Found in the very well-known book, De Dignitate Psalterii, by Blessed Alan de la Roche, is the account of how Saint Dominic acquired the Rosary in the year 1214. St. Dominic, seeing that the gravity of people’s sins was hindering the conversion of the Albigensians, withdrew into a forest near Toulouse, where he prayed continuously for three days and three nights. During this time he did nothing but weep and do harsh penances in order to appease the anger of God. He used his discipline so much that his body became lacerated, and, finally, he fell into a coma. Our Lady appeared to him, accompanied by three angels, and said,
“Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?”
“Oh, My Lady,” answered Saint Dominic, “you know far better than I do, because next to your Son Jesus Christ you have always been the chief instrument of our salvation.”
Our Lady replied, “I want you to know that, in this kind of warfare, the principal weapon has always been the Angelic Psalter, which is the foundation-stone of the New Testament. Therefore, if you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter.”
So he arose, comforted, and burning with zeal for the conversion of the people in that district, he made straight for the cathedral. At once, unseen angels rang the bells to gather the people together, and Saint Dominic began to preach. At the very beginning of his sermon, an appalling storm broke out, the earth shook, the sun was darkened, and there was so much thunder and lightning that all were very much afraid. Even greater was their fear when, looking at a picture of our Lady positioned in a prominent place, they saw her raise her arms to heaven three times to call down God’s vengeance upon them if they failed to be converted, to amend their lives, and seek the protection of the Holy Mother of God. God wished, by means of these supernatural phenomena, to spread the new devotion of the holy Rosary and to make it more widely known.
At last, at the prayer of Saint Dominic, the storm came to an end, and he went on preaching. So fervently and compellingly did he explain the importance and value of the Rosary that almost all the people of Toulouse embraced it and renounced their false beliefs. In a very short time a great improvement was seen in the town; people began leading Christian lives and gave up their former bad habits.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, instructed by the Blessed Virgin — as well as by his own experience, Saint Dominic preached the Rosary for the rest of his life. He preached it by his example as well as by his sermons, in cities and in rural places, to people of high station and low, before scholars and the uneducated, to Catholics and to heretics. The Rosary, which he said every day, was his preparation for every sermon and his little tryst with our Lady immediately after preaching.
One day he had to preach at Notre Dame in Paris on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. He was in a little chapel behind the high altar, prayerfully preparing his sermon by saying the Rosary as he always did, when Our Lady appeared to him and said,
“Dominic, even though what you have planned to say may be very good, I am bringing you a much better sermon.”
Saint Dominic took in his hands the book Our Lady offered, read the sermon carefully and, when he had understood it and meditated on it, he gave thanks to Her. When the time came, he went up into the pulpit and, in spite of the feast day, made no mention of Saint John other than to say that he had been found worthy to be the guardian of the Queen of Heaven. The congregation was made up of theologians and other eminent people, who were used to hearing unusual and polished discourses; but Saint Dominic told them that it was not his desire to give them a learned discourse, wise in the eyes of the world, but that he would speak in the simplicity of the Holy Spirit and with his forcefulness. So he began preaching the Rosary and explained the Hail Mary word by word as he would to a group of children, and used the very simple illustrations which were in the book given him by Our Lady.
Blessed Alan, according to Carthagena, mentioned several other occasions when Our Lord and Our Lady appeared to Saint Dominic to urge him and inspire him to preach the Rosary more and more in order to wipe out sin and convert sinners and heretics. In another passage, Our Lady revealed that after she had appeared to Saint Dominic, Her blessed Son appeared to him also and said,
“Dominic, I rejoice to see that you are not relying on your own wisdom and that, rather than seek the empty praise of men, you are working with great humility for the salvation of souls. But many priests want to preach thunderously against the worst kinds of sin at the very outset, failing to realize that before a sick person is given bitter medicine, he needs to be prepared by being put into the right frame of mind to really benefit by it. That is why, before doing anything else, priests should try to kindle a love of prayer in people’s hearts and especially a love of my Angelic Psalter. If only they would all start saying it and would really persevere, God in his mercy could hardly refuse to give them his grace. So I want you to preach My Rosary.”
All things, even the holiest, are subject to change, especially when they are dependent on man’s free will. It is hardly to be wondered at, then, that the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary only retained its first fervour for a century after it was instituted by Saint Dominic. After this it was like a thing buried and forgotten. Doubtless, too, the wicked scheming and jealousy of the devil were largely responsible for getting people to neglect the Rosary, and thus block the flow of God’s grace which it had drawn upon the world.