Shedding New Light on the Mysteries of the Rosary

September 23, 2003

by Timothy T. O'Donnell, S.T.D., KC*HS, President of Christendom College

RosaryOur Holy Father Pope John Paul II has given us a great gift in proclaiming this year to be the Year of the Rosary. The rosary has always been the Pope's favorite prayer, after the Mass. His beautiful document, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, issued on October 16, 2002, the 24th anniversary of his pontificate, sets forth in a most profound way the Christological dimensions of this Marian prayer. The Holy Father invites us, "to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ," and to focus on the beauty of His face, and the depth of His love. The Pope teaches us that Christ reveals His love to us in His life, passion and death, and in a special way this can be found in the beautiful, traditional prayer of the rosary. It is so important to remember that when we find Mary she always takes us to her Son Jesus. "When the Mother is honored, the Son... is duly known, loved and glorified." (Lumen Gentium, #66)

In his message for Mission Sunday this year, which will fall on October 19, 2003, the Pope stated that he hoped that this year of the Holy Rosary would be for all believers an opportunity "to deepen the meaning of their Christian vocation." The Holy Father acknowledges in this apostolic letter that the rosary has been used effectively for centuries by the Dominicans in their fights against heresy (RVM, #17). Today no less, with so many problems afflicting the Church, the Pope urges us again to make use of this contemplative prayer in all its richness to pray for peace and the strengthening of family life (RVM, #40,41).

One specific part of this document which has received a great deal of attention is the Holy Father's presentation of a new set of rosary mysteries, which he calls "Mysteries of Light," or the "Luminous Mysteries." These new additions to this beautiful prayer help to fill out the cycle of mysteries. A growing number of individuals have written beautiful meditations on the new Luminous Mysteries, grounding them in Sacred Scripture. This can be an excellent way to remind all of us that the rosary is primarily a prayer which focuses on the life of Jesus and Mary.

It has always been traditional when reciting the rosary and meditating on the mysteries to seek a particular virtue or grace appropriate for the particular mystery being prayerfully considered. Those who remember the old St. Joseph Missal will recall this fact. Pope John Paul also confirmed this tradition. "It is worthwhile to note that the contemplation of the mysteries could better express their full spiritual fruitfulness if an effort were made to conclude each mystery with a prayer for the fruits specific to that particular mystery. In this way, the Rosary could better express its connection with the Christian life." (RVM, #35) In the Joyful Mysteries: the Annunciation leads us to contemplate humility; the Visitation, charity toward one's neighbor; the Nativity, a spirit of poverty; the Presentation in the Temple, obedience to God's law; and the Finding of our Lord in the Temple, piety.

In the Sorrowful Mysteries: the Agony in the Garden seeks for sorrow for our sins; the Scourging at the Pillar, for purity; the Crowning with Thorns, for moral courage; the Carrying of the Cross for patience; and the Crucifixion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, for the grace of final perseverance.

In the Glorious Mysteries: the Resurrection leads us to meditate on the virtue of faith; the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, on hope; the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles, on charity; the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, on devotion to Mary; and the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, on eternal happiness.

It is easy to see how the Luminous Mysteries fill out the life of Christ and Mary, by providing the bridge between the Joyful and the Sorrowful Mysteries. I would like to propose for consideration an appropriate set of virtues or graces to be associated with these new Luminous Mysteries.

The first Luminous Mystery: the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. The Pope, in this mystery, reminds us that we are all called to be sons of the Son, as the Holy Spirit invests Jesus with His mission in obedience to the Father. I propose that the virtue to be sought in the light of this mystery is fidelity to one's Christian vocation.

The second Luminous Mystery: Jesus' self manifestation at the Wedding Feast at Cana. Our Holy Father, in this mystery, reflects that the great sign of turning water into wine was worked through Mary's intercession. This sign opened the hearts of His disciples to believe in Jesus and His mission. I propose that the virtue for this mystery is the gift of discipleship.

The third Luminous Mystery: the Proclamation of the Kingdom and Call to Conversion. The Holy Father, in this mystery, links the particular passage of the proclamation of the Kingdom specifically to repentance and the forgiveness of sins. We are called to reflect upon Jesus' ministry of mercy. I propose that for this mystery one seek metanoia, a conversion of heart. This is particularly to be achieved through the frequent and devout reception of the Sacrament of Penance, in which we receive the mercy of Christ as we are restored through His grace as healthy members of His body within His kingdom.

The fourth Luminous Mystery: the Transfiguration. The Pope, in writing on this great mystery, tells us that the Divinity of Christ shines forth from His glorious face. We also are reminded of the Heavenly Father's pleasure in His Son and we are commanded to "listen to Him." I propose that for this mystery we ask for the gift of contemplation of Christ's Divinity. This gift of the Father working through the Holy Spirit allows us to unite ourselves with the three apostles and recognize that Christ is a Divine Person whose Divine nature is hypostatically united to His human nature. The Divine approval coming from the Father will enable us to be strengthened like the apostles during times of difficulty and suffering. What a great consolation it is to know that in being faithful to Christ we are being faithful to God made man.

And finally, the fifth Luminous Mystery: the gift of the Eucharist, the great Sacrament of His love. Our Holy Father in his recent encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, tells us, "By giving the Eucharist the prominence It deserves and by being careful not to diminish any of Its dimensions or demands, we show that we are truly conscious of the greatness of the gift." (EE, #61) He goes on to remind us all that "no one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality." (EE, #52) I propose that the virtue for this mystery is reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, in light of the powerful teaching of the Church and our Holy Father. This is a time for all of us to reawaken a deeper appreciation for this Priceless Gift which Christ has given to His Church. Reverence for the Eucharist is always important, but especially in a time when the sacrificial character of the Mass has been downplayed, various forms of Eucharistic devotion have been abandoned in many areas, and the priesthood itself has been attacked.

As we move closer to the end of this Year of the Rosary, which will conclude on October 16, I urge all of Christ's faithful to enter ever more deeply into contemplating with Mary the face of Christ through the devout recitation of the Holy Rosary. Then, in the midst of this apostate age, we will all move closer to that new springtime foreseen by the Holy Father, by contemplating "the beauty of that face and the depth of His love."

 


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