rosary in Latin

Hello all,
I assume that the rosary was originally prayed in Latin. At what point did out switch to the local vernacular e.g. English? Thanks!

I don’t know that there is evidence one way or the other for your original statement, as the rosary was a private devotion; it may have been said in Latin, but as it satarted among the uneducated (which was most people then), it is possible that it was in Latin, or in the common language of the people. Evidence seems to indicate that it started as 150 Our Fathers, and gradually took the shape we know now; the start being a mimic of the monks who prayed the psalms. Since they (the psalms) were written and required education, something not available to most people, they (the laity) did what they could to pray as the monks prayed.

There’s no doubt it was originally prayed in Latin and I usually pray it in Latin myself. I don’t really know how much people prayed in the vernacular in the old days but I can say I couldn’t really imagine my family praying in Latin at home 50 or 60 years ago. This website may help you with praying the Rosary in Latin if you’re interested. The guy’s pronounciation isn’t really Latinate though it’s a start.

Do you know of a good pronunciation guide for Latin?

Hi Drew, I believe that would have coincided with the reformation. Prior to then it was latin mass and latin prayers universally. The anglican church originally kept latin mass, but after a few decades changed to English, but kept the format largely unchanged.

Why do you assume that? :confused:

I think it’s probably a safe assumption. We know that the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary was widely said by the literate laity beginning around the 9th century, and that was said only in Latin, never the vernacular, being derived from the Divine Office.

Latin was not unknown among the laity in the Middle Ages/Renaissance. From what I’ve read, they just varied in skill from reading comprehesion (upper and middle classes) to simple memorization (lower classes). But even the poorest, least educated could have said a Latin Rosary in St. Dominic’s time. It was simpler then anyway–just the credo, pater and ave–three prayers.

This is also my impression, from reading here and there about the English reformation.

But the rosary is not liturgical, it is devotional and private. Since it was largely taught as something that the faithful could say, as opposed to the psalms, it seems reasonable to expect that it was recited in the vernacular, like all devotions.

I agree. I think it’s a reasonable presumption that once something is translated into the vernacular (and memorized) that becomes the new personal or group practice. It’s mostly a matter of convenience IMO. Precise translations aren’t even a concern.

That said, Latin can be more suitable, not necessarily more convenient, when praying in groups which use more than one vernacular. That unfortunately seems too rare these days. Anglophones tend to pray with other anglophones, etc.

I guess i figured that everyone prayed it on lain by rote memory. And at some point it switched to English. The Reformation makes sense as a switching time

A perfectly good point, but consider this: the pater noster and the gloria are borrowed from the Mass, and would have been known in Latin. The ave maria was in some sense borrowed from the Little Office, again in Latin. Everywhere these prayers were publicly inscribed or published, they would almost certainly have been in Latin in St. Dominic’s time, when the rosary came about. And people were conservative about the Faith. They would probably have waited for a priest or religious to tell them how to say them in the vernacular before changing the way they said it.

So without sure evidence, I think it’s reasonable to believe that it was said in Latin for some time before it was said in the vernacular. After some generations, it changed because it was perfect reasonable to use French, Italian, Spanish, English, etc.

It’s interesting too that the English still uses the (perhaps curious) formula mandated by Henry VIII.

Yes, for the educated classes, but for the masses (no pun intended), they could not read and often never learned the Latin texts of these most basic prayers. People did not make responses to the Mass–only servers and choir did–until the 20th century. The frequency of seeing the written form of the prayers was thus not an issue, especially when the printing press was still a brand new invention. You are trying to see the rosary as analogous to the liturgy, which it was not. People often prayed the rosary during Mass precisely because they could so so without any special training.

Well, it appears we may both be right in a sense, according to this book, pg. 17-18.

Apparently, we have Latin and German rosaries appearing at almost exactly the same time, and scholars are split about which came first. Was the German translated into Latin, or the Latin into German?

Furthermore, I wonder if the rosary spread out of German speaking lands in the Latin form, or if it was immediately translated into other vernaculars. The book gave no clue in the brief part you can read online.

By the way, I just want to be clear that I have nothing against the vernacular rosary. I love it and usually say it that way (even sometimes at Mass like the serfs you mentioned). I’m just trying to learn the history and I took it for granted that people would be taught the prayers in the official language, being the first teachers would have been priests/religious. It would be easy to memorize and pass down a couple of Latin prayers, after all. I was able to memorize the Our Father and Hail Mary before I understood all of the words (high English escaped me as a young child).

But it does seem the evidence is that vernacular rosaries existed just as early as Latin ones, so my original view wasn’t totally accurate (might have been some places but not everywhere, before the 14th century when apparently the laity had totally adopted vernacular, according to that book.)

