Some years ago, I adopted the practice of using Scripture passages as meditations on each mystery of the rosary. Lent being a devotional season, I thought I’d share some of those meditations with you all. Before I do, though:
The Rosary: A Crash Course
The rosary is of course one of the most popular Catholic devotions, but it isn’t equally familiar to everyone. Here’s how it works. A rosary is a chain of prayer beads, shaped kind of like a lasso with a huge loop and a small tail.
At the end of the tail is a crucifix; the point where the tail joins the loop is typically adorned with some type of religious medal, often an image of the Mother of God. It has two types of beads, often called “large” and “small” (in fact they are often all the same size, and the “large” beads are set off from the “small” ones by spacing instead). The sequence of the beads is always as in the picture: between the crucifix and the medal are one large bead, three small beads, and one large bead; on the loop are five sets of ten small beads, called “decades,” with large beads in between each decade.
The prayers go like this (all can be found in the section at the bottom):
- Holding the crucifix, make the sign of the cross and say the Apostles’ Creed.
- On the first large bead, say the Our Father, and on the three small beads, say one Hail Mary each.
- On the next large bead, announce the first mystery from the set you are meditating on (we’ll get to these later), and say an Our Father. (You’ll skip the medal until you come back to it at the end.)
- Say one Hail Mary on each of the ten beads in the following decade, and a Glory Be at the end of the set.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the other four mysteries.
- When you get back to the medal, say the Hail, Holy Queen.
- Close with the Rosary Collect and the sign of the cross.
There are a number of optional additions and alternatives, but this is the “skeleton” form that, as far as I know, is common to pretty much all versions of the rosary.
Where Does the Rosary Come From?
The origins of the rosary lie in the Psalter. From the early days of monasticism, there was a practice of reciting all one hundred and fifty psalms every day, and reciting an Our Father in between each set of ten psalms. Devout laity who didn’t have that kind of time adopted the practice of replacing the psalms with Hail Marys; there is an ancient custom of concluding psalms with the Glory Be, so this was incorporated at the end of each set of prayers. Thus the rosary decade still in use today: one Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and one Glory Be. You can still occasionally see a fifteen-decade “full size” rosary today, generally as part of a monastic habit, but the commonest form is the five-decade rosary depicted above.
In order to make the repetition more of a vehicle for reflection, events from the lives of Christ and the Virgin were added as meditations—originally, fifteen such events, until five more were added by St. John Paul II. These are arranged into four sets of five, each set arranged around a theme. The original mysteries were drawn from episodes surrounding the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Resurrection; the newer set are drawn from Christ’s earthly ministry.
The mysteries are as follows, with some conventional Scripture passages:
The Joyful Mysteries
1. The Annunciation to the Virgin by St. Gabriel (Luke 1.26-38)
2. The Visitation of the Virgin to St. Elizabeth (Luke 1.39-56)
3. The Nativity of Christ at Bethlehem (Luke 2.1-21)
4. The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Luke 2.22-40)
5. The Finding of Christ in the Temple (Luke 2.41-52)
The Luminous Mysteries
1. The Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (Matthew 3.1-17)
2. The Miracle of Christ at Cana (John 2.1-11)
3. The Proclamation by Christ of the Kingdom (Matthew 4.12-17)
4. The Transfiguration of Christ on Tabor (Matthew 17.1-9)
5. The Institution by Christ of the Eucharist (Matthew 26.26-29)
The Sorrowful Mysteries
1. The Agony of Christ in Gethsemane (Luke 22.39-46)
2. The Flogging of Christ at the Pillar (Mark 15.6-15)
3. The Crowning of Christ with Thorns (Matthew 27.27-31)
4. The Bearing by Christ of the Cross (Mark 15.21-23)
5. The Death of Christ on the Cross (Mark 15.33-39)
The Glorious Mysteries
1. The Resurrection of Christ from the Dead (John 20.1-18)
2. The Ascension of Christ into Heaven (Acts 1.1-11)
3. The Sending by Christ of the Paraclete (Acts 2.1-4)
4. The Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven (Revelation 11.19)
5. The Crowning of the Virgin as Queen (Revelation 12.1)
These are the texts of the prayers that compose the rosary. I’ve followed the usual Anglican (and therefore Ordinariate) wording, which I prefer; many Catholics use slightly different phrases at some points.
The Sign of the Cross
In the name of the Father [touch forehead], and of the Son [touch breastbone], and of the Holy [touch left shoulder] Ghost [touch right shoulder], amen.
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in his only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, 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 sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Our Father
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 them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
The Hail Mary
Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst 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.
The Glory Be
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
At the end of each decade of the rosary, many Catholics add this optional prayer, reportedly delivered by Our Lady to the visionaries at Fátima in 1917:
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.
The Hail Holy Queen
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 towards 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 most holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
The Rosary Collect
Let us pray: O God, whose only-begotten Son, by his life, death, and resurrection hath purchased for us the rewards of eternal life: grant, we beseech thee, that by 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.