Catholics love the Rosary. We buy rosaries. We hang rosaries in our cars. We put rosaries in our pockets. We gift each other rosaries.
But how many know how to pray with the Rosary?
This can seem confusing to learn about, but in this post I will seek to answer many of your questions. Hopefully, you will discover how straightforward it is.
I have many such posts on my site, and I recommend you read them.
What is the Rosary?
Despite what is often assumed, there are two different meanings of the word ‘rosary’.
The first is the most common, that the ‘rosary’ is a set of rosary beads.
The second is less well-known: that the Rosary is the specific prayers and meditations that have been handed down to the Church over time.
In essence, the Rosary is a system of praying that focuses on the whole life of Christ and his Gospel through the meditative soul of Mary, his holy Mother.
‘And Mary treasured/pondered these things in her heart’ (Gospel of Luke 2) – this is what someone who prays the Rosary does.
As for the word ‘Rosary’, it comes from the idea of offering roses to Mary. Each Hail Mary whilst meditating on the life of her precious Son is a beautiful rose to her.
The Rosary as a whole is an entire stock of roses to Mary.
If you want to thrill Mary’s heart and draw her soul towards you, it’s a great idea to devote yourself to her Rosary.
Is there only one Rosary that everyone prays?
There are at least three different sets of Rosary prayers in the Church, all still used today by various Catholic groups.
First, the most historically relevant is the one made popular by St Dominic, what we call the traditional Rosary. This is the shortest version of the Rosary, and is still very popular today.
Second, perhaps the most famous version of the Rosary is the one given to us effectively through St John Paul II in the early 2000s.
The Pope suggested that we add an optional extra set of mysteries to our Rosary prayers, called the 5 Luminous Mysteries. Tagged onto the St Dominic Rosary, this Rosary comes in at 20 mysteries long, rather than the traditional 15.
Most people would think of this version as The Rosary, because it’s the one most commonly used today in the Church.
These two versions of the Rosary are in effect exactly the same. The one exception is that the 5 extra Luminous mysteries are inserted into the middle of St Dominic’s traditional Rosary if one wishes to pray the modern Rosary.
Third, the last version of the Rosary (that I am aware of) is the Carmelite Rosary, or the Brigittine Rosary – the Rosary of St Bridget.
This Rosary contains 18 mysteries in total. Each set of mysteries is 6 mysteries in length rather than the traditional 5.
Additionally, the Apostles Creed is recited after every decade of Hail Marys, instead of the simple ‘Glory Be’ of the Dominican Rosary.
This article will focus on how to pray the traditional Dominican Rosary, whilst also mentioning the Luminous mysteries added by St John Paul II if you wish to incorporate these into your Rosary prayers.
As a Catholic, Do I Have to Pray the Rosary?
Not at all. It is no sin whatsoever to choose willfully never to pray the Rosary as a Catholic.
However, there are few prayers and devotions that the Church offers us which have the high number of indulgences and blessings attached to them as we find with the Rosary. Many saints have greatly endorsed it and been very devoted to it, and for good reason.
The Rosary is unique in the Church. There is nothing else quite like it. Mary herself, in a revelation to St Dominic, said that she would save the world through the Rosary and the Brown Scapular.
She also promised that all who become children of the Rosary will attain heaven, even a high degree of glory. In fact, there are in total 15 unique promises Mary gives to those who commit themselves to her Rosary.
It’s certainly not a sin in any way to avoid the Rosary, but it does mean you are refusing to make use of one of the greatest channels of grace the Church offers. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s worth taking into consideration.
You’ve certainly got nothing to lose by devoting yourself to the Rosary, and potentially a lot to gain.
Do I Need to Buy a Rosary to pray the Rosary?
Despite what is commonly thought, no – you don’t need to buy a rosary to pray the Rosary.
However, after learning how to pray the Rosary prayers, you are going to need some way of keeping track of the Hail Marys as you go through each mystery.
