Rosary beads are used during mass and independent prayer.
Rosary beads are used during mass and independent prayer.

Catholic rosaries most often take the form of a string made of beads grouped into sets of five. Dividing these groups of five are larger beads, each of which signifies a change in prayer. Rosaries come in a variety of types, each with its own historical background and function within the belief system of the Catholic Church. Rosaries can be used to pray, as a part of a larger religious ceremony, or as a way to direct prayer to a specific religious figure.

Standard

The standard rosary as most Catholics know it consists of five sets of ten beads, or decades, plus a set of five beads leading to a crucifix which ends the strand. Each bead leading from the crucifix to the decades marks a prayer. The first is an "Our Father," the next three mark a recitation of the "Hail Mary" and the last is a "Glory Be." The beads that make up the five decades each represent a single "Hail Mary" while the marker beads that separate them represent one "Our Father."

Servite

Servite rosaries are dedicated to the adoration of the Mother Mary. With servite rosaries, the traditional set of ten beads separated by marker beads is exchanged for sets of seven. These seven beads symbolize the seven founders of the Servite order who chose to dedicate themselves to the Madonna in 13th century Tuscany. More importantly, they symbolize the "Seven Sorrows of Mary" or the struggles Mary went through during the life and death of her son, Jesus. A mixture of "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" prayers are still said, but the individual is meant to contemplate the hardships of Mary's life as she performs the ritual.

Franciscan

The Franciscan rosary is named for Saint Francis of Assisi, a well-known and beloved saint after whom Pope Francisco I dedicated his pontificate in 2013. Saint Francis created the Franciscan order in the early 15th century around the celebration of nature and a disdain for wealth and materialism symbolized by the life of the Mother Mary. The Franciscan rosary consists of sets of seven beads much like the Servite rosary, however it is focused on the joys of Mary's life rather than the sorrows.

Weddings

Wedding or Lazo rosaries are common to Far Eastern and Latin American cultures. They consist of two separate sets of rosary beads that link together to create a single strand. The symbolism of this link is clearly apparent; the joined rosaries are meant to symbolize strength in unity and togetherness. The rosaries can be used separately but are not whole unless joined together. The beads are applied to a couple during the wedding ceremony as the priest joins them before God. They are then given to the couple to keep and use on a nightly basis as the rosary is said in unison with the beads linked together.

Portable Forms

Rosaries are sometimes reconfigured into smaller, more compact formats better suited to portability and travel. Rosaries can be shaped into rings or bracelets which are then removed and held in the hands during prayer. As long as the correct number of beads or markers are present, these rosaries are able to serve the same function as the more traditional necklace strands more common to public knowledge.

Significance

In fact, Rosaries have no link to the Bible and do not begin to appear in the history of the Catholic Church until the Middle Ages. They were invented as a way to remember the number of "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" prayers said, but have no real religious significance outside of this functional use. They were adopted officially into the church during the 16th century when Pope Pius V declared a holy day named the "Feast of the Holy Rosary" to give thanks for a crusader victory that took place after a mass prayer vigil using rosary beads. While the different types of rosaries available to Catholics are a part of local belief systems, they are more the result of a practical development over time and not a direct linked to the origins of the faith.