An excerpt from a chapter of the book “Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons” may be of some value to the discussion?

On September 15, 1569, with the Bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices the Dominican Pope St. Pius V (+1572) officially consecrated the Rosary by imposing an imprint which it has kept up to our days. This foundational text defined the Rosary in these terms:

[quote]This method of prayer is easy and suitable to everyone and is called the Rosary or the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It consists of venerating this Blessed Virgin by reciting 150 angelic salutations, the same number as the Psalms of David, interrupting them at each decade by the Lord’s Prayer, meanwhile meditating on the mysteries which recall the entire life of our Lord Jesus Christ (87).

The preceding year, in the revision of the breviary, the same Pius V had already introduced into the official prayer of the Church the formula of the Ave Maria, including the second part (which dates from the fifteenth century): Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. The bull of 1569 rendered this formula for the Hail Mary fixed and uniform which was widely spread in relation with the Rosary devotion. From the time of this bull of St. Pius V, a strong Dominican primacy was established on the creation and direction of the Rosary Confraternities (88), for St. Dominic was then unanimously considered as the Father of the Rosary. A little more than a century later, St. Louis-Marie de Montfort himself entered the Third Order of the Dominicans on November 10, 1710, and solicited from the Master General of the Order of Preachers permission not only to preach the holy Rosary wherever he would be called, but also to found confraternities. Father de Montfort insisted much on the importance of meditating on the mysteries, and invited his hearers to ask always for one of the virtues which shine most in each mystery meditated upon (89). The recitation of the Creed, of the Our Father followed by the three Hail Marys, along with the formula of offering and statement of the fruits of each mystery are of Montfortian origin. In the perspective of St. Louis-Marie “the holy Rosary is a sacred composition of vocal and mental prayer to honor and imitate the mysteries and the virtues of the life, of the death and Passion and of the glory of Jesus Christ and of Mary” (SR 9).

Grignion de Montfort can also be considered as one of the principal promoters of the “Luminous Mysteries” (RVM 21) which he himself proposed for meditation, as his Methods for Saying the Rosary (MR 21) testify (90): One should read attentively the Short Summary of the Life, Death, Passion and Glory of Jesus and Mary in the Holy Rosary, taken from his Livre des Sermons (91), in order to discover that the missionary meditated principally on the mysteries of the Baptism of the Lord, the Announcement of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration and the Institution of the Eucharist. In this regard it is a duty to recall that from 1966, the founder of Cahiers Marials (1957-1985), namely the French Montfortian Jean Hémery, along with several Dominican heirs of an intuition of Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange (+1938) (92), had suggested the introduction of certain events from the public life of Jesus among the mysteries of the Rosary:

If, with the Virgin Mary “present as the Most Holy Mother of God in the mysteries of Christ,” (LG 66) the Rosary wishes to introduce us into the riches of salvation, it is appropriate that it should make a place for certain mysteries of the public life, let us say for certain key-events with which Mary was particularly associated. The Council itself, recalling “the union of the Mother with her Son in the work of salvation … manifested from the hour of the virginal conception of Christ up to his death” (LG 57-59), enumerates the event of Cana and the proclamation of the blessedness of those who hear and practice the Word of God. But this is not meant to be limiting (93).

We find a timid allusion to a possible evolution in this sense in an apostolic letter of Pope Paul VI, Reccurrens mensis october, published in 1969 on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the bull of St. Pius V:

May the Rosary, in the form handed down by St. Pius V—as well as in other recent forms adapting it, with the consent of the lawful authority, to the needs of today—be indeed, as our beloved predecessor Pope John XXIII desired, "a great public and universal prayer for the ordinary and extraordinary needs of the holy Church, of the nations, and of the entire world (94).

It was necessary to await the celebration of the Jubilee of the Incarnation followed by the Year of the Rosary (2002-2003), so that, thanks to the Servant of God John Paul II, a new letter on the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary would accede to the mysteries of the public life of Christ between the Baptism and the Passion, underscoring that it is “during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: ‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (Jn 9:5)” (RVM 19).

Pgs 707-711

Beginning with Pope Saint Pius V would Catholics universally pray the Pater Noster in Latin?

I pray the rosary both in English and in Latin. I mix it up, just for the variety. I can say the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Gloria in Latin, but not the Jesus prayer. I think that was added later anyway.

Wow! Thanks for all that information.

From what we’ve established so far, I think Pope Pius V’s reign coincides with the time when the use of Latin in the rosary was in decline.

Not to get off topic, but the rosary confraternity St. Dominic founded and St. Louis revived is still around if anyone is interested in joining. I joined last year.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit