Long ago, people living in the desert or in monasteries used pebbles, sticks, or lines drawn in the sand to count their prayers. Herein lies the early roots of the Catholic Rosary. People progressed to counting knots on a cord, then to the beads we know today.
At one time, monks prayed the Our Father 72 times, keeping count with 72 beads. Because the Hebrew practice of praying 150 psalms in the temple continued in Christian monasteries, the practice of praying 150 beads gradually evolved. Educated priests and monks could read and pray the psalms from books. The large majority of people who could not read, however, were able to count their prayers and devotions with beads.
In their use of pebbles to count prayers, the early desert monks started the Church on a great tradition. It allows people of all ages to meditate on faith while comforting beads, kind to the senses, pass through the fingers. We are spirits, created in the image of God, but we inhabit limited physical bodies. To focus on faith, most people find help in sensory, sacramental things.
Even the word rosary is kind to our senses. A rosary is a place where roses grow, a garden, a place of fragrance and beauty. Close your eyes and picture a beautiful rose garden with green leaves and many colors of roses—white, yellow, pink, apricot, deep red.
Prayer takes us to a beautiful place inside ourselves, even better than a rose garden. Prayer and the beads are healing, calming, and peaceful. The Rosary helps not only the one who prays but also countless others. Mary, at Fatima, said that Russia would be converted from Communism to faith and that peace would come among nations through the Rosary.
To Connect with Heaven
The need to rely on concrete, material things to remind us to pray, to keep us in touch with the holy, is so great that prayer beads have been used in many cultures from ancient times. When I lived in a multi-ethnic apartment complex in New Jersey, people sat out in the green courtyard between buildings. One day a mid-Eastern neighbor who spoke no English sat holding a string of large beads in his hands, serenely passing them though his fingers. We smiled as our eyes met and, with a questioning look, I pointed to the beads. His smile grew even larger as he raised his face skyward and nodded. Without words, he said the beads helped him to connect with heaven.
The Rosary Brings Prayer and Peace
The kind of short prayer that we repeat over and over—like the Hail Mary and the Our Father when we pray the Rosary—is called a mantra. One wise man from India, educated by Jesuits, said that “at first you carry the mantra, but after a time, the mantra carries you.”
It is important to remember, however, that the Rosary is more than just a repetition of prayers. It is an invitation to meditate on mysteries—events that form the foundation of our faith. It relates to the ancient Christian prayer practice called lectio, meditatio, and oratio—Latin words for “read,” “think about” or “mentally chew over,” and “talk to or listen to God in prayer.”
When you pray the Rosary as a group, a leader states the theme for each decade, with a brief commentary often read from a book. This is the “read” part. During the decade, praying the ten Hail Marys gives you time to think about it, chew it over, see how it relates to your life. This is the “meditate” part. This leads you into talking it over with God, thanking God, being in the presence of God. This is the “pray” part.
Praying the Rosary leads to good things. After a while you don’t even need a leader to state themes or give commentaries; you know them by heart. Just picking up the beads leads you into prayer. The Rosary, over time, brings you serenity, peace, and inner joy as the beads pass through your fingers.
That is why, after you “carry” the Rosary by praying it often, the Rosary eventually begins to “carry” you.
The Rosary Priest
My own enthusiasm for the Rosary was rekindled when Family Rosary’s Albany Mission Director asked me to write about its founder, Fr. Patrick Peyton—known as the “rosary priest.” Father Patrick was the man who inspired and made popular the slogans “The family that prays together stays together” and (during World War II and still relevant today) “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”
Many people know Fr. Patrick Peyton for inspiring Hollywood stars and celebrities to donate their talent and time to write and act in Family Theater radio shows (stories with Christian values), TV specials, and Rosary Crusades that reach millions. But I wrote about his humble beginnings in County Mayo, Ireland. Every night his father gathered the family of 11 around the peat fire in the hearth to pray the Rosary. “It’s not just counting beads,” John Peyton, the father, said. “Meditate on the mysteries, the meaning of Our Lord’s life, on what he and Our Lady did for us.”
Patrick’s struggles to reach his childhood dream of becoming a priest—of losing the dream, regaining it, then almost losing it forever to illness—taught this great man to ask one hundred percent of Mary, to trust in God, and to give one hundred percent of himself to inspire millions with a vision of family prayer.
For meditations and commentaries on all the Mysteries of the Rosary, I recommend Fr. Peyton’s book titled Father Peyton’s Rosary Prayer Book (Ignatius Press) and “How to Pray the Rosary” at medjugorje.org/rosary.htm.
The Rosary has long been a beloved prayer that brings people of all ages closer to God, Jesus, Mary, and the mysteries of redemption. With all the distractions of modern life, it is sometimes difficult to keep a focus on our faith. The Rosary can help. To help children and their families pray the Rosary, you are encouraged to copy and distribute a sheet found at newadvent.org/images/rosary.pdf.
Say to the Children
On October 7 we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. The Rosary is a longtime Church and family practice that can help you keep focused on faith. While many people pray the Rosary while kneeling or sitting in church, it can be prayed anywhere, anytime, with others or by yourself—even when you’re in bed falling asleep.
