The Holy Rosary (//; Latin: rosarium, in the sense of "crown of roses" or "garland of roses"), also known as the Dominican Rosary, or simply the Rosary, refers to a set of prayers used in the Catholic Church, and to the physical string of knots or beads used to count the component prayers. When referring to the prayer, the word is usually capitalized ("the Rosary", as is customary for other names of prayers, such as "the Lord's Prayer", and "the Hail Mary"); when referring to the prayer beads as an object, it is written with a lower-case initial letter (e.g. "a rosary bead").
The prayers that compose the Rosary are arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys, called "decades". Each decade is preceded by one Lord's Prayer ("Our Father"), and traditionally followed by one Glory Be. Usually, five decades are recited in a session.
Some Catholics also recite the "O my Jesus" prayer after the Glory Be; it is the most well-known of the seven Fátima prayers that appeared in the early 20th century.
During recitation of each set, thought is given to one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall events in the lives of Jesus Christ and Mary. Rosary beads are thus an aid towards saying these prayers in their proper sequence.
Pope Pius V (r. 1566–1572) established a standard 15 Mysteries of the Rosary, based on long-standing custom. This groups the mysteries in three sets: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. In 2002, Pope John Paul II said it is fitting that a new set of five be added, termed the Luminous Mysteries, bringing the total number of mysteries to 20. The mysteries are prayed on specific days of the week; with the addition of the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday, the others are the Glorious on Sunday and Wednesday, the Joyful on Monday and Saturday, and the Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday.
Over more than four centuries, several popes have promoted the Rosary as part of the veneration of Mary in the Catholic Church, and consisting essentially in meditation on the life of Christ. The rosary also represents the Catholic emphasis on "participation in the life of Mary, whose focus was Christ", and the Mariological theme "to Christ through Mary".
Pope John Paul II placed the Rosary at the very center of Christian spirituality and called it "among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation." Pope Pius XI is quoted as saying, for example, "The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight."
Saints and popes have emphasized the meditative and contemplative elements of the rosary and provided specific teachings for how the rosary should be prayed, for instance the need for "focus", "respect", "reverence" and "purity of intention" during rosary recitations and contemplations. Scriptural meditations concerning the rosary are based on the Christian tradition of Lectio Divina (literally "divine reading") as a way of using the Gospel to start a conversation between the person and Christ. Padre Pio, a rosary devotee, said: "Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him." From the sixteenth century onwards, Rosary recitations often involved "picture texts" that further assisted meditation. Such imagery continues to be used to depict the Mysteries of the rosary.
References to the Rosary have been part of various reported Marian Apparitions spanning two centuries. The reported messages from these apparitions have influenced the spread of Rosary devotion worldwide. In Quamquam pluries, Pope Leo XIII related Rosary devotions to Saint Joseph and granted indulgences in favour of Christians who, in the month of October, would have added the Prayer to Saint Joseph at the end of the Holy Rosary.
Praying the Rosary may be prescribed by priests as a type of penance after the Sacrament of Penance. It must be noted that penance is not generally intended as a "punishment"; rather, it is meant to encourage meditation upon and spiritual growth from past sins.
According to pious tradition, the concept of the Rosary was given to Saint Dominic of Osma in an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary during the year 1214 in the church of Prouille, though in fact it was known from the ninth century in various forms. This Marian apparition received the title of Our Lady of the Rosary.
According to Herbert Thurston, it is certain that in the course of the twelfth century and before the birth of Dominic, the practice of reciting the Ave Maria 50 or 150 times had become generally familiar. According to 20th century editions of the Catholic Encyclopedia, the story of Dominic's devotion to the Rosary and supposed apparition of Our Lady of the Rosary does not appear in any documents of the Catholic Church or the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) prior to the writings of the Dominican Alanus de Rupe (also Alan de la Roche), some 250 years after Dominic. However, recent scholarship by Donald H. Calloway, seeks to refute this claim.
