QUAERITUR: wearing a rosary

A reader asks:

I live in an area with a large Hispanic population and I see a lot of men and boys wearing Rosaries around their necks. Is it sacreligious to do so? Please enlighten me.

You mean they use their necks as if they were rear-view mirrors?

I don’t think it is sacrileges in itself to wear a rosary.  Many religious orders and institutes have a form of the rosary as part of their habit. 

I suppose it would depend on the attitude of the wearer and the other things that person may be doing or displaying.  Sadly there may be a touch of superstition involved in wearing a rosary, as if it were a magic talisman. 

Meanwhile, over at Bad Vestments… always a hoot… there are so many things wrong with this picture, it’s hard to know which to pick on first.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. franciscanUTrad001 says:

    It has always been my understanding that it is not sacriligous to wear a Rosary around one’s neck but the Rosary is a sacramental and should be used for its purpose which is prayer, not as an item of jewelry. Pray your Rosary…Our Blessed Mother loves it!

  2. Konichiwa says:

    Sadly, some people, men and women wear the rosary as costume jewelry. Often when it’s women, they’re wearing something immodest. Either way, when I see someone wearing it as it were jewlery I sometimes ask, “That’s a nice rosary. Do you know how to use it, yet?” If they answer, “no”, then I’d offer to teach them. :)

  3. Rose in NE says:

    I’ve heard that wearing the rosary is becoming a gang symbol. So, you are right, Father, that it depends on the attitude of the wearer.

  4. Konichiwa says:

    BTW, that bad vestment site is interesting. I ought to get a photo of our altar servers sometime. Someone got them custom vestments. They’re even color coordinated with the church calendar. They don’t have green but they do have white, red, and purple. They look like little bishops or cardinals on Pentecost. Poor altar servers. Methinks, they have to wear something because some lay person gave them as a gift.

  5. FrCharles says:

    It’s a hard question; I know some people who just prefer to carry their rosary in this way. They are very devout and love Our Lady very much. Unfortunately, as Rose says, rosaries are also used to indicate gang colors. For many others, it’s a talisman or a decoration. I don’t know which is worse. When I was in formation I used to teach Spanish-speaking religious ed. When I wanted to teach the kids the rosary, I made their new rosaries myself, and just small enough so that they wouldn’t fit over their heads. So as they tried as soon as they got their hands on them, I had a ‘teaching moment.’

  6. Jack Hughes says:

    I remember reading in “The Secret of the Rosary” St Louis De Monfort talking about the fact that the Spaniards (who were alot more pious back then) wore Rosaries around their necks; I think that wearing a Rosary with the proper intention is better than simply stuffing it in a pocket somewhere (better out in plain sight than stuffed away); but if worn by public apostates such as lady ga ga(or whatever her real name is) and the anti-Mary pop star ‘madonna’ in an immodest way then yes I think there are grounds for saying that to do so is blasphomous.

    Personally I never go out without a Rosary upon my person.

  7. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I was on a long airplane flight yesterday and had the rosary around my neck for lack of anywhere else to put it and have it handy. For someone of my height and, er, other dimensions, accessing my pants pockets mid-flight is not so easy.

  8. Philangelus says:

    A police officer I know said that he frequently apprehends gang members who are wearing rosaries. He usually asks them, “So, you must have real devotion and pray this all the time! Can you tell me what are the joyful mysteries? Any of them? How about the Our Father–do you know that?”

    May Our Lady pray for their protection.

  9. “You mean they use their necks as if they were rear-view mirrors?”

    Fr. Z for the win!

  10. Elly says:

    I laughed out loud from the “You mean they use their necks as if they were rear-view mirrors”

    So funny!

  11. AnAmericanMother says:

    If I don’t stash a rosary on my rear view or my gearshift knob (or, preferably, both) I forget to say my morning rosary on the way to work.

    It does keep me from fuming in the traffic! It also keeps me from speeding, since I’m almost exactly 20 minutes from work.

