One of the first decisions you will have to make when beginning to pray the Rosary is the number of decades you intend to pray. After all, it is impossible to say a formal prayer if you don’t know what words you are going to be saying!
There is a surprising amount of variability in the way that the Rosary is said worldwide, especially when you consider the special devotions of the various Catholic religious orders. The Legion of Mary, however, suggests choosing one of four different ways of engaging with the Rosary based on your ability and circumstances:
- The traditional fifteen decades of the Rosary, as established by St. Pope Pius V
- The extended twenty decades of the Rosary, as established by St. Pope John Paul II
- The popular five decades of the Rosary, based on the daily schedule suggested by St. Pope John Paul II
- One decade of the Rosary prayed in conjunction with a Living Rosary group
Each of these devotions is a fantastic way of showing your love for God. Please read on to learn their unique benefits.
fifteen decades of the Holy Rosary
Even those who have agreed with everything they’ve read so far about Mary often struggle to commit themselves to saying a full fifteen decades of the Rosary daily. While this is understandable given how busy modern life keeps most of us, it is also very unfortunate, due to the great benefits offered by the daily recitation of the full Rosary.
St. Louis de Montfort was a great champion of the Rosary, and he wrote a great deal on the value of the full Rosary. In “True Devotion to Mary,” he said:
I earnestly beg of you, then, by the love I bear you in Jesus and Mary, not to be content with saying the Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin, but say the Rosary too, and if time permits, all its fifteen decades, every day. Then when death draws near, you will bless the day and hour when you took to heart what I told you, for having sown the blessings of Jesus and Mary, you will reap the eternal blessings in heaven.From “True Devotion to Mary”
Chapter Seven – Particular Practices Of This Devotion
1. Exterior Practices
by St Louis de Montfort
In another of his works, “The Secret of the Rosary,” he makes it clear that one’s choice to recite the Rosary may be even more pressing than simply earning heavenly rewards:
“If priests and religious have an obligation to meditate on the great truths of our holy religion in order to live up to their vocation worthily, the same obligation, then, is just as much incumbent upon the laity — because of the fact that every day they meet with spiritual dangers which might make them lose their souls. Therefore they should arm themselves with the frequent meditation on the life, virtues and sufferings of Our Blessed Lord — which are so beautifully contained in the 15 mysteries of the Holy Rosary.” St. LDMFrom “The Secret of the Rosary”
Twenty-Fourth Rose: Means of Perfection
By St. Louis de Montfort
Here are eight more places in “The Secret of the Rosary” where St. Louis mentions praying fifteen decades of the Holy Rosary daily:
Given what he wrote, it is abundantly clear that St. Louis de Montfort recommended a full fifteen decades to adults. Yet he was not speaking primarily to priests or members of religious orders. In fact, the people he was speaking were often hardened sinners in the earliest stages of their faith and conversion.
Why, then, did St. Louis de Montfort begin with as demanding a prayer routine as a full fifteen decades of the Rosary?
First, the Rosary is designed to act as a door into a deeper spiritual life, and eventually to life in heaven. Mary is not a static statue to whom we offer rote prayers. She is active in our lives, drawing us closer to her Son, teaching us how to love correctly and leading us to proper worship of God.
The prayers of the Rosary, then, offer a tremendous opportunity for spiritual development. By following Mary’s lead, a single Hail Mary can lead you to a decade of a Rosary, which can develop into a consistent prayer life, until one day you might even feel called to attend daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
Second, experience has shown us that reciting the full fifteen decades of the Rosary is the surest way to stay connected to the will of God. Each of the mysteries is designed to teach us who God is and what He wants from us. By meditating on the conception and birth of Jesus, we begin to understand what it means for Him to be True God and true man. By meditating on the assumption and crowning of Mary, we can better understand what it means for God to desire us to participate in His divine life.
Most importantly, by meditating on the Passion and death of Jesus, we can better recognize and respond to His incredible love for us. According to St. Louis de Montfort, St. Bernard had a particular devotion to meditating on the Passion:
“At the very beginning of my conversion,” [St. Bernard] said, “I made a bouquet of myrrh made up of the sorrows of my Savior. I placed this bouquet upon my heart, thinking of the stripes, the thorns and the nails of His passion. I used all my mental strength to meditate on these mysteries every day.”
Once Saint Bernard began this meditation he always continued it.
“This was a practice of the Holy Martyrs too; we know how admirably they triumphed over the most cruel sufferings. Saint Bernard says that the Martyrs’ wonderful constancy could have only sprung from one source: their constant meditation on the wounds of Jesus Christ. The Martyrs were Christ’s athletes, His champions; while their blood gushed forth and their bodies were wracked with cruel torments, their generous souls were hidden in the wounds of Our Lord. These wounds made them invincible. “ From The Secret of the Rosary
TWENTY-FOURTH ROSE: MEANS OF PERFECTION
St. Louis de Montfort
Finally, by choosing to pray the full fifteen decades of the Rosary, you will have far less time to speak idly or get yourself into trouble!
Of course, regardless of all of these benefits, praying fifteen decades of the Rosary can still take quite a long amount of time! As such, St. Louis de Montfort recommended breaking the Rosary up and spacing its prayers throughout the day. If necessary, he suggested even praying one decade at a time!
