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Scores of Catholics and other practicing Christians pray the rosary all year long — and many bestow gifts of rosaries on family and friends for Christmas and other special occasions.

What is the rosary, exactly — and how do the faithful use its beads?

“The rosary is a combination of vocal prayer (the Our Fathers and Hail Marys) and of mental prayer — namely, reflection on important events in the life of Christ and His Mother,” according to the website for the Rosary Center & Confraternity, a ministry of the Dominicans of the Province of the Holy Name of Jesus, in Portland, Oregon. 

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The founder of the Dominican Order, St. Dominic, helped to popularize the rosary in the 13th century, the website also notes.

History of the rosary

“St. Dominic was distressed at his lack of success in his preaching in countering heresy, and in his desperation turned to the Mother of God for help,” the Rosary Center notes. 

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This heresy “wrongly taught that all material things, including the human body itself, were fundamentally evil,” according to Catholic.org.

Rosary beads help a person keep place in the prayer, says the Rosary Center.

Rosary beads help a person keep place in the prayer, says the Rosary Center.
(Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“She appeared to him (according to the tradition) and told him to use her Psalter in conjunction with his preaching of the mysteries of our salvation, as an instrument in combating the great heresy of his day.”

Since then, the rosary and rosary beads have been associated with the Dominican Order — and modern-day Dominican friars and sisters wear a set of rosary beads as part of their habits. 

The meditative aspects of the rosary help immerse a person in prayer.

A set of rosary beads today includes 50 smaller beads divided into groups of 10 by a larger bead, along with a pendant consisting of a cross and five additional smaller beads, explains the website. 

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“When one refers to the rosary” — meaning the prayer itself, which is sometimes capitalized — “it is usually understood to mean five decades, or one fourth of the entire rosary,” the site says. 

The full rosary prayer involves 20 decades, each meditating on a different supernatural mystery associated with Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection and earthly ministry. 

A nun of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity holds a rosary during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican in 2016.

A nun of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity holds a rosary during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican in 2016.
(The Associated Press/Gregorio Borgia)

Each decade of the rosary involves saying 10 Hail Mary prayers while meditating on one mystery, says the Rosary Center website.

Due to the length of the prayer, the faithful may opt to use rosary beads in order to track their place. A Hail Mary is prayed on each of the smaller beads, and an Our Father (also known as “The Lord’s Prayer”) is prayed on the larger.  

The five “Joyful Mysteries” about Jesus’ birth and early life are traditionally prayed on Mondays and Saturdays, while the five “Sorrowful Mysteries” concerning the crucifixion of Jesus are traditionally prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays.

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The five “Glorious Mysteries” regarding the resurrection of Christ are traditionally said on Wednesdays and Sundays — and the five “Luminous Mysteries” are prayed on Thursdays, according to the website.

Recent additions to the rosary

Initially, the rosary prayer contained only 15 mysteries – the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious, Fr. Christopher M. Zelonis, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, told Fox News Digital.

Praying the 15 original mysteries involved reciting 150 Hail Mary prayers, a number that corresponds to the number of psalms in the Book of Psalms.  

“St. John Paul II’s letter ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’ in 2000 added the Mysteries of Light (‘Luminous’) to the 15 traditional mysteries,” he said.

"When one refers to the rosary" — meaning the prayer — "it is usually understood to mean five decades, or one fourth of the entire rosary," says the Rosary Center in Portland, Oregon.

“When one refers to the rosary” — meaning the prayer — “it is usually understood to mean five decades, or one fourth of the entire rosary,” says the Rosary Center in Portland, Oregon.
(iStock)

Praying the 15 original mysteries involved reciting 150 Hail Mary prayers, a number that corresponds to the number of psalms in the Book of Psalms.  

“I always understood [the rosary] as a ‘home version’ of the 150-psalm Psalter that monks recited daily,” said Zelonis. 

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“The repeated Hail Mary serves as a backdrop for our personal meditation on the various aspects of Jesus’s life, seeking the unique perspective of his mother,” he continued.

The “Fatima prayer” originates from a reported 1917 apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal.

Zelonis said he is fond of using a scriptural rosary, which contains a passage to meditate on while praying. These can be found both printed and online, he said. 

The meditative aspects of the rosary help immerse a person in prayer, said Zelonis. This is in comparison to the “pre-fab prayers” that are also part of church tradition. 

The rosary, said one Rhode Island worshiper, is "a wonderful meditation, a way to focus, to draw closer to Jesus." 

The rosary, said one Rhode Island worshiper, is “a wonderful meditation, a way to focus, to draw closer to Jesus.” 
(Associated Press)

Pre-written prayers “are best supplemented by our own meditation, by which God can lend some depth to our understanding and love of Jesus and Mary,” he said.

“We can put ourselves in the biblical scene or envision it as if watching a film.” 

Another addition to the traditional rosary prayer is the inclusion of the optional “Fatima prayer” after each decade. The “Fatima prayer” originates from a reported 1917 apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, according to the Rosary Center website.  

Historical connections

October is known as the month of the rosary thanks in part to St. Pius V, a 16th-century pope, said Father William G. Most in his book, “Mary in Our Life.” 

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“St. Pius V attributed the great defeat of the Turkish fleet on the first Sunday of October 1571, to the fact that at the same time the rosary confraternities at Rome and elsewhere were holding their processions,” said Most. 

“Calling in some help from Mary seems like a perfectly logical move.”

Afterward, St. Pius V ordered a commemoration of the rosary to mark that day, and a feast day was later added to the church’s calendar. 

Today, October 7 is known as the “Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary” and is marked by prayers and public processions.

A woman holds a rosary as she prays during a Catholic mass. 

A woman holds a rosary as she prays during a Catholic mass. 
(AP2011)

Christians of other denominations have found that praying the rosary has enriched their spiritual lives.

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“I was raised in the Protestant tradition and still practice as such,” Christian worshiper Peter Norris, 43, told Fox News Digital. 

“I recently started praying the rosary.” 

Norris attends a nondenominational church in Rhode Island. 

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The rosary, said Norris, is “a wonderful meditation, a way to focus, to draw closer to Jesus.” 

“Calling in some help from Mary seems like a perfectly logical move,” he also said.

“Perhaps the rosary can bring the world together.”

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