As one dwells on a mystery in thought one recites prayers—the Lord's Prayer (or Our Father; Paternoster) once, Hail Mary (Ave Maria) 10 times, and Glory Be to the Father (Gloria Patri) once. Count is kept by slipping beads through the fingers; the beads have no other significance. The usual string—formerly called the chaplet—has five sets of 10 beads (decades); between the decades a single bead is set apart, for the Glory of one mystery and the Our Father of the next. There is a pendant with crucifix and beads for introductory prayers.
The rosary is often said in common, but it remains an individual prayer. Its popularity is often ascribed to the combination of simplicity of method with solidity of subject matter. In one form or another it has been in use some 600 years. There is a feast of the rosary, Oct. 7, on the anniversary of the victory of the Christians over the Turks at the battle of Lepanto. According to tradition, St. Dominic received the rosary from the Virgin Mary in a vision.
See F. B. Thornton, This Is the Rosary (1961).
Tropical plant (Abrus precatorius; family Leguminosae). Its hard, red and black seeds, though highly poisonous, are strung into necklaces and rosaries in India and other tropical areas. In India the seeds are also used as a unit of weight (ratti).
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Religious exercise in which prayers are recited and counted on a string of beads or knotted cord, which is also called a rosary. Many of these devices are highly ornamental and incorporate jewels. The practice of using a rosary or “counting beads” occurs widely in world religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. In Christianity, the most common rosary is that of the Virgin Mary. Its origin is uncertain, but it is associated with St. Dominic and reached its definitive form in the 15th century.
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The German theologian Romano Guardini defined the Roman Catholic emphasis on the rosary as “participation in the life of Mary, whose focus was Christ”. His statement echoed the view that in Roman Catholic Mariology the path to Christ is through Mary, with Mariology being inherent in Christology; a sentiment also expressed by saints such as Louis de Montfort who was a strong rosary advocate. Pope Leo XIII also viewed the rosary as a vital means to participate in the life of Mary and to find the way to Christ (see the section on Rosary Pope below).
The traditional fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary were finalized by the 16th century. The mysteries are grouped into three sets: the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries, and the glorious mysteries. In 2002, Pope John Paul II announced five new optional mysteries, the luminous mysteries, bringing the total number of mysteries to twenty.
The rosary is part of the Catholic veneration of Mary, which has been promoted by numerous popes, especially Leo XIII, known as "The Rosary Pope", who issued eleven encyclicals on the rosary and created the feast, Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary. Pope Pius V, introduced the rosary into the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrated on October 7. Most recently, on May 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stated, that the Rosary is experiencing a new Springtime. It is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and his Mother. To Benedict XVI, the rosary is a meditation on all important moments of salvation history. Before him, Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae built on the "total Marian devotion" pioneered by Saint Louis de Montfort. Pope Pius XII and his successors actively promoted the veneration of the Virgin in Lourdes and Fatima, which is credited with a new resurgence of the rosary within the Catholic Church.
The rosary is sometimes used by other Christians, especially in the Anglican Communion and the Old Catholic Church, and also by some Lutherans. Evangelical Protestants, however, such as Baptists and Presbyterians do not use it and actively discourage their members from using this method of prayer.
Many similar prayer practices exist in popular Roman Catholicism, each with its own set of prescribed prayers and its own form of prayer beads, such as the prayer rope in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. These other devotions and their associated beads are usually referred to as "chaplets."
The term is also used to refer to similar beads in other religions.
There are differing views on the history of the rosary. According to tradition, the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214 in the church of Prouille. This Marian apparition received the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. However, most scholarly research suggests a more gradual and organic development of the rosary.
