Meaning of the rosary

The Story behind Catholic Rosary Beads

Along with the cross and the sacred holy water fonts, the small beads that makeup Rosary beads are one of the most familiar and recognized symbols of Catholicism. According to Catholic tradition, the rosary was instituted by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. In the 13th century, she is said to have appeared to St. Dominic (founder of the Dominicans), given him a rosary, and asked that Christians pray the Hail Mary, Our Father and Glory Be prayers instead of the Psalms. The original rosary of St. Dominic had 15 decades.

The main function of the rosary beads is to count prayers, the prayers that are counted on rosary beads are collectively known as the rosary. The purpose of the Rosary is to help keep in memory certain principal events or mysteries in history. There are twenty mysteries reflected upon in the Rosary, and these are divided into five main mysteries which correspond to the five decades of the rosary.

  • Five Joyful Mysteries are prayed on Mondays and Saturdays. These events all have to do with Christ’s birth.
  • Five Luminous Mysteries are recalled on Thursdays and were instituted by Pope John Paul II in 2002.
  • Five Sorrowful Mysteries relate to Jesus’ suffering and death and are recalled on Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • Five Glorious Mysteries remind the faithful of Jesus’ resurrection and the glories of heaven and are prayed on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Although a variety of prayers might be used in saying the rosary, a selection of standard prayers is most commonly used. They are Apostle’s Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. A decade consists of one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and one Glory Be.

Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified; died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Our Father:

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom comes; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Hail Mary:

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Glory Be:

Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The following are the steps for praying the rosary using rosary beads:

  1. On the crucifix, say the Apostles’ Creed.
  2. On the next large bead, pray the Our Father.
  3. On the next three small beads, pray three Hail Marys.
  4. On the chain, pray the Glory Be.
  5. On the large bead announce the first mystery (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful or Glorious) then say the Our Father.
  6. On the next ten beads, pray ten Hail Marys while meditating on the Mystery/
  7. On the chain, pray the Glory Be.
  8. Repeat steps 5 through 8 for the next four decades.

If you were to ask what object is most emblematic of Catholics a large number of people would say the rosary. We’re familiar with the images: the silently moving lips of women and men in the church and the rosary hanging from their wrist. They truly are a symbolic treasure of Catholicism and something that remains with you throughout your life, being given to you as early as your first communion.

Take a look at our extensive range of Rosary beads and religious jewelry. Included in our collection are Connemara Marble Rosary beads made from the very rare rock that is unique to Ireland. With rosary beads of different sizes and for different ages, you’ll be sure to find the perfect set for you or your loved one this Easter and give them a truly sacred gift to treasure from the Emerald Isle.

Where Did the Rosary Originate?

Many say the Rosary daily, reciting this prayer not only in church but during special times and places we set aside. Many keep the beads in their pocket, hang them in cars, put them on bedposts. They may be part of the essentials carried every day, such as keys, wallets or purses. When lost or misplaced, many may feel incomplete until the beads are found or a new set is in their possession. But when did this whole idea of counting beads while praying begin? Where did the Rosary originate?

For centuries long before Christ, the faithful said prayers in a repetitive manner and found different methods of keeping count, often by using rocks or pebbles. By at least the ninth century, monks were reciting all 150 psalms, at first every day, but later every week as part of their prayers and devotions. One way they kept track was to count out 150 pebbles and then place one pebble in a container or pouch as they said each psalm. People living near the monks wanted to mimic this devotion, but due to lack of education couldn’t memorize all the psalms. Printed copies, even if individuals could read, were not available as the printing press was centuries away. So Christians began to pray 50 or 150 Our Fathers (or Paternosters) each week instead of the psalms. In order to keep count of the Our Fathers, they often used string with knots in it instead of counting on rocks. Later the knots gave way to small pieces of wood and eventually to the use of beads.

St. Dominic

There has long been a tradition in the Church that St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) is the source of the Rosary. In the 12th century, the Albigenses heresy was widespread in Europe, especially in southern France and Italy. The Albigenses denied the mystery of the Incarnation, rejected Church sacraments and condoned many secular activities considered evil by the Catholic faith. Among the efforts by the Church to combat this heresy was the organization of the mendicant orders, including one led by St. Dominic. The Dominicans, as they became known, tried to reverse the vile teachings of the Albigenses by roaming the countryside preaching against the heresy, trying to influence the fallen away back into the Church. Tradition has it that St. Dominic’s efforts were most effective following a visit from the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214. Neither Dominic nor his order ever made this claim.

The legend spread from an alleged dream of Blessed Alan de la Roche in the 15th century, more than 250 years after Dominic died. De la Roche was a respected writer and theologian of his time (c. 1428-1478) and instrumental in spreading the Rosary devotion throughout the Western Church. In his dream, Mary gave Dominic the Rosary and instructed the saint to preach the Rosary as part of his effort to thwart heresy. According to de la Roche, Mary said to Dominic, “If you want to reach these hardened souls and win them over to God, preach my Psalter.” The Psalter refers to the Angelic Prayer, the Hail Mary. Among those who related this beautiful story is St. Louis Marie de Montfort in the book “God Alone: The Collected Writings of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.”

While many Church scholars do not give credence to de la Roche’s story, numerous popes have advocated Dominic as indeed the source of the Rosary. In the 18th century, the Bollandists, a religious community that researches and verifies Church facts and historical allegations, questioned the role of Dominic in the Rosary story. The future Pope Benedict XIV (r. 1740-58), at the time a member of the Vatican Sacred Congregation of Rites, responded to the Bollandists: “You ask whether St. Dominic was really the illustrator of the Rosary, you declare yourselves perplexed and full of doubt upon the subject. But what account do you make of the decisions of so many sovereign pontiffs — of Leo X, of St. Pius V, of Gregory XIII, of Sixtus V, of Clement VIII, of Alexander VII, of Innocent XI, of Clement XI, of Innocent XIII, of Benedict XIII, and of many others who are all unanimous in declaring the Rosary to have been instituted by St. Dominic himself?” (Augusta T. Drane, “The History of St Dominic, Founder of the Friars Preachers,” Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1891, p. 136, and other sources.)