The Rosary helps you find long-lasting peace and calm. It helps you grow closer to God and the people you love. It helps you remember important and inspiring mysteries of faith. It helps you remember what Jesus did for you and the role that Mary, his mother, played. It helps you find peace, calm, and inner happiness even when life gets tough. The Rosary helps you trust in God’s love so you’re not worried or anxious.
When you pray the Rosary, think about the mysteries of faith with each decade you pray—each event in the life of Jesus, Mary, and the early Church. Visualize the scene, picturing it in your mind. Think about how it relates to your life. Talk to God about it, with praise and thanks for God’s gifts to you.
Praying the Rosary quiets you so you can listen to and be open to God’s loving presence. God usually speaks to minds and hearts in a quiet, gentle voice, with an inner knowing that’s hard to hear in the hubbub of daily life. The Rosary offers a time of quiet listening to God’s quiet, gentle voice.
Sometimes praying the Rosary is hard; you would rather be playing or talking to your friends. However, if you set aside this time for God, whether or not you feel like it, there will come times when you feel upset or hurt or angry, when you have a cold or are sick, when it’s hard to pray. That’s when the Rosary carries you and brings you peace so you begin to feel right again. While you are learning to pray the Rosary, you “carry” the Rosary. Once it becomes a part of your life, the Rosary “carries” you.
ACTIVITY: Rosary Crafts
Before doing some research, I thought making knotted rosaries would be a great activity for classrooms. Then I found that you need 19’ to 20’ of twine for a full rosary, 4 ½’ to 5’ for a one-decade rosary. You need to singe the ends of the twine with a lighter or candle to prevent unraveling (or seal them with super glue). Finally, I saw that it’s not easy to make the beautiful knots.
However, knotted rosaries are inexpensive, sturdy, child-pocket friendly, and beautiful, and there are great websites with instructions—one even includes a video. See first “How to Make a Knot Rosary” at RosaryArmy.com for detailed instructions. Then go to lifeisaprayer.com/how-to-make-knot-rosary for the video and other tips. Here are some instructions on how to make a knotted rosary.
Besides string, cord, or wire, and scissors (or wire clippers), you will need 53 Hail Mary beads (10 for each of the 5 decades and 3 leading from the first Our Father bead after the cross) plus 6 Our Father separator beads, which can be the same size or larger: 59 beads in all. You also need a cross and a joining piece or medal or a larger bead for where the two ends of the entire loop join. You can purchase separate parts at craft stores or at CatholicParts.com.
For busy catechists, I recommend skipping bead counting and, instead, purchasing a rosary kit for each child. They are as inexpensive as $10 for 12 sets and come with directions (even prayer cards sometimes) for each child. For this project, you might want to enlist the help of older children, especially Confirmation candidates, looking for a service project.
I like the Oriental Trading Company’s inexpensive kit IN-48/5543 Jumbo “How To Pray the Rosary” Craft Kit. It has large colorful beads (easy for little hands to handle) and costs only $11.99 for 12 sets.
A great October practice would be to pray a different set of Mysteries of the Rosary each week, one decade or all five decades as time allows. Let a different child lead each time. The order in which the mysteries are best prayed, outlined by Pope John Paul II in 2002, is: first week, the Joyful Mysteries; second week, the Luminous Mysteries; third week, the Sorrowful Mysteries; fourth week, the Glorious Mysteries.
When the children have finished making their rosaries (see Rosary Crafts above), you might want to use this blessing to pray over them. Have on hand a bowl of holy water and a sprinkling sprig. The rosaries may be in a bowl or basket on a prayer table or in the hands of the children.
Loving Father in Heaven, you bless us and renew us in many ways when we turn to you in prayer. Bless these rosaries our hands have made (sprinkle rosaries) to enlist our hands in prayer and good works. As the beads pass through our fingers and we think about your Beloved Son Jesus, lift our minds and hearts. May we realize that we, too, are your sons and daughters; that you love us; and that, in Jesus, you lead us further into life.
Mary, in your son, Jesus, you are our mother, too. When we have crucial needs, teach us to ask one hundred percent of you, not twenty-five or fifty, knowing that you can then help us one hundred percent because God can refuse you nothing. In your love, in the love of your son Jesus, and in the love of God our Creator, may we grow to be our best selves, a blessing to those around us and to our world (sprinkle students).
Lord Jesus, thank you for coming into our world to help us, to teach us, and to bring us home to our Loving Father. Thank you for giving us your mother to be our mother as well. As we pray the Rosary, teach us to become quiet and calm, to visualize the Mysteries of the Rosary and to learn from them. May these events from your life teach us to hear the quiet, still voice of your Spirit and guide us in your ways. May we learn to love and serve you and others and to live in your peace, love, and joy. Amen.
Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent Arts and Christmas Crafts (Paulist Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). Her latest project is a book on Father Peyton for Family Rosary. She has taught art, writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish catechetical programs. Jeanne gives writing/art workshops in upstate New York, where she also writes, paints, and gardens.
This article originally appeared in Catechist magazine, September 2010.
Image Credit: plantic/Shutter Stock 546635371