Praying the Rosary and Meditating on the Mysteries
According to pious Catholic tradition, in the 13th century, Mary, the Mother of God, appeared to St. Dominic de Guzman, gave him a rosary, and asked that instead of praying the Psalms on beads or knots, the faithful pray the Hail Mary, Our Father, and the Glory Be.
Fifteen decades made up the original Dominican Rosary, but it was later abbreviated. A decade refers to ten Hail Marys preceded by the Our Father and ending with a Glory Be. Today, most Catholics use the five-decade Rosary.
How to pray the Rosary
Want to know how to pray the Rosary? (Take a look at the figure to help you follow along.)
- Start at the crucifix, and pray the Apostles’ Creed. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, 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 there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
- On the next large bead, say the Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer). 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.
- On the following three small beads, pray three Hail Marys.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among 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.
- On the chain, pray the Glory Be. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
- Then announce the first mystery for that day of the week or season.
- On the large bead, start the first decade and pray the Our Father.
- On the ten beads after that, pray ten Hail Marys.
- On the chain, pray a Glory Be.
- Many Catholics add the Fatima Prayer after the Glory Be and before the next mystery.
O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy. Amen.
If you followed the preceding steps, you’ve just completed the first decade of the Rosary. Now, repeat Steps 5 through 9 four more times to finish the next four decades, continuing with the second mystery in the appropriate list, then the third, and so on.
- Then, at the end of your Rosary, say the Hail Holy Queen. (Saying this isn’t obligatory, but it’s customary.)
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 toward us; and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us Pray, O God, whose only-begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation; grant we beseech Thee, that meditating upon 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.
Meditating on the mysteries
While saying the prayers of the Rosary, Catholics meditate on what are called the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. But saying the mysteries is really no mystery at all, because each so-called mystery refers to a different passage in the life of Christ or Mary, His mother. Each decade (an Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and a Glory Be) recalls a different mystery.
The Joyful Mysteries are prayed on Mondays and Saturdays, and they remind the faithful of Christ’s birth. Each decade corresponds with a different mystery. Starting with the Annunciation for the first decade, try meditating on these scenes sequentially with each decade that you say (they may also be said during the whole Christmas season):
- The Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38)
- The Visitation (Luke 1:39–56)
- The Nativity (Luke 2:1–21)
- The Presentation (Luke 2:22–38)
- The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41–52)
Pope John Paul II added on the Mysteries of Light, also known as the Luminous Mysteries, in 2002. Pray the Rosary and recall these Mysteries of Light on Thursdays (they may also be said during season of Advent):
- The Baptism in the River Jordan (Matthew 3:13–17)
- The Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1–11)
- The Preaching of the Coming of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14–15)
- The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8)
- The Institution of the Holy Eucharist (Matthew 26:17-29)
The Sorrowful Mysteries are prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays, and they remind the faithful of His Passion and death (they may also be said during the entire season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter):
- The Agony of Jesus in the Garden (Matthew 26:36–56)
- The Scourging at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
- The Crowning with Thorns (Matthew 27:27–31)
- The Carrying of the Cross (Matthew 27:32)
- The Crucifixion (Matthew 27:33–56)
The Glorious Mysteries are prayed on Wednesdays and Sundays, and they remind the faithful of His Resurrection and the glories of heaven (they may also be said during all of Easter season):
- The Resurrection (John 20:1–29)
- The Ascension (Luke 24:36–53)
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–4)
- The Assumption of Mary, the Mother of God, into heaven
- The Coronation of Mary in heaven
These last two mysteries are inferred by Revelation (Apocalypse) 12:1; Jesus Christ was the source and center of these miraculous events in that He did them to His mother; she did not do them alone. What Christ did for His mom, He will later do for all true believers at the end of time.
Both the divinity and humanity of Jesus are presented in these mysteries. Only God could be born of a virgin, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven, and yet only a man could be born, get lost, be found, suffer, and die. Meditating on the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries helps Catholics confirm that Jesus is both divine and human. Contemplating the time when Jesus was crowned with thorns, scourged with whips, and nailed to the cross — meditating on Jesus’s Passion — convinces the prayerful that those sufferings are real, and only a real man could feel such pain and agony. Yet reflecting on His Transfiguration, Resurrection, and Ascension reminds believers that only God can transfigure, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. By praying the Rosary, the faithful reaffirm that Jesus is true God and true man, one divine person with two natures — divine and human.