Rosary Evolution

Notwithstanding papal advocacy for Dominic’s role, there are divergent views regarding the evolution of this most beautiful of Marian devotions. Many scholars and theologians conclude that it is the outgrowth from the early monks saying the psalms, but some differ in regard to the identity of individuals contributing to the growth throughout the centuries. Despite the different views, there is widespread agreement on certain facts.

The Rosary includes six of Catholicism’s most familiar prayers: the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Fátima Prayer (“O My Jesus”) and the Hail Holy Queen. The inclusion of these prayers in the Rosary did not happen overnight but was a lengthy evolution down through the centuries. Originally, the Our Father was said 150 times as a replacement for the psalms, saying the prayer on each bead of the Rosary string. A Glory Be was normally part of the prayer. During the 11th century, St. Peter Damian (d. 1072) suggested praying 150 Angelic Salutations, the Hail Mary, as an alternative prayer to the Our Father. The Hail Mary at that time consisted of Gabriel’s angelic salutation to Mary, “Hail Mary full of Grace the Lord is with you” (see Lk 1:28-31), and the exchange between Mary and Elizabeth during the visitation, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Lk 1:39-45). The name of Jesus (“blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”) was included sometime later. In 1365, a Carthusian monk named Henry of Kalkar (1328-1408) divided the 150 Hail Marys into 15 groups of 10 beads each. He placed an Our Father between each group or decade (10 beads); the prayer was thus made up of 10 Hail Marys, repeated 15 times with an Our Father in between each set.

In the mid-15th century, another Carthusian monk, Dominic of Prussia (1382-1461), introduced a similar devotion that included 50 Hail Marys with 50 individual thoughts or phrases about Jesus and Mary. A different thought or phrase would accompany each Hail Mary.

Around 1480, the evolution continued when “an anonymous Dominican priest … retained the pattern of the decades that Henry of Kalkar suggested but focused them on fifteen episodes in the life and work of Mary and Jesus, not on fifty or one hundred and fifty of them. Instead of meditating on a Mystery for the space of a single Hail Mary, people could meditate more deeply for the time it took to recite ten Hail Marys devoutly; and instead of circling the Mystery by meditating on a myriad of details, they would approach the details by focusing on the heart of the Mystery itself.” (Kevin O. Johnson, “Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations and the Telling of the Beads,” Pangaeus Press, Dallas, 1997, p. 199). By now there were 15 groups of 10 beads, 15 decades. Each decade, instead of each bead, was accompanied by a meditation on the life of Christ and Mary.

Completion of the Hail Mary

By the first part of the 15th century the Hail Mary consisted of: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The third part, known as the petition (“Pray for us Holy Mother of God…”) is traced back to the Council of Ephesus in 431. At that council, Church leaders officially defined Mary as not only the Mother of Jesus but as Theotokos (God-bearer, the Mother of God).

On the night this proclamation was made, the citizens of Ephesus marched through the town joyfully chanting, “Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners.” This petition, including the words “now and at the hour of our death” would become part of the prayer by the time Pope St. Pius V (r. 1566-72) issued the papal bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices in 1569 encouraging the universal use of the Rosary.

Since Pope Pius V issued that document, only the Fátima Prayer has been added to the Rosary. The Fátima prayer, given to the Portuguese children during the Fátima apparition in 1908, is widely used, but it is not universal. The Rosary made up of 150 beads, promoted by Pope Pius V, is still subscribed to by the Church but is, of course, different than the popular Rosary with 50 beads that many of us carry in our pockets.

From the 16th century until the 21st century there were three sets of mysteries: the Joyful, the Glorious and the Sorrowful. But in 2001 Pope St. John Paul II added the Mysteries of Light. The intent was to include meditations on the time in Jesus’ life between His incarnation (a Joyful Mystery) and His passion (a Sorrowful Mystery).

We Catholics instinctively turn to the Rosary in times of crises and life’s sorrows, in the midst of personal and even public tragedies.

How many soldiers have repeated the Hail Mary over and over on the battlefield? In our darkest hour, even the hour of our death, we plead for the intercession, the blessing and comfort of the Blessed Mother using this 700-year-old devotion which ends, in part, “Turn then most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us …”


In Christianity

In Christianity the practice was adopted in the 3rd century by Eastern Christian monks, and various forms of the rosary were developed. In Roman Catholicism the rosary became a popular method of public and private prayer. The most common rosary is the one devoted to Mary, the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, the prayers of which are recited with the aid of a chaplet, or rosary. The beads of the chaplet are arranged in five decades (sets of 10), each decade separated from the next by a larger bead. The two ends of the chaplet are joined by a small string holding a crucifix, two large beads, and three small beads.

Traditionally, the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin requires three turns around the chaplet. It consists of the recitation of 15 decades of Hail Marys (150 Hail Marys), each one said while holding a small bead. On the larger beads separating the decades, different prayers are said (the Gloria Patri and the Our Father) and particular mysteries are meditated upon. The 15 mysteries are events from the life, death, and glorification of Jesus Christ and Mary; they are divided into three sets of five—the joyous, the sorrowful, and the glorious mysteries. The introductory and concluding prayers of the rosary vary.

