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The New Mysteries of the Rosary

By Pope John Paul II

In his apostolic letter, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary (condensed here), Pope John Paul II reflects on the Rosary's meaning. He also offers "the mysteries of light," new mysteries of Jesus' public life.

Q U I C K S C A N

An Age Seeking Prayer
Not Outdated, Not Against Vatican II
The Rosary Remembers Jesus
Learning Christ From Mary
Meditation and Supplication
New Additions to the Rosary
The New Mysteries of Light
The Rosary for Peace
The Rosary for Families

The New Mysteries of the Rosary

Illustration by
Vicki Shuck


The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless saints and encouraged by the magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.

It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after 2,000 years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings. The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer. It has all the depth of the gospel message in its entirety. 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.

The Rosary is my favorite prayer, marvelous in its simplicity and its depth. It can be said that the Rosary is, in some sense, a prayer-commentary on the final chapter of the Vatican II Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), a chapter that discusses the wondrous presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church.

An Age Seeking Prayer

The West is now experiencing a renewed demand for meditation, which at times leads to a keen interest in aspects of other religions. Some Christians, limited in their knowledge of the Christian contemplative tradition, are attracted by those forms of prayer.

The Rosary is distinguished by its specifically Christian characteristics. It corresponds to the inner logic of the Incarnation: in Jesus, God wanted to take on human features. It is through his bodily reality that we are led into contact with the mystery of his divinity.

Against the background of the words “Hail Mary,” the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through—we might say—the heart of his Mother.

At the same time, our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church and all humanity, our personal concerns and those of our neighbor, especially those who are closest to us. Thus, the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life.

Not Outdated, Not Against Vatican II

There are some who think that the centrality of the Liturgy, rightly stressed by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, necessarily entails giving less importance to the Rosary.

Yet, as Pope Paul VI made clear, not only does this prayer not conflict with the Liturgy, it sustains it, since it serves as an excellent introduction and a faithful echo of the Liturgy, enabling people to participate fully and interiorly in it and to reap its fruits in their daily lives.

If properly revitalized, the Rosary is an aid and certainly not a hindrance to ecumenism! But the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery as a genuine “training in holiness.” It is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become “genuine schools of prayer.”

Meditation on the mysteries of Christ in the Rosary is a method based on repetition. This applies above all to the Hail Mary, repeated 10 times in each mystery. If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise.

One thing is clear: Although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her and through her. The Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness.

The Rosary Remembers Jesus

Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; see 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son’s side. In a way those memories were to be the “rosary” which she recited uninterruptedly throughout her earthly life.

Even now, Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary. The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary’s own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer.

Mary’s contemplation is, above all, a remembering. We need to understand this word in the biblical sense of remembrance (zakar) as a making-present of the works brought about by God in the history of salvation. The Bible is an account of saving events culminating in Christ himself. These events not only belong to “yesterday”; they are also part of the “today” of salvation. This making-present comes about, above all, in the Liturgy: What God accomplished centuries ago did not only affect the direct witnesses of those events; it continues to affect people in every age with its gift of grace.

Christians, while they are called to prayer in common, must also go to their own rooms to pray to their Father in secret (see Matthew 6:6); indeed, according to the teaching of the Apostle, they must pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The Rosary, in its own particular way, is part of this varied panorama of “ceaseless” prayer. It ensures that what Jesus has done and what the Liturgy makes present are profoundly assimilated and shape our existence.

Learning Christ From Mary

Christ is the supreme teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not simply a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him.” From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ (cf. John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).

But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his mother. Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to “read” Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message.

As we contemplate each mystery of her Son’s life, Mary invites us to do as she did at the Annunciation: to ask humbly the questions which open us to the light, in order to end with the obedience of faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Meditation and Supplication

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 (see Galatians 4:19). This role of Mary, totally grounded in that of Christ and radically subordinated to it, in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.

Never as in the Rosary do the life of Jesus and that of Mary appear so deeply joined. Mary lives only in Christ and for Christ! If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and most transparent reflection, shows us the Way.

The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. It is also a path of proclamation and increasing knowledge, in which the mystery of Christ is presented again and again at different levels of the Christian experience.

New Additions to the Rosary

Of the many mysteries of Christ’s life, only a few are indicated by the Rosary in the form that has become generally established with the seal of the Church’s approval. The selection was determined by the origin of the prayer, which was based on the number 150, the number of the Psalms in the Psalter.

