The Holy Rosary

The Rosary

One misconception some people have about the Rosary is that it is beads. It isn’t (at least primarily)! The Rosary is actually a form of contemplative prayer. No beads are necessary. It is in a class of prayers known as Marian devotions.

Praying the Holy Rosary is optional. It is not part of any liturgy or required in any way. I think it is looked upon by many interested in Catholicism, by recent converts and even some “cradle Catholics” as too Catholic. Some likely feel that because there is so much else they want to learn first. The Rosary gets put onto their long-term (if ever) “to be investigated” list. This is sad as the Rosary is one of the rich treasures of the Church. It is a gem that some Anglicans, Lutherans and other Protestants also pray.

Why exactly do people pray it? The short answer is “it works.” All prayer is powerful and the Rosary is like prayer on steroids. It gives many benefits, including 15 specific promises revealed by Our Lady to St. Dominic. Praying the Rosary regularly will also help you increase your holiness. It is so valuable that Holy Mother Church grants a plenary indulgence when prayed with others. Many parishes pray the Rosary before or after daily Mass.

At the heart of the Rosary are 4 sets of events (5 each) from the Gospel known as holy mysteries. These events are mentally reflected upon while repeating the Hail Mary. This short and beautiful prayer is said 10 times while reflecting on 1 mystery. This is known as a “decade.” One decade = one mystery.

It may seem confusing at first to do 2 things at once, to say 10 Hail Mary’s AND to reflect on the mystery. After a while, it becomes surprisingly easy. Think of when you learned to drive. At first, all of your attention was on the mechanical actions while focusing on the road. In time, you find that you can split your attention (within reason) with other things (mentally planning your day, prayer, speaking with passengers, listening to music and so on). Learning the Rosary is like that.

Why not just do the meditation and skip the Hail Marys? The Hail Marys and other prayers (I will get to those in a moment) give your prayer time more “punch.” St. Augustine said that singing is praying twice. This is similar. Additionally, saying 10 Hail Marys gives you just the right amount of time for reflection.

Praying the Rosary (a/k/a “a Rosary”) means reflecting on one of the 4 sets of mysteries. Since each set has exactly 5 individual mysteries on which to reflect, praying the Rosary involves saying 50 Hail Marys. That may seem like a lot, but it isn’t – you really don’t notice it. The entire prayer takes only 15 minutes or so.

Sometimes people pray a “full Rosary” which means they pray all 4 sets of mysteries (20 in all). Most folks, most of the time, pray 1 set of (5) mysteries. The Church recommends a specific set for each weekday. They are as follows:

  • The Joyful Mysteries (Monday and Saturday)
    1. The Annunciation – The Archangel Gabriel “announces” to Mary that she shall conceive the Son of God.
    2. The Visitation – Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist.
    3. The Nativity – Jesus is born.
    4. The Presentation – Mary and Joseph “present” Jesus in the Temple where they meet Simeon.
    5. The Finding in the Temple – After losing Him, Mary and Joseph find young Jesus teaching the Rabbis in the Temple.
  • The Luminous Mysteries (The Mysteries of Light; Thursday)
    1. The Baptism in the Jordan – The voice of the Father declares Jesus the beloved Son.
    2. The Wedding at Cana – Christ changes water into wine, his first public miracle.
    3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom – Jesus calls to conversion and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him.
    4. The Transfiguration – The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ.
    5. The Institution of the Eucharist – Jesus offers the first Mass at the Last Supper with his apostles, establishing the sacramental foundation for all Christian living.
  • The Sorrowful Mysteries (Tuesday and Friday)
    1. The Agony in the Garden – Jesus sweats water and blood while praying the night before his passion.
    2. The Scourging at the Pillar – Pilate has Jesus whipped.
    3. The Crowning with Thorns – Roman soldiers crown Jesus’ head with thorns.
    4. The Carrying of the Cross – Jesus meets His mother and falls three times on the way up Calvary.
    5. The Crucifixion – Jesus is nailed to the cross and dies before His mother and His apostle John.
  • The Glorious Mysteries (Wednesday and Sunday)
    1. The Resurrection – Jesus rises from the dead.
    2. The Ascension – Jesus leaves the Apostles and bodily “ascends” to heaven.
    3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit – The Apostles receive the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire in the upper room with Mary.
    4. The Assumption – Mary is taken bodily (assumed) into heaven by God at the end of her life here on earth.
    5. The Coronation – Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth.