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In 2002 Pope John Paul II added a fourth set of mysteries, the “luminous mysteries,” or mysteries of light. The five new mysteries celebrate events in Jesus’ ministry, including his baptism; his miracle at Cana, where he turned water into wine; his proclamation of the kingdom of God; the Transfiguration, in which he revealed his divinity to three of his Apostles; and his establishment of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

The origin of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin is not certain, though it has been associated with St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order in the early 13th century. The devotion probably developed gradually as a substitute for the recitation of the Psalms or for the divine office sung by monks at the various canonical hours each day. It reached its definitive form in the 15th century through the preaching of the Dominican Alan de la Roche and his associates, who organized Rosary Confraternities at Douai in France and at Cologne. In 1520 Pope Leo X gave the rosary official approbation, and it has been repeatedly commended by the Roman Catholic Church. Since the 1960s, however, public recitation of the rosary has become less frequent. St. John Paul II’s addition of new mysteries, which are not required for reciting the rosary, was intended to revive interest in the practice; some traditional Catholics, however, rejected the new mysteries, believing that they upset the relationship between the original number of mysteries and their corresponding psalms.

Detail of La Vierge du Rosaire, Paris, c. 1490. This image of the Virgin of the Rosary depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus, standing on a crescent moon, surrounded by rosary beads.The Newberry Library, Wing Fund, with the assistance of the Florence Gould Foundation, 1990 (A Britannica Publishing Partner)

In Eastern Orthodoxy the prayer rope predates the Catholic rosary and is mainly a monastic devotion. Rosaries of 33, 100, or 300 knots or beads are the common sizes, and they are used to count repetitions of the Prayer of the Heart (the Jesus Prayer). The Russian Orthodox vertitza (“string”), chotki (“chaplet”), or lievstoka (“ladder”) is made of 103 beads, separated into irregular sections by 4 large beads and joined together so that the lines of beads run parallel, thus suggesting the form of a ladder; the parallel lines symbolize the ladder seen by Jacob in his dream and remind the faithful of the spiritual climb toward greater devotion and virtue. In the Romanian church the chaplet is called matanie (“reverence”) because the monk makes a profound bow at the beginning and end of each prayer counted on the beads.

The Anglican prayer beads are a blend of the Orthodox and Catholic rosaries. They have four sections (“weeks”) of seven beads each, four larger “cruciform” beads separating the weeks, and an invitatory bead and a cross at the base. A prayer is said first on the cross and then on each of the 33 beads—33, according to tradition, equaling the number of years in Jesus’ earthly life—and the “circle of prayers” is typically performed three times (symbolic of the Trinity), making the total number of prayers 100, which represents the fullness of creation.

Origins of the Holy Rosary

The rosary is one of the most cherished prayers of our Catholic Church. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.”

Introduced by the Creed, the Our Father, three Hail Marys and the Doxology (“Glory Be”), and concluded with the Salve Regina, the rosary involves the recitation of five decades consisting of the Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and the Doxology. During this recitation, the individual meditates on the saving mysteries of our Lord’s life and the faithful witness of our Blessed Mother. Journeying through the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the rosary, the individual brings to mind our Lord’s incarnation, His public ministry, His passion and death, and His resurrection from the dead. In so doing, the rosary assists us in growing in a deeper appreciation of these mysteries, in uniting our lives more closely to our Lord and in imploring His graced assistance to live the faith. We also ask for the prayers of our Blessed Mother, the exemplar of faith, who leads all believers to her Son.

The origins of the rosary are “sketchy” at best. The use of “prayer beads” and the repeated recitation of prayers to aid in meditation stem from the earliest days of the Church and has roots even in pre-Christian times. Evidence exists from the Middle Ages that strings of beads were used to help a person count the number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys recited. Actually, these strings of beads became known as Paternosters, the Latin for “Our Father.” For example, in the 12th century, to help the uneducated better participate in the liturgy, the recitation of 150 Our Fathers served as a substitute for the 150 Psalms, and became known as “the poor man’s breviary.”

The structure of the rosary gradually evolved between the 12th and 15th centuries. Eventually 50 Hail Marys (or more) were recited and were linked with verses of psalms or other phrases evoking “the joys of Mary,” i.e. scenes in the lives of Jesus and Mary. In 1409 Dominic of Prussia, a Carthusian monk, popularized the practice setting 50 phrases about the lives of Jesus and Mary with 50 Hail Marys. During this time, this prayer form became known as the rosarium (“rose garden”), actually a common term used to designate a collection of similar material, such as an anthology of stories on the same subject or theme. Eventually, “the sorrows of Mary” and “the heavenly joys” were distinguished, bringing the number of Hail Marys to 150. Eventually, the 150 Hail Marys were joined to the 150 Our Fathers, a Hail Mary following each Our Father.

In the early 15th century, Henry Kalkar (d. 1408), another Carthusian, divided the 150 Hail Marys into groups of 10, with each group marked by an Our Father. By the 16th century, the structure of the five-decade rosary was based on the three sets of mysteries — joyful (Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation and Finding in the Temple), sorrowful (Agony in the Garden, Scourging, Crowning with Thorns, Carrying of the Cross and Death) and glorious (Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption and Coronation). In 2002, our beloved late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, instituted the luminous mysteries: Baptism at the Jordan, Wedding Feast of Cana, Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, Transfiguration and Institution of the holy Eucharist. Also, after the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in 1917, the prayer Mary taught to the children has generally been added at the end of each decade: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in greatest need of Thy mercy.”

Tradition does hold that St. Dominic (d. 1221) devised the rosary as we know it. Moved by a vision of our Blessed Mother, he preached the use of the rosary in his missionary work among the Albigensians, a group of fanatical heretics. The Albigensians, named after the town of Albi in southern France where they lived, believed that everything material was evil and everything spiritual was good. For this reason, they denied the incarnation of our Lord; for them, Jesus the true God becoming also true man and accepting our human nature was simply unthinkable. Following this teaching, each person’s soul was imprisoned in the evil body. Therefore, they abstained from marital love, because no one should imprison another soul in a body. Their greatest act of religion was called “the endura,” an act of suicide which freed the soul from the body. They also fought against any authority that represented a kingdom of this world, assassinating royal and Church officials alike. The Church condemned these heretics, and St. Dominic tried to convert them through reasonable preaching and genuine Christian love. Unfortunately, royal authority was less compassionate. (Just as an aside, a travel show televised a program on southern France, and visited the town of Albi, noting that these people were “persecuted by the Church”; the narrator failed to report that these people were suicidal heretics whose teachings jeopardized the souls of the faithful.) Nevertheless, St. Dominic used the rosary as a useful instrument to convert the Albigensians.