If someone prays all 15 decades (now 20 decades) each day, De Montfort recommends breaking it up and spacing those prayers throughout the day and if need be, a person could pray one decade at a time.
Twenty Decades of the Holy Rosary
If one of the benefits of praying fifteen decades of the Rosary daily is a deeper prayer life, one of the ways in which that deeper prayer life might be expressed is by the choice to pray twenty decades of the Rosary daily rather than fifteen!
The five Luminous Mysteries were added to the Holy Rosary by St. Pope John Paul II in 2002, each of which is designed to reflect an important mystery of the faith. Several of these mysteries — the Baptism of Jesus, the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the Institution of the Eucharist — even reflect the institution of sacraments.
Each of these mysteries provides a further opportunity to meditate on and enter more deeply into the will of God.
Five Decades of the Holy Rosary
If it is impossible or impractical to pray a full fifteen or twenty decades of the Rosary daily, the Church has provided a convenient program through which you can pray every mystery of the Rosary at least once throughout the course of a week:
- Monday, Saturday: Joyful Mysteries
- Tuesday, Friday: Sorrowful Mysteries
- Wednesday, Sunday: Glorious Mysteries
- Thursday: Luminous Mysteries
The obligations the Legion of Mary imposes on its members, likewise, are based around the praying of five decades of the Rosary. Auxiliaries must pray five decades of the Rosary daily, and the only obligation of active members of the Legion is to pray five decades during the weekly meeting.
One of the greatest benefits one can receive from praying five decades of the Rosary is a plenary indulgence. This requires the fulfillment of several conditions while praying — all five decades must be prayed continuously, the prayers must be said vocally, the mysteries must be meditated upon (and announced, if the Rosary is being said publicly). One must also be free from all attachment to sin. Furthermore, three further conditions must be met within a week — a sacramental confession, reception of the Holy Eucharist, and a prayer for the intentions of the Pope.
While these conditions might seem incredibly demanding, the value of a plenary indulgence is incalculable. A single plenary indulgence is sufficient to free a soul from purgatory! And it’s important not to despair, thinking that you couldn’t possibly gain a plenary indulgence. Even if one or more of the conditions is not met, you can still gain a partial indulgence for whatever you were able to do.
One Decade of the Holy Rosary
If it isn’t possible for you to pray fifteen (or even five) decades of the Rosary, it’s still possible for you to participate in the devotion by praying one decade of the Rosary as part of the Association of the Living Rosary.
“In the Association of the Living Rosary, we promise to say one decade of the Rosary and meditate that day on the mystery. Others members take the other mysteries that day to make up a whole Rosary. That way a whole Rosary is said by the group. What a wonderful way to pray!
…[Venerable Marie-Pauline Jaricot founded] the Living Rosary because, she said, “this beautiful devotion [to the Rosary] has been left to professional devotees, and on condition that they be old or have nothing else to do: which is a very false prejudice, and which, unfortunately, exists everywhere. ( … ) What matters is to have the Rosary accepted by everyone.” This is precisely our own preoccupation: that the Rosary be appreciated by those amongst us who only say it with reluctance.
How did Ven. Marie-Pauline Jaricot go about this? Realizing that it was difficult for a lot of people to say fifteen decades of Hail Marys, she encouraged them to begin saying the Rosary little by little. She had the idea of forming volunteers into groups of fifteen, with each person committing to: 1) saying a decade of the Rosary each day and 2) meditating on the mystery which had been assigned to that person each month by drawing lots.
… Marie-Pauline Jaricot’s idea was recommended by the Church and in six years it succeeded in having more than a million people in its Living Rosary.-Yves de Lassus. From N°71 : The Living Rosary (link)
The value of the Living Rosary is found not only in its accessibility, but also in its much narrower focus.
For example, if the mystery you were assigned for the month was The Visitation, your prayer would not simply be limited to the recitation of one Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and a Glory Be. Instead, you would meditate on the fact that Mary “went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth” — that Mary rushes to us and does not stay distant — in your every action and prayer throughout the day.
How might this be expressed? Imagine that, while you were assigned to meditate on The Visitation, you were given an opportunity to consider the Passion of Jesus and found yourself shrinking way. In accordance with your assigned mystery, you could consider that Mary always rushes to your aid, and that she will help you accept the suffering and death of Jesus as His act of love. You could even consider the ways in which Mary’s eagerness echoes the eagerness with which Jesus rushed to die for us.
Can you see now how praying “just one decade” could change everything?
“The person who has the happiness of reciting every day the entire fifteen decades of the Rosary can apply in their Rosary their dedicated decade and appropriately apply meditation of the mystery that they are assigned.” Petite Manual Of The Living Rosary
The Legion of Mary promotes both the Living Rosary and the full Rosary, without compromising either. Both are ways of doing something great for God.
While joining the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary or the Living Rosary can be a great way to motivate yourself to pray the Rosary more consistently, it is more important to start following their recommendations as soon as possible. Why not visit our Rosary page to read a meditation on each mystery, pick a mystery to meditate on this month, and start meditating today?