As the calendar year takes us into October, the Church reminds us of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of her beloved rosary. Of course, some questions should come to mind.
Why is October the month of the rosary? Why is this devotional so revered by the Church today?
The designation of October goes back to the naval battle of Lepanto in the 16th century. Christian forces in Europe were battling Islamic forces from the East. The Christians were greatly outnumbered, and so the pope called on all believers to pray the rosary for victory. And, against all odds, victory was given.
The triumph was marked with a feast day on Oct. 7. Originally called the feast of Our Lady of Victory, it was subsequently renamed the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Eventually, the entire month of October was dedicated to the rosary in deference to the high-profile feast day.
For these reasons, and several others, the rosary has endeared itself into the very heart of the Church.
At a time when the rosary was questioned and its use was waning, Pope Saint Paul VI reminded the Church of the importance and helpfulness of the rosary: “As a Gospel prayer, centered on the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation, the Rosary is a prayer with a clearly Christological orientation. Its most characteristic element, in fact, the litany-like succession of Hail Marys, becomes in itself an unceasing praise of Christ.”
In the ebb and flow of life, the rosary is also revered by believers because of the simple and rhythmic flow that’s involved in praying it. The rosary itself is a simple circle of beads divided into five sets of 10 called a decade. For each decade, there’s a reflection on a “mystery,” which is an event in the life of Jesus or Mary. One “Hail Mary” is prayed on each bead. As of the year 2000, there are now four sets of mysteries, since Pope Saint John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries.
Historically, there were three sets for a total of 150 Hail Marys. This custom began so that the illiterate or those who were farming and in manual labor could spiritually join in with the monks who would chant the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament.
The rosary is also esteemed because it involves the body and the soul. As each Hail Mary is prayed, a bead is physically touched and the person moves through the circle of the rosary reflecting on each mystery. Sometimes called “prayer beads” by those unfamiliar with it, the name is a fitting one. The beads direct the prayer and give a certain order and fluidity to it. There are many who pray the rosary while walking or jogging.
The beads are helpful and remind us to focus our minds and heart on prayer. Even if we are distracted, the beads call us back. As we seem busy in our lives, there’s always time for a quick decade since the rosary is as easy as prayer can get.
Pope Francis has highlighted the ease of praying the rosary and called on believers to pray, or at least to carry the rosary with them: “I invite you to pray the rosary, and to carry it in your hands or in your pockets. The recitation of the rosary is the most beautiful prayer we can offer to the Virgin Mary; it is a contemplation on the stages of the life of Jesus the Savior with his Mother Mary and is a weapon that protects us from evils and temptations.”
As we begin the month of October, we can use this as an opportunity to get back to the practice of praying the rosary, or to praying it more often, or to praying it more deeply. The rosary has been called a chain to heaven by some saints, and the expression is an apt one, since the rosary keeps us connected to prayer, to Mary, and to the Lord Jesus. It is a simple, but a very powerful spiritual help to all believers.