Some scholars take exception to St. Dominic’s actual role in forming the rosary since the earliest accounts of his life do not mention it, the Dominican constitutions do not link him with it, and contemporaneous paintings of St. Dominic do not include it as a symbol to identify the saint. In 1922, Dom Louis Gougaud stated, “The various elements which enter into the composition of that Catholic devotion commonly called the rosary are the product of a long and gradual development which began before St. Dominic’s time, which continued without his having any share in it, and which only attained its final shape several centuries after his death.” However, other scholars would argue that St. Dominic not so much “invented” the rosary as he preached its use to convert sinners and those who had strayed from the Faith. Moreover, at least a dozen popes have mentioned St. Dominic’s connection with the rosary in various papal pronouncements, sanctioning his role as at least a “pious belief.” The first such mention was made by Pope Alexander VI in 1495.

Editor’s note: This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

Franciscan Spirit

The Origins of the Rosary

Posted by Edward Sri on 1/14/19 7:00 AM

According to one tradition, the rosary’s defining moment came during an apparition of Mary to Saint Dominic around the year 1221. Dominic was combating a popular heresy in France called Albigensianism. Mary gave him the rosary, told him to teach people this devotion, and promised that his apostolic efforts would be blessed with much success if he did. We know the religious order Dominic founded (the Dominicans) clearly played a major role in promoting the rosary throughout the world in the early years of this devotion.

The Poor Man’s Breviary

Another important development in the history of the rosary is found in its roots in the liturgical prayer of the Church. In the medieval period, there was a desire to give the laity a form of common prayer similar to that of the monasteries. Monastic prayer was structured around the Psalter—the recitation of all 150 psalms from the Bible. At that time, however, most laity could not afford a Psalter, and most could not even read.

As a parallel to the monastic reading of the 150 psalms, the practice developed among the laity of praying the Our Father 150 times throughout the day. ­is devotion came to be known as “the poor man’s breviary.” ­e laity eventually were given beads to help them count their prayers.

Marian devotion followed a similar pattern. Gabriel’s words, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), sometimes were read in the monasteries at the end of a psalm, showing how the psalms found fulfillment in the New Testament with the coming of Christ through the Virgin Mary. Some laity began to recite these words in the manner of the Our Father—150 times, while counting their prayers on beads. In repeating the words of Gabriel, they were reliving the joy of the annunciation and celebrating the mystery of God becoming man in Mary’s womb.

Christians linked this prayer with Elizabeth’s words to Mary at the Visitation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Finally, with the addition of the name “Jesus” in the thirteenth century, the first half of the Hail Mary was in place. ­is early form of the Hail Mary was recited 150 times on the beads. By the fifteenth century, the 150 Hail Marys had been divided into sets of ten, known as “decades,” with an Our Father at the beginning of each.

Meditating on Mysteries

Another line of development in monastic prayer eventually led to the practice of contemplating Christ’s life while reciting the Hail Marys. Some monasteries began associating the psalms with an aspect of Jesus’s life. At the end of each psalm, the monks would recite a phrase relating that psalm to the life of Jesus or Mary. Taken together, these phrases formed a brief life of Christ and his mother.

A devotion that joined fifty of these phrases with the praying of fifty Hail Marys began in the early fifteenth century. However, since fifty points of reflection generally could not be recalled without a book, the devotion was simplified by reducing the meditation points to fifteen, with one for every decade. ­us, by the end of the fifteenth century, the basic structure of the rosary was in place: Our Fathers dividing decades of Hail Marys, with meditations on the life of Christ and Mary.

In the sixteenth century, the sets of five Joyful, five Sorrowful, and five Glorious Mysteries as we know them today began to emerge. Also, the vocal prayers of the rosary were finalized. Th­e Glory Be was added to the end of every decade, and the second half of the Hail Mary was formalized: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” In 1569, Pope Saint Pius V officially approved the rosary in this form: fifteen decades of Hail Marys introduced by the Our Father and concluded with the Glory Be.

And so the rosary remained for over four centuries. ­Then, in 2002, Pope Saint John Paul II proposed something new.

The Luminous Mysteries

You know you are living in a historic moment when USA Today is teaching people how to pray the rosary. Its October 17, 2002, edition featured an article that included a typical USA Today visual aid graphic with very atypical content: a diagram of the rosary.

­The graphic offered clear instructions on how to pray the rosary, explaining which prayer—Our Father, Hail Mary, or Glory Be—should be recited with which bead. While one might expect to find such a picture and explanation in pamphlets in the back of a church, it was surprising to find it in the pages of the secular press and, no less, in one of our nation’s most widely read newspapers.

What was the impulse for such catechetical instruction in this most unusual of settings?

The day before the article’s publication, Pope John Paul II published his Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae. The letter announced the Year of the Rosary and called on Catholics to renew their devotion to this traditional prayer. However, what grabbed the attention of USA Today and the entire Catholic world was John Paul II’s proposal of a whole new set of mysteries for contemplation in the rosary, the “Mysteries of Light” or “Luminous Mysteries.”

John Paul II suggested that reflection on the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry would help Catholics enter more fully into the life of Jesus through the rosary: “To bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which…could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his passion” (RVM, 19). ­e pope proposed the following scenes to be contemplated: (1) Christ’s baptism, (2) the wedding feast at Cana, (3) the proclamation of the kingdom, (4) the Transfiguration, and (5) the institution of the Eucharist.

­The pope’s invitation to reflect on these mysteries makes a lot of sense. As some have noted, in the traditional form of the rosary, the transition from the fifth Joyful Mystery to the first Sorrowful Mystery seemed rather abrupt. We moved from Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy found by his parents in the temple to Jesus as a 33-year-old man about to be crucified on Calvary. ­The Mysteries of Light fill in the gap.

