Prayer Beads: A Tool for More Focused Prayer
“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” -Dom John Chapman
Why prayer beads? Prayer beads can help you focus while praying. They are something that you can hold onto. In a sense, they help to ground you and give you a path to follow during your prayer. They also provide structure and comfort.
And if you have trouble coming up with your own prayers, there are many types of suggested prayers and devotions to use with prayer beads!
What are prayer beads? Prayer beads are sets of beads that are designed to help people pray. The earliest own use of prayer beads was in 3200 B.C. by the ancient Egyptians. Since then, all major religions have used beads to count prayers, including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims (while Jews don’t use beads, they do use knotted fringe on their shawls, called Tzitzit, to count their prayers).
Interestingly, the modern English word “bead” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “bede,” meaning “prayer.”
There are many types of prayer beads: Anglican prayer beads have 33 beads, while Catholic rosaries have 60 beads and Orthodox rosaries have 100 beads.
Aren’t prayer beads only for Catholics? Catholics are best known for their use of rosaries, but prayer beads can be very useful for Protestants as well.
In the 1980’s, an Episcopalian priest developed a model to help Protestants use prayer beads (shown below). Since then, more and more people have begun to use prayer beads to enhance their prayer lives.
What do the beads mean? The beads start with a cross to remind us of Christ’s act of salvation for us. The cross then leads to the “Invitatory Bead,” which can be used as a call to worship to begin your prayer or to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Our studio has added an additional bead, called the “Resurrection Bead,” to the format for the Anglican prayer beads. It is designed to remind us that Christ still lives and has triumphed over death, and can be used to praise God for the promise of eternal life in His kingdom.
Then there are 4 “Cruciform Beads” that form the shape of the cross (the number 4 reminds us of the four Gospels and the 4 seasons of the year). Between each of these beads are 7 smaller “Week Beads” (the number 7 represents spiritual perfection, and also reminds us of the 7 days of Creation and the 7 seasons of the liturgical year).
The total number of beads is 33, which is meant to remind us of the number of years that Christ lived on earth, plus 1 to represent his resurrection.
How do you use prayer beads? There is no wrong or right way to use prayer beads. You may just want to hold them and finger the beads while you pray. Or you may want to follow the pattern of the beads, praying a specific prayer for each bead. Do what works for you!
We write devotions for prayer beads here on our blog to give you different ideas of how you can use your prayer beads.