If each mystery only used 3 Hail Marys, we wouldn’t need rosary beads. But each mystery contains 10 Hail Marys, and believe me, it is very hard to keep track of which Hail Mary you are on as you go through each mystery/decade.
You could certainly pray the Rosary using your fingers. I do this often, especially when in the car, or in the bathroom. We should ‘pray without ceasing’, and the Church contains no rules about where we shouldn’t pray. Feel free to pray the Rosary wherever you like.
In some of these instances, praying with rosary beads is going to be challenging or impossible, such as during work (or possibly even illegal, such as when driving!).
You will need to use your fingers on such occasions, or verbalize which Hail Mary you are on by number during your recitation of each decade: ‘One: Hail Mary full of grace … Two: Hail Mary full of grace … Three: Hail Mary full of grace,’ and so on.
Even when you do this it’s not hard to forget which Hail Mary you’re on.
Whenever you get the opportunity to use a set of blessed rosary beads to pray the Rosary, then I would strongly recommend using them. At least have them in your pocket or on you somewhere, like around your neck or in your hand.
This is because the Church offers partial indulgences to us when we pray using a blessed item, like a rosary. You increase your spiritual blessings and help the holy souls in purgatory when you use your rosary beads.
Keep in mind that the Church has handed down the Rosary prayers with the rosary beads, and so it is not recommended to keep them apart on a regular basis.
If you really intend to pray the Rosary, then the Church’s advice would seem to be: buy a rosary.
Then get that rosary blessed by a Catholic priest, and use it to pray with. You’ll get the most out of reciting the Rosary if you do this.
Personally, I never go anywhere without my rosary, as it’s always in my pocket. The only time I don’t have it on me is when I shower or sleep.
Some Catholics even sleep with theirs, especially when very anxious. St Padre Pio said, ‘To hold a rosary is to hold the hand of Mary.’
When it comes to purchasing a rosary, it is far better to invest in a durable one, rather than a cheap one. There are no end of cheap rosaries. They may make thoughtful gifts at someone’s baptism or confirmation, but they aren’t much use if they break during your prayers.
I’ve had about 4 rosaries break, each in a matter of only a few months. Finally, I bit the bullet and purchased a very durable paracord rosary that’s meant to last a life-time.
What are the Mysteries of the Rosary?
Before actually beginning the Rosary prayers with the mysteries, you will need to know what the mysteries are. It is best to memorize them, but if you don’t know them off by heart then you will need ready access to the mysteries.
This is because without meditation on the mysteries, one cannot pray the Rosary. To meditate on the mysteries, one needs to know what they are.
The traditional Rosary is made up of 3 sets of mysteries.
Each set of mysteries is precisely 5 decades in length: that is, 5 mysteries, 5 Our Fathers, 50 Hail Marys, and 5 Glory Be’s.
Each mystery is one decade in length: 1 mystery, 1 Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and 1 Glory Be.
The 3 sets of mysteries are as follows:
- The 5 Joyful Mysteries
- The 5 Sorrowful Mysteries
- The 5 Glorious Mysteries
The Joyful Mysteries
The opening mysteries of the Rosary focus on the conception of Jesus in the womb of the blessed Virgin, followed by Mary’s visitation to St Elizabeth.
We then have the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas), followed by Mary and St Joseph presenting the Lord to God in the temple at Jerusalem.
Lastly, we meditate on Mary and St Joseph finding Jesus in the temple after he had gone missing 3 days prior.
In order, these mysteries are entitled:
- The Annunciation
- The Visitation
- The Nativity
- The Presentation in the Temple
- The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
These mysteries are entitled the Joyful Mysteries because they are supposed to bring joy to the person who meditates on them whilst reciting the most holy Rosary.
The Sorrowful Mysteries
This set of mysteries is much more sobering, focusing on the hour of the passion of Christ.
It begins with his agony in the Garden of Olives, then looks to his being scourged at the pillar for us.
