A string of beads is not just a rosary

This Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel, consists of nine sets of three beads to represent the nine choirs of angels.

Have you ever prayed a chaplet?

Most Catholics may have heard about chaplets, but they may also not really know what they are or how common they are. This is because all rosaries are chaplets — though not all chaplets are rosaries.

A chaplet is basically a string of prayer beads used to help keep track of a repetition of certain prayers. In the case of a rosary, these include the Lord’s Prayer, the Ave (“Hail Mary”) and the lesser doxology (the “Glory Be”).

Chaplet comes to us from the French language: the word chapelet means a wreath and a string. However, if you use the word chapelet in Paris, people will probably believe you are referring to the rosary.

Chaplets vary in the number of beads used. For example, a traditional Dominican rosary has 59 beads, while the Chaplet of the Holy Face has 39.

The arrangement of the beads of a chaplet can also vary. The rosary we know has five sets of 10 beads separated by single beads (and a pendant consisting of a medal and four beads). For the Chaplet (or Little Crown) of the Infant of Prague, there are only 15 beads, with 12 in a ring and three more on a pendant.

Chaplets come in many colors, as well as a variety of beads. For some, the color doesn’t matter. For others, the color of the beads is part of the prayer itself. So the Chaplets of the Precious Blood and of the Five Wounds have red beads. The Chaplet of St. Philomena, composed by St. John Vianney, has 13 red beads and three white. The white beads are for her virginity and the Holy Trinity. The red beads are for Philomena’s martyrdom and for the number of years of her earthly life (13 years).

Another chaplet that is appropriate for this Year of St. Joseph — which concludes on Dec. 8 — is that of St. Joseph who was declared the universal patron of the church by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1870. The Chaplet of St. Joseph consists, like Philomena’s, of two colors: white for his purity and blue (sometimes purple) to symbolize Joseph’s piety.

The Chaplet of St. Joseph consists of 15 groups of four beads (one white and three blue or purple) that are used to meditate on the mysteries of the traditional rosary: the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. In more recent times, a version of the Chaplet of St. Joseph has become what is called the “St. Joseph Combat Chaplet,” which is made of metal and carries a St. Joseph Medal with St. Michael depicted on the reverse. Some of these chaplets also have a Miraculous Medal and St. Benedict medal. (The Combat Rosary, from World War II, was carried by U.S. soldiers and made of dull and a chain like a lamp chain.)

Another popular chaplet of recent times is the Divine Mercy Chaplet which was revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska in a private vision. The chaplet is prayed with a traditional rosary, but uses the petition “For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world,” prayed on the regular single beads of each decade. (For how to pray this chaplet click here.) The chaplet is prayed for the petition of sinners and for the dying and the deceased. It is especially offered on Divine Mercy Sunday (the Sunday following Easter Sunday). It is also appropriate to pray each day at 3 p.m., which is called the Hour of Mercy, because it is the time Jesus died on the cross. See The Compass FAQ article from September 8, 2021.

Chaplets cover a variety of petitions and patrons, from saints to the Blessed Mother to angels and the Trinity itself (for example, the Chaplet of the Holy Spirit and the Chaplet of the Sacred Heart). For a partial list of chaplets, visit the “All About Mary” section at the website of the University of Dayton.


Sources: The Catholic Encyclopedia; udayton.edu; thedivinemercy.org; romancatholicman.com; dioceseoftuscon.org; catholic.org; and Philomena.us.