Leonard Foley, OFM said that although Mary's giving the Rosary to Dominic is recognized as a legend, the development of this prayer form owes much to the Order of Preachers.
The practice of meditation during the praying of the Hail Mary is attributed to Dominic of Prussia (1382–1460), a Carthusian monk who termed it "Life of Jesus Rosary". The German monk from Trier added a sentence to each of the 50 Hail Marys, using quotes from scripture (which at that time followed the name "Jesus," before the intercessory ending was added during the Counter-Reformation). In 1569, the papal bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices by the Dominican Pope Pius V officially established the devotion to the Rosary in the Catholic Church.
From the 16th to the early 20th century, the structure of the Rosary remained essentially unchanged. There were 15 mysteries, one for each of the 15 decades. According to John Henry Newman, Mariology is always Christocentric. During the 20th century, the addition of the Fatima Prayer to the end of each decade became common. There were no other changes until 2002, when John Paul II added the five optional Luminous Mysteries, although variations of these had already been proposed by the likes of Louis de Montfort and George Preca, and were implemented during the mid-20th Century by figures such as Patrick Peyton.
When Penal Laws in Ireland restricted or banned the Mass, the Rosary became a substitute prayer ritual within private homes. During the 18th century, de Montfort elaborated on the importance of the rosary and emphasized that it should be prayed with attention, devotion, and modesty (reverence).
In Brazil, two million men engage in a movement called Terço dos Homens ("Men's Rosary"). It consists of weekly meetings to pray a set of mysteries. In neighboring Hispanic countries, the movement is called Rosario de Hombres Valientes.
The theologian Romano Guardini described the Catholic emphasis on the Rosary as "participation in the life of Mary, whose focus was Christ." This opinion was expressed earlier by Leo XIII who considered the rosary as way to accompany Mary in her contemplation of Christ.
The structure of the Rosary prayer, recited using the rosary beads, is as follows: 
The Rosary is begun on the short strand:
The praying of the decades then follows, repeating this cycle for each mystery:
Common pious additions to the Rosary are sometimes inserted after each decade and after recitation of the Salve Regina. Instead of ending each decade with the Gloria Patri, Pope Pius IX would add: "May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace."
Some Catholics piously add the Fatima Prayer after the Gloria Patri, still on the large bead. Some add the Miraculous Medal prayer which begins "O Mary, conceived without sin…", while others add the Eucharistic prayer "O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine" in honour of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In the practice of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, there is a sixth decade for the intentions of the students, or the Virgin Mary.
Other popular additions include the shorter form of the Prayer to Saint Michael; the Memorare, and a prayer for the intentions of the Pope. In many cases, the Litany of Loreto is recited before the end.
When a group recites the Rosary, it is customary that the prayers that constitute the decades are divided into two parts. The second part of the Our Father begins with "Give us this day our daily bread"; the second part of the Hail Mary begins with "Holy Mary, Mother of God"; and the second part of the Glory Be with "As it was in the beginning". This lends itself to antiphonal prayer.
Sometimes, a chosen leader will recite the first half of the prayer while other participants recite the second. In another style, recitation of the first part of the prayers is rotated among different persons while still maintaining the traditional Leader-Congregation alternation.
The Mysteries of the Rosary are meditations on episodes in the life and death of Jesus from the Annunciation to the Ascension and beyond. These are traditionally grouped by fives into themed sets known as the Joyful (or Joyous) Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. Pope John Paul II recommended an additional set called the Luminous Mysteries (or the "Mysteries of Light") in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (October 2002).
