What’s that multi-colored rosary?

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | October 18, 2019


Rosaries are usually one, maybe two, colors. What is this five-color rosary that I’ve seen? (Appleton)


October is the month of the rosary; the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary falls on Oct. 7.

The rosary as a devotion has been with us for centuries. We can thank the Dominican order for spreading its use across Europe in the 15th century. But the rosary you mention has only been with us since 1951. It is called the World Mission Rosary and has five decades (groups of 10 beads) in different colors: yellow, green, white (or clear), red and blue.

This rosary was created by Archbishop Fulton Sheen when he was national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. The society was founded in Lyon, France, in 1822, with the purpose of supporting missions worldwide. Each October, the church also marks World Mission Sunday (Oct. 20, 2019). This year, Pope Francis has asked us all to celebrate all of October as Extraordinary Missionary Month. The theme chosen is “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.”

Archbishop Sheen, whose cause for sainthood is currently being considered by the Vatican, introduced this five-color rosary on his nationally broadcast radio show called “The Catholic Hour.”

“Won’t you please make a tour of the world on your World Mission Rosary?” he asked.

The colors of this rosary were devised by the archbishop in order to do just that — let us think about the entire world as we pray, through the memory tool of colors:

n We start in the east, where the sun rises. This yellow decade of the rosary is for the countries of the East in Asia and the Middle East. The color also reminds us that this part of the world has been called the “dawn of civilization.”

n Next, continuing to the east as the sun goes, we find the color red. Archbishop Sheen assigned this color to the decade representing both North and South America, where missionaries spread the faith from Europe, led by “the fire of their faith.” The color is also meant to remind us of how many missionaries, around the world, have become martyrs.

n Still moving east — and to the third decade of the rosary — we reach Europe. Its decade is colored white, because Europe is where the Holy Father — who wears white — resides.

n Around all of these great mission areas, we find the world’s oceans. Blue is the color assigned in this rosary to all the island nations of the world, especially those in the Pacific. Blue also includes the continent of Australia.

n The final decade on the World Mission Rosary is green. This is to remind us of the great grasslands of Africa. Pope Francis visited three nations there in September: Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. Africa currently has the fastest-growing Catholic population on earth.

You don’t need a five-color rosary to pray for the missions around the world. Any color rosary would serve the purpose.


Kasten is associate editor of The Compass. She holds a master’s degree in Theological Studies from St. Norbert College.


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