We then focus on Christ’s being crowned with thorns for us, and then carrying his cross for us.
Lastly, we meditate upon his crucifixion: ‘the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (The Bible, Galatians 2:20).
In order, these mysteries are called:
- The Agony in the Garden
- The Scourging at the Pillar
- The Crowning with Thorns
- The Carrying of the Cross
- The Crucifixion
These mysteries are designed to bring us sorrow for what our Saviour went through for our sins. Sorrow brings contrition on our part, so vital for spiritual health.
The Glorious Mysteries
The final set of mysteries is entitled the Glorious Mysteries. These are designed to bring us a sense of the sheer glory of the Gospel.
There is the Resurrection of Christ, followed by his glorious Ascension to the right hand of the Father.
We remember also the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), and finish with the fleshly Assumption of Mary and her Coronation in heaven.
In order, they are:
- The Resurrection
- The Ascension
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit
- The Assumption of Mary
- The Coronation of Mary
So there you have it, the mysteries of the traditional Rosary, in perfect order. 15 mysteries; 15 Our Fathers; 150 Hail Marys; 15 Glory Be’s.
What About the Luminous Mysteries?
For those who wish to add the extra set of mysteries recommended to the Church by St John Paul II, these are as follows:
- The Baptism of Jesus
- The Miracle at Cana
- The Preaching of the Kingdom of God
- The Transfiguration
- The Institution of the Eucharist
These are called the Luminous mysteries because they are supposed to bring spiritual light to those who meditate upon them.
Notice also that they are very focused on the incarnate life of Christ during his ministry.
Additionally, they are very sacramental in nature, homing in on the great sacraments of Baptism, the Eucharist and Marriage. The preaching of the Gospel also occupies a notable place.
As such, many in the Church now agree with St John Paul II that the Luminous Mysteries rightly belong with the Rosary in this day and age.
However, it’s completely up to you; feel free to pass them by if you wish to stick only to the traditional Rosary.
Should I Pray All the Mysteries Each Day?
Many saints of the past have done this. It seems that praying the whole Rosary everyday gave them special advantages and graces to become saints.
Pope Francis prays the entire traditional Rosary everyday, and has done for many years.
St Padre Pio prayed 30, 40 and sometimes 50 rosaries every single day! It shouldn’t be any surprise that his life was filled with incredible instances of the miraculous and supernatural.
You can only increase the blessings and miracles in your own life and the lives of those you love by reciting as much of the Rosary as you can daily.
That said, in common times many Catholics find 15 mysteries (let alone 20) to be far too much for them daily. There are plenty who still do this, but most seem to pray only one set of mysteries per day, just 5 decades.
The Church endorses this approach generally for Catholics, and even offers Catholics a plenary indulgence when merely 5 decades are recited (so long as other conditions are fulfilled).
To make things easier for us, the Church in her love toward us has broken the Rosary up throughout each week as follows:
- Monday and Saturday – Joyful Mysteries
- Tuesday and Friday – Sorrowful Mysteries
- Wednesday and Sunday – Glorious Mysteries
- Thursday – Luminous Mysteries
If you don’t wish to pray the entire Rosary every day, you could follow the Church’s weekly calendar here.
You will feel blessed that you are praying the same mysteries with Catholics all over the world. Still, you are free to pray whichever set of mysteries you wish on any day.
What are the Opening Prayers of the Rosary?
Rather than launching straight into the mysteries, the Rosary comes with an introduction. This is to prepare the heart and mind for reciting the prayers and meditating on the mysteries.
To begin the Rosary, get your set of rosary beads and take hold of the crucifix.
Do the sign of the cross with the crucifix: ‘In the name of the Father (touch your forehead with the crucifix), and of the Son (touch your stomach with the crucifix), and of the Holy Spirit (touch the left and then right shoulder with the crucifix). Amen.’ Always begin the Rosary with the sign of the cross.
Then, you have two options: one popular but longer, the other shorter but not as popular.
