Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Origin of the Carthusian Rosary

After seeing our post earlier this month about the Carthusian Rosary, reader Benjamin Whitworth very kindly sent us this translation of part of a treatise about it. This is an excerpt from the Liber Experientiae, the 15th-century autobiography of a Carthusian monk named Dominic of Prussia, who is credited with inventing the particular manner of saying the Rosary observed by the Order.

The Carthusian Rosary
From the Book of Experience by Dominic of Prussia (1384-1460), Carthusian monk of Trier. ~ From the 38th narration: Concerning the experience of true devotion.
Old man: […] This brother Rupert [this is how Dominic refers to himself], of whom I have spoken, generally used to have a devotion to the humanity of Christ and his cross, except when the Lord drew him towards some deeper theme of meditation. This was because one day, when he was singing the Gloria in excelsis in choir with the others, he lifted up his thoughts to our Lord’s sitting upon the right hand of the Father in heaven, and only with the greatest difficulty was he able to bring his mind back down to earth. For he had arrived at such a dizzy height, that he felt as if his heart were closed up, and as if his access to the cross were shut off, so that only by long effort did he succeed in returning to the state of devotion that he was formerly accustomed to. Unless the Lord draws someone’s mind upwards to himself and in himself, it is risky for that person to raise his attention to the purely divine and heavenly mysteries. Therefore he no longer ventured forward without, as it were, leaning on the staff of the holy Cross. Every day he thought and meditated on the Incarnation and Passion of Christ, and on the things that the Lord Jesus Christ did so humbly in this life for our salvation. He preached and said many good things about these matters. He was the first who added those meditations and clausulæ (little clauses) on the life of Jesus to the Rosary of blessed Mary, which we have used in saying this devotion, and still do.
The apse and altar of the Charterhouse of Garegnano outside Milan, with the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, all by Simone Peterzano, 1578. Photo by Nicola de’ Grandi.   
Just how many good things come from this, in heaven and on earth, was revealed on his deathbed to a Vicar of this House (Adolf of Essen, who had previously been Prior of this House, and who had received the same brother Rupert into the Order). He was a devout man and an intimate friend of God, and was often rapt into the heavens, as we discovered after his death from his writings. And among other things that he was shown by God, he once saw in the heavens how the glorious Mother of God, Saint Mary, with all her Virgins, and with all the holy Angels and Saints, sang the Rosary very devoutly, with its clausulæ, before the most high God enthroned, adding Alleluia to every clausula, that is, to all fifty. And each time the name of blessed Mary was named, they all bowed their heads very deeply. When, further, the name of Jesus was named, they all bent their knees very devoutly, according to the exhortation of the Apostle, who said: In the name of the Lord every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, etc. (Phil. 2, 10) He both saw and heard that they all gave boundless thanks to almighty God for the universal benefits that flow from this same Rosary, since God and our Lord Jesus Christ are praised and blessed in it, along with his most holy Mother, in all that he did or suffered in this world for the whole human race, as it is always said at the end of the angelical salutation, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus Christ,” and there is added: “who did this or that, who suffered this or that,” according as his life is recounted in order from beginning to end.
The Virgin Mary and Saints within a Rosary; German woodcut, ca. 1500. Public domain image from the website of the National Gallery of Art.
Wherefore, not unduly do the Saints themselves dance in the heavens with inexpressible joy, and on earth many, busy with the same exercise, are filled with admirable grace and devotion, for it has been spread now to various parts of the world, and disseminated by our own writings for about thirty years. Indeed the Saints, as that father heard, prayed to the Lord with feelings of great devotion for those who occupy themselves with this Rosary, asking that the Almighty would deign to enlighten and strengthen such devotees with his special grace, so that they might always profit from this or from other good exercises and persevere to a happy end, and especially that they might be happy in heaven after this life. He also saw in the heavens countless, very beautiful, imperishable, flowering, shining and sweet-smelling crowns, resting on those who perform this Rosary to the praise of God and his Mother, Saint Mary. And as often as one of them completed such a thing, so often one of these Crowns was added to the ones already resting on their head, to be kept with them. And that father was told that, of a certainty, any person saying the Rosary in this way, and conforming himself to the power of the Saints in the observances spoken of above, will be given full remission of all his sins, as often as he shall do it. That father had prayed for and obtained bodily strength and courage, and peace of heart, that he might serve God his Maker faithfully. And it was not without great wonderment that we saw him, an old man and full of years, who had borne the burden of the Order for more than 40 years, yet able to work harder than anyone, despite eating and sleeping less than we young ones. Many of us saw in him this extraordinary gift of grace, but we did not understand where he got it from, until after his death we found out from his writings, etc.
