But the most well-known prayer beads is probably the Christian Catholic rosary. Catholic tradition claims that the rosary was revealed to St. Dominic during a vision in the 13th century.
Practitioners begin with making the sign of the cross while touching the crucifix, then recite a series of "Hail Mary" prayers (in groups of 10, or decades), divided by the 'Our Father" prayer, while meditating on important events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, called "the mysteries." A typical full rosary includes five decades.
There are four types of mysteries: the joyful mysteries, the sorrowful mysteries, the glorious mysteries, and the luminous mysteries. Each mystery has a particular day of the week during which one can focus on them individually. The joyful mysteries focus on events such as the angel of the Lord visiting Mary to tell her she would bear a son.
The sorrowful mysteries consist of events like Jesus' pleading with God to be spared, and his death on the cross. The glorious mysteries include Jesus' resurrection and his ascension to Heaven. The luminous mysteries consist of events such as Jesus' baptism, and him converting water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
A person praying with the rosary touches one bead while reciting one prayer, then moves on the next bead with the next prayer, to keep track of the order without being distracted. Ideally, meditations on the mysteries provide a deeply contemplative experience, and a way to get closer to God.
Catholic children learn the rosary prayers early on, and memorize them easily. The hope is that the repetitious nature of the "Hail Mary" prayer will occupy one's conscious mind, allowing the spiritual soul to focus on the mystery stories and the connection to God.
Some find it relaxing and reassuring when they automatically remember the words of the prayers, even years later, and can slip back into a meditative state. The rosary can also function as a familiar touchstone when its physical presence reminds one of a safe time: childhood and home, or a neighborhood church.
People who have grown up in the Catholic Church but later felt disconnected from God say that a return to the rosary meditation can offer them the solace of a reunion of sorts with God, combined with an adult's perception of the power of meditation to calm one's soul, regardless of how that meditation is performed.