Meditation and Contemplation Using the Protestant Rosary
By V.J. Berry
©2016 by V. J. Berry
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you9” 1 Thessalonians 5.
Yes, Protestants have a rosary. Most of us are familiar with the Roman Catholic rosary, but every major religious tradition has included the use of prayer beads or a prayer rope tied in intricate knots. The tradition goes back thousands of years. The Anglican/Episcopal (Protestant) rosary is different from the Roman Catholic rosary in that it has fewer beads and has no set prayers. You pray what is on your heart. There has been a recent surge of interest among Protestants to use the Anglican rosary and women’s groups in some churches are making them to distribute to encourage prayer. Because other Protestant denominations use the Anglican rosary, it will be referred to as the Protestant rosary. The Anglican Church was the first Protestant breakaway church from the Roman Catholic Church. This article will explain the origin and meaning of the Protestant rosary, how to pray it, and how to make your own to make it more personal.
Origin of Christian Rosaries
The origin of the Roman Catholic rosary occurred sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries. It was in the mid-1980s, when The Rev. Lynn Baumann created the Anglican rosary to aid in completive prayer1. There is a difference between meditation and contemplation. Meditation is the active partner of contemplation in that it involves action (unhurried) through reading scripture and quiet outward prayer (usually). Contemplation is the quiet, still partner that involves being patient and waiting to receive what God offers while you pray inwardly because you have entered into the prayer of Jesus; meaning that you are spiritually alive 2.
Why pray a rosary?
The main reason for praying a rosary is that it helps deepen your prayer life. The touch of the beads aids in focusing on your prayers, and helps keep your mind from wandering. What lies in your heart, your focus, and your intent are important. The rosary is only one of several ways to engage in prayer. “Remember, you are free to pray the rosary any way you wish. It is a private devotion3.” We pray to talk to God and to listen to Him. The true purpose of prayer is to be calm in our spirit to allow God to speak to us. Praying the rosary is an aid to help us enter into His presence.
Difference between Catholic and Protestant (Anglican) rosaries
It may help to know the difference between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant rosaries, especially if you want to make your own or as a gift. The Protestant or Anglican rosary is made up of 33 beads while the Catholic rosary has 59. The Anglican rosary is divided into four weeks of seven days each; the Catholic rosary has five divisions of ten (decade) beads each. A single large bead separates the divisions on both rosaries. The Anglican rosary features a plain cross, while the Catholic rosary features a crucifix and small religious medal4. The rosaries are prayed by touching the cross and each successive bead in order. The difference in this is that there are no set prayers for the Anglican prayer beads. Instead, the rosary is to be an aid to meditative prayer that Christians can adapt to their own spiritual needs. The Catholic rosary is prayed in a traditional devotional pattern that also involves the recitation of Hail Mary on each of the decade beads5. A word of caution here, any kind of prayer in any denomination can become empty phrases. Always pray from the heart.
The Anglican rosary was designed to be symbolic as well as a prayer and meditation aid. The 33 beads represent the 33 years Jesus lived among us. The cross is a reminder of why Jesus died on the cross, our identity in Him, and to pick up the cross and follow Him. The Cruciform (large) beads form the points of the cross and also represent the four cardinal points of the earth, the four seasons, the sanctity of time, and the Creation. The large bead above the cross is called the Invitatory bead which is an invitation to trust God, offer our worship and praise. When the rosary is arranged in a circle, it represents God’s unending love and our Christian unity. The four groups of seven beads are called Weeks. The seven beads represent the seven days of the Creation and the Sabbath, our offerings, time, and lives. Seven is associated with completion and perfection in Hebrew and Christian mysticism. This does not mean that we have achieved perfection yet, but it is the continuing work of God in each of us toward that goal6.
According to Delaney (2013), it is traditional to use the number seven to represent spiritual perfection and contemplation. Furthermore, according to tradition, the rosary circle is prayed in an unhurried manner, bead by bead, three times to emphasize the Holy Trinity. “In the Middle Eastern tradition, 99 is the complete number for Divine names,” (Delaney, 2013). He further states that if the cross is prayed at the beginning or the end, then the total would be 100, matching the Orthodox rosary and signifies the fullness of creation. Following the rosary prayers, a period of silence is usually observed for reflection (Delaney, 2013).
Praying the rosary
If you have not used a rosary, it will take a little practice to become comfortable using it. If at all possible pray around the rosary three times because as you settle down in the prayers, you will go deeper into them and meditation and contemplation are made more possible. Begin with holding the cross in one hand and slide the fingers of your hand over the beads. The first large bead above the Invitatory bead is the first Cruciform bead and where you begin your journal around the rosary to the right (counterclockwise). The rosary is also known as the circle of prayer
Following is an example of praying the rosary. You can write your own prayers, use scriptures, or use prayers from books printed for this purpose and inspirational poetry. If you have a Common Book of Prayer as used by the Episcopalians, there are many appropriate prayers that could be used. Let us begin.
- The cross: In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
- The Invitatory bead: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
- The Cruciform beads: Be the eye of God dwelling with me, the foot of Christ in guidance with me, the shower of the Spirit pouring on me, richly and generously.(Pray this on each of the four beads). After the first Cruciform bead, pause and offer thanksgiving, intercessions, and petitions, and then continue on with the Weeks beads. If you think of another prayer, pause after the next Cruciform bead and offer that prayer.
Weeks: (Pray each phrase on a separate bead; repeat on all four sets; on the
last round drop down to the Invitatory bead and cross and close).
- I bow before the Father who made me,
- I bow before the Son who saved me,
- I bow before the Spirit who guides me in love and adoration,
- I praise the Name of the one on high.
- I bow before thee Sacred Three,
- The ever One, the Trinity7.
- The Invitatory (on the last time around): The Lord’s Prayer.
- The Cross (on the last time around): Let us (I) bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“Remember, you are free to pray the rosary any way you wish. It is a private devotion8.”
Making the rosary
The rosary is a time-honored pathway to prayer. You can purchase an Anglican rosary at most Christian book stores, online at Amazon or specialty sites, and some jewelry stores, or make your own. By making your own rosary, it is personal and more meaningful to you. I suggest that if you make it; start with the basic 33-bead rosary to give you a feel for how it is constructed. You can make it as simple or as elaborate as you wish. The rosary is made for prayer and it is up to you and how you want to use your creativity.
Example The rosary below was purchased online and is made from olive wood. Spacer beads are used before and after the Cruciform (large) beads and the Invitatory bead above the Cross. The bead count for this rosary is 28 medium beads, 4 large Cruciform beads, I Invitatory bead, and a cross, and 10 small spacer beads.
Photo courtesy of R. Millsap (2009)
1Delaney, C. (2013). Differences between the Anglican & Catholic rosary.
3Gurri, M. Ph.D. (2013). Anglican prayer beads: Prayer for joyful journeys. Lexington, KY Joyful Rhythms
4Delaney, C. (2013). Differences between the Anglican & Catholic rosary.
6Rick Millsap. (2009). The Anglican rosary. Retrieved from www.trinityreno.org/Anglican%20Rosary.pdf
7Ibid. Poem by Sister Brigit, Carol, S.D.
8Ibid. Quote by Pope John Paul II.
9Life Application Study Bible –New International Version (NIV). (2005). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.