Facts About the Rosary

Each bead on a rosary symbolizes a prayer.
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The string of beads you sometimes see people holding as they pray is called a rosary, which comes from the Latin word “roserius,” meaning, “garland of roses.” The word “bead” comes from an Old English word, “biddan,” which means “to pray” or “to entreat.” Using beads to pray with dates to early Christianity, when clergy members would use knots or beads to help keep track of prayers. When we pray the rosary today, we are using the beads and the other parts of the rosary to do the same thing -- to help keep track of our prayers.

1 What Is a Rosary?

A rosary can come in any size, shape or color, and the beads are made from crystal, glass, wood, pearl, or even rose petals or plastic. While holding one of the 55 beads of the rosary, the Sacred Heart of Mary medal or the crucifix attached to the rosary, Catholics say a special prayer and meditate on one of the mysteries. To “say the rosary” is to pray the complete cycle of the appropriate prayers for each bead, along with the beginning and end prayers. In the Roman Catholic faith, rosaries are often First Communion or Confirmation gifts.

2 History of the Rosary

The rosary originated in the 12th and 13th centuries. Since many people of that time could not afford a psalm book, traveling clergy used a string of beads as he prayed with them. Each bead represented a prayer such as "The Lord’s Prayer," the "Hail Mary" or the doxology, which is a “a short verse praising God.” As time went on, other prayers were added.

3 Saying the Rosary

The prayers of the rosary, called “mysteries,” are meant to help you meditate on the life, ministry and passion of Jesus Christ. The rosary comprises 20 mysteries, which are based on the most meaningful events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. The first prayers are called the joyful mysteries, which are said on Monday and Saturday; the second sequence is the mysteries of light, which are recited on Thursday. The third prayers are the sorrowful mysteries, said on Tuesday and Friday, while the final sequence is the glorious mysteries, recited on Wednesday and Saturday. The prayers include "The Lord's Prayer," the "Hail Mary," "The Apostle's Creed" and the "Salve Regina."

4 The Promises

Many Catholics believe that if they faithfully say the rosary, Mary, the mother of Jesus, will fulfill 15 promises that she made to Saint Dominic, the preacher who first brought the rosary into widespread usage in 1208. Notable among these promises is that if you recite the rosary, you will have Mary’s “special protection” and the “greatest graces”; additionally, you will “remain in the grace of God.” Praying the rosary causes “virtue and good works to flourish.”

Sherry Hames began writing professionally in 1982. She holds a master's and a bachelor's degree in English literature, and has proofread and copy edited for "Better Homes & Gardens" and the American Marketing Association, among other outlets. She has edited for more than 25 years.