The month of May is dedicated to Our Lady and it is customary for Catholics to pay special tribute to Our Lady during this time, primarily through means of the Rosary. This May the Holy Father is calling for us to pray the Rosary for an end to the pandemic and many Catholics, perhaps yourself included, will do that – perhaps even praying the Rosary daily.
If you are one of those who will be praying the Rosary this May and have a particular love for this devotion, then perhaps you are also a member of the Confraternity of the Rosary? If not, then why not? There are no dues to pay or meetings to attend. All that is necessary is to pray the full traditional Rosary – Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries – once over the course of each week and to remember in your prayer intentions other members both living and dead. But lest anyone tends to scrupulosity, this commitment is not binding under pain of sin.
The Rosary Confraternity is the oldest confraternity in the church and the pious tradition is that the confraternity was first established by St Dominic himself. Whether or not this is true, over the years it has received the endorsement of numerous Popes, the most vocal supporter perhaps being Pope Leo XIII who was himself especially devoted to the Rosary and wrote numerous encyclicals promoting the devotion and encouraging people to enrol in the Confraternity. In his 1893 encyclical on the Rosary, Laetitiae Sanctae, he argued that it was from the Rosary Confraternity that “the rest of the faithful will receive the example of greater esteem and reverence for the practice of the Rosary.” And four years later, in 1897, in his encyclical Augustissimae Virginis Mariae, he wrote that amongst all the various societies and associations of the Church “we do not hesitate to give the place of honour to the confraternity of the Holy Rosary.”
The Rosary Confraternity has an ancient history, but it is currently governed by an apostolic constitution, Ubi Primum, promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in 1898. This document sets out the statutes of the Confraternity and in its first article points out one of the chief benefits of joining the Rosary Confraternity. Namely, that “whenever a person fulfils his obligation of reciting the Rosary according to the rules of the Confraternity, he includes in his intention all its members, and they in turn render to him the same service many times over.” This document also entrusted the care of the Confraternity to the Dominican Order, for it was they who introduced the Rosary and its Confraternity to the world and have been its main champions throughout the centuries. Indeed, by joining you will also share in all the Masses, prayers, and good works of the entire Dominican Order. Not only those friars and nuns now living, but also canonised saints such as St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas, St Catherine of Siena, St Martin de Porres, St Rose of Lima, and countless other Dominican saints in heaven praying for members of the Confraternity here on earth or in purgatory.
As if this were not reason enough to join, members of the Confraternity can also gain plenary indulgences (subject to the usual conditions) on the following seven feast days: Candlemas, Annunciation, Easter Sunday, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas.
Those Catholics who pray the Rosary every day already meet (and indeed exceed) the obligations of Confraternity membership. If you are in this category, then surely it only makes sense to unite your rosaries and intentions to that of the Confraternity? You will lose nothing by so doing, but in return you will receive the merits of fellow members’ prayers, they will receive the benefits of your prayers, and you will have the opportunity to avail yourself of the indulgences that membership brings.
In this country the Confraternity is established at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary & St Dominic in north London, where it has been based since the Dominicans established their priory there in 1867. But whilst one does not have to visit the church in person to enrol, I would certainly recommend paying a visit to the church as soon as you get the chance as it is well worth a visit, a particular highlight being the series of fifteen altars each representing one of the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary (now supplemented by a garden with stations for each of the Luminous Mysteries). Since October 2016, the church has been a diocesan shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. Perhaps this might be a potential group pilgrimage destination for your CathSoc?
So now you have learnt about the Confraternity and the benefits of joining, how do you sign up? Well, it is amazingly simple: you simply send in your name to a church (usually Dominican) in which a Rosary confraternity is established and ask to be enrolled. These days you can even do it online: https://www.english.op.org/about-us/the-dominican-family/rosary-confraternity.htm?fbclid=IwAR1in7WYWAfh-yT6Pm6t_OmCpaVmsWL23G3SOZT0Xa8fffH7lB8ZsE58cLA .
You may find that you will be sent a membership certificate confirming your enrolment in the Confraternity, but if not then write your own (perhaps using the following template I found in an old Catholic Truth Society booklet on the Confraternity) and perhaps pin it up on your noticeboard as a constant reminder to pick up your beads and pray the Rosary:
Memorial of Admission to the Rosary Confraternity
I, [insert name here], was admitted to the Rosary Confraternity by the Rev. [name] in the Church of [insert parish here] on the…day of [insert month and year].
Becoming a member of the Confraternity is a wonderful way to make every Rosary you pray more efficacious and all-embracing, and it is so very easy to enrol. Do not delay; join this May!
~ Edward Kendall