  12. There’s a famous story of the Conde of Lemos using the custom of wearing the Rosary to ferret out a jewel thief. It’s from a 1764 Spanish book.

    It was a pretty common saying, to say that if you didn’t wear a Rosary, you obviously weren’t a Christian. De Mendieta (1525-1604) said in his Mexican missions history that among the Christian Indians, it sometimes seemed that if you didn’t wear the Rosary and a discipline, you weren’t a Christian.

    It may also be that, since “traer” can mean either carry with or wear, that makes it seem a lot more logical way to carry a Rosary with you. Also, since you can wear medals and scapulars around your neck, it seems a bit silly to say that you can’t wear a Rosary around your neck.

    I’m more concerned about whether people are saying the Rosary than wearing vs. carrying it, or wearing it around the neck vs. wearing it at the belt.

  13. Random Friar says:

    To me, wearing a rosary around your neck and not praying it is like having a picture of your mom tattooed on your arm and never calling her.

  14. In 1730, a visitor named Bravo specially praised the devout Indian converts at a Mexican mission named Loreto. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday they recited the Rosary in common. Every night at eight, they prayed the De Profundis psalm for the deceased. They sung the Divine Praises in Spanish, had sacred images in their homes, and often wore the Rosary around their necks or else carried an indulgenced crucifix around with them.

    So yeah, blame the dead missionary monks from before the US was founded for teaching the Mexican people to wear rosaries around their neck. ‘Cause I’m sure they didn’t know a darned thing about Catholicism or the Rosary, those dead monk guys.

  15. TomB says:

    Sometimes I see MLB players wearing Rosaries around their necks. I forget who, but a couple of pitchers do. The wonders of HD TV.

  16. Fray Domingo de la Anunciacion, who went with the expedition to Florida, sent another monk to a lime kiln that wasn’t working correctly (it’s a long story and demons come into it) with his stole and his rosary both around his neck.

    Davila Padilla tells a story of five Nahuatl caught in a thunderstorm who took shelter under an outcrop. The two not wearing rosaries were killed.

    And so on…. Obviously, the Rosary was, and hence is, being used in many of the same ways that scapulars and medals are. That’s not the primary way you should be using the Rosary, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a horrible thing.

    I mean, nobody in the US reprimands people this bitterly for not using the Rosary that’s in their purse or their dresser; or for using one to decorate their wall as purely a devout decoration; or for owning more than one set of rosaries or collecting them. Aside from worrying about gang or occult use, this seems to be purely a cultural thing to get het up about.

    I mean, sheesh, if your family was taught to wear a rosary from the time they were first converted away from praying to brutal false Aztec gods, who am I to tell you how to carry your rosary around? Tell you to say it, yes. Tell you not to follow your own good Catholic customs? No.

  17. Lee says:

    In 1965 I had been a novice in a Trappist monastery and one of the simple professed brothers whom I had looked up to had worn a rosary around his neck. So a few years later when I was in the stockade at Ft. Riley- the Army and I had a controversy about Viet Nam- I wore a rosary around my neck. And then one of my friends there did the same.

    Within about a month practically the whole stockade had rosaries around their necks. Now there was one prisoner there who had escaped several times and been re-captured, and whose case was dragging on forever…probably in retribution. He was known for lying on his bunk, head propped up on one hand, with a great smile on his face. I thought of him as The Chesire Cat.

    One day he said to me, “Lee, I’ve been wearing this thing around my neck for about two months now. How does it work?” So I explained. The next day I came upon him devoutly saying the rosary. The very following day his case was called. This made an impression on him, you could say, and on all of the lower east cell block.

    So there is something to be said for wearing the rosary around one’s neck, and for explaining to gang members (or anyone) how to say it…if you happen to be a policeman, a priest, or an ordinary Catholic. If someone is wearing it for jewelry, great! It gives you an opportunity to explain its possibilities and “how it works.”

    Would that everyone would wear a rosary around his neck!