There you have it! Praying the Rosary is meditating on (1 set of) 5 mysteries while saying 10 Hail Marys for each one.

Well, almost. That certainly is the heart of the Rosary. There is just a little bit more structure. Each decade is said as follows:

  • The decade is announced – to focus on the specific mystery.
  • Optional intentions – some people apply specific intentions to each decade.
  • Optional reflection – a specific reflection or scripture reading (when prayed with a group).
  • The Lord’s Prayer – Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
  • 10 Hail Marys – (while reflecting on the current mystery as explained above) Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.
  • Glory Be – Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
  • Fatima Prayer – O my Jesus, forgive us of our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls into heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.

Before the first decade, we begin the Rosary as follows:

  • The set of mysteries are announced.
  • Optional intentions.
  • Sign of the Cross – (while saying) In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Apostles Creed – I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
  • 3 Hail Marys – often said for specific intentions, for the gifts of faith, hope and love from the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God the Father respectively, or for the similar theological virtues of faith, hope and charity
  • Glory Be – Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

After the last decade, we conclude the Rosary as follows:

  • Salve Regina – Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Pray for us O Holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
  • Optional prayers

Pray the Rosary regularly, ideally each day. Don’t give up after only 1 time! The only prayer you really need to memorize to get started is the Hail Mary. You can use a “cheat sheet” or other resource to remember the mysteries and other prayers while necessary.

Once you are comfortable with the basics, praying with a group (even if online or recorded) is particularly easy. When praying with a group, a leader introduces the mysteries, begins each prayer and keeps track of the Hail Marys. It could not be easier.

When praying alone, you will need to count Hail Marys (externally, not consciously). This can be done perfectly well on your fingers. While not necessary, Rosary beads are very nice to keep track of where you are. They vary quite a bit, but usually smaller beads represent Hail Marys and larger ones represent Our Fathers. While the Rosary is the prayer, many people use the term to also refer to Rosary beads, which is also a sacramental when blessed.

These days, terrific web resources are available. See the links below to get started. Various sources of Rosary reflections are useful preparation. CDs, DVDs, many Internet and regular Catholic radio sources (EWTN, Immaculate Heart Radio, Sacred Heart Radio, Ave Maria Radio, Covenant Network, St. Joseph Radio, etc.) also lead Rosary prayer daily.

Praying the Rosary is a wonderful addition to your daily prayer time, with Daily Mass where offered and (silently) at Eucharistic Adoration. Just do it!

Online Web Resources:


  1. Thank you for the thorough overview and explanation of the rosary. I especially like the links, because sometimes I like to get another version of the meditations.

    I go through cycles with the rosary. There are times I pray it daily, and other times that I pray it less often or take a break in favor of other forms of prayer and meditation. But it always has a place in my spiritual life.

  2. Great explanation George, I hope many folks get the opportunity to read this!
    I will post it on face book’s Catholics Are Christians! group page,

  3. Great article! Loved the comment about the Rosary being “prayer on steroids”!
    I’m a bit taken aback at the statement that a rosary only takes 15 minutes! I can’t get through one in less than 30! But I suppose I just like taking my time.

    As far as putting it off when I converted, it was quite the opposite. When I was investigating Catholicism initially, despite my many and varied reservations about Mary in general, the Rosary always held a great attraction for me, precisely because it seemed to epitomise “Catholicism”! It was actually praying the Rosary that helped me overcome my hesitation about Marian dogmas and devotions!

  4. I’ve been the rosary almost every day for the past year and cannot put into words what it has done for my faith. I typically will pray it while driving, safely of course, and I now look forward to driving distances. Thanks you for positing the explanation behind the prayers.

  5. Good eve. May I know the new schedule of the mysteries as this March 2012?
    Thank you.

  6. I wanted to pray the Rosary every day, for a month, to see what it is like. After my first month, it is a part of my routine, and I look forward to my 15 or 20 minutes every morning. I cannot describe the rewards or the confidence it give’s me to do this. I am very happy I experimented with that first month, five years ago.

  7. I became aware of Our Lady’s 15 promises for those who pray the Rosary Regularly. I decided to pray the Rosary every day for a month, so I could choose to continue or not continue with this practice. I knew that I must make it a point to pray the Rosary every day to be sure I kept my side of the bargain.

    I found a website that pray’s the Rosary every day, continuously, around the clock. It’s called and I didn’t need to go through any application process or anything. I just enter the website and when the next mystery is announced it let’s me in. This make’s praying the Rosary every day so simple and easy.

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