The rosary has a deep history. Before being used as prayer beads in the Catholic church, there were Buddhist rosary beads or mala, that first appeared in the 8th century B.C. Theses mala beads were used to help with meditation in the Buddhist religion. The Hindus also used mala beads when praying. The Hindu female deity Hakini Shakti was depicted with prayer beads. These beads symbolized focus and meditation while using them for prayers. They were used in a guided meditation to help count Chakras. Traditionally there were 108 mala beads on a strand. The king of Malabar was found by Marco Polo using prayer beads in the thirteenth century.
The use of mala beads most likely influenced the creator of the rosary. Early Christian monks who wandered around Egypt and lived the life of hermits developed prayer beads. They used these beads to help keep track of their prayers. In 1214 St. Dominic was said to have had a vision where he saw the Virgin Mary and was given the Rosary. Until the 20th century, the Rosary represented the fifty Hail Mary prayers. The Rosary was officially used in the church starting in 1569. During the 16th through the 20th century, there were fifteen mysteries. Each mystery represented a decade. The mysteries are divided into joyful, sorrowful, and glorious. The mysteries themselves are meditations on different times in the life of Jesus. The joyful focus on the early life, the sorrowful on the life of Jesus up until he was crucified, and the glorious are focused beyond the crucifixion. In the 20th century, the Fatima prayer was added at the end of each mystery. Pope John Paul II added an optional mystery in 2002. It was called the luminous mystery, or mystery of light. This mystery included the Baptism of Jesus, the Wedding in Cana, the proclamation of the kingdom of God, the Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist. George Preca wrote the mystery of light in 1957 but it was not commonly used until after 2002.
The rosary is used to remedy the hardships of life, temptations, and severe trials. It is a weapon against evil. After confession, a priest may prescribe a rosary in order for a person to come back to Christ through meditation. People can either pray all fifteen mysteries at once or pray one mystery each day. When to pray what mystery is determined by the Catholic church and varies day by day.
A rosary consists of one large bead followed by ten small beads for a total of fifty-nine beads. Each smaller bead represents a step in a mystery while the larger bead is designated for the Lord’s prayer. There is also a cross on the rosary symbolizing Christ. Because of the persecution of the Irish Catholics in the 16th and 17th centuries, smaller ten bead rosary beads were produced that could easily be hidden. They would also use nails or a rooster instead of the cross to help keep the rosary from being noticed. Rosaries can be made from stone, gems, wood, plastic or any other material. Rosaries have also been found as rings in the 15th century. They were usually given to and worn by nuns. Rosary bracelets and cards have also been developed and used. Today you can find rosaries hanging in cars to identify the owner as Catholic.