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What do rosary beads mean: The Meaning of Rosary Beads

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rosary, also called prayer beads, (from Latin rosarium, “rose garden”), religious exercise in which prayers are recited and counted on a string of beads or a knotted cord. By extension, the beads or cord may also be called a rosary. The practice is widespread, occurring in virtually every major religious tradition in the world.

In Buddhism

Known as malas, prayer beads are a traditional tool in Buddhism and are especially common among Tibetan Buddhists. It was likely adapted from Hinduism. A mala typically features 108 beads, which are said to represent humanity’s mortal desires, and often ends in a tassel or amulet. The beads are commonly used to count the recitation of mantras but can also be used to direct meditative breathing or to count prostrations. The beads themselves are often painted in specific colours and can be made from bodhi wood, seeds, shells, metal, or other materials, depending on the focus of the meditation.

In Christianity

In Christianity the practice was adopted in the 3rd century by Eastern Christian monks, and various forms of the rosary were developed. In Roman Catholicism the rosary became a popular method of public and private prayer. The most common rosary is the one devoted to Mary, the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, the prayers of which are recited with the aid of a chaplet, or rosary. The beads of the chaplet are arranged in five decades (sets of 10), each decade separated from the next by a larger bead. The two ends of the chaplet are joined by a small string holding a crucifix, two large beads, and three small beads.

Traditionally, the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin requires three turns around the chaplet. It consists of the recitation of 15 decades of Hail Marys (150 Hail Marys), each one said while holding a small bead. On the larger beads separating the decades, different prayers are said (the Gloria Patri and the Our Father) and particular mysteries are meditated upon. The 15 mysteries are events from the life, death, and glorification of Jesus Christ and Mary; they are divided into three sets of five—the joyous, the sorrowful, and the glorious mysteries. The introductory and concluding prayers of the rosary vary.

In 2002 Pope John Paul II added a fourth set of mysteries, the “luminous mysteries,” or mysteries of light. The five new mysteries celebrate events in Jesus’ ministry, including his baptism; his miracle at Cana, where he turned water into wine; his proclamation of the kingdom of God; the Transfiguration, in which he revealed his divinity to three of his Apostles; and his establishment of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Detail of La Vierge du Rosaire, Paris, c. 1490. This image of the Virgin of the Rosary depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus, standing on a crescent moon, surrounded by rosary beads.

The origin of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin is not certain, though it has been associated with St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order in the early 13th century. The devotion probably developed gradually as a substitute for the recitation of the Psalms or for the divine office sung by monks at the various canonical hours each day. It reached its definitive form in the 15th century through the preaching of the Dominican Alan de la Roche and his associates, who organized Rosary Confraternities at Douai in France and at Cologne. In 1520 Pope Leo X gave the rosary official approbation, and it has been repeatedly commended by the Roman Catholic Church. Since the 1960s, however, public recitation of the rosary has become less frequent. St. John Paul II’s addition of new mysteries, which are not required for reciting the rosary, was intended to revive interest in the practice; some traditional Catholics, however, rejected the new mysteries, believing that they upset the relationship between the original number of mysteries and their corresponding psalms.

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In Eastern Orthodoxy the prayer rope predates the Catholic rosary and is mainly a monastic devotion. Rosaries of 33, 100, or 300 knots or beads are the common sizes, and they are used to count repetitions of the Prayer of the Heart (the Jesus Prayer). The Russian Orthodox vertitza (“string”), chotki (“chaplet”), or lievstoka (“ladder”) is made of 103 beads, separated into irregular sections by 4 large beads and joined together so that the lines of beads run parallel, thus suggesting the form of a ladder; the parallel lines symbolize the ladder seen by Jacob in his dream and remind the faithful of the spiritual climb toward greater devotion and virtue. In the Romanian church the chaplet is called matanie (“reverence”) because the monk makes a profound bow at the beginning and end of each prayer counted on the beads.

The Anglican prayer beads are a blend of the Orthodox and Catholic rosaries. They have four sections (“weeks”) of seven beads each, four larger “cruciform” beads separating the weeks, and an invitatory bead and a cross at the base. A prayer is said first on the cross and then on each of the 33 beads—33, according to tradition, equaling the number of years in Jesus’ earthly life—and the “circle of prayers” is typically performed three times (symbolic of the Trinity), making the total number of prayers 100, which represents the fullness of creation.

