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The Mysteries of Light

2011 September 29
by Gordon Reid

Pope John Paul II will be remembered for centuries as the Pope who filled in the heretical gap in the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

Until he inserted the five Mysteries, which he called “of Light” or “Luminous”, the Rosary jumped from the fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve, to the first Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. So the entire Ministry of our Lord was omitted from the meditations.

This has now been corrected. The Mysteries of Light are these: The Baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan; The Marriage in Cana of Galilee, his first miracle; the Preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom; the Transfiguration; and the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, the gap between the childhood of Jesus and his Passion and Death is bridged.

I called this gap heretical, which may be a bit strong (as it was never meant to be so) but it was certainly a grave defect in the devotion of the Rosary. At the time the Rosary was invented, as a visual (or tactile) aid to prayer, there was a tendency in the Church to play down our Lord’s humanity and concentrate on his divinity. This often leads to an other-worldly, pietistic Christianity which turns away from the pains and sufferings of the world to a “Pie in the Sky when you Die” panacea.

But now, thanks to Pope John Paul II, we can meditate on Jesus as the perfect Teacher of Love and Compassion to the weak, the sick, the outcast; the Proclaimer of the Kingdom of his Father on earth; the sharer of our earthly joys and sorrows and temptations; the shining light of God’s glory in a man; and the one who substituted himself for the sacrificed lambs, and commanded us to remember him by eating and drinking the Eucharist together.

John Paul II did many extraordinary things, but I predict that the Luminous Mysteries will be his abiding testament.




9 Responses leave one →
  1. Timothy Kowalski permalink
    September 30, 2011

    Blessed be the memory of Blessed Pope John Paul II!

  2. John Reilly permalink
    October 1, 2011

    I find the mystery of the wedding at Cana very moving, showing Jesus’ concern for the newlyweds and their guests, and by inference, his concern for our daily needs.

  3. ambly permalink
    October 2, 2011

    I find the Luminous Mysteries quite moving and helpful in contemplating Our Lord’s earthly life.

  4. stacey permalink
    October 3, 2011

    I couldn’t agree more. To leave out Jesus’ earthly ministry is absurd. I admire JPII. For a non-Roman Catholic, I have a nice small collection of him: books, prayer cards, even a JPII rosary.

  5. Matthew Baker permalink
    October 6, 2011

    The addition of five extra mysteries to ‘Our Lady’s Psalter’ destroys the structure of the devotion – ie: 150 Hail Marys to substitute for 150 psalms. The rosary originated as a replacement for the Divine Office (the Opus Dei) for the illiterate, or more properly for those who did not know the entire psalter by heart (this was required of all clergy in the Middle Ages!). It was a common monastic discipline to recite the entire psalter every day, and a lay person could join that prayer by reciting the entire rosary. The mental prayer that is attached to the rosary is adds another level of mental prayer and devotionalism, but the rosary is essentially a form of the ‘sanctification of time’, like the DO. The distortion of the shape of the prayer arose perhaps because most commonly only five decades are recited per day, rather than the full fifteen. However, JP II’s addition of these five extra mysteries represents well his broader misrepresentation of/contempt for tradition.

    Father, your claim that ‘At the time the Rosary was invented, as a visual (or tactile) aid to prayer, there was a tendency in the Church to play down our Lord’s humanity and concentrate on his divinity’ is untrue and unworthy of you. The rosary began to be used in the High Middle Ages, when precisely the opposite was the case. The classical story of the origin of the Rosary was during the life of St. Dominic in the early thirteenth century when the Church was battling dualistic heresies which denied the goodness of the material world. The rise of the rosary is exactly contemporary with the re-assertion by the Church of our Lord’s full and fleshly humanity in the face of dualistic ideologies. It is accompanied, for example, by the rise of ‘naturalism’ in religious painting which ‘humanised’ the depiction of Christ and the saints; the rise of devotion to the physical body of Christ (both in the Eucharist and on the Cross); the rise of ‘Devotio Moderna’ which used visualisation to bring the sacred mysteries of the faith closer to human experience. The Mysteries of Light, on the other hand (with the exception of the Eucharist) have a common theme of theophany, which emphasize the manifestation of the divine in time and space – the opposite of what you suggest. It is surely a good thing to meditate on these mysteries, but they do distort the form of the rosary and they do nothing to emphasize the humanity of Christ.

  6. ambly permalink
    October 10, 2011

    Mr Baker’s lengthy remarks are interesting. In my life of daily Rosary recitation, I have never heard the association with the number of psalms in the Divine Office. But then I am not living in the Middle Ages.

    Having said that it seems curious that he denies the emphasis of the Luminous Mysteries with Our Lord’s earthly ministry – His Baptism, the Miracle at the Wedding at Cana, the Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Institution of the Holy Eucharist certainly strongly emphasise that ministry – I will admit the Transfiguration is a Theophany.

    • Matthew Baker permalink
      October 13, 2011

      I did not deny the connection of the luminous mysteries with the O.L’s earthly ministry. I do deny the un-historical assertion that the history of the rosary was in any way connected with ‘a tendency in the Church to play down our Lord’s humanity and concentrate on his divinity’. It was quite the opposite. To see the luminous mysteries as ‘filling in a gap’ is a possible interpretation, but only from a narrative prespective, not from a doctrinal one.

      The feast known in the West as the Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, is known to Eastern Orthodoxy as the ‘Theophany of the Lord’. While the western tradition emphasises the Magi on this day, in the East the Baptism of Christ is the central theophany celebrated. However the Western liturgy celebrates three ‘manifestations’ or ‘theophonies’ on this day (See the anitphon to the Magnificat Tribus Miraculis for the feast of the Epiphany) – the visit of the Magi, the Baptism and the Miracle at Cana. These are all regarded as showing forth the divinity of Christ in time and space – the definition of a theophany. The Transfiguration is clearly another such manifestation. Of course the Preaching of the Kingdom and the Institution of the Eucharist are not, but three out of five ain’t bad!

      None of us lives in the Middle Ages any more, and some of us spend more time studying them than others. I would never argue that this is essential for living the faith, and such study may even be detrimental to faith. However some knowledge of the source and history of our traditions is useful if we are to understand and appreciate them fully.

  7. October 19, 2011

    I love this quote from Pope Leo XIII: “The rosary is an accessible reminder of the constant prayer of the Church, the incessant prayer of God’s people throughout the ages. The Psalter of Mary, as the rosary is sometimes called, is a remembrance of the Church’s deepest nature as a community of continual prayer.”

    He is sometimes called the “Rosary Pope” because he issued a record eleven encyclicals on the holy rosary (all of which are worth a read).

  8. Timothy Mulligan permalink
    January 26, 2012

    Balderdash, sir. The division into three sets of mysteries mirrors the Credo. Hardly heretical.

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