  18. To be fair, there’s apparently also a Spanish proverb: “El rosario en el cuello, y el diablo en el cuerpo.” That means — “The rosary on your neck, and the devil in your body.” So people are aware of the potential problems.

    Re: probably better not to stop a valid Catholic custom

    Apparently just this February, Jose Perez Restrepo, a Colombian candidate for judge, survived a violent kidnapping/assassination attempt by FARC when a bullet struck a bead on the rosary (camándula) he was wearing around his neck.

  19. Jack Hughes says:

    @ Suburban

    Reminds me of what St Louis said when he warned about those who cry out ‘Blessed Mother & Hail Mary’ and then crucify her son with their sins

  20. Ooooops. A camandula is actually a chaplet of 33 beads used for praying a chaplet prayer originally promulgated by the Camaldoli order — it’s called the Crown of Our Savior. (33 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Marys, the Credo.) In Portuguese it’s a camaldulas.

  21. kolbe1019 says:


    I am the biggest pro rosary wearer you will ever encounter… maybe ;D.

    I used to teach at a Catholic Middle School and my male students had a problem with masturbation and my female students didn’t have pockets to carry their rosaries in… So after reading the book “The Secret of the Rosary” I got a few good ideas… anybody who has read this book by St. Louis De Montfort would know the great graces available to those who wear the Rosary devoutly. Pope Innocent XI had granted 100 days indulgence to those who openly wore the rosary out of devotion and to set a good example. St. Dominic would put it around people’s necks to cast the devil out.

    Before I get to my good idea concerning wearing the rosary… Follow me. The Rosary is the scourge of demons and this makes sense when one considers what “the rosary” truly is, but the demon is an arrogant and perverse creature. So if the rosary is the most effective prayer second only to the Sacraments, and the Rosary has the power to help us receive those Sacraments more effectively, and Our Lady has been granted the promise to crush the serpents head it is pretty safe to say that Satan hates the rosary and despises Our Lady like no other creature.

    So the greatest insult the greatest perversion he could muster against such a devotion is to make it popular neck wear around those whom he has enslaved… However we should not be repulsed by this, because by encouraging those gangs and pagans to wear the rosary Satan has practically put Mary’s foot on his own head. They already own the rosary… alls we have to do is teach them how to pray it and what it means… the rest will be history!!!!!

    NOW BACK TO THE GREAT IDEA I HAD to help guys with Masturbation and women without any pockets…

    I designed two kinds of ugly durable useful rosaries that are easily tied around this wrist. If you see the rosary on your wrist… that is awfully close to your hand… much better than in the pocket. So besides encouraging my students to pray the rosary daily and praying it with them for an increase in the virtue of purity and modesty… I taught them to tie it around their wrists… for those who pray the rosary their is no more effective way at ensuring Mary’s assistance in the moment of temptation than having her hold you by the wrist.

    To see what these look like visit my website: http://www.truefaith.tv I have many custom “Hybrid” sacramentals there.

    To learn how to make the rosary or to teach others visit http://www.youtube.com/gabiafterhours

  22. kolbe1019 says:

    Oh… FYI… the School banned the wrist rosary… because it was not “jewelry”… I agreed… It was a rosary…tied around the wrist…

    This same school also banned the wearing of the M.Medal, because one teachers said it was distracting!?!? To whom??? Satan…

  23. This is really getting fascinating. Somebody should do an article on this (somebody who really knows, instead of just Googling).

    The old book Triumph of the Holy Rosary and the Order of St. Dominic in the kingdoms of Japan came out of this same cultural matrix, apparently. Anyway, the book tells the story, among others, of the martyr Paul Tarobioye Sakai (Pablo in this book, because it’s in Spanish), a lay farmer who built a church in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary and converted two Buddhist monks while in prison for his faith. He was a devout member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, and during the height of persecution insisted on “showing the great faith that he had by exterior and public signs, and one of them (and not the least of them) was the wearing of the Holy Rosary around his neck so that all could see it: which was in Japan the major demonstration of being Christian.”

