When most people think of the Rosary today, they almost immediately picture an ornate string of beads. Christians thumb through these beads as a way of keeping track during the Rosary Prayer. But why do we use a string of beads for this prayer? Where did this tradition come from?
Even before Mary asked Saint Dominic to recite the Marian Psalter (what we know today as the Rosary) Christians of all types, from bishops to laypeople, were using prayer beads as a tool when they recited prayers.
The Venerable Paul of Thebes
As early as the third century, Christian communities would use beads, or even small pebbles, to keep track of prayers. Often it might be for a prayer commitment or to satisfy a penance. The use of these prayer beads came about in a large part because of practicality. This is very evident with the story of the Venerable Paul of Thebes in the fourth century. This hermit prayed 300 penitential prayers each day, and to keep track, he counted out 300 pebbles. Going about your day with a pocket full of hundreds of pebbles is not the simplest task. You can see how the early Christians transitioned from loose gravel to prayer beads - much easier to carry with you and even worn.
Using counting tools to pray was a very common practice before the Rosary became popular. Prayer beads were used throughout most of the Middle ages, often by Monks but as well as significant lords and laypeople. Many monk orders would recite 50-150 prayers a day, counting along on their prayer beads. Lady Godiva of Coventry even made her own set of prayer beads and requested upon her death that they be laid on a statue of Mary. These prayer beads were sacred items - it was a practical tool elevated to a sacred purpose as a record keeper of holy prayers.
In a sense, we pray the Holy Rosary on a set of beads because it's practical; an easy way to count prayers. The Rosary Card from the Everyday Prayer Co is another version of a tool used to pray the Holy Rosary. Part of the reason that I love our Rosary Card is that it's more convenient than a set of beads. I view it as a similar transition from Paul of Thebe's pocket of rocks to a beaded string. A different tool, but still the Holy Rosary.
The Rosary Card - Copper
I don't necessarily view one type of Rosary as 'better' than others. I view what we use to count prayers - whether it is beads on a string, holes in a piece of metal, or pebbles in your pocket - as a tool. If you take away the tool, or change how the tool looks, it has no change on the power of the prayer being prayed. If it helps you to take your mind away from the mechanics of the prayer or counting and points it towards heaven, it's a great tool in my opinion.
What do you think? Do you use any other prayer tools? Don't agree with what I've written? I'd love to discuss. Shoot me an email at email@example.com
Much of the content in this blog came from a wonderful Rosary Guide, Champions of the Rosary, by Father Donald Calloway. It's a wonderful book that reveals an in-depth history of the Rosary and how it divinely came to be. I strongly recommend getting a copy if you are interested in learning more about the Rosary.
Please let me know how your journey with the Rosary is going, I'd love to hear from you. Send me a message an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And don't forget about our free Rosary Guide Download. Keep Praying!