So what could we more usefully do in this fleeting time, than to say this Rosary, which might take no longer than it would to celebrate or hear a Mass? For as we read in other revelations, the Lord has told certain devout souls that nothing pleases him as much, as someone devoutly reflecting on the benefits done to himself and to others, and thanking God for each one of them. This is what we are doing succinctly in the present very devout little work, in which, as I have said above, we bless and praise the Lord Jesus Christ in all his deeds, and salute and honour his holy Virgin Mother with blessings.
Young man: I can well believe that we can hardly do anything in this passing hour that is more pleasing to God and useful to ourselves, or that anything can give us more joy and consolation in the doing of it, since the angelical salutation itself is such a sweet utterance, and reflecting on the life of Jesus is fruitful and delightful above all other things. Blessed be God, then, who in these latter days, to stir up our hearts from their numbness, has deigned to pour out so much grace upon us, that if we are not moved to devotion by his present gifts, we might at least be drawn onwards by the greatness of his future promises. Therefore may his name be blessed for ever. Old man: Amen.
Here follows the Rosary of blessed Mary, of which mention was made in the 38th narration, above.
HAIL Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ,
  1. Whom thou didst conceive by the Holy Spirit, as the Angel announced. Amen.
  2. Whom having conceived, thou didst go into the hill country to Elizabeth. Amen.
  3. Whom thou didst bear joyfully, ever remaining a holy virgin in mind and body. Amen.
  4. Whom thou didst worship as thy Creator, and didst feed at thy virginal breasts. Amen.
  5. Whom thou didst swaddle in cloths, and didst place in the manger. Amen (this is always added at the end).
  6. Whom the angels praised, singing Glory in the highest, and the shepherds found in Bethlehem.
  7. Who was circumcised on the eighth day and called Jesus.
  8. Who was worshipped by the three wise men reverently offering their threefold gifts.
  9. Whom thou didst carry to the temple in thy motherly arms, and didst present to God his Father.
  10. Whom Simeon the old man took into his arms and blessed, and the widow Anna recognised.
  11. With whom thou didst flee from before the face of Herod into Egypt.
  12. With whom, after seven years, thou didst return to thy homeland, summoned back by an angel.
  13. Whom, in his twelfth year, thou didst lose in Jerusalem, and after seeking him sorrowfully for three days thou didst find him again in the temple.
  14. Who progressed day by day in age, grace and wisdom in the sight of God and of men.
  15. Whom John baptized in the Jordan, pointing him out as the Lamb of God.
  16. Who fasted for forty days in the desert, and whom Satan thrice tempted there.
  17. Who, having gathered disciples from here and there, preached the kingdom of heaven to the world.
  18. Who gave light to the blind, cleansed lepers, cured paralytics and delivered all those who were oppressed by the devil.
  19. Whose feet Mary Magdalene washed with her tears, dried with her hair, kissed and anointed with ointment.
  20. Who resuscitated Lazarus after four days, and other dead people.
  21. Who, on the day of palms, was received by the people with great honour, sitting on a donkey.
  22. Who instituted the worshipful Sacrament of his Body and Blood at his last supper.
  23. Who went into the garden with his disciples, and, praying there at length, sweated a bloody sweat.
  24. Who spontaneously went to meet his enemies, and willingly gave himself up into their hands.
  25. Whom the servants of the Jews roughly tied up, and the chief priests led away bound.
  26. Whom they accused with false testimonies, hooded, spat at, and rained blows and slaps upon.
  27. Whom they proclaimed a criminal malefactor, deserving of crucifixion, before Pilate and Herod.
  28. Whom, having been stripped of his clothes, Pilate had scourged harshly and for a long time.
  29. Whom the servants crowned with thorns, and, his having been dressed in some discarded purple cloth, worshipped in mockery.
  30. Whom they condemned unjustly to a most shameful death, and led out with two unrighteous men.
  31. Whom they nailed to the cross by his hands and feet, and offered wine mixed with myrrh or gall.
  32. Who prayed for those who crucified him, saying: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  33. Who said to the thief on his right hand: Amen I tell thee: today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.
  34. Who said to thee, his most holy Mother: Woman, behold thy son. And to John: Behold thy mother.
  35. Who cried out: Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani? That is, [My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?].
  36. Who said: It is finished.
  37. Who said at last: Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.
  38. Who died a most bitter and most sacred death for us miserable sinners. Thanks be to God.
  39. Whose side the soldier opened with a lance, and blood and water flowed therefrom for the remission of sins.
  40. Whose most sacred body was taken from the cross, and returned lifeless to thy bosom (as is called the pietà).
  41. Whom righteous and holy men buried, his having been embalmed with spices and wound in a shroud.
  42. Whose grave the Jews sealed up and defended with guards.
  43. Whose most holy soul descended into hell, and comforting the holy fathers led them out with him into Paradise.
  44. Who rose again on the third day, and gladdened thee with inestimable joy. Alleluia.
  45. Who appeared many times to his disciples and faithful believers after his resurrection, and confirmed their hearts in the holy faith.
