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A Friar Meditates on the 'Luminous Mysteries'

By Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

The new mysteries of the Rosary—unveiled last fall by Pope John Paul II—reinforce the Christ-centered nature of this popular prayer.


The Baptism of Jesus
The Wedding at Cana
Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom
The Transfiguration
The First Eucharist

A Friar Meditates on the 'Luminous Mysteries

Illustrations by
Steve Erspamer, S.M.

When Pope John Paul II issued his apostolic letter The Rosary of the Virgin Mary last October and introduced the new “Mysteries of Light,” my immediate personal response was “Right on!”

For years I had frankly been puzzled by “the public ministry gap” that seemed to leave a big hole in the traditional sequence of the Rosary’s mysteries, known as the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. To be precise, I refer to the gap between the last Joyful Mystery (the finding of the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple) and the first Sorrowful Mystery (Jesus’ agony in the garden the night before his death). Jesus’ whole public ministry—a large part of the Gospel story—was missing.

In his groundbreaking document on the Rosary, Pope John Paul II was careful to remind us, “The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer.”

As if to bolster the prayer’s Christ-centeredness, the pope wisely focused more attention on the public life of Jesus. “To bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary,” asserts the pope, “it would be suitable to...include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.”

The five Mysteries of Light that the pope presents to the Church are: 1) Jesus’ 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 5) his institution of the Eucharist.

The pope also points out, “The whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light. He is the ‘light of the world’ (John 8:12)....This truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public life....”

Since Pope John Paul II has designated this year (from October 2002 to October 2003) as the “Year of the Rosary,” now is an opportune time to offer personal meditations on each of the five new “Mysteries of Light.”

The Baptism of Jesus

Staying Close to the ‘River of Life’

“As Christ descends into the waters,” writes Pope John Paul II,  “the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (Matthew 3:17) while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out.”

Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan not only illuminates Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son (both divine and human), but reveals with bright clarity his mission as Messiah as well.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#438) points out, Jesus’ “messianic consecration was revealed during the time of his earthly life at the moment of his Baptism by John, when ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (Acts 10:38) ‘that he might be revealed to Israel’ (John 1:31) as its Messiah.”

What does Jesus’ Baptism teach us about our own Baptism? When the evangelist John describes the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus as witnessed by John the Baptist, he places these words on the lips of the Baptist: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him” (John 1:32). The word remain in this context is very instructive and enlightening. It emphasizes the permanence of the relationship between God’s Spirit and us.

This helps us to understand better our own Baptism. When God pours new life into us at Baptism through the life-giving Spirit, it is a permanent relationship that is given to us.

Our Baptism is not a one-time event that happened in the past and has stopped being active. Not at all. As in the case of Jesus, the Spirit descends upon us and remains with us. That is why it is so meaningful to dip our fingers into the baptismal or holy water font each time we enter a church. In so doing, we remind ourselves of the permanent baptismal “river of life” that remains and continues to flow within us and is reinforced by the Eucharist and other sacraments.

The Bible is full of water and stream images, and these images have great relevance for our own Baptism. Already in the second creation account in the Book of Genesis, we read how, in the Garden of Eden, “a stream was welling up out of the earth and was watering all the surface of the ground” (Genesis 2:6), including “the tree of life in the middle of the garden” (2:9).

Then in the very first Psalm, we hear of the happy person who listens to God and remains close to the divine source of life. Such a person is “like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade” (Psalm 1:3).

There is a wonderful water image found near the end of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Scriptures. The passage reminds us of the great stream in Ezekiel, Chapter 47, where the famous prophet sees water flowing abundantly from the temple. As we reflect on the image from Revelation, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the Holy Spirit—symbolized by the waters of our Baptism—remains active and enduring within us:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2, NRSV).

Application to my life today. Meditating on this mystery is helpful at those times when we feel unloved or uninspired. God is always ready to embrace us as beloved children. Indeed, God’s Spirit is a river of life and love ever flowing within us.

The Wedding at Cana

Mary’s Role in Her Son’s ‘First Sign’

Jesus caused quite a stir at Cana when he changed the water into wine. “This was the first of the signs given by Jesus,” writes the author of the fourth Gospel (John 2:11). “For credentials, every true prophet must have ‘signs,’ or wonders worked in God’s name,” a footnote in the Jerusalem Bible tells us. The note goes on to explain why Jesus worked this and other signs, namely, “to stimulate faith in his divine mission.”

We find a good confirmation of this in John 2:11b, where the evangelist writes that Jesus “let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.”

The word glory in John’s Gospel and elsewhere in the Bible refers to the manifestation of God’s presence. Because we usually see only Jesus’ human nature, we don’t always see the glory of God clearly manifested. At special times, however, such as at his Baptism and Transfiguration and in his “first sign” at Cana, the divine glory shines through brightly—and we get a glimpse of God’s saving presence breaking into this world.

We turn now to Mary’s motherly intervention in the Cana story. With two brief statements, Mary exerts a distinct influence on her son in this little drama. First is the simple observation: “They have no wine.” To which Jesus replies: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus shows resistance to the clear drift of her words. But Mary is inspired to influence Jesus’ behavior and says to the attendants: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:3-5).

What is going on here? Jesus’ mother is nudging her son to launch into his God-given mission, not unlike a mother bird encouraging a fledgling to take that first flight from the nest. Despite Jesus’ apparent cautiousness and perhaps dread about entering into a very public ministry (“My hour has not yet come”), his mother discerns that he is ready to act on behalf of the embarrassed newlyweds in their moment of need—and, indeed, to begin the larger messianic task before him.