In Hinduism

The japa mala of Hinduism is used to direct and count the recitation of mantras during meditation. It usually consists of 108 beads strung in a circle to represent the cyclic nature of life. Many also feature a larger guru or bindu bead that marks the start and end of the strand. Members of the Hare Krishna movement often use beads in their chanting of the names of Krishna, and other Hindu traditions use the beads to recite the names of specific gods. Some sects believe that the beads are infused with different energies based on the mantras they have been used for and thus have an array of rosaries for different meditations.

In Islam

In Islam the rosary (subḥa) consists of three groups of beads whose total is 100. Each bead represents one of the “most beautiful names of God,” and the rosary serves to count these names. The rosary is also used in an act of prayer and is carried by all classes of Muslims, especially pilgrims.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

This article was most recently revised and updated by Melissa Petruzzello.

What Is the Significance of the Catholic Rosary?

Depending on the part of the world you’re in, it may be a common sight or an exceptional sight to see someone ardently clutching rosary beads, head bowed, and eyes lowered as they move their fingers slowly from bead to bead while silently praying the Catholic Rosary.

Praying the Rosary means repeating a set of prayers based on Scripture while meditating on the lives of Jesus and Mary.

What Is the History of the Catholic Rosary?

The practice of keeping track of prayers with the aid of beads or knotted ropes is an ancient tradition that spans several centuries and religions.

Even before the birth of Jesus, it was customary for worshippers across the globe to repeat prayers in a certain pattern and keep count of those prayers with the use of rocks or some other object.

After Christ’s ministry on earth and His glorious Resurrection, St. Paul urged believers to continue praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). By the ninth century, monks were reciting all 150 Psalms as part of their daily prayers while keeping count with the use of pebbles.

Christian laypeople sought to imitate this devotion but found it difficult to do so given their high rate of illiteracy.

As a result, laypeople began reciting 150 Our Fathers each week instead of the Psalms. To keep track, they would use knotted string, small pieces of wood, and, eventually, beads.

Catholic tradition holds that the practice of praying the Rosary as we know it today dates back to the 13th century when it is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic de Guzman in a vision.

At the time, certain heresies existed in Europe denying the Incarnation of Christ, among other Christian doctrines. St. Dominic founded the Order of the Dominicans, which traveled from town-to-town preaching against those heresies.

It was during this time of combatting heresies that Mary appeared to Dominic in France, giving him the Rosary, and instructing the saint to encourage people to pray the Rosary as a way of bringing the fallen a way back to God.

Whether the history of the Catholic Rosary stemmed from ninth-century monks reciting the Psalms or from St. Dominic’s miraculous apparition of Mary, scholars agree that the prayers now recited during the Rosary evolved over the centuries.

Today, a complete recitation of the Catholic Rosary includes the denomination’s most familiar prayers, namely: the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Fatima Prayer, and the Hail Holy Queen.

What Is the Purpose of the Catholic Rosary?

The purpose of the Catholic Rosary is simple: to teach people about the lives of Jesus and Mary through prayer and contemplation.

Although the purpose of the Rosary is straightforward enough, the biblical events the faithful are asked to focus on are called “mysteries” because they go to the heart of Jesus’ miraculous birth, His ministry and Resurrection, and Mary’s role in salvation history.

The repetition of prayers during the Rosary is meant to block out the noise of our daily lives and encourage us to peacefully reflect on the mystery being prayed over.

Rosaries can be prayed individually in private, as a family at home, or as part of a larger group such as in church before Mass.

The purpose of the rosary beads continues to be to keep track of the pattern of prayers, as well as to give the faithful something to grasp onto in their effort to detach themselves from the stress of today’s world and further ground themselves in prayer.

What Is the Significance of Prayer?

There are many variations of rosary beads. Some are large enough to wear around your neck and others are made to fit around your finger.

When most people think of a Catholic Rosary, they picture the type of rosary that typically consists of 59 beads strung into a loop with a crucifix hanging at the end of the loop.

The crucifix and each bead represent a particular prayer to be said as the person praying positions his or her finger along the length of the beads.

In simplest terms, rosary beads are grouped into five decades, a decade referring to a grouping of ten beads upon which one Hail Mary is prayed for each bead.

Each decade, in turn, is preceded by praying one Glory Be, announcing the mystery (or biblical event) to be meditated upon, and praying the Our Father. A step-by-step explanation of how to pray the Rosary can be found here.

