“This addition of these new mysteries.. is meant to give it fresh life and to enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary’s place within Christian spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ”
– Pope St John Paul II
Writing his Apostolic Letter on the Holy Rosary, ‘Rosarium Virginis Mariae’, back in October 2002, the Holy Father Pope John Paul offered us a new set of Mysteries to contemplate in the praying of the ancient devotion of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
While this might, on the face of it, seem an astonishing move – to change the Rosary – it is, in fact, not at all new.
The Rosary is a prayer that gradually developed over centuries, before slowly taking on the form in which we recognise it today. There were a number of significant changes over those centuries.
It took a long time for the actual Mysteries themselves to become formalised – initally there was much variation regarding precisely what the Mysteries were.
Equally, the structure of the prayer changed, too. For example, Saint Louis de Montfort added the ‘Glory Be’ at the end of each decade – and this was only three hundred years ago.
And one hundred years ago, the Blessed Virgin Herself asked for a further addition – the little ‘O Jesus’ prayer we are now accustomed to say after evey decade. So changes to the Rosary are nothing new.
Pope John Paul saw the Rosary very much as ‘a compendium of the Gospel’ and ‘a way of contemplating Christ with Mary’. But he noted this –
“I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which.. could broaden it to include the Mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between His Baptism and Passion.. it is during the years of His public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light.. each of these Mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very Person of Christ.”
Bearing all this in mind, and notwithstanding the meditations offered by the Holy Father himself on these Mysteries, it may be worth taking a few moments to think a little about each of the Mysteries of Light, or Luminous Mysteries.
The Baptism of Christ – a mystery of revelation
Light reveals to us what is true. In this first Mystery, divine light is thrown on the very Person of Christ, Who is affirmed by the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit as the true Son of God – “this is My Son, the Beloved” (Mt.4:17). And so with this divine seal of approval, the Lord will begin His earthly mission, to establish the Kingdom of God in the world and in the hearts of men. Into those hearts, He will pour His own divine light.
The Wedding Feast at Cana – a mystery of supplication
Although He is the Christ, He desires that we who follow Him take an active part in His mission. In a sense, we will become ‘co-redeemers’ with Him. Mary, His Mother, is the ‘co-redeemer’ without compare and She is the example for us and for the Church herself, pleading with the Lord – “they have no wine” (Jn.2:3). In simplicity, She reminds us of what our task consists, and it is this – that we “do whatever He tells you” (Jn.2:5).
The Proclamation of the Kingdom – a mystery of acclamation
The Gospel is a proclamation of the establishing of the Kingdom of God. The Lord tells us – “the time has come, and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News” (Mk.1:15). And if we do believe this, our very lives will likewise proclaim this truth and our joy will witness to what we believe. Jesus, “the Light of the World” (Jn.8:12) promises we will never walk in darkness but “will have the Light of life”.
The Transfiguration – a mystery of illumination
Alone with some of the Apostles, the Lord is transfigured “and His face shone like the sun” (Mt.17:2); the Apostles are reminded that “this is My Son, the Beloved.. listen to Him”. He is truly the Son of God. In every moment of darkness in our lives, He is with us and His divine light will shine, to the glory of God the Father. We just need to listen to Him.
The Institution of the Eucharist – a mystery of presence
Jesus is the Word and “through Him all things came to be” (Jn.1:3). His own words have great power – of revelation, and also of bringing about what they describe. Such is the case here – in saying “This is My Body.. this is My Blood” (Mt.26:26-28), the Lord brings into existence what His words describe. And in this Sacrament, the Lord remains ever present “so that I may be in them” (Jn.17:26).