The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Faith at your fingertips: praying the rosary

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Bible_and_Rosary.jpgI still have my first set.  Do you?

was given to me as a first communion gift: simple black beads with a plain
plastic cross.  They’re small,
child-sized, but I carried them in May processions when I was in grade school.  They served to teach me the rudiments
of one of our faith’s most popular – but often misunderstood – forms of prayer.



October is dedicated to this devotion, I thought it would be a good time to
remind ourselves how meaningful it is, and to appreciate even more the part it
plays in our Catholic culture.

religions use beads to guide them in prayer, but the origins of the rosary are
still somewhat hazy.  

I did a
little “Googling,” and found the following, from Fr. William Saunders at the
EWTN website

use of “prayer beads” and the repeated recitation of prayers to aid
in meditation stem from the earliest days of the Church and has roots in
pre-Christian times. Evidence exists from the Middle Ages that strings of beads
were used to count Our Fathers and Hail Marys. Actually, these strings of beads
became known as “Paternosters,” the Latin for “Our Father.”


The structure of the rosary
gradually evolved between the 12th and 15th centuries. Eventually 50 Hail Marys
were recited and linked with verses of psalms or other phrases evoking the
lives of Jesus and Mary. During this time, this prayer form became known as the
rosarium (“rose garden”), actually a common term to designate a
collection of similar material, such as an anthology of stories on the same
subject or theme. During the 16th century, the structure of the five-decade
rosary based on the three sets of mysteries (Glorious, Sorrowful, Joyful)

Tradition does hold that St.
Dominic (d. 1221) devised the rosary as we know it. Moved by a vision of our
Blessed Mother, he preached the use of the rosary in his missionary work among
the Albigensians, who had denied the mystery of Christ. Some scholars take
exception to St. Dominic’s role in forming the rosary. The earliest accounts of
his life do not mention it, the Dominican constitutions do not link him with it
and contemporaneous portraits do not include it as a symbol to identify the


Elsewhere, I’ve read that the
rosary began as a practice by the laity to imitate the monastic Office (Liturgy
of the Hours), by which monks prayed the 150 Psalms. The laity, many of whom
could not read, substituted 50 or 150 Ave Marias for the Psalms. Sometimes a
cord with counters on it was used.

The rest is history.
The rosary underwent a significant
change several years ago, when Pope John Paul II elected to add a fourth set of
the Luminous Mysteries, or Mysteries of Light.  (Not everyone was thrilled, since this
disrupted the parallel of the beads with the psalms, but the faithful seem to
have accepted the change nonetheless.)    You find rosaries today made of all kinds of
material, from cheap plastic to expensive gems.  I remember vividly the rosaries worn by nuns: massive black
links that announced their approach with clack-clack-clack against black
cloth.  Occasionally, a search on
Ebay will turn up unusual monastic rosaries that have three mysteries and 150
beads.  They must weigh a ton.
Wherever it began, or however it started, the rosary remains
a powerful source of inspiration and hope.   I know in my own life it has brought calm in the midst
of many storms.  This meditative
form of prayer just works. 
These days, I pray a set of square,
wooden beads that I bought a few years ago at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.  But my fingers still remember the first
set I used – with deep affection and boundless gratitude.  Who knows how many prayers were
answered or graces received from using those simple black beads? 
But I know this much: they helped
ground me in the faith – faith, I’m reminded, that can be as close as my fingertips.  
For more on how to pray the rosary, check out this clear and concise online guide.   

Comments read comments(7)
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posted October 13, 2009 at 11:35 pm

How ironic that you posted this tonight. It was my privilege tonight to lead our RCIA group in their first experience with praying the rosary. It is such a beautiful way to pray, so peaceful via the rhythmic words, and so personal via meditating on the personal story of Jesus and Mary. A mini-gospel.

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posted October 13, 2009 at 11:43 pm

The rosary is such a beautiful devotion. I am interested in the monastic rosary; where does one find them other than ebay?

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted October 14, 2009 at 6:45 am

Try this website.
God bless,
Dcn. G.

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posted October 14, 2009 at 8:37 am

Deacon Greg,
Thank you for the link. The rosaries are beautiful!

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posted October 14, 2009 at 12:13 pm

We use the chotki, or prayer rope, for reciting the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!) They’re typically made of wool, with knots woven along the length of the circle and a cross on the end, so they look like rosaries. They sometimes have beads, but don’t necessarily. Our parish sells prayer ropes, but you can get them from any monastery. If you go to an Orthodox or Eastern Rite service, and glance at peoples’ left hands you will see a fair number with prayer ropes in church.

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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

posted October 14, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I loved reading this post. The rosary is what led me back to church after an 18 year absence. I actually got some beads in 1989 and in 1990 there I was. To this day I pray my rosary, with gratitude and devotion. The rosary is a form of waking detachment for me, I pray with the beads in my hand, but I am transported away.
The beads I am using now were made for me by a friend I met through blogging. She is actually Episcopalian but loves the rosary and also makes beads. They are now blessed and so beautiful.
I have my first rosary too, white plastic!

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posted October 14, 2009 at 9:15 pm

My first set of Rosary beads – received at my First Communion – was stolen (in my purse) along with a TV, VCR and all of the wrapped presents under my Christmas tree on Christmas eve ten years ago.
Someone said to me, “I hope that your rosary beads burned the burglar’s fingers!” Well, I have to admit that I felt that way for a bit as well. But mostly I’ve hoped that the burglar kept the beads and that maybe they made some difference in his life.
Now I have my Grandmother’s beads. I actually have several sets of beads and it’s really cool to think about where I got the beads and who gave them to me or who used to own them. It becomes part of the prayer as well.

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