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The Rosary – Aid or distraction?

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.

Crucifijos de los Rosarios

Crucifijos de los Rosarios by Nathan Gibbs via Flickr

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 | For more about the Catholic holy rosary, see this.

Related » Goddess vs. goddess, Hail Mary Prayer, Virgin Mary


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Holy Rosary

English: Azzano San Paolo, Bergamo, Lombardy, ...

Azzano San Paolo, Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy - procession on the Feast of the Holy Rosary by Luigi Chiesa via Wikipedia

The Holy Rosary is a Catholic devotion usually prayed on a circle of beads, with a short row of five beads and crucifix attached at the bottom.

One prays the rosary to the Blessed Virgin Mary, not only to venerate her and glorify the Lord, but also to implore the saint to pray to God on one’s behalf. This request for intercession can be for oneself, others, the whole world, and for all souls who ever existed and will exist.

A distinction can be made between the instrument itself (the loop of beads), and the type of prayer performed with them. For instance, Catholics often pray a special prayer called the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, apparently given to St. Faustina, using rosary beads.

Before 2002, the full rosary consisted of 15 decades (ten beads per decade). A Hail Mary Prayer is said on each bead, with two extra prayers at the end of each decade. The first prayer is The Our Father, which is repeated on each large bead dividing the decades.

English: A sterling silver Catholic rosary. Fr...

A sterling silver Catholic rosary via Wikipedia

Each decade celebrates a holy “mystery.” A mystery is a particular event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The first group of mysteries involves the Joyful Mysteries (5 decades), dealing with the events leading to Jesus’ birth and growth to maturity.

The next group of mysteries are the Sorrowful Mysteries (5 decades), focussing on the period from Jesus’ arrest to crucifixion.

The third group is the Glorious Mysteries (5 decades), dealing with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, as well as Mary’s assumption into heaven.

To these three mysteries, Pope John-Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries in October 2002. So the former group of three mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious) officially became four.

No one really knows for sure how the Holy Rosary came into existence. Some believe that it was adapted from earlier Muslim prayer beads, introduced through the Crusades.

Sandro Botticelli, Magnificat, 1480-81, temper...

Sandro Botticelli, Magnificat, 1480-81, tempera on panel, Uffizi Gallery, Florence via Wikipedia

Others believe that the Catholic rosary existed prior to the Crusades.

Catholic tradition, itself, says the Holy Rosary originated with St. Dominic (1170-1221 CE).

Not a few non-Catholics liken different goddesses to the Virgin Mary, and in a similar way, not a few people say that different types of prayer beads found around the world – such as Tibetan and Islamic forms – are equivalent to the Holy Rosary.

But this claim seems superficial because world religions are so different from one another.