How to Pray the Holy Rosary

The Holy Rosary is a simple, Christocentric prayer — a meditative reflection.

“Meditation is above all a quest…”
“Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire…”
— Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2705, 2708

Explaining it is complicated, but — take heart! — it’s easy to pray.  

If memorizing the words of the prayers seems daunting, rest assured that it’s easy to learn the words by heart by praying the rosary in a group, or by listening to recordings.

There is no shortage of books written on how to pray the Holy Rosary. The following is just a very basic introduction or review.

The Rosary Beads

Rosaries are made with a loop of beads, and a pendant — the crucifix and a few beads that hang down from the loop.

Notice that the beads on the loop are arranged in five main groups — these are called “decades” because there are ten beads in each.   

The ten beads of each decade are the Ave beads — Ave is short for “Ave Maria,” which means “Hail Mary” in Latin. On these beads we pray the Hail Mary prayer.

In between each decade of Ave beads, there’s one bead off by itself. This single bead is the Pater bead, short for “Pater Noster” — “Our Father” in Latin. On the Pater beads we pray the Our Father prayer, the same prayer also called The Lord’s Prayer.

The Mysteries of the Holy Rosary,
the Meditations

The Mysteries are the very essence of the Holy Rosary. While we pray the prayers, we simultaneously contemplate events of Christ’s life. These particular events are what we call the Mysteries or Meditations.

There are twenty Mysteries altogether, divided into four groups. Each group has five Mysteries in it — one Mystery for each of the five decades of rosary beads.

When we pray the rosary, the first thing we do is choose one group of Mysteries. Then, as we pray each decade, we contemplate those five Mysteries — one after the other.

(For more details about the Mysteries, see below.)

The Order of the rosary Prayers

We begin praying at the crucifix, and head up the pendant toward the loop. When we get to the loop, we turn — in either direction — and carry on around the loop.

Opening Prayers
So, to begin we’ll make the Sign of the Cross. Holding the crucifix, we’ll pray the Apostles’ Creed. At first Pater bead, we’ll pray the Our Father. On the first three Ave beads, we’ll pray the Hail Mary three times – it’s common to dedicate these prayers to an increase in the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Then comes a prayer that has no bead! — the Glory Be.

The First Decade
Here, just before this second Pater bead, we will have reached a key moment in praying the rosary — the moment of mysteries. Here, we’ll call to mind the first mystery of our chosen group, and hold that mystery in mind. Then, we’ll pray the Our Father on this second Pater bead.

Still keeping our first Mystery in mind, we’ll hop up past the rosary center to the first set of ten Ave beads on the loop, and pray the Hail Mary ten times.

Then we’ll pray again the prayer that has no bead, the Glory Be, and that will complete the first decade. (After the Glory Be, at the conclusion of each decade, many people also pray the Fatima Prayer.)

The Rest of the Decades
Next, we’ll call to mind the second Mystery of our group, pray the Our Father on the next Pater bead… pray ten times the Hail Mary on the next ten Ave beads… and complete the second decade the same way as the first, by praying a Glory Be – and, if we choose, also a Fatima Prayer.

We’ll repeat that pattern for the rest of the decades of the rosary.

Closing Prayers
The customary closing prayer is Hail, Holy Queen. Finally, we’ll make the Sign of the Cross.

This is the way the rosary is generally prayed in our part of the United States today. There are variations, of course — personal, regional, historic…

The Mysteries in more Detail

As mentioned above, the Mysteries are the very essence of the Holy Rosary — events in Christ’s life upon which we meditate while praying the rosary.

The Groups of Mysteries

The Joyful mysteries recall Christ’s incarnation. They are: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation, and Finding Jesus in the Temple.

The Luminous mysteries recall Christ’s public ministry: the Baptism in the Jordan, the Wedding at Cana, the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist.

The Sorrowful mysteries recall Christ’s suffering and death: the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion.

The Glorious mysteries recall His Resurrection, His Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How to Meditate on the Mysteries

There’s no one particular way to meditate upon the Mysteries. It’s an entirely personal thing. Art, music, imagination, and passages of scripture have all been found helpful in the quest. Some people like Byzantine icons, others like the artwork of Fra Angelico, or Tintoretto... Some like Bach's Magnificat, others like the quiet outdoors...

When to Pray the Mysteries

When to pray the Mysteries is also a personal matter. Pope John Paul II proposed the following schedule:

Monday – Joyful
Tuesday – Sorrowful
Wednesday – Glorious
Thursday – Luminous
Friday – Sorrowful
Saturday – Joyful
Sunday – Glorious
Sundays of Christmas season – Joyful
Sundays of Lent – Sorrowful