­The pope also said he hoped the addition of new mysteries would give the rosary “fresh life” at a time when the rosary was devalued in many parts of the Church. He hoped this new vitality would help “enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary’s place within Christian spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory” (RVM, 19). Indeed, the Mysteries of Light seem to be not only a most fitting development of the rosary, but also a providential one for our age and one that is likely to stand the test of time.

Why is this popular devotion called the “Rosary”?

Most Catholics and many Christians know what the Rosary is. However, has anyone ever asked why it is called a “rosary”?

After initially looking at the English word, there is nothing immediately evident that would point to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or prayer in general. However, looking at the Latin roots of the word reveals a beautiful symbolism that isn’t widely known.

According to the Dictionary of English Etymology, from the Latin “Rosarium … signifying properly a collection or garland of roses, was a title of many works … consisting of compendiums of flowers as it were culled from preceding authors … In the course of time the name was specially appropriated to a string of Paternosters and Ave Marias to be recited in a certain order in honour of the fifteen mysteries of our Lord in which the Virgin was a partaker, and from the collection of prayers the name was transferred to the string of beads used for the purpose of keeping count in the recitation.”

Initially the Rosary was called “Our Lady’s Psalter,” referring to the 150 Psalms that monks would pray and from which the tradition of the Rosary originated. The Latin word rosarium became associated with the devotion over time, especially after the spreading of a particular legend.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “An early legend which after travelling all over Europe penetrated even to Abyssinia connected this name with a story of Our Lady, who was seen to take rosebuds from the lips of a young monk when he was reciting Hail Marys and to weave them into a garland which she placed upon her head.”

Thus, the rosary became viewed spiritually and in art as a way to present a garland of roses to the Blessed Mother in a similar way that roses would be picked for a person’s earthly mother.

The name has stuck ever since, and the Rosary is the most popular Catholic devotion around the world.

Read more: 7 Ways John Paul II revolutionized the Rosary Read more: A beginner’s guide to praying the Rosary

The rosary, a lasting symbol of faith

A Reflection for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Acts 1:12-14; Magnificat; Luke1:26-38

Some seventy-five years ago, my paternal grandfather was working in Coventry during the Second World War. The story, as handed down to me, was of how, on the night of the worst bombing raid that destroyed much of the city and the cathedral, he was out on fire watch duties. When he returned home in the early hours of the morning, it was to find the house he was living in completely destroyed. The only thing left standing amidst the rubble was his bed, with his rosary hanging on the corner of it.

When the local church I attended for many years was renovated some 130 years after it was built, the builders found over 500 rosaries dropped down between the cracks in the floor boards.

What I hear in these stories is what the rosary represented for countless Catholics. If there is a distinguishing symbol for many Catholics then the rosary is surely one of them. Even if people no longer pray it in the traditional way, they will admit to having one tucked away somewhere. For my Grandfather (who I never really knew), I imagine it represented a faith in God and better times beyond the immediate horrors of a country at war. Whether it managed to poke its head above the rubble or lie hidden under floorboards, the rosary was a symbol of a belief that could endure all manner of events and centuries.

As a form of prayer its early origins go back to the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries. The recitation of the Our Father was a frequent prayer, often counted by moving pebbles from one pile to another. Over time a circular thread of string and beads came to be used to facilitate the counting.

The monks of the Celtic church used, as their common form of prayer, the 150 psalms, dividing them into three groups of 50. By the year 1,000 A.D. many people living near monasteries, but unable to read the psalms, had developed their own method of reciting 150 prayers. The beads became known as ‘Pater Noster’ beads and the Marian aspect of the devotion developed in the 11th century with the rise in popularity of the prayer ‘Hail Mary’. At this stage it consisted only of the words as used in Luke’s Gospel.

In the 13th century St. Dominic did much to promote it as a form of prayer, and it actually acquired its name ‘rosary’ from the Latin meaning rose garden (rosarium). The image was used to mean a bouquet of flowers for Our Lady.

In the 16th century the Dominican pope Pius V standardised it into fifteen decades, each prayed with one Our Father, ten Hail Marys and a Glory Be. The focus in each decade being on one of fifteen events in the life of Christ. The most recent development in its history is in the twentieth century with the addition, by Pope John Paul II, of five more mysteries from the life of Christ, called the Luminous Mysteries.*

What might this prayer have to say to us today, from the variety of traditions represented here in the chapel? One point that might be drawn is that anything that lasts over a long period of time can never be fixed or static. Of its nature it has to be adaptable to speak to each generation in a new way. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged a variety of ways of praying, and in the Jesuit Constitutions he encouraged the use of the Rosary and said this:

‘They should be instructed how to think or meditate about the mysteries which contains, that they may take part in this exercise with greater attention and devotion. Moreover, if those who know how to read should find more progress in it than the recitation of the Hours they could be changed for what will be more helpful.’

The rosary is a simple way of meditating on the life of Christ. With it we are invited to consider the life, Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus through his mother’s eyes. That phrase, ‘through His mother’s eyes’ says much, because Mary always points the way to her Son. Whether, as in the first reading from Acts, she is with the early church in prayer or as in the Gospel listening to Gabriel’s message, she points beyond herself to the work of God. ‘The almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name’ she says. May we too marvel at the patient work of God in us, and around us, and give thanks.

Anne Morris DHS

*History drawn from the booklet ‘Understanding the Rosary’ published by the Catholic Truth Society.

by John Flader.

Here at Scripture Catholic, we have been asked by many of our readers what do the Rosary’s beads mean. We have written several articles covering how to use Rosary beads, the different types of Rosaries, as well as the different Rosary prayers.

  • Rosary Beads
  • The Different Types Of Rosaries
  • Rosary Bead Prayers

In this article we will be breaking down what purpose a Rosary serves, and why the beads are strung out the way they are.