Prayers with beads like the rosary may have begun as a practice by the laity to imitate the monastic Liturgy of the Hours, during the course of which the monks prayed the 150 Psalms daily. As many of the laity and even lay monastics could not read, they substituted 150 repetitions of the Our Father (Pater noster in Latin) for the Psalms, sometimes using a cord with knots on it to keep an accurate count. During the middle ages, evidence suggests that both the Our Father and the Hail Mary were recited with prayer beads. In the 7th century, Saint Eligius wrote of using a counting device to keep track of the 150 Hail Marys of the Psalter of Mary. In 13th century Paris, four trade guilds existed of prayer bead makers, who were referred to as paternosterers, and the beads were referred to as paternosters, suggesting a continued link between the Our Father (Pater noster in Latin) and the prayer beads. In the 12th century, the rule of the English anchorites, the Ancrene Wisse, specified how groups of fifty Hail Marys were to be broken into five decades of ten Hail Marys each. Gradually, the Hail Mary came to replace the Our Father as the prayer most associated with beads. Eventually, each decade came to be preceded by an Our Father, which further mirrored the structure of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours.
The practice of meditation during the praying of the Hail Marys is attributed to Dominic of Prussia (1382-1460), a Carthusian monk, who called it "Life of Jesus Rosary" The German monk from Trier added a sentence to each of the fifty Hail Mary's already popular at his time, using quotes from scriptures. Promoted by his superior Adolf von Essen and others, his practice became popular among Benedictines and Carthusians from Trier to adjoining Belgium and France, where it was greatly promoted by the preaching of the Dominican priest Alan de Rupe, who helped to spread the devotion in France, Flanders, and the Netherlands between 1460 and his death in 1475. From the 16th to the early 20th century, the structure of the rosary remained essentially unchanged. There were fifteen mysteries, one for each of the fifteen decades. In the 20th century the addition of the Fatima Prayer to the end of each decade became popular. There were no other changes until 2002 when John Paul II instituted five optional new Luminous Mysteries.
Since the 17th century, the Rosary began to appear as an element in key pieces of Roman Catholic Marian art, often in art that depicts the Virgin Mary. Key examples include Murrillo's Madonna with the Roary at the Museo del Prado in Spain, and the statute of Madonna with Rosary at the church of San Nazaro Maggiore in Milan. Several Roman Catholic Marian churches around the world have also been named after the rosary, e.g. Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica, in Rosario Argentina, the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes and Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
A rosary provides a physical method of keeping track of the number of Hail Marys said. The fingers are moved along the beads as the prayers are recited. By not having to keep track of the count mentally, the mind is more able to meditate on the mysteries. A five decade rosary contains five groups of ten beads (a decade), with additional large beads before each decade. The Hail Mary is said on the ten beads within a decade, while the Our Father is said on the large bead before each decade. A new mystery is meditated upon at each of the large beads. Some rosaries, particularly those used by religious orders, contain fifteen decades, corresponding to the traditional fifteen mysteries of the rosary. Both five and fifteen decade rosaries are attached to a shorter strand, which starts with a crucifix followed by one large, three small, and one large beads before connecting to the rest of the rosary. The praying of the rosary is started on the short strand, reciting the Apostle's Creed at the crucifix, an Our Father at the first large bead, three Hail Mary's on the next three beads, then a Glory be to the Father on the next large bead. The praying of the decades then follows. Although counting the prayers on a string of beads is customary, the prayers of the rosary do not actually require a set of beads, but can be said using any type of counting device, by counting on one's fingers, or by counting by oneself without any device at all.
The beads can be made from a wide variety of materials including wood, bone, glass, crushed flowers, semi-precious stones such as agate, jet, amber, or jasper, or precious materials including coral, crystal, silver, and gold. Rosaries are sometimes made from the seeds of the "rosary pea" or "bead tree". Today, the vast majority of rosary beads are made of glass, plastic, or wood. Early rosaries were strung on strong thread, often silk, but modern ones are more often made as a series of chain-linked beads. Our Lady's Rosary Makers produce some 7 million rosaries annually that are distributed to those in economic and spiritual need.
