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The Rosary (from Latin rosarium, "crown of roses"), an important and traditional devotion of the Catholic Church consisting of a set of prayer beads and a system of set prayers. The Rosary is sometimes used by High Church Protestants including, but not limited to, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Methodists. It combines prayer and meditation centered around sequences of reciting the Lord's Prayer followed by ten recitations of the "Hail Mary" prayer; one such sequence is known as a decade. A complete Rosary traditionally involves the completion of twenty (formerly fifteen) decades, as well as other prefatory and final prayers.

Eastern Christians also use similar strings of beads to pray, although among the Orthodox their use is mainly restricted to monks and bishops, not being common among laity or secular clergy. Many Eastern Christians use a prayer rope instead; its use is much more prevalent, and it is typically associated with the Jesus Prayer.

Another form of prayer beads is popular among Anglicans/ Episcopalians. Originally called Anglican prayer beads, this bead set is also known as the "Anglican Rosary" or as "Christian prayer beads" because of the popularity it has found among Protestants generally. Anglican bead sets contain 28 beads in groups of seven (the "weeks"), with an additional large bead before each. In total, there are thirty-three beads representing the years of Jesus' life on Earth. The most common prayer used is the Jesus Prayer, but there are no appointed prayers or meditations.


The Mysteries

A recitation of the Rosary was traditionally dedicated to one of three sets of "mysteries" to be said in sequence, one per night; the Joyful (sometimes Joyous) Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. In an unprecedented break with tradition, Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae (October 2002) introduced a fourth, optional set, called the Luminous Mysteries. Each set has within it five different themes to be meditated on, one for each decade of ten Hail Marys.

(The list of mysteries below corresponds to moments in the life and death [the Passion] of Jesus and Mary chronologically.)


Before Rosarium Virginis Mariae (Oct. 2002): Mondays and Thursdays

After Rosarium Virginis Mariae (Oct. 2002): Mondays and Saturdays

  1. The Annunciation
  2. The Visitation
  3. The Nativity
  4. The Presentation at the Temple
  5. The Finding in the Temple


After Rosarium Virginis Mariae (Oct. 2002): Thursdays

  1. The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3)
  2. The Wedding at Cana (John)
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4)
  4. The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3-5 / Mark 9:4-6 Luke / 9:32-34)
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist (Matthew 26: 26-29)



To be recited on Tuesdays and Fridays

  1. The Agony in the Garden
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar
  3. The Crowning with Thorns
  4. The Carrying of the Cross
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus


To be recited on Wednesdays and Sundays

  1. The Resurrection of Jesus
  2. The Ascension of Jesus
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit
  4. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary
  5. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The origins of the Rosary

It is said that when Roman explorers came into India and encountered the Japa mala, they heard jap mala instead of japa mala. Jap means "rose", and the mala was carried back to the Roman Empire as rosarium, and into English as rosary. However, this etymology seems unlikely because of the dating. According to the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, "Thomas of Chantimpre, who wrote about the middle of the 13th century, first mentions the word 'rosary' (De apibus, ii. 13), using it apparently in a mystical sense as Mary's rose-garden." The term was first used in connection with prayer beads in 1597, about 300 years later, and more than 1000 years after the fall of the Roman Empire.

An alternative, similar (and also quite likely apocryphal) explanation is that in Arabic, the word for "rose" (ward) is close to the word for "invocation of sacred Names" (wird).

Similar bead-prayers (originally using knotted ropes) date to about the fourth century, when they were used to pray the Jesus prayer. Prayer beads are also found in many other religions (notably Hinduism, where the practice appears to have started), and some have been found dating back to antiquity.

According to tradition, in 1214 the Virgin Mary gave to St. Dominic the basic form of the Rosary as it is known today, with minor variations in the wording of the Hail Mary, such as the addition of the Name "Jesus" by St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444). The historicity of this association with Dominic is generally disputed, although Dominicans apparently were involved in the early promotion of the rosary.

In her apparition at Fatima (1917), the Virgin Mary revealed that every time a Hail Mary is recited, it is as if a rose was offered to her, so a complete Rosary is like a crown of roses. (The idea of a Rosary being a crown predates Fatima by centuries, and was expressed on several occasions by medieval and later Catholics, notably St. Louis de Montfort in his promotional book Secrets of the Rosary.)

Prayer beads are also used in other religious traditions: for example the Prayer ropes of Eastern Christianity, the japa mala of Hinduism, Buddhist prayers beads, and various bead sets of Islam.

