This blog might surprise you, being written by a Protestant, however, I believe there are some interesting historical roots to the rosary and benefits from understanding this form of prayer.
Though there are differing opinions on the origins of the rosary, counting prayers dates back to the desert fathers and the Jesus Prayer (See blog on The Jesus Prayer). In the ninth century there were monks who repeated the 150 psalms as a major part of their worship. Keeping track of where they were necessitated some form of counting. This was often done by putting 150 tiny pebbles in a small leather pouch and transferring them Psalm by Psalm to another pouch. Since this could become troublesome, they began to use a thin rope with 50 knots in it and then counting through it three times. As the Irish monks began to travel throughout Europe, they brought this form of devotion with them.
The specific prayers that were said evolved as well, from praying the Psalms, to a shorter Psalter, and beads replaced the knots. The Psalters were divided into 3 groups of 50 and the term “rosarium” began to be used for them, giving the connotation of comparing these prayers to a bouquet of roses. Over time, these prayers shifted to what exists today as the Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
A number of years ago, while in Ireland, I visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and wanted to pick up a souvenir. A small rosary attracted my attention, made of small, square green stones. It was a version of the rosary used during persecution of Catholics when possessing a rosary could get you killed. It was meant to be held in the hands with just 10 stones and a crucifix. I didn’t think much of it until years later, watching a movie about a devout Catholic and observing the importance of the rosary to her. I began doing research and discovered what I shared above. Sometimes we can look at things just in a negative light or how the enemy has twisted something and miss the original blessing meant by it.
Do I need to “count” my prayers? No, we have the privilege of entering into God’s presence from a place of relationship. However, we can honor the origins of it, representing people’s devotion to God and seeking Him in deeper ways the best they knew how.
So is a rosary a useless form? Doesn’t have to be. I occasionally get it out and ask the Lord how to pray. Sometimes I use it to count my blessings – naming out loud the goodness of God. Or maybe ask God for 10 people to pray for salvation or for healing. Or 10 people he wants me to pray for today. I find the practice awakens in my heart a compassion and connection to a persecuted people who pressed through difficulty to maintain spiritual disciplines as well as stretching me to pray for 10 of something. You might not have a rosary, but what 10 things are you grateful for today? Can you think of 10 people who need salvation or healing?