In this month of May, this month devoted to Our Lady, I wish to reflect on aspects of “Mary’s Prayer: The Rosary.”
“The popularity of the Rosary has been attributed to St. Dominic and the Dominican Order. It grew out of the laity’s desire to have 150 prayers to match the 150 psalms chanted by the monks in monasteries. In 1569, St. Pius V officially recommended the praying “of 150 angelic salutations…with the Lord’s prayer at each decade…while meditating on the mysteries which recall the entire life of our Lord Jesus Christ.” USCCA 298
The Mysteries of the Rosary focus on the events in the life of Christ. Traditionally, they include the Joyful Mysteries (the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple); the Sorrowful Mysteries (Agony in the Garden, Scourging, Crowning with Thorns, Carrying the Cross, and the Crucifixion and Death) and the Glorious Mysteries (Resurrection, Ascension, Sending of the Holy Spirit, Assumption and the Crowning of Mary Queen of Heaven and Earth).
On October 16, 2002, our late Holy Father John Paul II published an apostolic letter entitled, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the Rosary of the Virgin Mary. In that document, he added five additional mysteries that he called the Luminous Mysteries or Mysteries of Light. I thought it would be helpful to meditate on the rosary and these five new mysteries in this May meditation. The rosary is after all a way to holiness, a useful way to stay close to Christ through the intercession of his Mother Mary.
With the inclusion of the five new mysteries to the rosary in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the first addition in 900 years takes place. These mysteries, called the Mysteries of Light (Luminous Mysteries), treat the public life of Christ. In summary form, the Pope writes: “To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.” (RVM 3) He repeatedly emphasizes that although the rosary is clearly Marian in character, it is at its heart a Christocentric prayer.
The rosary, now with its 20 mysteries, is in effect a compendium of the entire gospel, a snapshot of our faith. “It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love.” (RVM l)
You may have had a similar experience when praying the rosary as I have -- a deep sense of consolation. “Many who say the Rosary think of the words as background music that leads them to rest in the divine presence. The gentle repetition of the words helps us to enter the silence of our hearts, where Christ’s Spirit dwells.” USCCA 300
So often I have experienced as well a sense of Mary’s maternal presence. She is after all Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church and Our Mother. It is as if Our Lady were praying with us each of the decades of the rosary. For sure, our faith teaches us that Mary intercedes for us as do all the saints. And Mary is Queen of the Saints. She has a place of preeminence among those holy men and women who have gone before us.
In each of the mysteries -- the joyful, sorrowful, glorious and now the luminous mysteries--her wonderful presence is felt. In each of them, Mary has memories of her Son. “In a way those memories were to be the ‘rosary’ which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.” (RVM 11) -- a living rosary of sorts. As such, “in the recitation of the rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.” (RVM ll) Moreover, “the Rosary mystically transports us to Mary’s side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is ‘fully formed’ in us (cf. Gal4:19).” (RVM15)
As we grow in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus, we are turned more and more to Him in prayer. “If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and most transparent reflection, shows us the Way....she intercedes for us before the Father who filled her with grace and before the Son born of her womb, praying with and for us.” (RVM 16)
In this meditation, I wish to focus on the latest addition to the rosary -- the five Luminous Mysteries. I seek to incorporate these new mysteries of Jesus’ public life into the life of the church linking them to the present and our own spiritual life with Him.
We now briefly examine each one!
The first Mystery of Light is the Baptism of the Lord. As Christ descends into the waters of the Jordan, the heavens open up and we hear the voice the Father declaring Jesus His beloved Son as the Spirit descends upon Him. Jesus is identified by His heavenly Father as His beloved Son on whom His favor rests. In Pope Benedict XVI’s first chapter of his book Jesus of Nazareth, he writes: “Jesus’ Baptism anticipated his death on the cross, and the heavenly voice proclaimed an anticipation of the Resurrection. These anticipations have now become reality… To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus’ Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him.” (p.18)
You and I also become children of the Father as we are washed clean at our baptisms, as many were on the vigil of Easter around the world this past Holy Saturday. We become children of the Light from that moment.
The second Mystery of Light the Wedding Feast of Cana, the first of His many miracles when water was changed into wine. Mary intervenes that night, at a wedding feast, telling the waiters to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. You know the story. Cana not only highlights the importance of marriage as a sacrament, as it was the first of His miracles, but it also underscores the power of Mary’s intercession. The same mother of Jesus powerfully intervenes for us in our day each time we turn to her in prayer, especially as we pray the rosary, her prayer.
The third Mystery of Light contains the first public words of Jesus, the inauguration of His mission -- “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Each time we humbly repent of our sins, we experience the Light piercing through the darkness of evil.