    So the local governor went to ask him why he was wearing the rosary when being Christian was forbidden, and Paul smiled and asked why he wouldn’t wear the rosary where everybody could see it, when he’d already worn the rosary before the governors who serve the Emperor. So off he went to prison, and he was eventually beheaded. The book calls him a “great preacher of the Holy Rosary”.

  24. Jack Hughes says:


    They banned the M.Medal at a CATHOLIC school? what meds were they on?, someone ought to read Father Hardon S.J to them

  25. Diego F. C. says:

    In my country it is common. The people wear the rosary like you wear a medal or scapular.
    I don’t see nothing wrong in this.

  26. Elly says:

    Jack Hughes- can you tell me what St. Louis said? I can’t find it.


  27. Rich says:

    Gangs affiliate themselves with certain colors, and many teens wear rosaries of these colors to affiliate themselves with the gangs. I am not trying to sound controversial – I have been a teacher for many years in areas with high percentages of Hispanic populations, and the wearing of the rosary thing as a means to associate oneself with a particular gang is just the way it is. I have even tried proudly pulling my rosary out of my pocket and happily sharing with rosary-wearing youths that, hey, I have a rosary, too! Most of the time I can tell you when this happens that the kids don’t really seem to care about the rosary for its own sake, which leads me to thinking that there is some other reason why they’re wearing it…

  28. Jack Hughes says:


    The page where he St Louis describes spaniards wearing the Rosary around their necks is on page 124 of Secret of the Rosary , the part about those who are false devotees is on page 102

  29. I think there is nothing wrong with wearing a rosary around your neck if you are a practising Catholic who prays and values the rosary and don’t just wear it as a piece of jewelry, a merely cultural statement, or, even worse, some kind of gang affiliation symbol. It is similar to a crucifix in this regard. I do not think one should wear a crucifix if one does not believe in what it symbolises and try to practise one’s faith.

    If, however, one wears it simply as a piece of jewelry or a statement of something other than a sincere faith, it would be wrong.

  30. Philangelus says:

    One of my friends started praying the rosary when she made a glib comment about the rosary and I pulled mine out of my back pocket and said, “I keep this with me all the time.” It was a tumultuous spiritual time for me and I was even keeping it in my pajama pocket. She stared openly, and I felt like an idiot until I met her the next time and she said she was touched by that enough to really look into the rosary.

    Another friend liked hearing about how I pray the rosary (we have a lot of interfaith discussions because she’s Jewish) and she asked me at one point how she could make a rosary. Eventually she bought a rosary kit and made one, had it blessed, and sent it to me. But I guess she found it meditative just to make it because she kept making them. At some point, she and I worked together to come up with Jewish prayers and mysteries she could use, and now she prays a Jewish rosary. I warned her, “That means Mary’s going to count you as part of her camp,” and she said, “That’s fine. I like her.” LOL!

    And finally, I have a Presbyterian friend who mentioned the rosary once and again, I explained that it’s just a series of guided meditations with beads used for counting. She liked that. Again, we changed some of the prayers to make it mesh with her beliefs (she won’t say the Hail Mary, but she likes the Fatima prayer, so that’s what she says on the Hail Mary beads) and altered the final two Glorious mysteries to the establishment of the Church and Christ’s Triumphant Return. And now she prays the rosary too.

    My point only is, having the rosary readily apparent to others–whether worn or in the pocket or just something we talk about having prayed–can touch others even if they’re not people you would expect to become devotees of the rosary.

  31. Lee says:


    Three beautiful stories! Thank you. I wish this had been the first comment to this post. To me this is ecumenicism at its best, siezing the moment, using some imagination, maintaining friendships, drawing your friends along with cords of love.
    It reminds me of a line of Pope Paul VI I once read, “What is a priest? He is salt. He is light. That is to say he is an active operative element. He penetrates souls with an infinite respect, to free them, to liberate them, to gather them into the unity of Christ.” Beautiful. May God bless you and give you many more such opportunities. You know just what to do with them.

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