They might be one of the most recognizable (and,er, wearable) religious objects, but rosaries are more than just pretty necklaces. They're actually a significant tool for Catholic worship — and more universal than you think.
Although the use of rosaries within Eastern Christianity dates back to the third century, it wasn't until the 15th century, when the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and told him to preach the rosary to his followers, that they became part of Catholicism. Since then, they've become vehicles for both individual and group worship in the Catholic church. But how do you actually use one?
A rosary is divided into five sections, known as "decades," which consist of 10 beads each, and the idea is to pray your way around the entire strand. There are basically three steps to completing a decade: To begin, recite an Our Father prayer. Then, for each of the 10 beads, recite one Hail Mary. Once you finish all 10, conclude the decade with a Glory Be.
But don't think of the rosary as an exercise in blind recitation. Each decade is dedicated to one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, which are scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary. So, while you recite your Hail Marys, you're supposed to reflect upon one of these scenes and learn a specific "grace" (a value or lesson) from it.
Now, more on the prayers themselves: The rosary is a scriptural form of prayer, meaning you literally follow a script when you pray it. In addition to the Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes you recite for every decade, there's also the Apostle's Creed that kicks off the entire rosary (recited while holding the rosary's crucifix) and the concluding Hail, Holy Queen or Salve Regina.
If you couldn't tell, that's a lot of praying — but there's purpose in the repetition. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, praying the rosary should feel like meditation. As you move through each decade, you'll fall into a gentle rhythm that will quiet your thoughts and help you concentrate on the Mystery.
Of course, rosaries belong to a larger category of spiritual objects — namely prayer beads. Other sects of Christianity, like Protestantism and Lutheranism, sometimes use their own rosary prayers, too. But beads go beyond Christianity. According to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Missouri, over two thirds of the world's population use prayer beads in their religious practices. They appear in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even forms of Paganism.
It makes sense that prayer beads are so pervasive — they're simply a tool to help you reflect on your faith quietly. And rosaries are part of this universal desire for spiritual meditation. After all, seeking a deeper connection to your beliefs is something anyone, regardless of their faith, can relate to.