There are four categories of mysteries that Catholics meditate on while praying the Rosary. Each mystery recalls a vivid occurrence in the lives of Jesus and Mary.

There are the Joyful Mysteries, which recall such events as the Annunciation, Mary’s visit with her cousin Elizabeth, and Jesus’ childhood.

There are the Luminous Mysteries, which focus on Jesus’ baptism, His first miracle at Cana, and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Next are the Sorrowful Mysteries, which focus on Jesus’ Passion.

Last is the Glorious Mysteries, which recall Jesus’ Resurrection, the Assumption of Mary, and the Kingdom of God in heaven.

In the interest of facilitating people’s unified prayer of the Holy Rosary, Pope St. John Paul II recommended that the faithful meditate on the mysteries based on the days of the week.

For example, Catholics can pray the Joyful Mysteries together on Mondays. Likewise, on Tuesdays, the faithful can pray the Sorrowful Mysteries together, and so on for the rest of the week.

Why Is the String of Beads Called a Rosary?

The word “rosary” comes from the Latin word rosarium and means rose garden or garland. Considering that praying the Rosary is an expression of love and fidelity to Jesus Christ, it’s easy to see how some have likened the Rosary to a bouquet of flowers offered to the Lord.

Many have also referred to the Rosary as a form of Bible study on beads. The Rosary takes the faithful on a contemplative journey through the entire New Testament:

Starting with the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary of the virgin birth, moving onto Jesus’ birth, ministry, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, discussing the descent of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s disciples, and ending with Mary’s coronation as queen of heaven and earth.

Why Do Catholics Pray the Rosary?

There’s no obligation for Catholics to pray the Rosary in full, in part, or at all. Yet many Catholics pray the Rosary as a way of focusing on Christ’s sacrifice for humanity while asking for His mother’s prayers as the person closest to Jesus aside from God the Father Himself.

Numerous Catholic families pray the Rosary together at home as a way of teaching their children the faith and nourishing their relationship with God together.

There’s another powerful reason that Catholics pray the Rosary. Given Mary’s unwavering obedience to God and her familiarity with extreme sorrow, many Catholics turn to her in times of doubt and personal tragedy.

In praying the Rosary, Catholics plead for Mary’s intercessory prayers, and end their Rosary devotion with the centuries-old petition that the Blessed Mother “turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and…show us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

For further reading:

What Is the Meaning of the Lord’s Prayer?

The Glory Be Prayer: Words and Meaning of this Catholic Doxology

What Is the Assumption of Mary? Origins of this Catholic Doctrine

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Mongkolchon Akesin

Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.

ૐ ROSARY: the essence of the rosary, the meaning of the rosary and what they are for

What do the rosary mean – the talismans of spirituality, protection and personal growth

If you have a desire to buy a rosary, then it would be useful to learn more about the meaning in these beads so that your personal talisman is chosen accordingly.

A thread with knots closed in a circle, used for stringing beads, was called a rosary (rosary), and a wide variety of materials could be used for their manufacture:

  • stone
  • wood
  • bone
  • billiard balls
  • acrylic
  • soutache threads, etc.

There is evidence that the ritual rosary was first made in India, and the mention of this dates back to the 2nd millennium BC.

The meaning of the rosary: ​​what are they for?

Prayer . The number of knots or beads serves as a guideline for the correct number of performing ritual actions or reading prayers (mantras). If you use a closed rosary, then religious affiliation does not matter at all, because each of the existing religions – Christian, Buddhism, Islam, etc., use a rosary (rosary ring) as a symbol of the unity of spirit and body, exaltation and spiritual enlightenment. Even outwardly, these products are practically indistinguishable from each other, although Christian rosaries are rosaries with a cross that is absent on analogues in other religions.

Concentration . Those many who do not know why a rosary is needed are surprised when they hear that their sorting makes it possible to concentrate better, maintain attention, and suppress a sleepy state. Therefore, if you are waiting for a monotonous work or educational process, the rhythmic fingering of the rosary beads is what you need to increase your productivity and attention.

Amulet is another option on how to use the rosary, because one of the most popular associations with them is cyclicity and infinity. Many believe that the rosary provides powerful protection against negative influences, allowing goodness and joy to “penetrate” into the life of its owner.

Health . Various healing practices have shown that the use of various materials for the rosary can endow them with the power to cure certain ailments. For example, it is recommended to buy a wooden rosary to improve fine motor skills of the fingers, which prevents or helps in the treatment of joint diseases. A rosary made of natural stones is no less useful, since each gem has a certain set of qualities that positively affect the human body.

