St Dominic and the Rosary


[Extract from the book: ‘The Life of St Dominic’ by Bede Jarrett OP]

The crucifix, Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, the gospels and epistles, anything that conjured up to him most vividly the personality of our Lord, were to [St Dominic] the easiest means for helping him to pray.
It was for this reason that the devotion of the rosary found in him its keenest apostle. His own way of prayer, consisting … of vocal expression of love and adoration, was intermingled with silences; it passed from speech to contemplation as it fixed itself on to the character of our Lord. All these elements are united in the rosary. It was contemplative and vocal. It comprised the saying of Our Fathers and Hail Marys which were checked and noted by a string of beads, a contrivance, of course, older even than Christianity, and already widespread over Europe before his time. St Dominic did not invent these things, though it would seem that he popularised them. To him, however, a papal tradition points as the originator of the division into decades or groups of ten, separated by larger beads called ‘Paternosters.’ Under the influence of the Order these chaplets, at this date, spread widely over Christendom, and are to be found carven on tombs, and are from St Dominic’s time increasingly alluded to in devotional literature.
But the mere recitation of prayers would be of no use unless these could be accompanied by a consciousness of God’s presence and of that converse with him that alone gives them a value and makes them efficacious. Hence it was necessary to add the idea of some sort of mystery, some act or scene of our Lord’s life, and present it vividly to the imagination so as ultimately to stir the heart to love and worship. … These, therefore, were scenes carefully chosen out of our Lord’s life as pictured in the Gospels or as revealed in tradition, while the lips repeated the most familiar of all prayers, the oldest and simplest of Christian salutations, the mind was supposed thereby to become better able to hold on to the truth of the scene and gather its full significance. The recitation became almost a mechanical aid to reflection, and the thoughts were thereby freer to concentrate, to abstract themselves, to look before and after. The purpose of the rosary was, therefore, to produce the effect that St Dominic had in view in all his prayers, an intense application of the human soul to the divine personality of Christ.

Finally, it is to be noted that the rosary allows for that pause or silence which Dominic considered essential to prayer. … The action of prayer in his view should never be considered as though it were limited to the human agent, as though man alone was the active partner in it. It must include the silent consciousness of the divine Presence. … For this reason, therefore, Dominic added to this simplest of prayers the practice of quiet and silence.