  46. Who ascended to the heavens in their sight, with thee present and looking on, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father.
  47. Who sent the Holy Spirit to his faithful from the heavens on the day of Pentecost, as he had promised them.
  48. Who at last assumed to himself, called to his right hand, and gloriously crowned thee his most sweet Mother.
  49. Who will deign, at thy intercession, likewise to assume us, his servants and thine, after the course of this wretched life, and settle us in the kingdom of his Father.
  50. Who with the Father and Holy Spirit, and thee, his most glorious Mother, liveth and reigneth an invincible and glorious King, world without end. Amen.
The Coronation of the Virgin, by Jacopo di Mino del Pelliciaio, active in Siena and Umbria in the mid-14th century. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
How the aforesaid Rosary first had its origin, the following exemplum shows.
A CERTAIN man in secular life had the habit of making a chaplet of roses or other flowers, which he would place on an image of blessed Mary with great devotion. Having entered religious life, where he was prevented, by the duty of obedience, from doing this, he was so saddened that he even wished to return to the world. Having thought this over, a certain good man gave him some wholesome advice, namely to remain in the religious life, and to say fifty Ave Marias in place of the previous chaplet, promising him that this would please our Lady more than any material chaplet. When he had been doing this for some time, it happened that the same laybrother was riding through a wood where there were robbers hiding. When he had tied up his horse, and was saying the Rosary of Blessed Mary on his knees, the robbers hastened from afar and would have preyed upon him. But behold! they saw a beautiful virgin standing by him, and after a little while they saw that she was frequently picking up lovely Roses that fell from his mouth, and weaving them into a chaplet. When it was finished, she placed it on her head and ascended into the heavens. They drew near full of wonder, and asked him what he was doing, and who might be the virgin that they had seen. He said that there was no virgin with him, but they forced out of him that he had been making a spiritual chaplet for the Queen of Heaven, as was his wont. Then they related to him what they had seen, and strongly confirmed him in this kind of holy service to the Mother of God. They themselves, as might well be believed, changed their way of life for the better. This miracle being published, as one can read, this Rosary first began to be practised by pious and devout servants of Mary. Later a certain brother of the Carthusian Order, for the sake of greater devotion and attention, added the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, according as it has been set out above. Hence this Rosary is much honoured, and received with great effect by our glorious Lady, her Son, and all the knights of the heavenly court, as is described above in the little book of experience, in the thirty-eighth narration.
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, by Biagio Bellotti (1714-89), also in the Charterhouse of Garegnano. Photo by Nicola de’ Grandi. 
How is this Rosary to be performed?
Whoever, then, wishes to take up this little exercise so pleasing to God and the Saints, and to carry out this Rosary to the praise and glory of God and the Virgin Mary, his Mother, should say the Angelical salutation fifty times, and after each, add any one of the clausulæ on the life of Christ set out above. It is not necessary to observe the form of words laid out for this Rosary either here or elsewhere, but each person can prolong the theme, shorten it, or change it for the better, according to the grace and devotion that the Lord has given him or her; many people have done so, uttering in words the life of the Saviour or silently meditating upon it in thought, now this way, now another way, according to the grace, ability and time that they have. One could hardly find a better way of spending the present moment than by saying this Rosary, for, as has been said, it is pleasing to God and his Saints in heaven, and for those saying it, it is very useful and fruitful, and finds great favour with God, to the increase of their devotion and the improvement of their life, as experience has shown in many examples both of the living and of those now dead.
It is mentioned in the revelations of some devout souls, that nothing pleases God more than a person’s recollecting frequently the good things the Lord has done for the world, and giving thanks for each one. And we do this in the present brief exercise, when at the end of each angelical salutation we say, “… and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus Christ, who did this or that, or suffered this or that,” as above. Constantly praising and blessing the Lord and his most holy Mother in this way, we are beneficiaries of the promise once pledged to the prophets, for it was about our Lord Jesus Christ, and for us, that the Patriarch Isaac prophesied, saying: let him that blesseth thee be filled with blessings, etc. [Gen 27.29]. And he who soweth in blessings, as the Apostle says, shall also reap eternal life in blessings [2 Cor 9.6]. And whoever will crown Christ the King and the Queen of Heaven with this rosy crown, will deserve to be crowned by them in turn with the unfading crown of life in eternity. Amen.
Blessed be the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, world without end. And may the name of his Mother, the most glorious Virgin Mary, be blessed and remain so in eternity. Amen.

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