Typically, a spiritual goal known as a "fruit" is also assigned to each mystery. Below are listed from the appendix of Louis Marie de Montfort's book Secret of the Rosary for the original 15 mysteries, with other possible fruits being listed in other pamphlets bracketed:
The full Rosary consists of praying all 15 mysteries (with the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious considered the minimal amount). Alternatively, a single set of five mysteries can be prayed each day, according to the following convention:
|Day of praying||Standard / Traditional||With the Luminous Mysteries|
|Sunday||In Advent, Christmas, and Time After Epiphany: The Joyful Mysteries
In Septuagesima, Lent and Holy Week: The Sorrowful Mysteries
In Easter and Time After Pentecost: The Glorious Mysteries
|In Advent, Christmas: The Joyful Mysteries|
In Lent: The Sorrowful Mysteries
In Easter and Ordinary Time: 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 Joyful Mysteries||The Luminous Mysteries|
|Friday||The Sorrowful Mysteries||The Sorrowful Mysteries|
|Saturday||The Glorious Mysteries||The Joyful Mysteries|
During the 16th century, Pope Pius V associated the rosary with the General Roman Calendar by instituting the Feast of Our Lady of Victory (later changed to Our Lady of the Rosary), which is celebrated on 7 October.
Pope Leo XIII issued twelve encyclicals and five apostolic letters concerning the rosary and added the invocation "Queen of the Most Holy Rosary" to the Litany of Loreto. Leo XIII explained the importance of the Rosary as the one road to God from the faithful to the mother and from her to Christ, and through Christ to the Father, and that the Rosary was a vital means to participate with the life of Mary and to find the way to Christ. Leo instituted the custom of praying the Rosary daily during the month of October.
The Rosary as a family prayer was endorsed by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ingruentium malorum: "In vain is a remedy sought for the wavering fate of civil life, if the family, the principle and foundation of the human community, is not fashioned after the pattern of the Gospel…We affirm that the custom of the family recitation of the Holy Rosary is a most efficacious means." Pope Pius XII and his successors actively promoted veneration of the Virgin in Lourdes and Fatima, which is credited with a new resurgence of the Rosary within the Catholic Church.
Pope John XXIII deemed the Rosary of such importance that on 28 April 1962, he issued an apostolic letter where he appealed for recitation of the Rosary in preparation for the Second Vatican Council.
Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae which emphasized the Christocentric nature of the Rosary as a meditation on the life of Christ. He said: "Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as by the hands of the Mother of the Redeemer."
On 3 May 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the Rosary was experiencing a new springtime: "It is one of the most eloquent signs of love that the young generation nourish for Jesus and his Mother." For Benedict XVI, the Rosary is a meditation on all the important moments of salvation history.
The Congregation for Divine Worship's directory of popular piety and the liturgy emphasizes the Christian meditation/meditative aspects of the rosary, and states that the Rosary is essentially a contemplative prayer which requires "tranquility of rhythm or even a mental lingering which encourages the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life." The Congregation for Divine Worship points out the role the Rosary can have as a formative component of spiritual life.
Rosary beads provide a physical method of keeping count of the number of Hail Marys said as the mysteries are contemplated. By not having to keep track of the count mentally, the mind is free 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 Lord's Prayer is said on the large bead before each decade. A new mystery meditation commences at each of the large beads. Some rosaries, particularly those used by religious orders, contain fifteen decades, corresponding to the traditional fifteen mysteries of. Both five- and fifteen-decade rosaries are attached to a shorter strand, which starts with a crucifix, followed by one large bead, three small beads, and one large bead, before connecting to the rest of the rosary. A five-decade rosary consists of a "total" of 59 beads.
Although counting the prayers on a string of beads is customary, the prayers of the Rosary do not require beads, but can be said using any type of counting device, by counting on the fingers, or by counting mentally.
Single-decade rosaries can also be used: the devotee counts the same ring of ten beads repeatedly for every decade. During religious conflict in 16th- and 17th-century Ireland severe legal penalties were prescribed against practising Catholics. Small, easily hidden rosaries were thus used to avoid identification and became known as Irish penal rosaries. Sometimes rather than a cross, other symbols of specific meanings were used: a hammer to signify the nails of the cross, cords to represent the scourging, a chalice to recall the Last Supper, or a crowing rooster signifying the denial of Peter.