It is especially common for beads to be made of material with some special significance, such as jet from the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela, or olive seeds from the Garden of Gethsemane. Beads are sometimes made to enclose sacred relics, or drops of holy water. A set of blessed rosary beads is a sacramental.
In addition to a string of beads the rosary comes in other forms for ease of use. A ring rosary is a finger ring with eleven knobs on it, ten round ones and one crucifix. A rosary bracelet is one with ten beads and often a cross or medal as well. The most modern form is the rosary card. A rosary card is either one with a "handle" that moves like a slide rule to count the decade, or it has a whole rosary with bumps similar to Braille.
The praying of the Rosary is traditionally dedicated to one of three sets of "Mysteries" to be said in sequence, one per day: the Joyful (sometimes Joyous) Mysteries; the Sorrowful Mysteries; and the Glorious Mysteries. Each of these three sets of Mysteries has within it five different themes to be meditated on, one for each decade of ten Hail Mary's. Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (October 2002), recommended an additional set called the Luminous Mysteries (or the "Mysteries of Light"). Catholic faithful who prefer the original fifteen mysteries point to the belief that the Rosary is Mary's Psalter, containing 150 Hail Marys in its body for the 150 Psalms. The Luminous Mysteries make the total 200, but incorporate Christ's ministry.
In addition to meditating upon the events of the mysteries, many people associate certain virtues, or fruits, with each mystery. (The following list of mysteries and the fruits associated with them corresponds to moments in the life, passion, and death of Jesus and Mary's participation in them chronologically.)
|With the Luminous Mysteries||Without the Luminous Mysteries|
|Sunday||The Glorious Mysteries|| Advent: The Joyful Mysteries|
Lent to Palm Sunday: The Sorrowful Mysteries
Ordinary Time, Easter to Sunday before Advent: The Glorious Mysteries
|Monday||The Joyful Mysteries||The Joyful Mysteries|
|Tuesday||The Sorrowful Mysteries||The Sorrowful Mysteries|
|Wednesday||The Glorious Mysteries||The Glorious Mysteries|
|Thursday||The Luminous Mysteries||The Joyful Mysteries|
|Friday||The Sorrowful Mysteries||The Sorrowful Mysteries|
|Saturday||The Joyful Mysteries||The Glorious Mysteries|
A pious German custom is to insert a phrase in the middle of each Hail Mary (after "... blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus ... "), which refers to the specific mystery being meditated upon. This custom was incorporated into St. Louis de Montfort's second method out of his five Methods of Praying the Rosary.
The rosary was also prominently featured in the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858, where Saint Bernadette Soubirous stated that in the initial meeting: "The Lady took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross".
The apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima are sometimes also called Our Lady of the Rosary because the children related that the Lady in the apparition specifically identified Herself as "the Lady of the Rosary." The three children at Our Lady of Fátima stated that the Lady asked them to say the Rosary every day, reiterating many times that the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace.
Leo XIII, the Rosary Pope, explained the importance of the rosary as the one road to God, from the father to the Son, to his Mother, and from her to the human race. He emphasized that no human creature can change this and therefore there exists only one road for the faithful, to the mother and from her to Christ and through Christ to the father. The rosary is a vital means to participate in the life of Mary and to find the way to Christ. This emphasis on the path through Mary to Christ (which was also a basis for some of Louis de Montfort's writings) has since been a key direction in Roman Catholic Mariology, with Mariology being viewed as inherent in Christology, and the rosary paving that path.
A trinitarian rosary can comprise the same basic form as the traditional Marian rosary with 5 decades of 10 beads and introductory prayers, et cetera. Or it may be used with the Anglican or other variants of the rosary. The primary prayer of a trinitarian rosary is non-marian and comprises a prayer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, e.g., "Almighty God, Almighty God, Heavenly King, You are the Lord! Blessed art thou in heaven, and blessed is thy sacred word! Holy Jesus, eternally begotten son of God, send your Holy Spirit upon us and kindle in our hearts the fire of your divine love!".
