You may or may not know these.

First, just a preface for my Protestant readers who might be sceptical of this traditional Catholic prayer. Barbara, a self-described ‘Montessori megamom’ is a recent convert to Catholicism.  This is what she has to say:

… for my evangelical friends – the rosary is a series of meditations on the life of Christ and was given to us to help us spend more time reflecting on the sacred mysteries of his birth, life, death, and resurrection. I did not know that until I became a Catholic this year. So I would ask those who’ve dismissed or condemned the rosary and Catholics who use it to learn more before passing such profound judgment

On with the facts … one for each of the traditional 15 mysteries … click on the numbers for the links:

1/ The rosary probably began as a practice by the laity to imitate the monastic Divine Office (Breviary or Liturgy of the Hours), during the course of which the monks daily prayed the 150 Psalms. The laity, many of whom could not read, substituted 50, or even 150, Ave Marias (Hail Marys) for the Psalms. This prayer, at least the first half of it so directly biblically, seems to date from as early as the 2nd century, as ancient graffiti at Christian sites has suggested. Sometimes a cord with knots on it was used to keep an accurate count of the Aves.

2/ The first clear historical reference to the rosary, however, is from the life of St. Dominic (died in 1221), the founder of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans. He preached a form of the rosary in France at the time that the Albigensian heresy was devastating the Faith there. Tradition has it that the Blessed Mother herself asked for the practice as an antidote for heresy and sin.

3/ One of Dominic’s future disciples, Alain de Roche, began to establish Rosary Confraternities to promote the praying of the rosary. The form of the rosary we have today is believed to have dated from his time. Over the centuries the saints and Popes have highly recommended the rosary, the greatest prayer in the Church after the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours. Not surprisingly, its most active promoters have been Dominicans.

4/ Many similar prayer practices exist in other Christian communities, each with its own set of prescribed prayers and its own form of prayer beads, such as the prayer rope in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. These devotions and their associated beads are usually referred to as “chaplets.”

5/ The rosary is sometimes used by other Christians, especially by Lutherans, Anglicans and members of the Old Catholic Church. Other Protestants, however, such as Baptists and Presbyterians, do not use it and actively discourage their congregants from using this method of prayer.

6/ From the 16th to the early 20th century, the structure of the rosary remained essentially unchanged.  There were 15 mysteries, one for each of the 15 decades. In the 20th century the addition of the Fatima Prayer to the end of each decade became popular. There were no other changes until 2002 when John Paul II instituted five optional new Luminous Mysteries.

7/ Rosary means a ‘crown of roses’, a spiritual bouquet given to the Blessed Mother. It is sometimes called the Dominican Rosary, to distinguish it from other rosary-like prayers (e.g. the Franciscan Rosary of the Seven Joys or Franciscan Crown, the Servite Rosary of the Seven Sorrows). It is also, in a general sense, a form of chaplet or corona (crown), of which there are many varieties in the Church. Finally, in English it has been called ‘Our Lady’s Psalter’ or ‘the beads’. This last derives from an Old English word for prayers (bede) and to request or pray (biddan or bid).  (I have a site on the blogroll called ‘Waak en Bid’, which in Afrikaans means ‘Watch and Pray’.)

8/ The Rosary has been called the preparation for contemplation and the prayer of saints. While the hands and lips are occupied with the prayers (it can and should be prayed silently when necessary so as not to disturb others), the mind meditates on the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption represented by the decades.

9/ The Rosary is traditionally dedicated to one of three sets of Mysteries to be said in sequence, one per day: the Joyful (Joyous) Mysteries; the Sorrowful Mysteries; and the Glorious Mysteries. Each of these three sets of Mysteries has within it five different themes to be meditated upon, one for each decade of ten Hail Marys.

10/ Instructions for a five-decade Rosary: At the crucifix, make the Sign of Cross and say the Apostle’s Creed. At the first bead, say an Our Father [The Lord’s Prayer]. At the section of 3 beads, say 3 Hail Marys. The next bead represents another Our Father. At the Centerpiece, say a Glory Be, an Our Father and recite the respective Mystery (starting with [the first] — see sections 11 through 13).  For each of the 10 beads, say a Hail Mary. At each single bead, say a Glory Be and an Our Father then state the next Mystery. Go around the circle five times, finishing with 10 Hail Marys, to complete the 15 Mysteries. 

11/ Joyful Mysteries: The Annunciation. Fruit of the Mystery: Humility.  The Visitation. Fruit of the Mystery: Love of Neighbor.  The Nativity. Fruit of the Mystery: Poverty (poor in spirit), Detachment from the things of the world, Contempt of Riches, Love of the Poor.  The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: Purity, Obedience.  The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. Fruit of the Mystery: True Wisdom and True Conversion, Piety and Joy of Finding Jesus.

12/ Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony in the Garden. Fruit of the Mystery: Sorrow for Sin, Uniformity with the will of God.  The Scourging at the Pillar. Fruit of the Mystery: Mortification, Purity.  The Crowning with Thorns. Fruit of the Mystery: Contempt of the world, Courage.  The Carrying of the Cross. Fruit of the Mystery: Patience.  The Crucifixion. Fruit of the Mystery: Salvation, Forgiveness.

13/ Glorious Mysteries: The Resurrection. Fruit of the Mystery: Faith.  The Ascension. Fruit of the Mystery: Hope and desire for ascension to Heaven.  The Descent of the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Mystery: Holy Wisdom to know the truth and share with everyone, Divine Charity, Worship of the Holy Spirit.  The Assumption of Mary. Fruit of the Mystery: Grace of a Happy Death and True Devotion towards Mary.  The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fruit of the Mystery: Perseverance and Crown of Glory, Trust in Mary’s Intercession   

14/ Old, pre-Vatican II missals provide guidance, prayers and meditation for the aforementioned mysteries.  They are useful reading prior to praying the Rosary.

15/ Luminous Mysteries (which John Paul II instituted): The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Fruit of the Mystery: Openness to the Holy Spirit-the Healer.  The Wedding at Cana. Fruit of the Mystery: To Jesus through Mary. The understanding of the ability to manifest-through faith.  Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Fruit of the Mystery: Trust in God.  The Transfiguration. Fruit of the Mystery: Desire for Holiness.  The Institution of the Eucharist. Fruit of the Mystery: Adoration.

I hope this helps you to better understand the Rosary.  As Bishop Hugh Doyle says:

No one can live continually in sin and continue to say the Rosary: either they will give up sin or they will give up the Rosary.