Rosary prayer

What is the rosary? Why a set of beads and prayers is central to the Catholic faith

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(THE CONVERSATION) This is one of the most famous moments of modern Catholicism: the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three Portuguese children in 1917, when much of the world was engulfed in the First World War. During a series of six apparitions, Mary emphasized to these young shepherds that to bring peace they must pray the Rosary every day.

Devotion to the rosary already had a centuries-old history, and the Marian apparition at Fatima only deepened it. So what is a rosary and why is it so important to many Catholics?

centuries of meaning

As an archivist and associate professor at the University of Dayton Marian Library, I maintain a collection of artifacts that illustrate many forms of popular devotion to the Virgin Mary, including nearly 900 unique rosaries. Each tells a story of the people who owned them and how rosaries evolved.

The word “Rosary” refers to a set of prayers in the Catholic Church as well as a physical object. When praying the Rosary, Catholics use a set of beads or knots to count and track the prayers. Prayer beads as physical counting tools are quite common in several religions including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

The exact origins of the rosary are debated. Many theologians believe it was at least popularized by Saint Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish mystic and priest who is said to have received a vision in 1208 from the Virgin Mary in which she presented him with the rosary.

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7 each year – formerly known as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory to commemorate a Christian victory in a naval battle in 1571. Shortly after , Pope Gregory XIII changed the title of the holy day, and now the whole month of October is dedicated to the Rosary.

One prayer per pearl

To pray the rosary, a person will begin by holding the crucifix, making a sign of the cross on their chest, and reciting the Apostles’ Creed, which sets out the basics of the Christian faith – such as that Jesus is the son of God and rose from among the dead.

Generally, a rosary will contain five groups of 10 beads each, called a ten. By touching each of these beads, the user will recite a Hail Mary prayer. At the end of each decade is a slightly larger bead, which is a cue to recite the Lord’s Prayer – another of Christianity’s most important prayers – and to meditate on one of the 20 mysteries, significant events in the decade. life of Jesus and Mary. .

The decade is completed by saying the prayer Glory be to the Father, and after completing the five decades, the user recites the prayer Hail, Holy Queen to Mary. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gives detailed instructions, including a diagram showing the different parts of the rosary and the accompanying prayers.

The Rosary can be recited alone or in a group. Some Catholics pray the Rosary daily, and many recite it to thank God or to ask for intercession, such as healing or protection for a loved one.

Shells and seeds

The Marian Library collection shows how the rosary as an object can be very personal and engage different senses when people pray. Some are very fragrant, such as those made from peach pits. Some are souvenirs brought back from particular shrines, such as those at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, which contain drops of holy water from its source. Other rosaries glow in the dark or are made from birthstones. Many have significance for a particular region, such as rosaries made from a grain called Job’s Tears, which are popular in Cajun regions of Louisiana.

There are rosaries made from natural materials such as seeds, olive pits or even shells – including one made from cowrie shells and paper clips. A National Guard chaplain stationed in Guadalcanal, site of a key series of battles between American and Japanese troops, mailed it to his sister, a nun, in 1943 with the message “pray for me.” .

Next is a photograph of a colorful pile of plastic rosaries – these were taken by Latin American migrants and other asylum seekers at the US southern border. While working as a janitor at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility, Tom Kiefer used photography to document migrants’ personal items deemed non-essential and confiscated or discarded.

Today and tomorrow

Several new inventions of the rosary in the 21st century attempt to make praying the rosary convenient for even the busiest person. The Traveler’s Rosary, designed by the Archdiocese of New York, is made of a flat piece of metal with raised beads. It also comes with a case that commuters can use to hold a transport ticket. The recording rosary is also meant to make prayer more convenient: the beads are placed on a dial and a small arrow points to the right place, so the person praying can pick up where they left off after a interruption. The rosary also emits a subtle sound at the end of each decade.

The rosary itself and the practice of its prayer continue to evolve today. In 2019, a religious group launched the “Click to Pray eRosary”: a wearable device that connects to a free phone app to help users learn how to pray the rosary. The developers explain that the device is “intended for the peripheral borders of the digital world where young people live”.

Whether made of glass beads with holy water or fragrant dried rose petals pressed into beads, the rosary reflects the myriad ways Catholics can practice their devotion.

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