What are Rosaries?

A Rosary is a religious focus, more or less speaking it is a trinket that one would use to help keep track of their prayers. Individually, some of us may find that merely holding the rosary brings them comfort, and helps them to further strengthen their connection with God, thus bringing them protection and luck.

To others, the Rosary is no different then the bible. They regard the rosary as being nothing more then a tool that is used in ones service to God, and serves as aid during their prayers.

I myself will not say which view is right or wrong here. As we all have our own way of thinking, and find our own connections with the Lord, there can be no right or wrong answer, only what is right for you.

What Makes a Rosary?

As Rosaries can come in various different forms, and can be made out of almost any material (metal, stone, fiber, glass or plastic) we will be talking about them in general terms.

In truth a Rosary does not even need to be a chain of beads, the link is more for practicality and convenience. If you wanted, you could create your own rosary using loose stones, coins, bobbles, or even a row of pegs or nails would suffice.

As long as there is a way for you to be able to count out your prayers and keep track of where you are up to, the Rosary could be a tradition beaded chain, or made of components that are more symbolic for yourself.

Why are Rosaries Laid Out the Way They are?

All Rosaries have a core design with their layouts. Their intended use, is what determines how many beads are present and how many are clustered together.

Crosses and Medallions

One core element that can be found on all Rosaries, be they 1 – 5 Century, Chaplets, or Rings, is that they all have either a Cross/Crucifix, or a Pendent/Medallion that represents Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a Saint, at its beginning.

Even Rosaries that form a solid loop, will either have a central medallion link with the cross trailing off, or in the case of Rosary rings, the cross itself can be found completing the loop.

We make the sign of the cross when we hold onto it, and an opening prayer such as the “Apostle’s Creed” is recited.

What are the Clustered Beads For?

Rosaries are designed with their beads in clusters for a reason. Each of the smaller beads found on all Rosaries are called “Hail Mary” beads. In most prays, these beads would be used to recite Hail Mary once per bead, with the final bead in the link having a “Glory Be” recited immediately after the final Hail Mary.

These Haily Mary beads are used to keep count of how many times the prayer has been said, or in the case of some Chaplet prayers, they can let you know which prayer you need to be on. This makes Rosaries a simplistic, yet effective device for keeping track of where you are up to.

Why is There a Separating Bead?

These secondary beads, also called “Our Father” beads, are used to indicate the end of a century. Their primary purpose is to help indicate when and where to recite Our Father, or another specific prayer.

Their appearance/layout varies from Rosary to Rosary. Sometimes these Our Father beads are larger then the Hail Mary beads, of a different color or material, or spaced further apart from the rest of the beads. Other times the Our Fathers are medallions instead, or in the case of the Rosary Ring, absent all together, making the cross an Our Father bead the second time it is touched.

Why Does the Cross Trail Off on Looped Rosaries?

Most looped Rosary beads have a tail at the beginning. This is designed to allow the user to continue with their prayers without having to touch the cross again.

The tail also has its own set of prayers depending on which beads are present. In the case of the modern 5 Century Rosary beads, between the cross and the loop there is 1 x Our Father, 3 x Hail Marys, and another 1 x Our Father.

This means that as part of the prayer cycle, the following prayers are said before commencing with the prayers on the loop.

  • Start at the cross/crucifix, recite “Apostle’s Creed”
  • For the first bead recite “Our Father”
  • On each of the next three beads recite “Hail Mary”
  • Before touching the fifth bead recite “Glory Be”
    • Some people will use the fifth bead for “Glory Be” and the central medallion link for the beginning of the next cycle
  • The fifth bead marks the commencement of the century of prayers

Most other looped Rosaries do not have the first four beads, instead having just the one Our Father bead.


We hope that this article was able to answer any questions that you may have had regarding why Rosaries are designed the way they are.

What is the Purpose of the Rosary in Catholic Life?

Through Mary, we are led to a closer relationship with her son, Jesus. The Rosary is an invitation for us to present our needs to God and to love Him more. When we recite the twelve prayers that form the decade of the rosary, we need to deeply reflect on the mystery associated with that decade. Simple recitation, whether vocally or in silence, is not enough because we miss the true essence of the prayers.
Praying the Rosary therefore is not just simply about reciting prayers. It involves reflecting on the grace of God. Praying is a powerful act that lets us develop and strengthen our relationship with God and the Rosary offers the same beautiful reward. By praying the Rosary, we meditate on the events in the life of Jesus Christ and this lets us know God more.
When we are unaware of the meditation aspect of the Rosary, we reduce the prayer to an empty, repetitive and meaningless gesture. In Matthew 6:7, Jesus Christ forbids us to practice prayer in meaningless and repetitive babbles. It is precisely the reflective nature of the Rosary that distinguishes it as a powerful and profound way of praying.
Rosaries are not just beads or a prayer that we recite during the month of October. Many spiritual battles have been won because of this symbolic act. Many hearts have been touched and many discouraged people have been uplifted because of the Rosary.
How do you plan to celebrate the month of Rosary? What is the significance of the Rosary in your personal life? How did it strengthen you in your walk of faith?

The Blue Rosary by Brian Doyle

I was visiting a third grade recently when we got into a conversation about prayer beads and how pretty much every religion has some form of prayer beads, from the Catholic rosary to Buddhist malas to Islamic misbaha, which have 99 beads to signify the 99 names of God. We got to talking about how prayer beads are essentially meditative devices, tactile instruments for concentrated chant, which is a way to let go of the usual conscious inundation and open doors and windows for the signs and songs of the everywhere holy, as the visitor, to his surprise, found himself saying; chanted or murmured or interior repetitive prayer is music, really, isn’t it, as one shy child said, brilliantly.

