How to Pray the Rosary

This article, the second in a six article series, focuses on how to pray the rosary. If you missed the previous post, an introduction to the rosary, you will find it here. The remaining articles in this series will focus on the four sets of mysteries of the rosary.

Preparing to Pray the Rosary

As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, to pray the rosary is an exercise in contemplative prayer. To engage in contemplative prayer with a rosary, we focus our thoughts and imaginations (yes, imaginations) on the key events in the life of Christ, requesting the intercession of Mary to help bring us closer to an understanding of God. The rosary, though Dominican in origin, utilizes our imaginations in a way that is notably Ignatian in nature.

pray the rosaryIn order to be prepared to pray the rosary using this method, it is recommended that you have a rosary, a Bible (or copies of my next articles on the mysteries of the rosary), and somewhere to be where you will be free of distractions for anywhere from 20 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on how much of the rosary you wish to pray. It is common practice to pray one set of mysteries of the rosary in one sitting (standing, kneeling, laying). This takes approximately 20 minutes, slightly more if you are particularly engaged and incorporate silences. To pray an entire rosary consists of going around the “loop” four times. This covers all of the mysteries, and can take an hour and a half or more. (Many people, myself included, find this difficult. So don’t feel inadequate if you can only handle one set of mysteries at a time)

Of course, these are just recommendations to be prepared. You could, depending on your circumstances, pray the rosary without any of these things. Your fingers could be beads, your memory might serve to inform you of the mysteries and optional scriptural passages, and you might have nearly superhuman powers of concentration. If that describes you, feel free to pray the rosary however you would like.

Some people prefer to pray the rosary while listening to a recording of someone else praying the rosary. These recordings are readily available at no cost online, typically as part of a podcast like you might find in iTunes. There are pros and cons to this method. The pros: Many people find it easier to shut out distractions by focusing on listening and “praying along” with the voices on the recordings. Additionally, if you are going to be praying the scriptural version of the rosary (see below), this is a good way of having scriptural passages read to you. The cons: Most (if not all) of these recordings move along at a quick pace. I find it difficult to pray the rosary as a contemplative prayer if it is being recited too quickly. It becomes what it shouldn’t be – a quick succession of incantation-like prayers, leaving little to no room for reflection. Also, it is too easy to “pray along.” You run the risk of never learning the rosary itself, which means without your recording, you’re spiritually stranded.

pray the rosaryOne final note before beginning the instructions. At its most basic, to pray the rosary is to focus on the mysteries of the birth, public ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. Many people, however, feel more connected to the mysteries by praying what is known as a “scriptural rosary.” This is not a requirement at all, but most people find it helpful. I will include the instructions for praying the scriptural rosary below, in parentheses, and in the next articles, which you may take or leave as you see fit.

How to Pray the Rosary: Basic Instructions

pray the rosaryThe rosary itself begins with a crucifix (or less commonly, a cross). From there, you move up to the first bead that is set apart, following up the chain to the set of three beads placed near one another, to the final bead set apart. This constitutes the beginning (and end) of the rosary. Once you have navigated through the opening section, you begin the rosary proper on your rosary’s center. This is followed by ten beads in succession, and one bead set apart. This pattern continues through five sets of ten beads until you arrive back at the rosary’s center. From there, you work your way back down the short length toward the crucifix. (See the picture to the right to help you visualize the path.)

On the crucifix or cross…

We begin praying the rosary as we do with most Catholic prayers: with the sign of the cross. Most people who pray the rosary cross themselves with the end of the crucifix itself. Afterwards, take a moment to be silent, in acknowledgment of the focus you will need to pray the remainder of the rosary, as well as a way to help you settle your thoughts, quieting out any distractions.

Then, while still holding the crucifix, you pray an opening prayer. Some people prefer to pray the beginning of the 70th Psalm:

O God, come to my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me.


Others, probably most, begin the praying of the rosary with the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, 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 is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

Regardless of which prayer you choose to begin, the idea is to bring yourself into a place of contemplation, seeking to settle your mind and prepare yourself for the mysteries to follow. I personally prefer beginning with the Apostle’s Creed. I find that it becomes an overview of the entirety of the rosary, and helps to put me in a suitable mindset.

On the beads leading up to the rosary’s center…

On the first bead, set apart, you pray the Lord’s Prayer (the “Our Father”). Pray it slowly and deliberately to ensure that you are helping your mind to focus on the gravity of the prayers to follow.

