Q&A: Did St. Dominic receive the rosary and was it 15 decades?

All questions come from parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish or St. Joseph Mission and they are presented to you anonymously. Questions and answers were presented in the Series “Because You Asked” from 2016.
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Did St. Dominic receive the rosary and was it 15 decades? If so why do we say only 5? Why 10 Hail Marys? Who designed the 5 we usually say?


The history of the Rosary is an interesting thing. Its creation is generally attributed to a private revelation that St. Dominic (1170 – 1221 AD), founder of the Dominican Order, experienced when Mary appeared to him and taught him the prayer. The Rosary version that we consider the classic version (a.k.a. The Dominican Rosary) is made up of five Joyful Mysteries, five Sorrowful Mysteries and five Glorious Mysteries. Each mystery is made up of one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and one Glory Be, though individual devotees today often add other prayers as well (such as the Fatima prayer, St. Michael prayer, etc.). Each mystery is meant to lead one to meditate on a joyful, sad or glorious moment in the life of Jesus or Mary. From a practical standpoint, many saw these fifteen mysteries as a mini layman’s version of the Liturgy of the Hours that the clergy and religious prayed because that prayer contained 150 psalms, prayed daily, and the laity prayed 150 Hail Marys spread out throughout the day. For those who were illiterate (which was most people) the Rosary gained rapid popularity because the ability to read was not required as the prayers could be quickly memorized and yet the meditations were about scenes from Sacred Scripture. Over the centuries, apart from the prayer of the Mass, the Rosary has become the most recommended and indulgenced prayer of the Church and is recommended by popes and saints alike. The five classic Joyful Mysteries come from the childhood of Jesus and include The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Birth of Christ/The Nativity, The Presentation, and The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. The five classic Sorrowful Mysteries are from the Passion of Christ and include The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning of Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross and The Crucifixion. The five Glorious Mysteries are all post-Resurrection events and include The Resurrection, The Ascension, Pentecost, The Assumption (of Mary, body and soul, into Heaven), and the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Originally, all fifteen mysteries were prayed daily but, over time, they were broken up into three sets of five to be prayed in rotation through the week (this to accommodate busier people). In 2002, St. John Paul II shocked many by adding five Luminous Mysteries (a.k.a. The Mysteries of Light). He explained that what was missing up to that point were the events of Jesus’ public ministry…the little epiphanies that revealed his divinity to the public at key moments. So after nearly 800 years The Baptism of the Lord, The Wedding at Cana, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, The Transfiguration and the Last Supper/Institution of the Eucharist were added. Some were excited by this news and welcomed it but other purists considered these new additions as a break from comfortable tradition. If you fall into this latter group you should know that there are only three public prayers of the Church whose liturgies are set with hard fast rules that must be followed. They are the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, which make up the Mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours. All other devotions are considered private devotions which can be customized to the individual. St. John Paul II said that he often made up his own mysteries when he prayed the Rosary on his own or simply continued to reflect on one particular mystery. This was also true from the very beginning. I have said that the Dominican Rosary is the one we are classically familiar with today. The Franciscan Rosary, also known as the Crown or Seraphic Rosary exclusively focused on the Joyful mysteries but there were seven. In addition to the classic five they included The Adoration of the Magi and Jesus’ appearance to Mary after the Resurrection. The Servites also had a Rosary that focused on the Seven Sorrows of Mary. They were The Prophecy of Simeon, The Flight into Egypt, The Loss of the Child Jesus in Jerusalem, Mary Meeting Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, The Crucifixion, The Death of Jesus (including the piercing of his heart and taking his body down from the Cross and placing it in Mary’s arms) and The Burial of Jesus. Finally, the Carmelites and Brigittines had an 18 mystery Rosary. Added to the Joyful as the first mystery was The Immaculate Conception. Added to the end of the Sorrowful was the Pieta (Mary holding Jesus’ corpse). And added to the Glorious at the end was the Patronage of Mary as Mediatrix of all Graces. For me, the Rosary is always best prayed in private because everyone has their own favored way and their own preferred pace and prayers. But you may prefer to pray it as part of a group. Just understand that there is no one correct way to pray it. Use the way that best leads you to God.

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