We should begin with what is most obvious in the Rosary. An aid is used in this prayer: a string or a chain of beads. Some of these beads are larger or are marked apart from the others by a greater distance. Ten smaller beads follow a larger one and form a decade. The whole chain has five such decades. The decades taken together are preceded by a sort of preface, formed by a little crucifix and followed by one large bead and then by three smaller beads.
For the sake of completeness and for those to whom all of this is foreign, we should add that there are some variations of the Rosary that have different divisions, and are only in use in certain places. We should also add that externally the Rosary has taken on manifold and at times beautiful and precious forms, as happens with things that are honored and loved. There can be something very venerable and delicate about an old and nobly designed Rosary that looks as if generations had used it and passed it on.
This string of beads slides through the fingers of the person who prays. At the little cross in the beginning he says the Creed; at every smaller bead, the Hail Mary. At the larger ones that always precede a row of the ordinary beads, he says the Our Father. And after every decade, the doxology: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” And all begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross.
What does all this mean? Is not this praying cord a symptom of inferior piety, as the critics say? Is it not something material which contradicts Jesus’ word of exhortation: “God is spirit, and they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth”?
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