If you choose to do the much more popular opening prayers, they are as follows:
- After the sign of the cross, whilst holding your crucifix recite the Apostles Creed. (If you don’t know the Apostles Creed, you can find it here.)
- Next, grasp the very first bead after the crucifix on your rosary, and recite one Our Father. You may wish to offer this prayer for the intentions of the Pope.
- Then, move your thumb to the next three beads, one by one. Recite three hail Marys, one for each bead. You may wish to offer these for the receiving of faith, hope and charity.
- Lastly, recite: ‘Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, world without end. Amen.’
If you would rather the faster but much less well-known option, the following is perfectly legitimate:
After the sign of the cross, recite the following: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. O God come to my assistance, O Lord make haste to help me.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, world without end. Amen. Alleluia.’
How do I Pray a Mystery/Decade of the Rosary?
Straight after the introductory prayers, you begin the first mystery/decade.
Let us suppose it’s Monday and you’re deciding to follow the Church’s schedule. You go with the Joyful mysteries today. Here is how you pray these mysteries.
- Place your thumb on the fifth bead of the rosary after the crucifix. Announce to yourself what the first joyful mystery is: ‘The Annunciation’. This sets your mind and heart on this mystery. Now recite the Our Father on this same bead.
- Moving to the next bead takes you to a string of 10 beads. This is called a decade, and these represent the 10 Hail Marys you will now offer for this mystery. Recite 10 Hail Marys, moving from bead to bead.
- On the final bead, after the Hail Mary, recite the Glory Be.
- Many Catholics add at this point the prayer that Mary at Fatima requested, but ultimately this is optional: ‘O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.’
And that’s it! You’ve recited one entire decade of the most holy Rosary.
All you have to do is repeat this process another 4 times for the other 4 Joyful mysteries! Once you’ve done that, you’ve prayed a complete Rosary!
How Do I Finish the Rosary?
After you have completed the last mystery you wish to pray, it is customary to conclude the Rosary with some prayers. It would seem this isn’t necessary, but most Catholics do this.
There are a number of options, though by far the most common seems to be ‘Hail Holy Queen‘.
Many also add another prayer of blessing for the recitations of the day: ‘O God, whose only-begotten Son, through his life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life: grant, we beseech thee, that by meditating upon these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.’
Many also pray: ‘May the divine assistance remain always with us. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.‘
Finally, with your crucifix do the sign of the cross: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’
How Can I Meditate on each Mystery?
The simplest method for meditating on each mystery is to simply announce the mystery to yourself before praying the Our Father as I suggested above. You can announce it audibly, or in your mind.
There are obviously other ways to more deeply engage with the mysteries.
One option is to form in your mind an image of the mystery or make use of pictures on the internet. Just search for the mystery under consideration, and click images. Google will bring up a tonne of pictures for this mystery. This is a method I really like, as it really fixes the attention, and inflames the heart.
Another method is to do what’s called the ‘Scriptural Rosary’. You recite relevant verses of Scripture in between each Hail Mary. You can find these on the internet under ‘Scriptural Rosary’.
Other sources suggest reading a passage of Scripture that’s relevant to the mystery, and then to pray the decade.
You could also gaze at a picture/icon/statue of the relevant person in the mystery. So for the Assumption of Mary, you may look at a statue of Mary as you pray the decade. For the Crucifixion, you may look at the crucifix on your Rosary.
Still another suggestion would be to add a relevant phrase into each Hail Mary.
Suppose you’re praying the mystery of the Nativity. For the Hail Marys, you would pray: ‘Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus – born at Bethlehem. Holy Mary, mother of God …’ etc.
You could do this for just one of the Hail Marys, some, or all of them. This method is especially good if you are doing some other necessary activity/work whilst reciting the Rosary, such as driving the car.
Evidently, there are many ways to meditate on the mysteries. It’s up to you what you choose. Try different options and see what works for you.
