The rosary is without a doubt the most common and powerful private devotion among Latin rite Catholics. And for those who have experienced the fruits of this medieval prayer, this is no surprise! The rosary is singular in it’s noble simplicity; so simple that even a young child can pray it, but profound enough that an old monk can find new insights after decades of quiet prayer. This combination of easy to learn but difficult to master is an important part of the rosary’s singular power as a method of Christian devotion. However, most of the people I know—even those greatly devoted to the rosary—give little attention to the beads on which they pray. I think the beads ought to be beautiful and durable, both of which are fitting for such a powerful spiritual weapon.
A Bit About Beauty
Beauty, of course, is fundamentally mysterious. It is difficult to define, but when we are confronted with something truly beautiful we cannot help but be overwhelmed by a sense of the transcendent. For a Catholic, there can be no other explanation for this than that the divine nature is beauty itself and that beautiful things participate in some mysterious way in God’s own beauty.
According to Pope Benedict XVI this sense of transcendence—of contact with God through a material object—is the best way of breaking through to those whose minds may not be open to the traditional arguments for Christianity. As Benedict says:
“I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”
Similarly, beauty in our own life—even if only in the beads we pray with—will serve as a call to personal conversion and a connection to the One who is Beauty itself. A beautiful rosary is then able to serve as a quasi-sacramental link between the reality of our own mundane existence and the much greater reality of God Himself. In doing so, it can lift our mind to God.
How Will a Beautiful Rosary Help?
The benefits of having a rosary that manifests even some small aspect of the beauty of God may be surprising. When I acquired my first beautiful rosary I was surprised at how I was simply inclined to pray more. Some may object that this is not a particularly noble reason to pray, but this is to misunderstand what I mean. A rosary that “please[s] when seen” is simply a subtle psychological nudge in the right direction, just as leaving cookies out where they can be seen can be a subtle psychological nudge in the wrong direction! As most Catholics can attest, prayer is difficult. It is therefore generally beneficial to encourage psychological triggers that might help to move us in the right direction. With any luck, once we have formed the habits necessary to engage in deeper prayer life, these nudges will no longer be important.
Moreover, a nice rosary is something in our life clearly dedicated to God and set aside for a proper purpose. It is a small and constant reminder that we are dedicated to God and are set aside from the world to serve Him in a special and direct way. A rosary made with care and attention to beauty can serve as an aid in the worship of God. In this way, it can serve as a small nudge away from frivolity and distraction and towards the consecration of our lives to Christ.
Finally, it might be helpful to offer some practical suggestions for scouting out a beautiful rosary. Obviously, it should be something pleasing to behold. Also important are the symbolic elements included. We might look out for devotional symbols we are fond of, such as a particular style of crucifix, or saint medal. I, for one, generally seek out rosaries with a pardon cross--indulgenced by Pius X--and miraculous medal either as part of the centerpiece or attached in some other way.
Beside physical beauty, durability is perhaps the second most important factor. Otherwise, you will likely be too concerned with maintaining the rosary’s physical integrity to carry it with you and pray with it. Traditional chain rosaries, in my experience, break apart far too easily. I remember my grandparents going to Rome and buying some fantastic rosaries blessed by Pope John Paul II. In just a few months they were in pieces. They simply could not withstand the relatively mild rigors of being carried and prayed with regularly. An alternative are “unbreakable rosaries” which are wrapped with wire to keep them from coming apart. These are highly durable, but since I carry my rosary in my pocket I find them too bulky. As an alternative, metal, wood, and chord make strong and attractive rosaries that will last for decades.
Another consideration is expense. I am always losing things, so I do not want something that will be too expensive for me to replace (I recently lost the rosary I had for years and had to replace it).
The rosary is a powerful devotion, sanctified by centuries of pious practice. However, as we have seen the beads themselves—while certainly not essential to living a serious life of prayer—are an important and underappreciated part of this devotion and can serve as an important aid in the spiritual life.
Matthew Advent is a PhD student in philosophy at the Catholic University of America, with an MA from Florida State University and BA from Benedictine College. He is married and likes to be outside while puzzling over some of Aristotle's needlessly cryptic lines. Originally from Greenville, SC, he now resides in the endless suburbs of Washington, D.C..
 For a short discussion of the spirituality of the rosary and why one might pray it see: Romano Guardini, The Rosary of Our Lady (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1998).
 St. Thomas did define beauty. He says, “Beauty relates to the cognitive faculty; for beautiful things are those which please when seen. Hence beauty consists in due proportion; for the senses delight in things duly proportioned, as in what is after their own kind.” See: ST I Q.5, A. 4.
 For a basic summary of the theology of participation, particularly as it relates to the sacramental outlook see: Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmann’s Publishing, 2011), 40–51.
 ST I Q.5, A. 4.
 However, my wife carries a large wire wrapped rosary in her purse and never seems to have a problem with it.