There are three elements involved in 'praying the Rosary' :
the layout of the beads,
the specific prayers,
and the twenty mysteries for meditation.
The Classic Catholic rosary beads
I made my rosary with pearls from one of my grandmother's necklaces. I used a large shell for the 'metal' at the bottom of the circlet because it reminds me of childhood summers spent at the beaches of Cape Cod. The small pink beads are from one of my mother's shell necklaces she left me. I tied it all together with a pretty crystal in the place of the crucifix to remind me of my Christ centre. This was the last rosary I made. I have come to see that working with materials of remembrance adds to the fullness of the Rosary experience.
The standard rosary is laid out as a circle, with a stem at the bottom, symbolically creating a garland of roses, which represent the Virgin Mary. Hanging from the stem is a crucifix. On the stem there is one large bead followed by three smaller beads, and then a second larger bead. At the top of the stem, there is a triangular 'medal' of some kind which that joins itself to the circle of beads, or the circlet, as it is called.
The circlet consists of five sets of 10 smaller beads, each set referred to as a decade. Each decade is followed by a larger bead and a space. When working through the beads with the accompanying prayers and meditations, you move through the circlet from the right, counterclockwise.
As you move through the patterns of beads, each one will represent a certain prayer to be prayed or mystery to be contemplated.
The pattern is always the same. It does not alter. To pray the full Rosary, you would have to go around the circlet four times. Usually, if a person is in the habit of praying the Rosary daily, they will pray through one complete circlet a day, with a different set of mysteries being contemplated on different days of the week. (The weekly pattern for the mysteries is found below in 'The Mysteries' section.
All the beads merge with the cross as a reminder that the Christian life centres on Christ. (My homemade rosary below, which ends in a crystal, is the exception, not the rule.)
There are three main prayers repeated in the Rosary. They are referred to as the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and the Glory Be. Additionally, the Creed is recited at the beginning of the rosary and the Hail, Holy Queen at the end. There is the option of adding the Fatima prayer after each Glory Be and also at the end, as well as a concluding prayer, after the Hail, Holy Queen.
The diagram above indicates the pattern of the prayers. The idea behind the repetitions, is not, as some critics have claimed, to engage in 'vain repetition,' but rather to bring the person praying into a meditative state. In much the same way, the Buddhist and Hindu faiths use mantras to aid in concentration.
The prayers are as follows:
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 Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell; the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven, sits 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.
the 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.
the our father
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
The Glory Be (The Doxology)
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.
optional concluding prayer: the fatima prayer
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy. Amen
standard closing prayer: the hail holy queen prayer
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, O most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement! O loving! O sweet Virgin Mary! Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ.
O my Jesus, forgive us our sings, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy. Amen.
Optional additional closing prayer
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Let us pray.
O God, whose Only Begotten Son, by his life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech thee,
that 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.
The Twenty Mysteries for Meditation
There are twenty mysteries in the full Rosary. They are divided into four sets of five, each mystery focusing on a wonder within the lives of Jesus and Mary. All but two of the mysteries are found in the Gospel texts. The last two are part of the Catholic doctrine and concern Mary. The groups of five are gathered around themes: the Joyful Mysteries concern Jesus' birth; the Luminous Mysteries concern Jesus' ministry, the Sorrowful Mysteries concern Jesus' death; the Glorious Mysteries concern the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as well as Mary's ascension .
The Joyful Mysteries, The Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries have been around since the Rosary first came into being some five hundred years ago. The Luminous Mysteries were instigated by Pope John Paul in the later part of the 20th century. The Rosary was central to his own spirituality. In wishing to draw attention to this important spiritual practice, he added mysteries that focused on Jesus' ministry. Many people pray the Rosary every day, but do not do the entire four rounds of the circlet. Instead they do one group of The Mysteries each day. Pope John Paul II suggested this schedule, which is the one most often imitated.
- Sunday: Glorious Mysteries
- Monday: Joyful Mysteries
- Tuesday: Sorrowful Mysteries
- Wednesday: Glorious Mysteries
- Thursday: Luminous Mysteries
- Friday: Sorrowful Mysteries
- Saturday: Joyful Mysteries
The Joyful Mysteries
- The Annunciation (Luke 1:26 - 39)
- Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:39 - 45)
- Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:6 - 20)
- The Presentation at the Temple (Luke 2:22 - 39)
- The Find in the Temple (Luke 2:41- 52)
The Luminous Mysteries
- The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (Matt 3:13 - 17)
- The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1 - 11)
- The Proclamation of the Kingdom (Matt 5:1 - 10)
- The Transfiguration (Luke 9:28 - 36)
- The Institution of the Eucharist (Mark 14:22 - 25)
the sorrowful mysteries
- The Agony in the Garden (Mark 14:32 - 42)
- The Scourging at the the Pillar (Mark 15:15)
- The Crowning of the Thorns (Mark 15:16 - 20)
- The Carrying of the Cross (Luke 23:16 - 32)
- The Crucifixion and Death (Luke 23:33 - 49)
the glorious mysteries
- The Resurrection (Luke 23:56 - 24:12)
- The Ascension (Acats 1:6 - 11)
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1 - 17)
- The Assumption (Catecism of the Catholic Church #966)
- The Coronation of Mary (Luke 1:46 - 49)
how to pray the Catholic Rosary
To begin praying the rosary, you make the sign of the cross - with your right hand you touch your forehead, chest, left shoulder, and then right shoulder. Then while holding the crucifix, the Creed is recited. Then you move up the stem towards the circlet. The large bead is accompanied with the Our Father, the three smaller beads, with three Hail Marys, and in the space that follows, is a Glory Be. You will find yourself at the top of the stem. You then begin to work around the circlet with the announcement of the 1st Mystery. Once the 1st Mystery is stated - it is always the Annunciation - there are ten Hail Marys, a Glory Be, and an Our Father.
The pattern begins again with the announcement of the 2nd Mystery. After the mystery has been announced, the saying of the Hail Marys is for the purpose of meditating on the said Mystery.
This pattern continues on around the circlet as you move counter clockwise and arrive back at 'the metal', the point where the circlet joins the stem. The pattern is: Announcement, 10 Hail Marys, 1 Glory Be, 1 Our Father, Announcement, 10 Hail Marys, 1 Glory Be, 1 Our Father and so on right around the circlet.
If, as is the usual way, you wish to just pray one set of mysteries, you would then end with the Hail, Holy Queen and Closing prayer, and finish up with the sign of the cross. This usually takes about twenty minutes. If you wish to pray more than one set of mysteries, you would continue around the circlet again, with the same pattern of prayers, but a different set of mysteries. And though there is a set of mysteries set out by the days of the week, anyone praying the rosary with a particular purpose in mind can choose what set of mysteries of choice.