The beads can be made from any 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. Beads may be made to include enclosed sacred relics or drops of holy water. 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. It is common for beads to be made of material with some special significance, such as jet from the shrine of Saint James the Greater at Santiago de Compostela, or olive seeds from the Garden of Gethsemane. In rare cases, beads are made of expensive materials, from gold and silver, to mother of pearl and Swarovski black diamonds. Early rosaries were strung on thread, often silk, but modern ones are more often made as a series of chain-linked beads. Most rosaries used in the world today have simple and inexpensive plastic or wooden beads connected by cords or strings. Italy has a strong manufacturing presence in medium- and high-cost rosaries.
There are a number of rosary-making clubs around the world that make and distribute rosaries to missions, hospitals, prisons, etc. free of charge. Our Lady's Rosary Makers produce some 7 million rosaries annually that are distributed to those deemed to be in economic and spiritual need.
Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort encouraged Christians to also wear the rosary beads, stating that doing so "eased him considerably." Many religious orders wear the rosary as part of their habit. A rosary hanging from the belt often forms part of the Carthusian habit.
Canon Law §1171 provides that sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons. As such, according to Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum University:
If the reason for wearing a rosary is as a statement of faith, as a reminder to pray it, or some similar reason "to the glory of God," then there is nothing to object to. It would not be respectful to wear it merely as jewelry. This latter point is something to bear in mind in the case of wearing a rosary around the neck. In the first place, while not unknown, it is not common Catholic practice. … While a Catholic may wear a rosary around the neck for a good purpose, he or she should consider if the practice will be positively understood in the cultural context in which the person moves. If any misunderstanding is likely, then it would be better to avoid the practice … Similar reasoning is observed in dealing with rosary bracelets and rings, although in this case there is far less danger of confusion as to meaning. They are never mere jewelry but are worn as a sign of faith.
A rosary ring, also known as a "Basque rosary," is a finger ring with eleven knobs on it, ten round ones and one crucifix, representing one decade of a rosary. These and other kinds of religious rings were especially popular during the 15th and the 16th centuries. These rosary rings have been given to some Catholic nuns at the time of their solemn profession.
A rosary bracelet is one with ten beads and often a cross or medal. Another 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 and ancient counting systems. Some households that cannot afford Christian artwork or a crucifix simply hang up a rosary as a focal point for prayer. In addition, many Christians hang rosaries from the rear-view mirror of their automobiles as a witness of their faith and protection as they drive.
Audio recordings of the Rosary help with aspects of prayer such as pacing, memorization, and by providing inspirational meditations in the form of commentary. Some are sponsored by various groups such as the Knights of Columbus, and religious congregations. In 2008, Vatican Radio released a 4-CD set of Pope Benedict XVI praying the Rosary in Latin. Ecclesiastical Latin was used because “we have received requests not only from Italy but from places such as Germany and other countries. So we have used this language for the Rosary which everyone understands easily and because it is the universal language of the Church.”
In October 2019, the Vatican launched a US$109 "electronic rosary" with ten black agate and hematite beads, and a metal cross that detects movement. It is linked to the "Click to Pray eRosary" mobile app designed to help Catholic users pray for world peace and contemplate the Gospel. The rosary can be worn as a bracelet, and is activated by making the Sign of the cross. The app also gives visual and audio explanations of the Rosary.
Many similar prayer practices exist in other Christian communities, each with its own set of prescribed prayers and its own form of prayer beads (known in some traditions as the Chotki), such as the prayer rope in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. These other devotions and their associated beads are usually referred to as "chaplets". The Rosary is sometimes prayed by other Christians, especially in Lutheranism, the Anglican Communion, and the Old Catholic Church.
The use of the Catholic Rosary is fairly common among Anglicans of Anglo-Catholic churchmanship. Many Anglo-Catholic prayer books and manuals of devotion, such as Saint Augustine's Prayer Book contain the Catholic Rosary along with other Marian devotions. The public services of the Anglican churches, as contained in the Book of Common Prayer, do not directly invoke the Blessed Virgin or any other saint in prayer as the Thirty-Nine Articles reject the practice of praying to saints, but many Anglo-Catholics feel free to do so in their private devotions. Anglicans who pray the Catholic Rosary tend not to use the Luminous Mysteries or the Fátima decade prayer.
