For many Catholics, praying the Rosary is second nature. But there are also many Catholics who have never been taught the Rosary and wouldn’t know the first thing about how to pray through the Mysteries. And then there are non-Catholics who probably know what a set of Rosary beads looks like, but the only “mystery” to them is what they actually are and what they are used for. In fact, for many well-meaning Protestants, they think that the Rosary is nothing more than a little chain that Catholics superstitiously carry about to ward off goblins and orcs. I used to be one of those Protestants...OK, maybe not goblins and orcs...but I did happen to be one of “those” Protestants.
To me the Rosary certainly was a mystery, and I certainly couldn’t have cared less about learning what it was actually about. I only really bothered to learn about the Rosary when I was delving more into the Catholic faith and falling more and more in love with it. Now, I love to talk about the Rosary, and share with people what it really is all about. I had one such opportunity earlier this morning when a Protestant friend asked for an explanation of the Rosary [I really admire people like this, because it shows humility to want to find out more – not for the sake of arguing...but simply for the sake of understanding].
Since I had typed something up, and since I love sharing about the Rosary, I decided to use the material for my blog...so here it is...
What is the Rosary?
The Rosary is a form of prayer used to meditate on the life and work of Jesus Christ. Now, no one knows a child better than their mother. This truth is fully realised in the relationship between Jesus and Mary, especially since the Lord Jesus took on human flesh to restore humanity to everything that it was intended to be.So, one could say that the Rosary is a prayerful walk with Mary, asking her to show us more of Jesus Christ so that we can learn to follow Him more closely – like she herself did. Mary was the first Christian, and she is the model Christian. Catholics understand that Mary’s whole role is to point us to Jesus...always to Jesus.
And this is the whole purpose of the Rosary. As we meditate upon an aspect of Christ’s life, specifically as we read of it in Scripture, we ask His Blessed Mother to show us more of Him, and we ask her to pray for us so that we can become more and more like Him. In fact, the Hail Mary itself is nothing more than (a) praying Scripture; and (b) asking Mary to pray for us:
Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with Thee (Lk 1:28).
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus (Lk 1:42).
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
What are Rosary beads?
The way that the Rosary encourages us to meditate upon Christ and become more like Him is very practical...A set of Rosary beads has a specific design which reflects the pattern of the prayers said during the Rosary. Basically, the Rosary consists of 5 decades (decade = 10) which is made up on one Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s, and one Glory Be:
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen”
As each decade is prayed, a different aspect of Christ’s life and work is contemplated. These episodes in the life of Christ are referred to as Mysteries. There are 4 sets of Mysteries, each set consisting of 5 decades:
1) The Joyful Mysteries – meditating on the Incarnation of Christ i.e. the Annunciation; the Visitation to Elisabeth; the Nativity of Christ; the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; and finding Jesus in the Temple
2) The Luminous Mysteries – meditating on Jesus’ public ministry i.e. the Baptism of Jesus; Jesus turns water into wine; the proclamation of the Kingdom; the Transfiguration; and the Institution of the Eucharist
3) The Sorrowful Mysteries – meditating on the Passion of Christ i.e. Jesus prays in the Garden; the scourging of Jesus; Jesus is crowned with thorns; Jesus carries His cross to Calvary; and the Crucifixion
4) The Glorious Mysteries – meditating on the Resurrection and its fruits i.e. the Resurrection of Jesus; the Ascension; the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; Jesus takes Mary up into Heaven (the Assumption); and Jesus crowns Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth (the Coronation)
How to pray the RosaryUsing a set of Rosary beads like the one pictured above, the Rosary prayer would go like this:
- On the Crucifix – recite the Apostles’ Creed; followed by
- One Our Father and three Hail Mary’s (on the first four beads). After the third Hail Mary, pray the Glory Be
And then begins the meditation on the Mysteries. For example, if you were meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, it would go like this:
- First Decade – one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s while contemplating the Annunciation; then pray the Glory Be
- Second Decade – one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s while contemplating the Visitation; then pray the Glory Be
- Third Decade – one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s while contemplating the Nativity; then pray the Glory Be
- Fourth Decade – one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s while contemplating the Presentation; then pray the Glory Be
- Fifth Decade – one Our Father and ten Hail Mary’s while contemplating finding Jesus in the Temple; then pray the Glory Be
After praying the final “Glory Be”, this would bring you to the medallion which brings the whole set of Rosary beads together. On this medallion we would offer up a final prayer asking Mary for her special intercession (called the Salve Regina). The Salve Regina is followed by a final prayer to God the Father to grant us the grace to become more Christlike i.e.:
“O God, whose Only Begotten Son by His Life, Death, and Resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation; grant we beseech Thee that, by meditating upon these Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I really love this concluding prayer because it sums up what the Rosary is all about. It is about meditating upon the Mystery of Jesus Christ, so that we can imitate Him (i.e. become more like Him in our daily lives), and so obtain (or inherit) eternal salvation.As you can see, whilst the Rosary is a specifically Marian form of prayer, it is also completely Christ-focussed. This is because Jesus and Mary can never be separated; and Mary always points us to Jesus telling us to do whatever Jesus commands us to do.
Post-script:If you would like to have your own set of Rosary beads designed and made up, I would highly recommend the Design My Rosary. It is run by a little family who handcraft Rosaries as per your specifications. My own set of Rosary beads comes from here, and I can personally attest to their beauty and craftsmanship...and they are also very sturdy (which is exactly what you want for Rosary beads which you carry around with you all the time).
Also, if you are looking for something more simple (and visual) to help get you started in praying the Rosary, click here for a very helpful PDF document.