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How to Pray the Rosary

by Jeffrey A. Mirus, Ph.D.

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    A brief guide to praying the Rosary, including the mysteries and their associated virtues, and the texts of all the prayers.
  • Larger Work:
    Original for CatholicCulture.org
  • Publisher & Date:
    Trinity Communications, Nokesville, Virginia, 2008

The Rosary is above all a prolonged prayer and meditation on the mysteries of the life of Christ and His Mother Mary. Strongly associated with the Blessed Mother, the Rosary relies on her intercession with her Divine Son and on her ability to raise our minds and hearts to God through both vocal prayer and reflection on all that God has done for us.

To facilitate this prayer, a string of beads—also called a rosary—is used as a means of involving the body and keeping track of the prayers. This rosary consists of a small crucifix attached to a short string of four beads which leads to a circle of five groups of ten beads each, with each group separated by a single larger or different-colored bead. (Note that the fifth bead on the short string is actually the first bead of the circle.)

Each group of ten beads in the circle, with its initial larger or different-colored bead, is used to pray and meditate on one of the “mysteries of the Rosary”, which commemorate Christ’s life and mission. The crucifix and initial short string of beads are used to mark off the introductory prayers.

Traditionally, the Rosary included 150 Hail Marys, one for each of the Psalms, which were gradually divided into 15 groups of ten each, to correspond with 15 mysteries of the Rosary for meditation. Hence a complete Rosary was for many years technically 15 decades long. But the most commonly used Rosary has five decades, and the mysteries were commonly divided into three groups, the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious, with five mysteries in each group. Thus, ordinarily, “saying the Rosary” means saying the introductory prayers and praying and meditating on one set of five mysteries for the five decades of the standard rosary.

Recently, Pope John Paul II added another set of mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, bringing the total number of official mysteries to 20. Various authors have provided other mysteries for meditation, or special meditations for each mystery, or thematic Scriptural passages to be used with each Hail Mary in a mystery. The practice of reading a verse of Scripture before each Hail Mary is called a "Scriptural Rosary". While these additional offerings are not official, they are perfectly acceptable means of praying the Rosary and meditating on the mysteries of our salvation.

Typically each set of mysteries is prayed on a different day of the week, as indicated below. There are exceptions, however, and it is common to say the Glorious Mysteries on all the days of the Easter Season, the Joyful Mysteries on all the days of Christmastide, and sometimes the Sorrowful Mysteries on every day in Lent.

There are a variety of slightly different ways to say the Rosary, arising from different traditions, some associated with particular religious communities. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the shorter Chaplet of Divine Mercy also began to be prayed using rosary beads.

The instructions which follow are for the most commonly used method of saying the Rosary as it is typically said today. These are the prayers to be said as you move through the Rosary, fingering each bead:

Introductory Prayers

Begin with the Sign of the Cross.
On the Crucifix:The Apostle’s Creed
On the first large or different-colored bead:The Our Father
On the next three regular beads:One Hail Mary on each bead, for the virtues of faith, hope and love, and for the intentions of the Holy Father.
After the 3 Hail Marys:The Glory Be to the Father
The Fatima Prayer

Meditation on the Mysteries: Each Decade Prayed as Follows

Announce (aloud or to yourself) the name of the each mystery before beginning its decade.
On the first large or different-colored bead:The Our Father
On the next 10 regular beads:Ten Hail Marys
After the ten Hail Marys:The Glory Be to the Father
The Fatima Prayer
Repeat for all five mysteries / decades.

Closing Prayers

After the fifth mystery, the Rosary is typically closed with a series of three prayers:

To end the Rosary, make the Sign of the Cross again, then kiss the crucifix.

THE MYSTERIES AND THEIR FRUITS

The following are the four groups of mysteries. Each mystery is commonly associated with a particular virtue or fruit which may be understood more deeply, desired and sought in praying that mystery. Many different schemes have been used; some of the more common associations are listed here.

Joyful Mysteries (Monday, Saturday)

  1. The Annunciation (of the Birth of the Savior to Mary): Humility
  2. The Visitation (of Mary to Elizabeth and John the Baptist): Charity, Love of neighbor
  3. The Nativity of Our Lord: Poverty of spirit, Detachment from the things of the world, Contempt of riches, Love of the poor
  4. The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple: Obedience, Purity of intention
  5. The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple: Piety

Sorrowful Mysteries (Tuesday, Friday)

  1. The Agony in the Garden: Contrition, Conformity to the will of God
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar: Purity, Mortification
  3. The Crowning with Thorns: Moral Courage, Contempt of the world
  4. The Carrying of the Cross: Patience
  5. The Crucifixion: Final perseverance, Salvation, Self-Denial

Glorious Mysteries (Sunday, Wednesday)

  1. The Resurrection: Faith
  2. The Ascension: Hope, Desire for Heaven
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit (on Mary and the Apostles at Pentecost): Love of God, Wisdom, Knowing and sharing the truth
  4. The Assumption of Mary: Devotion to Mary, Grace of a happy death
  5. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Eternal Happiness

Luminous Mysteries (Thursday)

  1. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: Openness to the Holy Spirit, Living one's baptismal promises
  2. The Miracle at Cana: To Jesus through Mary, Doing whatever Jesus says
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God: Repentance, Trust in God
  4. The Transfiguration: Becoming a new person in Christ, Desire for holiness
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist: Eucharistic Adoration, Active participation at Mass

THE PRAYERS

The Sign of the Cross
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." As you say these words, trace the shape of a cross on yourself with your right hand by touching first your forehead (on the word "Father"), then your chest (on the word "Son"), then your left shoulder ("Holy") and finally your right shoulder ("Spirit"). Fold your hands briefly when you say "Amen".

Apostle's Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in His only son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Our Father
Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Hail Mary
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among all women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Glory Be
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Fatima Prayer
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.

Hail Holy Queen
Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

The Rosary Prayer
Let us pray. O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant, we beseech Thee, that by meditating on 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.

Prayer to St. Michael
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

(c) Trinity Communications 2008

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