glory be was nearly universal. Imagine the significance of this priest and preacher! His promotion of the Rosary was so convincing and so inspirational, that he not only induced many hundreds of thousands (and, at least shortly after his death through his disciples, even millions) of Christians to pray the Dominican Rosary, he even left his mark upon the very structure of the Rosary itself! His method of praying the Rosary has become the universal method of offering this prayer – with the Glory be at the conclusion of each decade.

Even today, the “official” Rosary does not include the Glory be

Many will be astonished to discover that the “official” description of the Rosary by the Church does not mandate that the decades conclude with the Glory be. While it is certainly that best way of praying the Rosary, and is at this point universal, the Church defines the Rosary after the manner it was first given the world through St. Dominic and his Order.

The pre-Vatican II “Raccolta” which lists all the prayers officially recognized by the Church states: “The Rosary of St Dominic. This Devotion, called also the Psalter of Mary, consists of the continuous recitation of the Hail Mary, said 150 times (as many times as there are Psalms), divided into fifteen decades, each beginning with an Our Father, while at the same time the principal mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord are meditated on.”

The current “Enchiridion of Indulgences,” which again defines the prayers to which Mother Church attaches indulgences after the Vatican II revision of the Code of Canon Law, tells us: “The Rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which I s made up of fifteen decades of Hail Marys with an Our Father before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our Redemption. The name ‘Rosary,’ however, is commonly used in reference to only a third part of the fifteen decades.”

What is most striking about the way in which the Church has defined the Rosary is that the Glory be is not mentioned as part of the prayer. And this is certainly because the Glory be came to be popularized so late in the development of the Rosary, and also for this same reason has no specific bead upon which is to be said.

The Trinitarian character of Marian devotion

Those familiar with the Marian writings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, cannot help but be struck by the Trinitarian character of his devotion to Mary. While it is clear from the start that our Saint sees Marian devotion as the most perfect devotion to Jesus, he also places it in the context of the Holy Spirit telling us that “When the Holy Spirit, her spouse, finds Mary in a soul, he hastens there and enters fully into it.” (True Devotion to Mary, 36) And again, he sees in Mary a created image of the eternal generative power of the Father, “God the Father imparted to Mary his fruitfulness as far as a mere creature was capable of receiving it, to enable her to bring forth his Son and all the members of his mystical body.” (True Devotion, 17)

St. Louis Marie delights to consider the relations which Mary has to each of the Persons of the Trinity, calling her the Daughter of God the Father, the Mother of God the Son, and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is this Trinitarian focus which moves St. Louis Marie to see the Total Consecration to Mary as a perfect renewal of our Baptism, in which we were made reborn in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

As we pray our Rosary, adding the Glory be to each decade, may we renew also our own Baptism and ask the intercession of St. Louis Marie that we may be truly devoted servants of so loving a Mother. The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that sets of prayer beads are universally "prized as gifts of friendship," and we may well take up our Rosary as a constant reminder of our friendship not only with the Mother of God together with St. Dominic and St. Louis Marie de Montfort among others, but also of that most blessed friendship which we enjoy with our Creator, the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.

For additional information on the development of the Rosary, see the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia [here], and on St Louis Marie [here],  


Rex said...

The writings of this great saint (who added the Glory Be) influenced another great saint, John Paul II (who added the Luminous Mysteries).

OreamnosAmericanus said...

"There can be no doubt that the early Christians would use small objects to count out their prayers – whether stones or pieces of bone or other such items." I'd be interested in your evidence for this; in all my wanderings through Church history I have never been aware of this. Unless "early Christians" means the Middle Ages.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It would be rather ridiculous for anyone to think that the early Church meant the great Scholastic period!

See the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Use of Beads at Prayer"

"The earliest historical indications of the use of beads at prayer by Christians show, in this as in other things, a natural growth and development. Beads strung together or ranged on chains are an obvious improvement over the well-known primitive method instanced, for example, in the life of the Egyptian Abbot Paul (d. A.D. 341), who used to take three hundred pebbles into his lap as counters and to drop one as he finished each of the corresponding number of prayers it was his wont to say daily. In the eighth century the penitentials, or rule books pertaining to penitents, prescribed various penances of twenty, fifty, or more, paters. The strings of beads, with the aid of which such penances were accurately said, gradually came to be known as paternosters. Archaeological records mention fragments of prayer beads found in the tomb of the holy abbess Gertrude of Nivelles (d. 659); also similar devices discovered in the tombs of St. Norbert and of St. Rosalia, both of the twelfth century.

Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.