The Lutheran Rosaries
Many Christians, even if they don’t know what it means, are familiar with the appearance of the Holy Rosary used in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a string of 59 beads tied in a loop that aids Roman Catholic Christians with their prayers, especially through Mary, the Mother of God (it is called a rosary after the word used to describe a garland of roses).
Roman Catholics are not the only Christians that use prayer beads / rosaries. Some non-Roman Catholic Christians pray using the Holy Rosary. Others, like Orthodox Christians, use a more ancient practice: prayer ropes. Still others either modify existing rosaries / prayer beads for their own use, or create their own.
While some Lutherans can and will pray the Holy Rosary that the Roman Catholic Church uses, or use Anglican Prayer Beads (which have become a sort of de facto ecumenical rosary), Lutherans have in the last few decades created their own unique sets of rosaries / prayer beads.
2003 Lenten Lutheran Rosary
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America introduced this string of 50 beads to be used during the season of Lent in 2003. After the three introductory beads, the first small bead (5) is for Ash Wednesday. The large beads are the Sundays in Lent, plus Sunday of the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord. The small beads (grey in the diagram) are the weekdays in Lent. The last three small beads (12, 13, 14) are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Prayers are suggested for each of the numbered beads, while any number of petitions can be prayed on the regular weekday beads.
2005 Longworth Lutheran Rosary
In 2005, John and Sara Longworth modified the structure of the Lenten Rosary for a seminary class, removing the irregular short section and adding two beads to the introductory strand, bringing the total to 47. Instead of praying the season of Lent, the sections of the rosary were aligned to parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, with scripture readings and Catechism assigned to the small and large beads respectively. This way, the rosary could be used all year instead of being tied to Lent.
1995 Wreath of Christ
The “original” Lutheran rosary / prayer beads, these were developed in 1995 by the Right Reverend Martin Lönnebo, Bishop Emeritus of Linköping, in the Church of Sweden, when he was stranded in Greece and waiting out a storm. The beads represent both the life of Jesus Christ and the human condition. Intended to be ecumenical, any prayers can be used on the beads, though a book of meditations that goes with the beads has also been published.
Aren’t rosaries too “Roman Catholic”?
While the Holy Rosary of the Roman Catholic Church takes its current form (the “Dominican Rosary”) from, according to legend, a vision granted to Saint Dominic in 1214 CE, the use of prayer beads and other prayer counting devices existed centuries earlier. The Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers, such as Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Syncletica of Alexandria, would count recitations of psalms and prayers first using pebbles, then ropes with knots tied in them. Prayer ropes are still commonly used in the Orthodox Churches.
By at least the 600s CE, strings of beads were used in addition to or in place of ropes with knots in them to help count prayers. These strings were called paternosters, from the Latin for “Our Father”, and were used to count repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Eventually, in the Roman Catholic Church a popular form of these strings of prayer beads took shape, the form used today, of 59 beads used to pray repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Gloria Patri. It’s not the only set of prayer beads in use in the Roman Catholic Church. There are many different configurations of prayer beads used by different groups, but they all have the purpose: to help faithful Christians focus their prayers.
Beside the Roman Catholic Holy Rosary, another popular rosary is the Anglican Prayer Beads. Their use has spread beyond the Anglican world to other traditions, which has earned them the title of “Protestant Prayer Beads” or “Ecumenical Prayer Beads”. Because they have no specific prayers assigned to them, Christians can use them in any way that works for them.
There is also the Wreath of Christ, a Lutheran set of prayer beads that is very popular in the Church of Sweden, where it originated.
So while the Rosary that is common among Roman Catholics is generally specific to that church, the use of devices to count prayers predates the Dominican Rosary, has existed universally in the church from the earliest centuries, and has been rediscovered by other traditions in the last century. Martin Luther prayed the Holy Rosary.
How do I pray the Lutheran Rosaries?
Each Rosary has its own page (the Wreath of Christ page is an outside page) that details the schema that was created for it. But you don’t have to follow the schemata! All prayer beads can be used with any prayers. You can use them to keep track of people you want to pray for. You can mix and match prayers. You can discard specific prayers entirely and use the beads as a focusing device to calm your mind and allow you to pray however you wish. Once you find something that works, stick with it, and it will become second nature to you.
Where can I get Lutheran Rosaries?
There is no one-stop shop for all things Lutheran Rosary, but there are craftspeople all over who can make them. Check out Etsy for some good examples. Pay attention to the item though — some “Lutheran Rosaries” are really Roman Catholic or Anglican Rosaries. The most common kind I’ve seen on Etsy is the Longworth Rosary, but there are a few sellers who make the Lenten Rosary.
The most rewarding way to get a Lutheran Rosary (or any set of prayer beads) is to make your own. You can use jewelry wire and crimp beads, knots with fishing line or rope, or even chain rosaries.
(Tutorials will be posted)