The rosary is part of Catholic veneration of Mary, which has been promoted by numerous popes. In the 16th century, Pope Pius V associated the rosary with the general Roman calendar by instituting the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (later changed to Our Lady of the Rosary), which is celebrated on October 7th.

Pope Leo XIII, known as "The Rosary Pope," issued 12 encyclicals and five apostolic letters on the rosary and added the invocation Queen of the Most Holy Rosary to the Litany of Loreto.  Pope Pius XII and his successors actively promoted veneration of the Virgin of Lourdes and Fatima, which is credited with a new resurgence of the rosary within the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II (whose pontificate had major Marian themes) issued the apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which built on the "total Marian devotion."

On May 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the rosary was experiencing a new springtime; "It is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and His mother."  To Benedict XVI, the rosary is a meditation on all important moments of salvation history.

According to pious tradition, the concept of the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the year 1214 in the church of Prouille.  This Marian apparition received the title of Our Lady of the Rosary.  In the 15th century it was promoted by Alanus de Rupe (aka Alan de la Roche or Saint Alan of the Rock), a Dominican priest and theologian who established the "15 Rosary Promises" and started many rosary confraternities.

According to Herbert Thurston, it is certain that in the course of the 12th century and before the birth of Saint Dominic, the practice of reciting 50 or 150 Ave Marias had become generally familiar.  Despite the popularity of Blessed Alanus' story about the origins of the rosary, there has never been any historical evidence found positively linking Saint Dominic to the rosary.  The story of Saint Dominic's devotion to the rosary and supposed apparition of Our Lady of the Rosary do not appear in any documents of the Church or Dominican Order prior to the writings of Blessed Alanus, some 250 years after Dominic.  Leonard Foley noted that although Mary's giving the rosary to Saint Dominic is recognized as a legend, the development of this prayer form owes much to the Order of Preachers.

The practice of meditation during the praying of the Hail Marys is attributed to Dominic of Prussia (1382–1460), a Carthusian monk, who called it the "Life of Jesus Rosary."  The german monk from Trier added a sentence to each of the 50 Hail Marys, using quotes from scriptures.  In 1569, the papal bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices by the Dominican Pope Pius V officially established the devotion to the rosary in the Catholic Church.

From the 16th century to the early 20th century, the structure of the rosary remained essentially unchanged.  There were 15 mysteries, one for each of the 15 decades.  In the 20th century the addition of the Fatima Prayer to the end of each decade became more common.  There were no other changes until 2002 when (Saint) Pope John Paul II instituted the five Luminous Mysteries.