Pope John Paul II and the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary
October 16, 2002 was the promulgation of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. But this letter, which inaugurated the silver jubilee year of his pontificate, did not merely address devotion to Our Lady’s Psalter and identify the power of the rosary. It gave the world five new mysteries on which to reflect and meditate when praying this ancient and beautiful devotion. The new set of mysteries, which may be called either the Mysteries of Light or the Luminous Mysteries, are focused more directly on the public life of Jesus – His ministry and His message.
This move was seen as unprecedented by many – the rosary in its recent form had been largely unaltered since 1569 when Pope Pius V published an encyclical, standardizing the fifteen mysteries (Glorious, Sorrowful, and Joyful). Some people balked at this change, since the fifteen mysteries had been in place for about 400+ years. However, it is important to note that while the core of the rosary remained the same, throughout history there have been several acceptable variations. For example, the Servite rosary focuses on the seven sorrows of Mary, while the Franciscan crown rosary focuses on her seven Joys, and still many other rosary chaplets use other prayers to honor specific saints. Just as a chaplet is based on a particular intention, Pope John Paul II saw a need to include a fuller emphasis on the life of Christ in the rosary prayer:
“The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christo-centric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.” – Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae.
In a modern world of secularism, paganism, nihilism and a laissez-faire sort of relativism, the need to reemphasize Christo-centric prayer and a focus on the Christ’s life and works is extremely important. The Mysteries of Light are not new or unknown images and acts from Christ’s life, of course. Rather they are familiar and ancient works detailed and written in Holy Scripture in the early centuries of the church. Decades prior to Pope John Paul II’s addition, Pope John XXIII also reiterated the Christological core of the rosary:
In saying it we weave a mystic garland of Ave Maria's, Pater Noster's, and Gloria Patri's. And as we recite these vocal prayers, we meditate upon the principal mysteries of our religion; the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the Redemption of the human race are proposed, one event after another, for our consideration.” – Pope John XXIII, Grata Recordatio, 1959
Understanding that – as with all Mariological thought – the rosary is rooted in mysteries of the Holy Trinity, it should not be a surprise that Pope John Paul II instructed the world on the significance in meditating upon the miracles and words of Jesus in his public ministry.
The Five Luminous Mysteries
Jesus is Baptized in the Jordan: Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Mt 3:13-17)
The Wedding Feast at Cana: Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast." So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Jn 2:7-11)
The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mk 1:14-15)
The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Eli'jah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah." For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." (Mk 9:2-7)
The Institution of the Eucharist: For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26)