Rosary Basics

Most rosaries look like a necklace (but it is not a piece of jewelry!). The first section is outside the main loop and includes the crucifix, one bead, three small beads, and another separate bead. On the crucifix, you pray the “Apostles’ Creed.” On the single bead next to the crucifix you pray the “Lord’s Prayer” (commonly known as the “Our Father”). On each of the three smaller beads, you pray a “Hail Mary.” These three “Hail Mary” prayers are for the virtues of increased faith, hope, and charity. Finally, you pray the “Glory Be.” The “Glory Be” does not have a bead. The last bead on the chain is where you begin praying the first of the five decades.

Physically, each decade is represented on a rosary by a separated bead followed by ten joined beads. Again, the separated bead for the first decade is actually not in the loop but is the last bead on the chain outside the main loop. On the single, separated bead you pray the “Our Father.” On each of the ten joined beads, you pray a “Hail Mary.” At the end of each decade, you pray a “Glory Be” and the “Fatima Prayer.” Note that there is no bead for those last two prayers. Many people choose to either remain to hold the tenth bead of the decade or grasp that gap between that tenth bead and the one for the “Our Father” of the next decade.

After the fifth decade, you pray the “Hail, Holy Queen.” Many people hold that large bead or emblem of the Virgin Mary that connects the crucifix chain to the main loop. Finally, feel free to pray any extra prayers before finishing. Common prayers include the Rosary Prayer, the prayer to St. Michael, prayer for the souls in Purgatory, and any extra intentions you want to present to God.

Rosary Map: Start at the crucifix and recite the prayers listed moving counter-clockwise (it actually does not matter which direction you move). Each of the five decades consists of one “Our Father,” ten “Hail Mary” prayers, one “Glory Be,” and one “Fatima Prayer.”

There are 20 mysteries of the rosary divided into four groups that follow different aspects of Jesus’ life. Each set of mysteries has five decades where each decade (ten joined beads and one separate bead) represents one mystery. When you pray the rosary, you typically focus on a specific set of mysteries. You typically do not mix and match mysteries from different groups. The mystery sets and their basic themes are:

  • Joyful Mysteries – Jesus’ birth and early childhood
  • Luminous Mysteries – Jesus’ ministry
  • Sorrowful Mysteries – Jesus’ Passion and death
  • Glorious Mysteries – Jesus’ Resurrection

There is a schedule for what day to pray each set of mysteries. However, it is fine to change the order or pray more than one set of mysteries on a given day. For example, perhaps you are going through a difficult time in your life and so you might want to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries more often to gather more strength. This is the schedule that Saint Pope John Paul II suggested:

  • Monday – Joyful Mysteries
  • Tuesday – Sorrowful Mysteries
  • Wednesday – Glorious Mysteries
  • Thursday – Luminous Mysteries
  • Friday – Sorrowful Mysteries
  • Saturday – Joyful Mysteries
  • Sunday – Glorious Mysteries (exceptions are praying the Joyful Mysteries during the Christmas season and the Sorrowful Mysteries during Lent)

“Rosary Basics” was taken from my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us.

Where do you go from here?

Other Resources

Month of the Rosary: How to pray the rosary more deeply (