Why does a rosary have 59 beads? What do they mean? How do the decades work?
First of all, there are 53 Hail Mary beads and 6 Our Father beads. As you pray, you hold one bead at a time, moving from one to the next. So if you're holding an Our Father bead (crystal beads in the diagram below), you pray the Our Father. If you're holding a Hail Mary bead (black beads in the diagram below), you pray the Hail Mary. Those are the basics; 59 prayers. Plus, there are a few additional prayers as shown below (#1, #6, #18, and #22).
The full text of all prayers, in order, is available on my "How To Pray The Rosary" page. Continue here to see what you should hold and when.
Using the diagram below as a reference, follow these steps. Note that #6 and #18 in the diagram are spots where you hold the chain, not a bead.
Always begin with the sign of the cross.
1. Hold the crucifix, pray the Apostle's Creed.
2. Hold the first Our Father bead and pray.
3-5. Hold each of the next three Hail Mary beads and pray on each.
6. Hold the chain (between 5 and 7), pray the Glory Be.
7. Begin the first decade by holding the next Our Father bead. Introduce the first mystery and pray the Our Father.
8. Now skip to the first Hail Mary bead of the first decade, and pray.
9-17. Hold each of the next nine Hail Mary beads, praying on each.
18. Hold the chain (between 17 and 19 below), pray the Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer.
19. Continue with the next Our Father bead, introduce the second mystery and pray the Our Father.
20. Hold each of the next nine Hail Mary beads, and continue as you did above.
21. Continue with each of the remaining four decades.
22. After the final decade, hold the centerpiece and pray Hail Holy Queen and O God.
Always finish with the sign of the cross.