In honor of its patronal feast, one of our parishes in Minneapolis (Holy Rosary Catholic Church) recently held a novena beginning on September 30th and ending with the vigil of the celebration of the Feast. “Novena” derives from the Latin root for the number nine, and signifies nine days of prayer usually ending on either the vigil or the day of a particular Feast or Solemnity. Although the celebration of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in the current Roman Calendar falls on October 7th, the parish moved its festal Mass to Sunday, October 9th in order to allow the widest participation by parishioners. Biblically, we identify the first novena with the nine days leading up to Pentecost. Liturgically, we celebrate the Ascension of Christ 40 days after Easter and Pentecost ten days later. (Pentecost means 50 days and comes from the Jewish feast celebrated 7 weeks after Passover; Cf. Ex 34:22) Ascension is often moved to the 6th Sunday after Easter and so whether one counts the days between the two Solemnities or a Sunday-to-Sunday inclusive, we get a sense of where the nine days comes from. Hence when the apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus, and some other disciples waited in prayer in the Upper Room for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-2:4), they provided an example for us of the first novena.
The parish Novena consisted of nine consecutive evenings during which parishioners from Holy Rosary came together to hear about the history of the rosary and the patronal feast, grow in unity as a community of faith, and of course to present its needs to the Blessed Mother for her intercession by praying the rosary and a special novena prayer. Since Holy Rosary Parish is composed of both English and Spanish speaking families, the novena was conducted bilingually (everyone did a wonderful job praying in both languages). Different families from the parish volunteered to host the novena participants on each of the nights. The Dominican friars and sisters hosted an evening at each of their respective convents as well. Generous hospitality on the part of all provided prayer, fraternity, and great food for everyone involved.
The history of the rosary developed out of the medieval period when monks used strings of beads to help them count out the 150 psalms as they prayed. Legend holds that the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the common 5-decade rosary as we now have to help preach Christ to heretics in the 13th century. In the 15th century, the Dominican Blessed Alan de la Roche propagated devotion to the Holy Rosary and became known as the “Apostle of the Rosary.”
The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was first established as a local feast in Italy by Pope Pius V (a Dominican!) after continuous prayer of the rosary resulted in a decisive victory over invaders at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Pope Clement XI later extended the feast to the Universal Church in 1716.
Many miracles have been attributed to the intercession of Mary through the praying of the rosary. In 1884, only 8 years after a Dominican tertiary restored a small church in Naples dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, the Blessed Mother appeared with St. Dominic and St. Catherine to a young girl who was terminally ill. She bid her to pray a novena of rosaries and having done so, the young girl received a miraculous cure. The image of this apparition of Our Lady of the Rosary with St. Dominic and St. Catherine at her sides became known as Our Lady of Pompeii and is the same image which resides above the tabernacle at Holy Rosary Parish (see photo). To this day, the Order of Preachers maintains the Confraternity of the Rosary around the world.