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 his Passion.

It is during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Consequently, for the Rosary to become more fully a compendium of the Gospel, it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and the hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection (the glorious mysteries), a meditation on certain particularly significant moments in his public ministry (the mysteries of light, luminous mysteries).

The addition of these new mysteries, without prejudice to any essential aspect of the prayer’s traditional format, 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, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory.

The New Mysteries of Light

Certainly, the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light. He is the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Yet this truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the gospel of the Kingdom.

In proposing to the Christian community five significant moments—“luminous” mysteries—during this phase of Christ’s life, I think that the following can be fittingly singled out: 1) his Baptism in the Jordan, 2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, 3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, 4) his Transfiguration and finally 5) his institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the paschal mystery. Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.

The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became “sin” for our sake (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Matthew 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out.

Cana Wedding. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana (cf. John 2:1-12), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers.

Proclamation of the Kingdom. Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mark 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mark 2:3-13; Luke 7:47-48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. John 20:22-23).

Transfiguration. The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished apostles to “listen to him” (see Luke 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit.

First Eucharist. A final mystery of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies “to the end” his love for humanity (John 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.

‘Come Unto Me...’

To pray the Rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and his Mother. It is natural to bring to this encounter with the sacred humanity of the Redeemer all the problems, anxieties, labors and endeavors which go to make up our lives. “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:23).

I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: Confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy and in the context of your daily lives.

This article is a reprint of “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary,” which appeared in the January 2003 Catholic Update. Individual reprints can be ordered by sending $1 and a self-addressed envelope to “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary” (C0103), St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or from www.AmericanCatholic.org. Bulk discounts are available.

      

The Rosary for Peace

The Rosary has many times been proposed by my predecessors and myself as a prayer for peace. At the start of a millennium which began with the terrifying attacks of September 11, 2001, a millennium which witnesses every day in numerous parts of the world fresh scenes of bloodshed and violence, to rediscover the Rosary means to immerse oneself in contemplation of the mystery of Christ who “is our peace,” since he made “the two of us one, and broke down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

The grave challenges confronting the world at the start of this new millennium lead us to think that only an intervention from on high, capable of guiding the hearts of those living in situations of conflict and those governing the destinies of nations, can give reason to hope for a brighter future.

The Rosary is, by its nature, a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is “our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ—and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary—learns the secret of peace and makes it a life’s project.

Moreover, by virtue of its meditative character, with the tranquil succession of Hail Marys, the Rosary has a peaceful effect on those who pray it, disposing them to receive and experience in their innermost depths, and to spread around them, that true peace which is the special gift of the Risen Lord (cf. John 14:27; 20:21).

The Rosary is also a prayer for peace because of the fruits of charity which it produces. How could one possibly contemplate the mystery of the Child of Bethlehem, in the joyful mysteries, without experiencing the desire to welcome, defend and promote life, and to shoulder the burdens of suffering children all over the world?

How could one possibly follow in the footsteps of Christ the Revealer, in the mysteries of light, without resolving to bear witness to his “Beatitudes” in daily life? And how could one contemplate Christ carrying the cross and Christ crucified, without feeling the need to act as a “Simon of Cyrene” for our brothers and sisters weighed down by grief or crushed by despair?

Finally, how could one possibly gaze upon the glory of the Risen Christ or of Mary, Queen of Heaven, without yearning to make this world more beautiful, more just, more closely conformed to God’s plan?

In a word, by focusing our eyes on Christ, the Rosary also makes us peacemakers in the world. Far from offering an escape from the problems of the world, the Rosary obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes, and obtains for us the strength to face them with the certainty of God’s help and the firm intention of bearing witness in every situation to “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

The Rosary for Families

As a prayer for peace, the Rosary is also, and always has been, a prayer of and for the family. At one time this prayer was particularly dear to Christian families, and it certainly brought them closer together. It is important not to lose this precious inheritance. We need to return to the practice of family prayer and prayer for families, continuing to use the Rosary.

The family that prays together stays together. The Holy Rosary, by age-old tradition, has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer which brings the family together. Individual family members, in turning their eyes toward Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.

Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television.

To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: Its members place Jesus at the center, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on.

If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group.

 


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