This set of prayer beads is quite different from the Rosary used by the Roman Catholic faith in that it is much smaller and more compact. It consists of 33 beads (one for each year of Christ’s life) plus a stem (“Invitatory”) bead anchored by a cross or crucifix. Some have no cross, and another root bead in its place. This is a fairly new addition to types of prayer instruments, introduced into the Episcopal Church of America in the 1980s.
The rosary is always held in the dominant hand. Begin with your fingers on the cross and say the first prayer. Move to the Invitatory bead for the second. Then go around the circle, reciting one prayer per bead. This can be repeated as many times as desired, returning always to the Invitatory and the Cross to end the exercise.
The Mala has 108 beads, some say the number represents the optimum number of breaths per minute (I breathe much slower while meditating.) These are beads that are strung closely together with no ornamentation between them. There is a root bead at the bottom and usually a small tail of the line used to string the beads.
My preference here is for one that has loose strings on the thread rather than tied, so that when using, the “rope” part stays (mostly) still in my hand, and the beads slide on and off my fingers one at a time. My favorite Mala is one with the beads made from sandalwood, so using them for any length of time warms the wood and the beads produce a very nice sandalwood fragrance.
The Rosary and especially the Mala can be used in meditative prayer without words. In this practice, pause at each bead, breathe in and out always being conscious of your breathing, and move on to the next bead. There are great stress relieving properties to meditating in this manner because it focuses on slowing down the breath and moving into a meditative state. The practice of moving each bead through the fingers and touching each one is counter to hyperventilation.
The Prayer Rope
Traditionally the Prayer Rope (descended from Eastern Orthodox faith) has 100 knots. Variations have 50 or 33. The rope is again rooted with a cross (sometimes also knotted) and there may be beads tied in at intervals of 10 or 25 knots, for ease of counting. An interesting addition here is that the Prayer Rope has a tail on the root end the same as the Mala, and the one here is traditionally much larger. One idea here is that it is larger to wipe away the tears shed at the realization and contrition for one’s sins, discovered while in a deep state of prayer
Traditionally – when used for prayer – the Prayer Rope is held with the left hand, which leaves the right hand free to make the sign of the Cross as desired while praying.
Use of any of these prayer tools can be as relaxing as knitting. I have been through some very contentious meetings both at work and in church in which I found it necessary to pull out my Mala and simply use it to keep my breath under control. By breathing properly, I can concentrate on what is going on around me, and I am more alert and attentive, and less likely to speak from my strong emotions (eg: I am not ingoring what you are saying, by running prayer beads through my fingers.)