The word rosary refers to any planned prayer recited on a string of beads. Rosaries in this sense have been prayed all over the world in different religious traditions for centuries.
Before the introduction of beads, prayers were counted on pebbles or fingers.
Some believe that the Catholic holy rosary was adapted from earlier Muslim prayer beads, introduced through the Crusades. Others say the holy rosary existed prior to the Crusades.
Probably no one really knows just how or when the Catholic rosary came into being.
According to Catholic legend, which many Catholics accept as fact, the Blessed Virgin Mary mystically appeared to St. Dominic in 1214. The story goes that Mary gave Dominic the holy rosary saying,”One day through the rosary and the Scapular I will save the world.”¹
Many other Catholic saints reportedly had subsequent visions, from the Middle Ages to modern times. These visions usually conveyed an urgency in spreading devotion through the rosary.
In October 2002 Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries to the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries.
The Catholic mysteries of the rosary are based on key moments in the life, death and afterlife of both Jesus and Mary as portrayed in the New Testament.
To me, the rosary is a useful tool for quieting one’s thoughts, providing one needs that kind of help. When I first became interested in Catholicism in the early 1990s, I prayed the rosary fairly often for a while. Sometimes I would receive tangible graces that I associated with the Virgin Mary, sometimes I had slightly different types of experiences.
But over time, the rosary began to feel like so many rattling words. It became more of a distraction than a devotional aid. That’s probably because as I grew older, contemplation came more easily, and the repetitive words seemed like superficial chatter over the calm I’d already found.
However, I may still sit in church for a while if parishioners are praying a rosary. I may even join in for part of the prayer. Like other preset prayers, the holy rosary is a good backup for those stressful days when one is more distracted (from God) than usual or when, perhaps, one just feels called to pray that way.
Some Lutherans and Anglo-Catholic Anglicans pray variations of the rosary, but it remains a predominantly Catholic practice.²
¹ See these links.
² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary#In_non-Catholic_Christianity | For more about the Catholic holy rosary, see this.