I’m going to be very honest here: I’m a curmudgeon about those Luminous Mysteries.
The Rosary has traditionally been said with only three sets of mysteries (Glorious, Joyful and Sorrowful), each with 5 decades, which when you add it all up comes to 150 Hail Marys. There also happen to be 150 Psalms. This is not a coincidence: 150 Hail Marys were the psalter for the illiterate. It was a way for everyone to feel connected to the Liturgy of the Hours, to mirror in their busy, daily lives the constant prayer of the psalter that was done by the monks and nuns. There’s a beautiful symmetry and symbolism there. Then, in 2002, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote Rosarium Virginis Mariae in which he introduced another set of mysteries which he called the “Mysteries of Light,” which we shorthand to “Luminous.” These are:
- The Baptism in the Jordan
- The Wedding at Cana
- The Proclamation of the Kingdom
- The Transfiguration
- The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper
I’ve got nothing against these events– they’re pretty great. But if you add 50 more Hail Marys you get… 200. Where’s the symbolism and the liturgical connection with that?
Psh. Harumph. Grumble.
But another reason I’ve been so curmudgeonly about the Luminous Mysteries is that for a very long time, the title didn’t seem to make any sense. “Mysteries of Light?” Apart from the Transfiguration, there really doesn’t seem to be any “light” happening in these stories. What am I supposed to be contemplating here? How did JPII get that name? For a long time I just avoided saying them on Thursdays, because it’s not like you have to say the recommended set of mysteries each day. But at some point I decided I needed to at least try to understand these things better and stop being so stubborn. So I read:
“In the course of [these] mysteries, we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God. Declared the beloved Son of the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ is the one who announces the coming of the Kingdom, bears witness to it in his works and proclaims its demands. 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.'(Jn 9:5)”– RVM, 19
In his typical way, JPII is weaving together images, rather than creating a straight line of thought. As someone who likes to think linearly, this used to frustrate me a lot. Now that I know him better, I have come to find it endearing. In a few succinct sentences, he takes some threads: the person of Christ, revelation, public ministry, the Light of the World. He puts them together and voila!: The Mysteries of Light.
Yet after reading this, I decided that we’ve fallen into a bit of misnomer when it comes to calling these the “Mysteries of Light”, because “Light” for JPII is shorthand for: The Revelation of God in the World Contained Within the Person and Actions of Jesus Christ.
But of course, that’s a horrible name for a set of mysteries.
So if you have ever felt the same confusion or frustration I felt about the “Luminous” Mysteries, and what exactly you were supposed to do with them, I propose something that I have found very helpful in my own contemplation: simply call them the “Illuminating Mysteries.” Or the title that I prefer is the “Epiphanic Mysteries,” from the word “Epiphany”– revelation. Rather than being distracted (as I am wont to be) by the “Light” imagery, I now go through these mysteries I ask myself: “What is being revealed about God in this moment?”
Approaching them this way, I reflect on:
- The Sonship of Christ. The benevolence and love of God for giving us the sacrament of Baptism.
- The generosity of God’s miracles. His concern for human affairs. His elevation of marriage to a sacrament. His acceptance of Mary’s requests.
- The Kingship of God. The already-but-not-yet of our life here on earth.
- God’s promise of our own glory in heaven. His radiance above the law and prophets. His glory being so hidden here on earth.
- God pouring Himself out for us. God bestowing us the gift of the Eucharist.
…and much more. And each time I go deeper, I can see more of that tapestry woven of the person of Christ, revelation, public ministry, the Light of the World.
Of course, this doesn’t get rid of the psalter issue. I’ll still grumble about that on occasion. But I don’t wrestle with myself on Thursdays anymore, going back and forth about whether or not I should try to contemplate those Luminous Mysteries. Now that I understand a little better what they are all about, I pray them and try to let the imagery of revelation and light wash over me, with this text always in the background:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. — John 1:1-5