Anglican prayer beads, also known informally as the "Anglican rosary," are a recent innovation created in the 1980s. They consist of four "weeks" (the equivalent of a decade) of seven beads each. The weeks are separated from each other by single beads termed "cruciform beads." A variety of different prayers may be said, the most common being the Jesus Prayer.
Anglican Prayer Beads are not a Marian devotion, and there are no appointed meditations. Although it is sometimes called the "Anglican rosary," it is distinct from the Rosary of Our Lady as prayed by Catholics, Anglicans, and other Western Christians.
A small minority of Lutherans pray the Rosary. However, while using the Catholic format of the Rosary, each "Hail Mary" is replaced with the "Jesus Prayer". The only time the "Hail Mary" is said is at the end of the Mysteries on the medal, where it is then replaced with the "Pre-Trent" version of the prayer (which omits "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death"). The final "Hail Mary" can also be replaced by reciting of either the Magnificat, or Martin Luther's "Evangelical Praise of the Mother of God."
The Wreath of Christ is used in the Lutheran Church of Sweden. While an official order and rubric for its use exists, it is often used as a tool for reflection and meditation rather than recitation of specific prayers or devotions, often as part of Confirmation classes. Some members of the Church of Sweden of high-church or evangelical catholic churchmanship will pray the traditional rosary, sometimes in an ecumenical setting with Roman Catholics.
Catholic Marian church buildings around the world named in honor of the rosary include: the Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei in Italy, Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica in the archdiocesan seat of Rosario province, Argentina; the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary of San Nicolás in the neighboring suffragan diocese of San Nicolás de los Arroyos, Our Lady of Pompeii in New York City, which is named for the Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes, Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Porto Alegre, Brazil, The Chapel of the Virgin of the Rosary (1531–1690) in Puebla City, Mexico.
Since the 17th century, the rosary began to appear as an element in Catholic Marian art. Key examples include Murrillo's Madonna with the Rosary at the Museo del Prado in Spain and the statue of Madonna with Rosary at the church of San Nazaro Maggiore in Milan.
Madonna and rosary by Nicola Porta
Madonna with rosary, by Guido Reni, 1596
Madonna offering Saint Dominic rosary by August Palme, 1860
Madonna with Rosary, South-Tyrol, Austria
Madonna with Rosary by Josef Mersa, Italy
Crucifixion and rosary
Saint Anthony with a rosary
Old woman praying
The rosary was propagated by the establishment of rosary confraternities, which were increasingly under Dominican control; in 1569, Pius V gave the Dominican Master General exclusive control over them. As a consequence, until 1984 the blessing of rosaries came to be reserved to Dominicans or priests having special faculties. Besides the Dominican rosary, there are various other forms. The Servite rosary, for instance, has seven sections in memory of the Seven Sorrows of the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary), each consisting of the Lord's Prayer and seven Hail Marys; it apparently dates from the 17th cent…
Rosary. Made of glass and composition beads. The full or greater Dominican rosary of 15 decades.
Such icons were displayed in homes which sometimes seemed to possess few other material things: in some of the poorest houses, where people could not afford religious pictures, prints, or even a crucifix, a rosary could be hung up in their place.
If folk religion is demonstrated by drivers with rosaries hanging from rearview mirrors or Saint Christopher figures on the dashboard, still common enough in Poland, the fish sticker on the car is a more conscious symbol of a witnessing Christian—significantly, unlike the former, it is on the outside of the car for everyone to see. This stops some interested Catholics from placing the symbol on their cars since they feel might not live up to the good driving practices that should accompany its presence.
I call the rosary "ecumenical", since the prayers and "miracles" are either directly from the Bible or are derived from the Bible.