Rosary beads


Rosary Beads usually contain 50 beads in groups of ten (the decades), with an additional large bead before each decade. Some beads have been known to have one hundred or one hundred and fifty. These numbers were chosen to match the number of psalms, or a third or two-thirds of them. This was because in ancient times monks and clergy used to recite the entire psalter every day; the practice of saying one hundred and fifty Pater Nosters (Our Fathers in Latin) developed as an alternative for those who were illiterate or who could not afford a psalter. (In a similar way, some parts of the Eastern liturgy can be replaced by a specified number of repetitions of the Jesus prayer.) It was only in the Middle Ages, however, when prayer to Mary became common among Catholics, that the use of Ave Marias instead of Pater Nosters came about. The beads were traditionally made from the seeds of the "bead tree", but are now more usually made of artificial materials. A set of Rosary Beads is considered a sacramental.

Traditionally, 15 decades used to be said in total, a total increased to 20 with the addition of the "Luminous Mysteries" in 2002 by Pope John Paul II. Some Catholics, particularly those who regard themselves as Traditional Catholics, continue to observe the more traditional form of the Rosary and do not include the "Luminous Mysteries" in their recitation of the Rosary.

Each decade of the Rosary traditionally corresponds to a mystery of Redemption, although the mysteries did not originate until the 15th or 16th century, and even then there was not universal agreement on what they were.

In a common form, the beads are true olive seeds; in past times there was a respectable trade in Rosaries made with olive seeds supposedly from the Garden of Gethsemane. Beads are sometimes made with sacred relics.

Types of Rosaries

Some national variations in terms of prayers used and structure occur in the form of the recitation of the Rosary.

One frequently used form


  • an "Our Father" on the large bead;
  • a "Hail Mary" on each of the adjacent ten small beads;
  • a "Glory Be to the Father" on the next large bead;
  • again an Our Father, ten Hail Marys, the Glory Be to the Father, and Fatima Prayer for each of the following decades;
  • a "Hail Mary" and a sign of the cross.

A regularly used alternative

  • Opening prayer (variable)
  • One "Our Father", three "Hail Marys", one "Glory Be to the Father"
  • Decade 1: One "Our Father", Ten "Hail Marys", One "Glory Be to the Father"
  • Fatima Prayer
  • Decade 2
  • Fatima Prayer
  • Decade 3
  • Fatima Prayer
  • Decade 4
  • Fatima Prayer
  • Decade 5


  • Prayer: Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness, and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us; and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus; O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the Promises of Christ.
  • Litany (the response after each is "Pray for Us")
Holy Mary, Holy Mother of God, Holy Virgin of virgins, Mother of Christ, Mother of divine grace, Mother most pure, Mother most chaste, Mother inviolate, Mother undefiled, Mother most amiable, Mother most admirable, Mother of good counsel, Mother of our Creator, Mother of our Savior, Virgin most prudent, Virgin most venerable, Virgin most renowned, Virgin most powerful, Virgin most merciful, Virgin most faithful, Mirror of justice, Seat of wisdom, Cause of our joy, Spiritual vessel, Vessel of honor, Singular vessel of devotion, Mystical rose, Tower of David, Tower of ivory, House of gold, Ark of the covenant, Gate of heaven, Morning star, Health of the Sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, Help of Christians, Queen of Angels, Queen of Patriarchs, Queen of Prophets, Queen of Apostles, Queen of Martyrs, Queen of Confessors, Queen of Virgins, Queen of all Saints, Queen conceived without original sin, Queen assumed into heaven, Queen of the most holy Rosary, Queen of Peace. Pray for Us.
  • Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
  • R/ Have Mercy on Us
  • Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
  • R/ Have Mercy on Us
  • Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world.
  • R/ Hear Our Prayer
  • Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
  • R/ That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
  • Final prayer (variable)
  • One Our Father, three Hail Marys, One Glory be to the Father.

Rosaries in other faiths

Other faiths also use similar objects for prayer, including Sufi Muslims, certain Buddhist groups, and some Hindus (see japa mala), among others. Additionally, there is a relatively new form of the rosary used by those of the Anglican tradition which is somewhat similar to the Roman Rosary. A good description of the Anglican Rosary can be found at the Anglican Franciscan Brothers' website.

Rosaries worn outside of religion


Rosaries are often worn for non-religious purposes as a fashion or jewelery item, though this is against Catholic custom, and are sold in different variations in popular jewelry and clothing stores. They were heavily popularised by singer Madonna in the early 1980s.

See also

External links

eo:Rozario es:Rosario (catolicismo) fr:Rosaire it:Rosario la:Rosarium nl:Rozenkrans ja:ロザリオ pl:Różaniec zh:玫瑰經

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