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 those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

The following set of three beads are where you pray the first three Hail Mary prayers. It is traditional to focus each Hail Mary on obtaining an increase in faith, hope, and charity/love. I prefer to petition for one on each bead; others petition for increases of all three before the first bead, and pray the three Hail Mary prayers in succession. It is up to you.

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.

On the final bead, set apart by itself, between the group of three and the rosary’s center, we pray the Doxology (the “Glory Be”). This rounds out the initial part of the rosary, returning our focus to contemplating on the mystery of the Trinity.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

On the rosary’s center…

We have now reached the beginning of the rosary proper. It’s time to shut out any new distractions that have popped up, and announce the first mystery. There is no specific formula for announcing the mysteries, though various saints and groups have used various formulas in the past. I prefer to skip the formulas and place myself “on the scene” of the first mystery – an exercise in imagination, but the best method I’ve tried. (In the next four articles, we will discuss the four sets of mysteries.)

Setting ourself at the scene of the first mystery (or “announcing” the mystery in whatever way you choose), we are ready to pray the opening Lord’s Prayer. Again, it should be prayed slowly, but focused on the words as they relate to the first mystery.

On the first group of ten beads…

We go deeper into the first mystery now, praying a Hail Mary prayer on each of the ten beads. Most people go straight through. I like to pause and let the scene (including all of my senses) experience the first mystery. (If you are praying the scriptural rosary, prior to each new bead, you read or recite a section of Scripture that is pertinent to the mystery. Please see the next articles on the mysteries to read the Scripture verses I use in my prayer of the rosary.)

On the first bead set apart from the group of ten…

We conclude the first decade (or ten prayers of the Hail Mary) with a return to the Doxology, the “Glory Be.” Afterwards, pause for a moment. Finish the scene in the imagination. Practice silence. Listen for God’s whisper in your innermost being.

Next, still on this bead, we announce (or set ourselves in) the second mystery. From this point forward, we repeat this pattern (Lord’s Prayer, ten Hail Mary prayers, Doxology) for the remaining four decades of the rosary.

Now you have a choice, if you choose to begin the next set of mysteries, continue moving along the “loop.” If you’ve decided that one set of mysteries is all you can do in this sitting, move the instructions below.

On the first bead, set apart, of the short section of the rosary…

Now we are moving back down the initial short section of the rosary, making our way back to the crucifix. At this point, various people use various methods of arriving back at the crucifix. What follows is the way I engage with my rosary prayer.

On this bead, I pray the Salve Regina (“Hail, Holy Queen”) followed by a short prayer:

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 vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward 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 holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has 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.

I find that by praying this prayer addressed to Mary, I am asking to be remembered as a child of God, and to be reminded throughout the remainder of my day (week, month, life) of the events in Christ’s life that I have just meditated on through the mysteries of the rosary.

On the next set of three beads…

Here I pray for the pope, and the pope’s intentions. (Truth be told, there have been popes where this portion of the rosary has been difficult for me. But I trust in the Holy Spirit.) I announce, “For the pope, and the pope’s intentions…” and then on the three beads pray an additional Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.

On the final bead set apart prior to the crucifix…

Again, different methods use different prayers, here. I pray the Memorare. It is a prayer I learned in grade school, and a prayer I pray frequently.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

Arriving back at the crucifix, where we started…

You’ve done it! You’ve prayed a rosary! Here, all that it left is to cross yourself once more, while speaking the Trinitarian blessing of the Sign of the Cross.

A Note for Devotees of Our Lady of Fatima

I’m guessing if you are a devotee of Our Lady of Fatima, you already know how to pray the rosary, and you know of Our Lady’s request at Fatima. For the rest of you, you may, at your discretion, include the following prayer after each decade between the “Glory Be” and the announcing of the next mystery:

O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have most need of your mercy. Amen.

I happen to be a fan of Our Lady of Fatima, but only include this prayer on some occasions. I also alter it slightly, so that the final line reads, “…especially those of us who have most need of your mercy.” I like to include myself in with everyone else who needs mercy the most.


pray the rosaryI hope that you have enjoyed learning how to pray the rosary. I hope, more than that, that you will give it a try. If you’ve never prayed a rosary before, it’s not as complicated as it may seem. (And I encourage you to experiment with different methods, finding something that works for you.) If you’re a lifelong devotee of the rosary, I encourage you to try praying it as a contemplative prayer. You’ll be tempted to rush through it. Habit is difficult to overcome. But the rewards are worth it.

Thank you for joining me in this series. I hope that you will stay tuned tomorrow for the article on the joyful mysteries of the rosary, and in the coming weeks to learn about the other mysteries. October, the Month of the Most Holy Rosary, is right around the corner.

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