The full meaning of Jesus’ “hour” refers to the hour of his glorification (at his death and resurrection) and of his return to the Father’s right hand. His first sign at Cana, however, was an important first step leading toward that ultimate hour.

Application to my life today. No situation of human need is outside the scope of God’s healing interest and care. Like Jesus and his mother, we are called to be instruments of God’s healing mission in the midst of everyday human circumstances.

Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom

Our Call to Conversion

If there is one central image that ties together the five Mysteries of Light, it is the Kingdom of God. A simple way to understand the Kingdom of God is to see it as God’s saving presence in our world. In each of the new mysteries—Jesus’ Baptism, his sign at Cana, the proclamation of God’s Kingdom, the Transfiguration and the Eucharist—we are witnessing God’s saving love and presence breaking into our world.

I believe that Pope John Paul II is saying much the same thing when he writes: “Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.” It’s helpful to recall that the name Jesus means “Yahweh saves” and that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. This makes it rather easy to understand that Jesus is the perfect embodiment of the Kingdom of God.

God sent his only Son into this world to proclaim the Kingdom of God and engage in a mission of healing and the forgiveness of sins. Each of these activities is an expression of the saving presence of God (or of the Kingdom of God). John gives wonderful expression to this redemptive plan of God when he writes: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

To accomplish his mission of healing and forgiveness, Jesus willingly divested himself of his divine glory and handed himself over totally to the service of humanity, even to the point of shedding his blood. Our response to God’s overflowing goodness is personal conversion and acceptance of God’s saving power in Jesus. As the pope describes it, “Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (see Mark 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust” (see Mark 2:3-13).

Application to my life today. When we feel helpless to solve the world’s immense problems (disease, terrorism, poverty), it’s time to remember that God’s Kingdom is near at hand. We do not work alone. Rather, we turn to our Savior-God, who is ever present and powerful at our side.

The Transfiguration

Connecting to Jesus’ Glory

To set the scene for this mystery, we see Jesus inviting Peter, James and John to withdraw with him from the busy plain of everyday life and come to a place apart—to a high mountaintop. Pope John Paul II calls the Transfiguration “the mystery of light par excellence,” presumably because during this exalted event, the glory of Jesus’ divine nature glowed brilliantly through his humanity, totally transfiguring Jesus: “[H]is face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2).

The event dramatically reminds us that Jesus is truly divine as well as human. The glory of Jesus’ divine nature is usually hidden by his humanity. But now God’s voice from the cloud proclaims the full meaning of Christ: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5).

Writing about the Transfiguration in his apostolic exhortation, The Consecrated Life, Pope John Paul II offers this reflection: “The Transfiguration is not only the revelation of Christ’s glory but also a preparation for facing Christ’s cross. It involves both ‘going up the mountain’ and ‘coming down the mountain.’

“The disciples who have enjoyed this intimacy with the Master—surrounded by the splendor of the Trinitarian life and of the communion of saints and, as it were, caught up on the horizon of eternity—are immediately brought back to daily reality, where they see ‘Jesus only,’ in the lowliness of his human nature. And we are invited to return to the valley, to share with him the toil of God’s plan and to set off courageously on the way of the cross” (#14).

Application to my life today. Even if we feel crushed, oppressed or dehumanized, it’s consoling to know that nothing can really separate us from God’s glory. By clinging to God in trust and prayer, we, the branches, remain one with the Vine (John 15:5), sharing in the divine life.

The First Eucharist

Becoming One Body Through Jesus

The fifth and final Mystery of Light takes us to Jesus’ Last Supper, where he shares his very self with his disciples in the form of bread and wine. It is truly an expression of God’s saving presence—God’s Kingdom of love—among us in the form of a banquet. This holy meal unites us in love with God and with one another so that we become the one body of Christ. In the Eucharist, our personal prayer merges with that of Christ and with the public prayer of the whole assembly.

This mystery of the Eucharist is truly illuminating in that it reveals God’s amazing care for us. The God revealed here is a loving servant ready to hand over his entire self to nourish, forgive, unite and heal us. He leaves his disciples with a memorial, a sacrament of love, by which his saving presence stays with us in a wonderful way until the end of time.

In the Eucharist, writes the pope, Christ “testifies ‘to the end’ his love for humanity (John 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.” In this mystery, we reflect on Christ’s amazing gift of himself to us. Jesus’ essential gesture at the Eucharist is his handing over his body to the community gathered around him.

St. Luke describes Jesus’ memorable actions in these words: “[H]e took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me’” (Luke 22:19). When Jesus says, “Do this in memory of me,” he is not saying simply that we should repeat this liturgical ritual, although he certainly is asking us to do that and do it meaningfully. He also wants us to repeat the gesture in all its profundity, that is, to imitate what he has done for the community.

In other words, we too are being asked to hand over our bodies, in love and in service to the community. In the spirit of Christ, “We open our hearts to the needs of all humanity, so that sharing their grief and anguish, their joy and hope, we may faithfully...advance together on the way to your kingdom” (from Masses for Various Needs and Occasions, III).

Application to my life today. We often feel a profound hunger to unite ourselves with the Source of all love and with the whole family of God. With praise and thanksgiving, we turn to Christ in the Eucharist—the bread of life, who nourishes us and forms us into one Body.                       

To order Catholic Update’s condensation of the pope’s letter on the Rosary, send $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 order online from Bulk discounts are available.


Jack Wintz, O.F.M., is contributing editor of St. Anthony Messenger and editor of Catholic Update. He is also the author of Friar Jack’s E-spirations, a bimonthly online newsletter from which this article was adapted. Free subscriptions to the e-newsletter can be obtained at


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