We talked about people we knew who carried rosaries, moms and dads and aunts and grandparents and Sister Teacher beaming in the back row. We talked about the moving and sometimes haunting collective praying of the rosary, which was a regular feature of my childhood but not, apparently, of theirs. We talked about how still in many cases when a Catholic man or woman died, there would be a collective chanting of the rosary the night before the funeral, another custom that appears to be slowly fading from the world. And then I talked about how when I was a cheerful Sunday school teacher for my parish I would hand each of my young charges a tiny one-decade wooden rosary, on the general principle that everyone ought to have a rosary, and smaller rosaries are friendlier and handier and easier to slip in and out in and out of pockets than large ones which feel like ship cables and get caught easily on keys and pens and buttons and zippers, and wooden rosaries are the warmest and friendliest of all, and arguably holiest too, as they are composed of formerly living beings through which the vibrant jazz of life once coursed, beings who ate sunshine and minerals and yearned for light and harbored many other beings in their branches and burrows; and then I mentioned that I’d recently lost the tiny wooden rosary that I carried ever since I was a Sunday school teacher, to remember those wild holy children by; my poor little rosary, handled and dandled so many thousand times, had finally come apart, though I had saved some of the beads in the tiny box all of us have somewhere in which to save the talismans of those and what we love in our lives.

So you don’t have a rosary yourself? Said a moppet.

I don’t, I said. I am sans rosary, rosaryless, bereft at beadlessness for the moment, I said. I suppose I will find another rosary soon enough but for the moment I am a beadless man, a sad state of affairs. And then the bell rang, and the class ended, and the children flew away like birds, but one small girl remained. She was eight years old, she said, and her name was Mayar, which means the sun’s light on the moon, and her grandparents had come to America from Lebanon many years ago, and her grandmother had given her three rosaries at her First Communion, a red one and a white one and a blue one, and she carried them with her in a secret pocket in her backpack, because she loved her grandmother, and every time she thought of the three rosaries, maybe that was a prayer for her grandmother, but she would give me any of the three I chose, because everyone ought to have a rosary, as I had said, and if she had three and I had none, then she would give me one. Her grandmother would certainly have approved of such a gift. That was the sort of person her grandmother had been, as generous as anyone who ever was.

She dug the rosaries out of the secret pocket in her backpack and I tried not to cry as she spread them out and said You take what you like. After a minute I chose the blue rosary because the Madonna wore blue. I told Mayar that I would pray my first rosary on the blue rosary for her grandmother and she said thank you and we shook hands and I have the blue rosary in my pocket as I finish this sentence and I hope that you will join me in a prayer for Mayar and her grandmother and you and me and everyone who yearns for the light. Amen.

This article also appears in the May 2018 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 83, No. 5, pages 36–37).

As most of us are familiar with the beaded rosary, you would be forgiven for thinking that the rosary bead gets its name from the beads. This is not the case however as the “bead” in the name, actually comes from an Old English word meaning “to pray” or “to entreat”. So any rosary made using knots or even squared stones, can still be called a rosary bead.

In this article we will be going over a few of the different types of rosary designs that are available as well as some of the different ways people use their rosary.

For more information on how to use rosary beads and a brief history of the rosary, see our article Rosary Beads.

Different Types of Rosary

The purpose of a rosary is to function a as devotion that allows us to not only keep track of how many times a prayer has been uttered, but to also honor Jesus and Mary. By holding onto a rosary during prayer we are presenting the Virgin Mary with a rose from of the Crown of Roses.

Just as not every prayer is the same, so too are many rosaries different from one another as each type of rosary can serve its own purpose. There are the full five decades prayer cycle rosary beads, or even a single decade rosary beads. Here we will be going over some of the different forms a rosary may take.

The Five Decades Rosary

The five decades rosary bead is the most common and easily recognizable rosary on the market today. It consists of a crucifix with 53 beads for “Hail Mary”, 6 beads that may be different from the rest for “Our Father” prayers. These beads are sorted into five decades of ten Hail Mary’s, that are separated by one Our Father bead. This forms a loop that circles back to a rosary center that may be a bead or a medallion. These five decades rosaries like the one pictured above, can also be used with many other prayers such as the St. Gertrude Prayer to free souls from purgatory.

One Decade Rosary Beads

Containing only a single decade as apposed to the five decades of the more commonly used rosary beads. These one decade rosary are much easier to carry, and the risk of them tangling or knotting up on itself is greatly reduced by its smaller length.

1) Straight Chain Bead

Some one decade rosary beads are kept straight and may even be fastened into a key chain or trinket that you can attach to your bag, purse or wallet. These rosary usually consist of a cross or a crucifix, 1 “Our Father” and 10 “Hail Mary” beads and may end in a knot, ring or even a clip.

2) Looped Rosary Bead

Another one decade rosary that is like the five decade rosary beads, in that they form a loop with a rosary center that is often a medallion. They consist of a cross, followed by 1 “Our Father”, and then 10 “Hail Mary” beads that loop back onto the rosary center.


These rosary are used for specific sets of prayers, that are intended to ask for the help of Jesus, Mary, or the Saints. These rosary get their name from the word Chapelet, which is the french word for rosary, and unlike the more common rosary beads that have 10 beads per decade. These rosary may use clusters of 3 beads, or a total of 7 or 9 beads for a single decade. There may also be a space between decades or a medallion that is symbolic of the Saint that the beads are intended for. These differences in bead layout are due to the specific prayers and saints that they are intended to be used for.

1) Chaplet Chain

These small chains are easy to carry. They often consist of a cross or crucifix at one end, a medallion at the other, and the appropriate number of beads required for its intended use.

2) Chaplet Rosary

Like the more common five decade rosary, these rosary also form a loop. Unlike the common five decade rosary however, they use medallions in lieu of the “Our Father” beads and many have seven decades not the five. The prayers that are intended for these rosaries will also determine the bead layout.