How to wear a rosary – application?

If you want to wear a bracelet, the rosary should be wrapped around the wrist in two turns, although it is not uncommon to wear them instead of beads, around the neck. It is not considered bad manners to wear them and simply in your pocket or as a decorative item in a car or any part of the house. Do not forget about their unwanted contact with other people so that the amulet does not lose its power. The beads are suitable for both men and women.

Where can I buy original rosaries made of natural stones?

The brasletik.kiev.ua online store presents handmade rosaries made of only the best stones. All products have passed the gemological examination in the state center and have quality certificates. Production – Ukraine. Delivery to any city 1-2 days.

The craftsman will be happy to make the following types of rosaries for you:

  • Christian (Catholic) rosaries
  • The most popular rosary with natural stones, suitable for any religion for 33 beads
  • Mala – beads for 108 grains for reading mantras
  • Knotted rosary
  • Muslim rosary with natural stones, pendants


5 Degrees of Faith

  • About the rosary hier. Seraphim (Paramanov)
  • Why do we need a rosary? priest Konstantin Parkhomenko
  • On Inner Prayer, “Smart” Abbess Taisia ​​(Solopova)
  • About the rosary archim. Rafail (Karelin)
  • Orthodox prayer book

Rosary — an auxiliary liturgical item serving as a reminder of the need for unceasing heartfelt prayer (1 Thess. 5:17), a means for counting the number of prayers or prostrations read (spoken); the shape of the rosary is a thread with beads or knots strung on it and a cross.

Is it appropriate for anyone to use a rosary?

The rosary is mainly used in monasticism. Even though they are used for counting (the required number of prostrations or prayers), their value is much higher than the value of a counting instrument.

The seriousness of this remedy is evident from the fact that the rosary is sometimes compared and even called a spiritual sword. In principle, this is not surprising.

Firstly, the most important element of the rosary itself is the cross – the image of the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our Redemption, the sign of victory over death, the devil and sin.

Secondly, the rosary serves as a reminder of wakefulness and prayer, participates in prayer work – the communion of the praying with God.

Despite the fact that the scope of the use of the rosary is not limited to the area of ​​monastic life (there are no strict obligatory prohibitions in this regard), there are still restrictions regarding the admissibility of their use among the laity.

First of all, in order to use the rosary, a lay person needs to take the blessing of the confessor.

The use of a rosary should not be perceived by their owner as a fashionable attribute, and even more so as a sign of superiority over others. The rosary should not give rise to self-aggrandizement and pride. Otherwise, their use will be akin to hypocrisy.

In this regard, some pastors recommend their spiritual children to use the rosary more or less discreetly.

It must be remembered that the rosary, being a “spiritual sword” and having a cross in its composition, requires a special, reverent attitude, as any image of the Orthodox Cross requires.

The life of a Christian ascetic is work and prayer. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), – these are the apostolic words of the feat of holy men to the creation of many prayers. But the most famous of them was the so-called Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” .

If we put together all the works written by the holy fathers about doing the Jesus Prayer, then we get an extensive library. The brevity and simplicity allows any Christian to include it in his daily rule (of course, with the blessing of the confessor), saying a certain number of times – 50, 100, 200 … per day. But how to pray and keep track of the score at the same time? The rosary helps with this.

Shape of the rosary

Modern rosary is a closed thread consisting of small “seeds” divided into dozens of “seeds” of larger sizes. The most common number of “seeds” is 50 or 100. Monks’ cell rosaries sometimes contain 1000.

In ancient times in Rus’, the rosary had a different shape – a closed ladder, consisting of wooden blocks sheathed in leather or fabric. They were called “ladder” or “lestovka” (ladder) and spiritually denoted the ladder of salvation, ascension to heaven. The closedness of the rosary and ladders means unceasing, eternal prayer.

Rosary for the laity

The rosary is part of the vestments of the monks, the laity can pray on them, having received a blessing from the confessor.

As a rule, the laity is not blessed to wear a rosary for show, only in his pocket, or to use it privately (at home).

The rosary helps to pray at work, in public places – just put your hand in your pocket and sort through the “seeds”.

How to use the rosary

The rosary helps to count (hence the name) the number of prayers or prostrations. The one who prays with the fingers of his left hand sorts through the “grains” at the same time as the beginning of the pronunciation of a new prayer.