the rosary is one of the most famous of marian devotions. in the rosary, we are invited to meditate on a series of events in the lives of Jesus and his mother Mary. it is traditional to use a chaplet of beads for this devotion; it consists of a crucifix, three beads, and then a loop with five sets of ten beads each.

the core of the rosary consists of saying the hail Mary one hundred and fifty times. it originated as a way for lay dominicans to share in the prayer of the brothers; instead of reciting psalms, they would pray the hail Mary once for each psalm. it is common to say only one-third of the rosary at a time; from this comes the traditional arrangement of the chaplet with its five decades of ten beads.

the hail Mary is:

hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
    blessed are you among women,
    and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
holy Mary, mother of God
    pray for us sinners now,
    and at the hour of our death.

it is customary to divide the recitation into groups of ten, referred to as decades. each decade is preceded by the Lord's prayer:

our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your Name,
    your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
        on earth as in heaven.
give us today our daily bread.
forgive us our sins
    as we forgive those
        who sin against us.
save us from the time of trial,
    and deliver us from evil.

and then each decade is followed by the doxology:

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.

one normally begins the recitation of the rosary by saying the apostles' creed, and using the first three beads as a sort of mini-decade.

i believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth.
i believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
    he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
        and born of the virgin Mary.
    he suffered under Pontius Pilate,
        was crucified, died, and was buried.
    he descended to the dead.
    on the third day he rose again.
    he ascended into heaven,
        and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    he will come again 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 the life everlasting. amen.

if the decades are done five at a time, it is natural to think up five-fold sets of meditations to contemplate while saying the prayers. the following sets have become traditional:

the joyful mysteries
the annunciation
the visitation
the nativity
the presentation
the finding in the temple

the sorrowful mysteries
the agony in the garden
the scourging at the pillar
the crowning with thorns
Jesus carries his cross
the crucifixion

the glorious mysteries
the resurrection
the ascension
the assumption of our Lady
the crowning of our Lady

in addition, in 2002 the following additional set was proposed:

the luminous mysteries
the baptism of Jesus
the wedding at cana
the proclamation of the kingdom of God
the transfiguration
the institution of the Eucharist

if the rosary is prayed daily, one can use the traditional three as follows:

monday and thursday: the joyful mysteries
tuesday and friday: the sorrowful mysteries
wednesday and saturday: the glorious mysteries

sundays from advent to lent: the joyful mysteries
sundays in lent: the sorrowful mysteries
sundays from easter to advent: the glorious mysteries

if one includes the luminous mysteries, the arrangement is usually:

monday and saturday: the joyful mysteries
thursday: the luminous mysteries
tuesday and friday: the sorrowful mysteries
wednesday and sunday: the glorious mysteries

pages on christian prayer: