How to Pray the Rosary: A Beginner’s Guide

Before beginning the job that I currently have as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic parish, I worked as a chaplain in a few different hospital settings — a large, research hospital in Boston, a small community hospital in a neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, and the hospital famously known (at least in our neck of the woods) for delivering over six thousand babies annually, named appropriately: Women & Infants.

In my role as chaplain, I provided spiritual support to patients and their families as well as hospital staff in whatever way that looked for the person seeking (or accepting) a chaplain’s visit. Often, it meant listening to the stories and struggles of people experiencing one of their worst moments of life; frequently, it included praying for and with these individuals; and sometimes, it meant doing whatever it took to attend to particular person’s spiritual needs.

One time, I (with my very off-key voice) sang Amazing Grace on repeat as I held the hand of a sick and lonely man who found comfort in the presence of another human as he struggled to find rest. Another time, I accompanied the sister of a recently deceased patient to the morgue, because she arrived too late to the hospital to see him in his room and desperately longed to say farewell in his place of passing. And another time, I went on a wild goose chase to track down a radio for a woman who begged me — in tears — to find one so that she could listen to and pray alongside her usual 5:30 a.m. rosary radio program.

Now does that sound like a request I could refuse?!

Up until hearing of this patient’s morning practice, I didn’t know about the existence of such a radio program, and the idea struck me at the time — and continues to — as lovely. For individuals who desire to pray the rosary but long for the structure and community that praying at a regular time with other people (whether in-person or through the wires) brings, praying alongside a radio DJ or recorded community provides the perfect solution.

Indeed, even as praying the rosary is a specifically defined spiritual practice — a decade’s a decade; the mysteries are the mysteries — there are so many different avenues for engaging in this meaningful form of prayer.

Here are some ideas of places for beginners (or not!) to start:

Gather with your parish community

Many, if not most, parishes have a group of folks who regularly pray the rosary together. At the church in which I grew up, everyone knew to show up half an hour early for the 8am Mass (on weekdays and Sundays) if they wanted to pray the rosary with others (I can still hear the gentle voice of the man who regularly led the prayers). At the parish where I now work, a small group gathers every Friday morning in the sanctuary, bringing their own favorite rosary beads, like the ones we offer in our Catholic store, to sit close to one another, share intentions, and recite their five decades together. Chances are, your parish (or a church close to where you work or drop the kids off at day care, for that matter) might also have a rosary group, and I can say with certainty that newcomers are welcome. Check the church’s website or give the parish office a call to learn specifics.

Use an App like Hallow or The Holy Rosary

While I was very moved by the idea of my older patient waking up at 5:30 every morning to listen to her radio rosary program, I can’t say that I was inspired to start setting my alarm for that early hour. To be honest, I think it would be an enormous challenge for me to stay awake during those dark hours with such a meditative prayer! That’s where the beauty of apps like The Holy Rosary or Hallow come in. Like a radio show, these apps will guide listeners through the prayers so that having them memorized or having a booklet in front of you isn’t necessary. This is my personal favorite way to pray the rosary, because I feel connected to the broader Catholic community when hearing the voices of others join me in prayer and I appreciate the convenience of having the prayer support close at hand nearly all the time (because let’s face it, I bring my phone most places I go). One of my favorite times to pray the rosary using the Hallow App is during the middle-of-the-night hours when I can’t sleep. I just pop in my earbuds, pull out my rosary beads, and pray away.

Turn to an old-school, paper guide

Then again, there’s something about holding a physical copy of a prayer-guide in your hands… If you prefer a more analog style of prayer, there are loads of instructions for praying the rosary available online for free, or in the form of inexpensive booklets. Fun fact: I still occasionally use the laminated instruction card for praying the rosary that was a part of my 8th grade Confirmation binder (back in 2002!).

Praying the rosary is a timeless and ancient spiritual practice, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t fantastic modern tools for making it do-able and meaningful for you in whatever stage of the faith journey you are in. What form of rosary prayer are you drawn to (from this list or otherwise)? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

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