Rosary beads are a Catholic tradition to keep count of the Hail Marys said during the prayer. It’s thought that it dates back to the early Church of the 3rd and 4th centuries when Christians used knotted ropes to count their prayers. Other traditions trace it back to the 13th century when it was given to Saint Dominic as a way of reinstating it as a form of prayer. The truth is never recorded in history, but there is evidence that the monks in the Middle Ages used prayer beading as a way of counting the 150 Psalms that they were required to pray daily.
How Many Beads Does a Rosary Have?
A rosary generally has sets of 10 beads, a decade, with an additional larger bead for each decade. This strand is attached to a shorter strand that also has a crucifix, one large bead, three small marble, and another large bead. A five-decade version would have a total of 59 beads. Priests and nuns might use a fifteen-decade variety. This would also be attached to the shorter strand with the crucifix. These beads might be made from sterling silver, gold, glass, precious gems or pearls.
During times of religious conflict in Europe, single decade rosaries were common. A set of 10 was much easier to hide than a full collection. Instead of a crucifix, the faithful used other symbols that represented aspects of the story of Christ. For example, a nail symbolized the death on the cross. A rooster represented the denial of Peter. These smaller rosaries still helped the person pray, but didn’t call attention to the faith, which helped the devotee avoid legal penalties.
What is the Significance of This Number?
The 15 decades refer to the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary. Each mystery focuses on an aspect from the life of Mary or Jesus. This helps the person remember the principal events or mysteries in the faith. In 2002, Pope John Paul II added an additional set, bringing the total to 20. Every mystery corresponds to a spiritual fruit or goal, such as humility, patience or faith.
A full rosary is praying all 15, or 20, rosaries daily, but the minimal amount is 5. Most faithful Catholics only pray a single set of mysteries each day, which is why it has five decades. Using one as part of your prayer life allows you to focus on praying, rather than counting. It keeps the prayers from becoming rote and ritualistic.
Joyful Mysteries - Prayed on Mondays and Saturdays
The joyful mysteries have to do with the birth of Christ and his early childhood:
- The Annunciation - when the birth of Jesus was announced to Mary
- The Visitation - when Mary visited Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist
- The Nativity - the birth of Jesus
- The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple - the purification ceremony of Jesus as a baby
- The Finding of Jesus at the Temple - an early episode in Jesus’ life when he lingered at the Temple while his parents returned home. When they realized he was not traveling with them, they returned to the temple to find Jesus talking to the elders.
Sorrowful Mysteries - Prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays
The sorrowful mysteries refer to events related to Jesus’ death.
- Jesus praying in the garden before his death.
- Jesus being flogged, or beaten, at the hands of the Roman guards.
- Jesus being crowned with thorns.
- Jesus carrying his cross to his death.
- Jesus dying on the cross.
Glorious Mysteries - Prayed on Sundays and Wednesdays
These mysteries relate to Jesus’ resurrection.
- The resurrection of Christ.
- The ascension into heaven.
- The descent of the Holy Spirit.
- The assumption of Mary. Catholic tradition believes that Mary ascended into heaven.
- The coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Catholic tradition has the idea that Mary was crowned as Queen of Heaven.
Luminous Mysteries - Prayed on Thursdays
These mysteries refer to moments in Jesus’ life that are considered monumental.
- The baptism of Jesus
- The wedding of Cana where Jesus’ performed his first miracle.
- Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom of God
- The transfiguration, in which Jesus becomes radiant with glory on the mountain. Elijah and Moses appear beside him.
- The Last Supper, when the Eucharist was instituted.
How are They Used in Prayer?
Although many different prayers can be used while praying, the standard prayers, the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be are the most common. To use one in your daily prayer life, first, make the sign of the cross.
- Pick up the rosary and hold the crucifix. Say the “Apostles’ Creed.”
- Move your fingers to the next large bead, say an “Our Father.”
- On each of the small three marbles, say one “Hail Mary.”
- On the next large bead, say the “Glory Be.”
- Move around the longer strand, using one of the mysteries for each decade. Say the “Our Father” with each large bead.
- Say ten “Hail Marys” while fingering the small beading between the large beading. Because you don’t have to focus on counting the Hail Marys, you can medicate on each Mystery.
- Once you go through the five decades, conclude with the “Hail Holy Queen” and any other prayer.
- Conclude your prayer time with the sign of the cross.
Create a Personal Rosary
Although it is most commonly associated with Catholicism, some Anglicans, Episcopalians and Lutherans do use prayer cords. Some Christians wear one as jewelry, but many consider that sacrilege. It is a statement of faith and a sacred object in the Catholic tradition. Pope St. John XXIII said, “The Rosary is a school for learning true Christian perfection.”
These are a recognized emblem of Catholicism. Rosaries often have personal significance. The cords may be made of special material that resonates with the person praying. At Woman Shops World, find exquisite beads that have been ethically sourced to craft your own piece. Shop our large assortment of beautiful beads.
Here are some of our favorite beads for making your own rosary: