Praying the Rosary

Dear Grace,
I have the following question, and I hope you can help me with the answer. Is it correct to recite the Rosary without any beads in my hand?

Yes, it is. The whole purpose of praying the Rosary is that it helps us to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ. The Lord Himself asked His disciples to pray unceasingly, so from the earliest times, His followers wanted to be faithful to His request. Thus, the custom of repetitive, meditative prayer has a long history in the life of the Church. It does happen sometimes, however, that some people place too much importance on the beads and not enough on the meditative prayer, and it is actually the meditation that is the power of the Rosary. In fact, this is how it began in the first place.

The Rosary as we know it today evolved over many centuries, but meditation on the mysteries of the life of Christ — thus, our salvation — has always been its central focus. One tradition, for example, traces the Rosary to St. Dominic Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order. According to this account, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and instructed him in a very unique combination of preaching and prayer that she told him would become one of the most powerful weapons against future errors and difficulties (R. Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P., Mother of Our Saviour and the Interior Life , p. 293).

With time, eventually many Christians took up the practice of saying one hundred and fifty Hail Marys in imitation of the monks who would recite one hundred and fifty psalms contained in the Psalter or Divine Office. They believed in their hearts that Mary would always lead them to her Son, so they prayed with her and reflected on the mysteries of Jesus’ life. Until recently, the full rosary consisted of fifteen decades (or sets) of ten Hail Marys each, divided by an Our Father. Each of the decades is devoted to a mayor event or “mystery” in the story of our salvation.

In October of 2002, Pope John Paul II proposed in his new apostolic letter on the Most Holy Rosary that five new mysteries be added. These are called the Luminous Mysteries (or Mysteries of Light) and it is recommended that they be prayed on Thursdays. The reason for the addition of five new mysteries is so that the Rosary may have a greater Christological depth. In other words, now we may reflect and meditate on more aspects of Jesus’ life — in this case, His public ministry, that part of His life that came between His Baptism and His Passion (Rosarium Virginis Mariae , no. 19). Thus, we now have a fuller story — a fuller “compendium of the Gospel.”

Praying the rosary is a spiritual exercise that is meant to draw us closer to God. The idea is not merely to have a rule or a count of how many prayers we recite. Holding the beads in your hands is good, but the most important part is the prayer and reflection. Our Holy Father calls the Rosary “a training in holiness” (Rvm , no. 5) in that it commits the faithful to contemplate the Christian mystery. This is the key and secret to the power of the Rosary — it is a beautiful method of contemplation that leads us closer to Christ, and this in turn will lead us to desire to become more like Him.

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: You may also visit her online at

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