These rosaries, especially the smaller ring-type, have since become known as soldiers' rosaries, because they were often taken into battle by soldiers, most notably during WWI. These single-decade rosary variations can be worn as a ring or carried easily and are still popular. A rosary ring is a ring worn around the finger with 10 indentations and a cross on the surface, representing one decade of a rosary. This is often worn as jewelry, and used through the day. Some ring rosaries use a small bearing on the inside of the ring to permit easy turning. A finger rosary is similar to a ring, but is a bit larger. Rosaries like these are used by either rotating or just holding them between a finger and thumb while praying. A hand rosary is a decade in a complete loop, with one bead separated from ten other beads, this is meant to be carried while walking or running, so as not to entangle the larger type. Credit card-sized Rosaries have also appeared, especially among members of militaries, where holes or bumps represent the prayers and the persons praying move their fingers along the bumps to count prayers.
Single-decade rosaries are also called chaplets.
Among High Church Anglicans, Anglican prayer beads are sometimes used. This set is also known as the "Anglican Rosary or as "Christian prayer beads," the latter term arising from the popularity this set has gained among Christians of various other traditions. Anglican bead sets contain 28 beads in groups of seven called "weeks," with an additional large bead before each. In total, there are 33 beads representing the years of Jesus' life on Earth. A number of Anglicans use the Jesus Prayer, just like the Eastern Christians, but there are no Church-appointed prayers or meditations in the Anglican practice. Some Anglo-Catholics use the traditional Roman Catholic rosary.
Rosaries or rosary-like necklaces are often worn for non-religious purposes as a fashion or jewelry item, and are sold in different variations in popular jewelry and clothing stores. Such ornamental use, especially the wearing of a rosary around the neck, was heavily popularized by singer Madonna in the early 1980s and has experienced a come-back in recent years. Wearing a rosary around the neck can be considered disrespectful if the person wearing it does not affiliate with the Christian religion. Ornate or medieval-style rosary sets are occasionally featured in goth fashion.
Some forms of the Roman Catholic rosary are aimed at reparation for the sins of others. An example is the Rosary of the Holy Wounds first introduced at the beginning of the 20th century by the Venerable Sister Mary Martha Chambon, a Roman Catholic nun of the Monastery of the Visitation Order in Chambery, France. This rosary is somewhat similar in structure to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, is said on the usual rosary beads and is intended as an Act of Reparation to Jesus Christ for the sins of the world.
As early as the fifteenth century, legend alleged that through Saint Dominic and Blessed Alan de Rupe the Blessed Virgin Mary made fifteen specific promises to Christians who pray the rosary. The fifteen rosary promises range from protection from misfortune to meriting a high degree of glory in heaven. In support of this statement Patrick Cardinal Hayes of New York provided his imprimatur to this effect.
In the 18th century, the French priest Louis de Montfort elaborated on the importance of the rosary and its power in his widely read book the Secret of the Rosary. He emphasized the power of the rosary and provided specific instructions on how it should be prayed, e.g. with attention, devotion and modesty (reverence), with reflective pauses between the beads and smaller pauses between phrases of the prayers.
Plastic beads are inexpensive to make, but not easy to assemble. Hence the major cost component for making simple rosaries is the assembly effort. A large number of inexpensive rosary beads are manufactured in the orient, specially in China and Taiwan, although Italy has a strong manufacturing presence in moderate cost and high end rosaries.
Assembled rosaries are often purchased as retail religious items. Yet literally hundreds of millions of rosaries have been made and distributed free of charge by Roman Catholic volunteers worldwide. A number of rosary making clubs exist around the world for the purpose of making and distributing rosaries to missions, hospitals, prisons, etc. free of charge. The largest such non-profit organization in the United States is Our Lady's Rosary Makers whose 17,000 members annually distribute roughly 7 million free rosaries. A good number of other volunteer-based clubs and groups exist worldwide and distribute tens of millions of free rosaries every year.