Rosary Rings

Sometimes referred to as finger rosaries, these rosaries can be either a literal ring that can be worn, or a solid circular shape that can be easily carried in someone’s purse, wallet or pocket. Their intended purpose is to offer a portable means of devotion that can be easily accessed for prayer and protection. These rings have a cross or crucifix, and ten little bumps or tabs that make up a single decade.

1) Silver Spinner Rosary Rings

A ring like the one shown above, has the rosary bead wrapped around the actual ring on whats called a spinner. This allows for the wearer to use just one hand to both hold and rotate the rosary. By placing their thumb on the appropriate section of the ring, they are able to move the rosary/spinner along the ring as they hold each bead and the cross as they say their prayers.

2) Gold Rosary Ring

Solid rings like this one are like most other rings, in that they can be made of gold, silver, platinum or sterling silver. While this one shown has the rosary bead and the ring as one solid piece. They can be found with the rosary as a inlay, or with stones, both precious and semi-precious set into the ring. To use a rosary ring like this, the holder would hold the ringed finger in their other hand. Either turning the ring as they say their prayers, or touching each bead and the cross with different fingers as they completed their prayer.

3) Pocket Rosary Ring

A hail Mary rosary ring like the one on the left and the Celtic rosary ring like the one on the right, are designed to be carried on a person and not worn by them. To use these sort of rings, one would loosely hold the edge of the ring in one hand, and with the other hand they would grasp the beads and the cross between thumb and forefinger as they said each prayer, turning the ring in a counter clockwise motion to access the next bead or the cross.

Milestone Gifts

As we reach set milestones in our lives, many of us may consider using rosaries that are made specifically for these occasions. Here are a few examples of rosaries that are used by many Christian based cultures to celebrate events in a persons life.

1) Wedding Rosary Beads

Traditionally a Hispanic custom, these over-sized rosary beads are made from two rosaries joining together at the center, forming two five decade loops instead of the traditional one loop that is found on a normal rosary. Also known as a lasso, or lazo, these rosaries are used to symbolize the joining of husband and wife and eyes of God. While these rosaries are more ceremonial and figurative, many husbands and wives will use these rosaries to pray together.

2) Baptism Rosary Beads

As the godparent for of the newly baptized boy or girl, you may want to consider presenting them with their very own set of rosary beads like the ones shown above as a gift. Presenting your new godchild with their own rosary bead goes a long way towards helping to guide them onto the path of the Lord and Church.

3) Funeral Rosary Beads

In 1997 when Princess Diana died, she was buried with an ivory rosary bead. While this may not be a pleasant topic for most people to consider discussing. Death none the less remains the final stage in our lives. Throughout history many cultures have given their dearly departed a final gift to see them off into the after life. By presenting your loved one with a set of funeral rosary beads, not only are you helping to offer their soul that last bit of protection. It also helps to guide and re-unit them with God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Other traditions may even give the friends and family a personalized rosary that has the deceased’s name on it, and by praying on these rosary beads during the ceremony, they are praying for this person’s soul.

Personal Rosary Beads

For centuries we have been using the rosary beads for personal protection and as portable devotions to use in prayer. Even to date, there are many people that hang a rosary on their bedhead to protect them from evil while they sleep. During times of conflict, many soldiers have been know to wrap their rosary around the barrel of their riffle. Some do this for their own protection and others did this to absolve their souls of sin for taking another’s life. In the past people use to carry their rosary around their neck or wrap it around their wrist, today we make jewelry just for this specific purpose.

Below you can find a few examples of the types of rosary beads that can be carried or used for personal luck and for protection from evil.

1) Rosary For Your Car

These rosary hang off your rear-view mirrors

Stick on details for your bumper bar

31 Rosary Beads Tattoos With Symbolism and Meanings

One of the reasons the rosary beads tattoos have been so popular with body ink lovers is because it is something both men and women can enjoy and holds a very personal meaning for the wearer.

Most people know instantly what the rosary beads are, and they are often associated with religion and beliefs, especially that of the Catholic Church. This beaded necklace is used during prayers and is believed to offer the wearer the added protection of God.

Considering the rosary beads as a tattoo design here is everything you need to know before getting your ink:

The History of the Rosary Beads

The rosary beads are comprised of five sets of ten different beads, with a cross hanging at the end of the necklace. The rosary beads are a unique system used to count and keep track of how many prayers are being said.

A person can close their eyes, focus on their prayers, and simply move their fingers along the beads until they get to the cross to know they have completed the session.

These beads allow the person to be completely focused on their thoughts and prayers, and each bead is symbolic of one prayer, one decade, and one mystery. The string of these beads is known as a chaplet, and have been used to ward off demons and evil spirits.

The Popularity of the Rosary Beads

Today you see women, men, professionals, and even gang leaders, all getting inked with the rosary beads tattoos. These beads are considered to be a sacred symbol of the Catholic Church.

When inked on the body, they represent for some a commitment to a higher power, a dedication to their God, and the reaching out for help in difficult times. Those who get the rosary beads inked on the body are asking for protection for themselves and for their loved ones.

The beads can be drawn with a huge cross at the bottom to represent their faith, their love for someone who has passed, or for showing their support in a higher power.

The Rosary Beads Symbolism

Some associate the rosary beads with roses, partly because the Latin word for a rosary means a garland of roses, and others connect the roses with the Virgin Mary.

Some get their ink with patterns of rose pedals in place of the beads to represent a love for the Holy Mother, for the pain Jesus Christ endured with his crown of thorns, and to represent their connection to their faith for the rest of their lives.

Many get the rosary beads tattoos drawn around the neck and down the chest just like a real set would hang to remind them to be grateful for what they have, to prayer to their God daily, and to appreciate the protection these beads offer.

In addition to the rosary beads design, many ink lovers incorporate other religious symbols to further enhance the imagery and its meaning. Some choose to add wings, hearts, angels, and large crosses to the beads. Praying hands with the beads wrapped around the fingers can be symbolic of a memorial to a loved one who has passed or your love for your religion.

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