Why would Our Blessed Lady have given the task of preaching the Rosary to St. Dominic and the Order he founded 800 years ago? We can get all caught up in the veracity of the ancient tradition which tells us that Our Blessed Lady appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the mission of preaching the Rosary. However there is no historical doubt that the Rosary as it is now prayed and preached is in large part due to the preaching of the Dominican Order through the centuries. Why did she choose an Order of Preachers?
We know from the Wedding Feast of Cana that Our Blessed Lady’s evangelical spirit desires that everyone know her Son and go to him in all their needs. Therefore it is of the utmost importance to her that people know her son. Pope Paul VI wrote of the rosary that it is “a prayer inspired by the Gospel and centred on the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption should be considered a prayer of deep Christological orientation.” With this in mind we can see why Mary would want the Rosary preached.
It is not simply about knowing about Jesus but of coming to know him as she knows him. The Rosary is our communion with Mary in getting to know Jesus. None of our race knows him more deeply than Mary, his mother, the perfect disciple. It is by praying in her company we ponder over the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection and come to know him deeply and spiritually. Therefore we can see why Mary would want her Rosary prayed.
Why Dominic? I think there are two possible reasons; one personal and one more public. Dominic had a great personal love for Our Blessed Lady and always turned to her in times of trouble and found her a true source of protection and strength. Secondly the preaching of the Rosary and the faithful daily recitation has been the greatest gift given to the Order to help us in our mission. It keeps our preaching on message and reminds us that all our preaching is to bring us into a prayerful relationship with Christ in the midst of his church.
It also gives our preaching its joyful, caring and positive impetus because our theology comes from praying with Mary and coming to know Jesus and his mission from her perspective. Maybe as Dominicans we don’t realise how deeply she has affected how we preach, pray and study. She pervades our lives and our preaching, coming from the praying of the rosary as a constant in our lives.
Did Our Blessed Lady appear and give St. Dominic the Rosary maybe she did for she loved him and the Order he founded under her protection. But that’s not the point of the legend, the truth of the legend is that the Order would not be what it is, its preaching would not be focused, its theology would not be affirmative without Mary and the praying of her Most Holy Rosary.
Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem, giving the title of this article writes: Be thou then, O thou dear Mother, my atmosphere.
Fr. John M Harris. O.P.
St. Saviour’s Priory, Dublin.