A Sword, Heaven Sent
Father Donald H. Calloway, MIC, the Marians' vice provincial and vocations director, just published a new book about the Rosary — Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon (Marian Press). Check out the video below, followed by our Q&A with him:
We recently spoke with Fr. Donald about the founding of the Rosary by St. Dominic, its history, and its champions. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
What was the impetus behind writing this book?
The Rosary was a big part of my own personal growth, beginning with my own introduction to Catholicism. It's one of the first Catholic prayers I heard and, at the time, I didn't know what it was, but as I learned more about it, praying the Rosary really became a daily practice on my journey to becoming Catholic. And it has been a daily practice ever since. But apart from my own personal journey, I wanted to write a comprehensive book on the Rosary that would say, "This is the history of the Rosary."
You talk about three keys to understanding the Rosary. The first key is that the Rosary is a spiritual sword made by God. Can you shed a little more light on the divine origin of the Rosary?
Well, we are in a spiritual battle, and you don't win a battle without a weapon. Knowing what kind of weapon you'll need will be determined by your enemy and his capabilities. So, you have to ask, who is our enemy? The evil one, the devil. And from the evil one flows sin and vices and so forth. What on earth could be the weapon we use to defeat him?
The weapon we have been given is the weapon given from Heaven, and that is, when Jesus came into the world and was Incarnate, He gave to us His saving mysteries. Those mysteries are really lived out — especially through the Sacraments and the teachings of the Church. Those are the things that set us free. Those are the means that give us the power to overcome the enemy.
So, what God seems to have done throughout history is to mold together a weapon that encapsulates all of these things — the sacred mysteries of Christ — and that's the Rosary. That's why many have said it's a spiritual sword.
What are some of the different ways throughout history the devil has tried to destroy the Rosary?
Any enemy, if he knows there is a weapon, is going to try to destroy it — or cause people to forget about it, ignore it, or outright abandon it. Throughout history, we have seen this happen. Soon after the founding of the Rosary, the Black Plague came to Europe and millions of people died. Buildings had to be burned, especially buildings where religious orders lived and where they were taking care of the sick, so documents were destroyed as a result. Documents pertaining to the founding of the Rosary were invariably destroyed. When you had the Protestant resistance, the so-called "reformers" started to turn against the Rosary. And whole countries turned against this devotion and said it's made up by the Catholic Church. So we see how the devil uses these circumstances. And you have to ask why the evil one would want to destroy this weapon. Because he knows it can destroy him.
The second key you discuss is the "pious tradition." What is the pious tradition, and why is it important to our understanding of the Rosary?
The pious tradition is the papal understanding that the Rosary originated with St. Dominic in the 13th century. Since 1495, we have documented evidence from popes in the form of encyclicals and apostolic letters that hold the founding of the Rosary was by St. Dominic. That carries a lot of weight because you are grounding the foundations of the Rosary in a particular person and in a particular time period. In essence, the Rosary was brought into existence as a weapon in a time of darkness. The Rosary isn't just a crown of roses for Mary. It overcomes evil. It overcomes vice. It brings peace in the world. It overcomes ideologies, because you can trace its founding all the way back to when it was founded by St. Dominic to overcome the heresy of Albigensianism. If we don't ground the founding of the Rosary in this way, we risk the danger of the Rosary becoming whatever we want it to be, and it becomes just an option. But in this spiritual battle, not having a weapon is not an option.
The third key you talk about is the Rosary's antecedents and its developments. What preceded the Rosary? And what kinds of developments helped to shape the Rosary as we say it today?
Before St. Dominic there was a practice of praying a form of devotion to Our Lady that was based on the 150 Psalms on paternoster beads, which were prayed by monks. But this wasn't a form of meditation, and there were no mysteries attached to it. Also this was not understood to be an evangelical tool to convert heretics. It was mostly a form of prayer for monasteries. It was not something that was said in common. But those are the antecedents God used to mold the Rosary. It already had a set of beads. People were already praying the Hail Mary 150 times. God came and used that and brought in the mysteries and the meditations. He took it out of the monastic setting to the mendicant orders of the 13th and 14th century.
God took this great preacher, St. Dominic, who was already trying to win souls, but he wasn't bearing much fruit. So that's when he went into prayer in the forest, and Our Lady gave him the Rosary and told him, "Preach my psalter." She was saying to St. Dominic, combine your preaching with my psalter.
You note how, over time, there have been some changes made to the Rosary. Can you give an example?
Yes, I consider the Rosary to be "alive." It's able to adapt. The mysteries St. Dominic was given were the exact mysteries the Albigensians were attacking. So, would God, the maker of the Rosary, see in the future other things that would be attacked? Would He, therefore, give through popes or saints other mysteries that needed to be prayed in order to counter this poison? In fact, He did. Saint George Preca came up with the Luminous Mysteries, and then St. John Paul II embraced those mysteries, modernizing the ancient sword of the Rosary and re-sharpening the blade for our time. John Paul II updated the sword and turned it into a lightsaber — the Luminous Mysteries. They're the mysteries we need to hear today.
Marriage is being attacked, so what do we get? The Feast of Cana where one man is marrying one woman. Many Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence, so we get the Institution of the Eucharist. Some don't believe in the true divinity of Christ, so we get the Transfiguration: He is God.
What do you hope people will take away from this book?
I want to help turn this tide of not wanting to pray the Rosary or thinking that it's just for old people by showing that that the Rosary is powerful. It has the power to bring back your loved ones to the practice of the faith, or to heal your marriage, or to bring back a vitality to your parish. There are some unbelievable stories about the power of the Rosary. I want people to pray it — all across the Church — and this would spark a revolution of devotion. And when you pray the Rosary, it changes things. It changes you, but it also has the power to change history!
Order Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon (Marian Press) by visiting shopmercy.org/champions.