The vital thing is that you actually do meditate on the mystery. You cannot merely pray 5 Our Fathers and 50 Hail Marys, and assume it is the Rosary you are praying, because it is not, no matter how praiseworthy. You must apply the mysteries to these prayers, or it is something else you are praying, not the most holy Rosary.
Can I Split the Decades Up During the Day, or Must I Pray 5 Together?
What If I Get Distracted?
There is no issue with getting distracted so long as the distraction isn’t willful.
Whilst reciting the Rosary, it’s one thing to go for a walk and enjoy the scenery. It’s another thing to pull your phone out to check your Facebook messages. The former is perfectly fine, whereas the latter would actually be a rather serious sin.
The Church forbids us to willfully distract ourselves whilst we pray to God because it shows a grave lack of respect.
Likewise, it seems fine to undertake a relatively ‘necessary’ task whilst praying the Rosary, such as washing up or tidying up the house, or showering. It’s probably best to follow your conscience on these issues.
If you find yourself being too distracted and unable to focus at least a little on the Rosary, then it’s perhaps best to save praying it for another time.
My general rule is that if I find myself getting lost in the prayers and not knowing which Hail Mary I’m on, then I stop and do that decade later.
Suppose you have loads of stuff on your mind, or you have a song playing around in your head which you can’t help. Or you’ve just watched a powerful film that you keep seeing in your imagination. Come to the Rosary anyway, and simply do what you can! Recite the prayers and try to meditate on the mystery.
Sure, you may get to the Glory Be and not even remember which mystery you’ve prayed. Suppose you’ve even messed up a couple of the prayers a little. In my opinion, all of this is fine, so long as you’ve intended to meditate on the mystery, and intended to recite the prayers sufficiently.
Mary can make up for the rest. All she wants is your intention.
St Thomas Aquinas taught that even the intention to pray is prayer. It’s not really our efforts that make God and Mary’s heart smile, but our intentions: ‘People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart‘ (1 Samuel 16:7).
There is nothing wrong with being unwillingly distracted, even greatly, when reciting the Rosary. But there is much wrong with willfully distracting yourself to something completely unimportant whilst praying the Rosary.
Should I Pray the Rosary Aloud or Silently in my Mind?
Either is absolutely acceptable. Many Catholics, especially of the Carmelite tradition, pray the Rosary silently in the mind.
St Louis de Montfort in his book ‘The Secret of the Rosary’ says that the approach of praying the Rosary silently in the mind is perfectly legitimate.
It would seem that the Church’s use of the word ‘recite’ is more broad than merely ‘to say aloud’.
One needs to find their own way here. Some of us physically cannot pray aloud for long (I for one am incapable of praying a full Rosary aloud). Do what works best for you.
Perhaps mix it up a bit, sometimes praying aloud, sometimes whispering, sometimes merely mouthing the words silently, and sometimes just letting your mind do the recitations. The Church is quite happy with any of these approaches.
You could even download a Rosary app, or use a CD, or a Rosary podcast, or some other source, and have this recite the Rosary for you as you follow along with your attention. This seems to raise no concern from the Church.
Bear in mind, however, that to get a plenary indulgence (more on this in a moment) it would seem that one needs to audibly (though quietly) recite the Rosary in a suitable location, such as a Catholic Church.
It seems that only reciting the Rosary in one’s mind in this context would not qualify for a plenary indulgence, though it would certainly gain a partial indulgence.
If gaining a plenary indulgence isn’t your prime focus, then praying the Rosary constantly in your mind day by day will win you and the holy souls in purgatory a ridiculous amount of partial indulgences.
Are there any Indulgences Attached to the Rosary?
Yes, both partial and plenary, so long as the conditions are fulfilled.
If you wish to view details, see here, section 48. The Rosary is one of the most richly indulgenced things that the Church offers to the world.
Happy Rosary praying! And if you have any questions you wish to ask, or need clarification, just write a comment below.