Darkness and Light are constant themes in our theological lexicon. Recently, Archbishop John Quinn, the Archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, spoke to the National Federation of Priests’ Councils and said perceptively:
“And so, in a difficult time we should not forget that the great works of God have been accomplished in darkness. The people fled Egypt in the darkness; they crossed the Red Sea in the darkness; the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the darkness of night; He gave us the Eucharist and the priesthood in the darkness of the Last Supper; he died on the Cross when the Gospel says "darkness covered the earth." He lay in the darkness of the tomb. On the third day, He rose again in the darkness, and the empty tomb was discovered "early in the morning while it was still dark." God is at work even in the darkness.” (Houston Texas, April 13, 2010)
In my Ash Wednesday homily this year, I focused on this third mystery of light and the need for repentence, the call to conversion, the challenge to see Light amidst the darkness of our sin. Precisely in repentence, we come to Light and experience His loving embrace as the evil of our sins are forgiven.
The next to the last Mystery of Light is called by our Holy Father “the mystery of light par excellence.” It is the Transfiguration of the Lord believed to have taken place high on a mountain, a mountain many of us walked up on my last pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A mountain traditionally represents the place of prayer. It reminds us, as He was transfigured in glory, of that Advent preface which reads: “In his love Christ has filled us with joy as we prepare to celebrate his birth, so that when he comes he may find us watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise” living in the light. How else can we “listen to Him” heeding the Father’s words given at the moment of the Transfiguration except in daily and persevering prayer, and the contemplative prayer of the rosary in special way? With the advance of social networking media, I wonder how we are able to be still in prayer and alone with our God. Increasingly, there seems to be a need to be distracted or entertained. The sheer volume of information seems to crowd out our capacity for contemplation, prayer and heeding the voice of the Father at the Transfiguration “to listen” to His Son.
And finally, the last Mystery of Light is the institution of the Eucharist. Repeatedly called the “source and summit” of our lives as Catholics, it is the Eucharist in which Christ offers His body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine. Could there be a more profound mystery of light? Bethlehem means "House of Bread" -- the most holy Eucharist, the bread of eternal life to which we have become heirs.
I spoke of this new fifth mystery of the rosary in my homily on Holy Thursday, the night of its institution. There is never enough time to contemplate fully the face of the Eucharistic Christ, for the Eucharist is truly a great mystery, a Mystery of Light, a mystery of mercy, a mystery of redeeming and transforming love, an unsurpassable gift. The Eucharist is both gift and mystery!
“The Church constantly draws her life from [His] redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hands of the consecrated minister.” (EDE12) “What is repeated is its memorial celebration...which makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time.” (EDE12)
Taken together, the twenty mysteries of the rosary are akin to a “compendium” of the entire Gospel with the five new mysteries giving us a snapshot of the public life of Jesus.
Before concluding, I would like to add some personal points for your reflection hopefully to help you as you meditate on the five new mysteries. These are a result of my own prayer and a conviction I received a few summers ago in Italy as I was praying at the tomb of the true apostle of the rosary, Blessed Bartolo Longo, the 19th century lawyer greatly responsible for the construction of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Pompei.
In each of these mysteries, in my prayer in that Basilica as I was praying the mysteries of light, I was struck by a voice and a sacrament. Briefly, here is my reflection:
Baptism of the Lord -- It is the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased.” Reflect on your own baptism and the importance baptism is in our individual lives as followers of Jesus, how we share in the priestly, prophetic and royal mission of Jesus precisely because of our baptism.
Wedding Feast at Cana -- It is the voice of Mary: “Do whatever He tells you.” Reflect on Mary’s intercessory power and the importance of Marriage in the Christian life and the first public miracle of Jesus.
Proclamation of the Kingdom -- It is the voice of Jesus, His first public words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Reflect on the integral importance of repentance in our lives and the link to faith. An examined life is fundamental to our following Christ as are the healing sacraments of Penance and the Sick.
The Transfiguration -- It is the voice of the Father: “This is my chosen Son: listen to Him.” With the cloud and the representatives of the law and prophets we can only think of the Holy Spirit and Confirmation. His disciples were confirmed in their faith as they continued their journey to Jerusalem. As we ponder the law and prophetic voice of Jesus and the prophets, we are continually confirmed in our faith. The Father also exhorts us to pray. “Listen to Him.”
Institution of the Eucharist -- It is the voice of Jesus -- “Do this in memory of Me.” Reflect on the gift of the Eucharist, its fundamental importance in our lives, and on the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
In conclusion, I would suggest that these new five mysteries of the rosary form the basis of a type of spirituality. In each one, listen prayerfully and carefully to the voice and in addition focus on the sacrament it reflects. Importantly, remember that the sacraments are ways in which the public ministry of Jesus continues in our day and in every age in and through you and me. They are, after all, transforming encounters with Christ.