The rosary is probably the best known private devotion in the Catholic Church. In 1569, Pope Pius V officially approved this devotion, but the rosary's history can be traced to much earlier times, with its beginnings probably occurring in the 12th Century. A familiar legend holds that St. Dominic received the rosary from Our Blessed Lady. The legend is not substantiated but it is believed the devotion developed over a fairly long period of time.
The rosary took its present shape - 150 Hail Mary's divided into 15 decades - probably between the 14th and the 15th Centuries. Pope Pius V officially recommended this prayer of "150 angelic salutations ... with the Lord's Prayer at each decade ... while meditating on the mysteries which recall the entire life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ." Since that time, the rosary has remained unchanged, and over the last Century and a half, Popes have strongly recommended this prayer to all the faithful.
While the rosary is seen as a Marian devotion, it is truly a Christ centered prayer. The mysteries of the rosary clearly focus on the events in Christ's life. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: "In praying the rosary with devotion, we are reliving the life of Christ." Pope Paul VI said: "(The rosary) is the bible for those that can neither write nor read." The whole history of our salvation is contained in the mysteries of the rosary.
In meditating on the mysteries of Christ, we do not simply refer to past events. Christ truly lives among us now, continuing to be born, to suffer and die, and rise in the church of our day.
Devotion to our Blessed Mother has been part of the life of the church since its earliest days. As the Mother of Jesus, Mary is the epitome of faith and fidelity, the ultimate model of selflessness. The great fathers of the church, such as Justin and Irenaeus, wrote whole treatises on Mary as the New Eve. We find images of Mary holding the child Jesus on the walls of the catacombs. When the Nicene Creed was formulated early in the 4th Century, it simply states that Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary," but liturgical manuscripts and ancient prayers which include the expression "we fly to your patronage" invoking the aid of Mary, date back to the late 3rd Century.
Catholics look to Mary as a staunch woman of faith, the ideal Christian who guides and directs us, the mother who intercedes for us, and we honor her because she is so authentically human, so ordinary in her extraordinary role. She embodies all that is holy and wholesome. In the dogmatic constitution on the church, Vatican II declares: "Mary was involved in the mysteries of Christ. As the Most Holy Mother of God she was, after her Son, exalted by divine grace above all angels and men. Hence, the church appropriately honors her with special reverence." ... "Let the entire body of the faithful pour forth persevering prayer to the Mother of God and the Mother of men. Let them implore that she who aided the beginning of the church by her prayers may now, ... intercede with her Son in the fellowship of all the saints."