What’s So “Luminous” About Those Mysteries?


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:

  1. The Baptism in the Jordan
  2. The Wedding at Cana
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. 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:

  1. The Sonship of Christ. The benevolence and love of God for giving us the sacrament of Baptism.
  2. The generosity of God’s miracles. His concern for human affairs. His elevation of marriage to a sacrament. His acceptance of Mary’s requests.
  3. The Kingship of God. The already-but-not-yet of our life here on earth.
  4. God’s promise of our own glory in heaven. His radiance above the law and prophets. His glory being so hidden here on earth.
  5. 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



Habits New & Old


Just pondering today:

     Why are good habits so difficult to form?

                            …But so easy to break? 

It took me the better part of a year to get into the habit of saying a rosary each day. Then I got “morning sick” for a few months and unfortunately, that habit (along with many others) flew out the window.  Now, I find myself twiddling around on Facebook or finding other things to do rather than buckling down and just saying my prayers.

I want to– I just don’t want to do it badly enough I guess.  It’s as if I’m starting my training from scratch!

Grumble grumble grumble.
Grace, grace, grace, please.

Anyone else have this problem? How do you deal?

Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #3


It’s finally time for Part #3 in my little rosary series. In case you missed the first two, here are the links: 

Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #2
Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #1

Today, I’ll be talking about– 

How to Meditate in the Midst of Chaos

I’m sure all you moms out there know the frustration of trying to do something that requires an ounce of concentration, only to be interrupted about ten seconds through (e.g. a blog post… seriously? Ask me for another snack. And another glass of water. And more music. Please.) For me and the rosary, this is just a daily occurrence– and I don’t foresee that changing until all the kids are in school… which could be forever. 

Because I don’t usually manage to have a “silent” or “spare” fifteen minutes in the day, I talked last time about ways to squeeze your prayers into your schedule.  One of those ways was to say the rosary while driving or walking– but of course both of these activities require you to maintain some degree of awareness of your surroundings and involve a fair amount of thinking.  You can’t really close your eyes to center yourself while driving– other drivers get really judgy when you do that. Even when I do manage to have a few minutes of quiet where I can curl up on the couch and really try to enter into prayer, there’s a level of vigilance that is still operating that prevents me from going as “deep” as I would like to. I’m always ready to play “defense” with the kids around and so mentally, I find it hard to let go. Even after they go to sleep, it can be a challenge to find time to pray because by then, let’s face it: I’m tired. 

So before we go on, let’s look at what “meditation” is: 

  1. 1.
    think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

Well, obviously “thinking deeply” is out most of the time– but I have found ways to try and focus my mind that require less “though” and more “mindfulness.” Let me illustrate.

Way #1: Images

I’m a very visual person, so when my thoughts are distracted, it helps me to just have an image in mind for each mystery. For some of them, famous works of art come to mind. Whenever I meditate on “The Visitation,” Mariotto Albertinelli’s rendition is the first thing that comes to mind.  

Other mysteries, however, come more from my own imagination as I’ve meditated upon them in the past. “The Annunciation” is a good example of that– the image that I’ve put together is the product of many other powerful renditions of the scene, including some fabulous icons, as well as how I’ve ‘pictured’ it when I’ve heard or read it.  
If you’re not a visual person, though, go on to number two. 
Way #2: Feelings

When I meditate on the agony in the garden, it’s pretty easy to imagine the sort of emotions the scene would entail.  Luke gives us this great description: 

In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.– Lk 22:44

I also have to admit that my meditation is greatly colored by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.*

So when I’m having a hard time finding a concrete “image” to focus on, or for those times when even conjuring up an image requires too much thought, I try to at least focus on the feelings of each particular mystery– and rather than merely ‘naming’ them (e.g. joyful), I try to actually feel it. I find this to be of greatest help when I’m having a bad day. Either I bust out the Sorrowful Mysteries and end up feeling better through catharsis, or I focus on the Joyful or the Glorious Mysteries and my day seems a little better. 
What’s that you say? Images and feelings aren’t really your thing? Try this!
Way #3: Focusing on Body Parts

What? That’s weird. 
Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t think of a better way to say that. Let me just dive right in to an example: 
When I’m walking around the city, my thoughts tend to wander and I’m always preoccupied with making sure my stroller doesn’t get run over by bikes, angry runners or oblivious college students (amazingly, the bikes are the only ones I actually haven’t had problems with). So rather than focusing on images or feelings, sometimes I find it helpful to associate a mystery with a part of the body. This seems to be easiest with the Sorrowful Mysteries. Here’s how I pair them: 
  • The Agony in the Garden= knees
  • The Scourging at the Pillar= back
  • The Crowning with Thorns= head
  • Jesus Carries His Cross= shoulders
  • Jesus is Crucified= hands and feet
As I pray each decade, I shift my awareness to each of those body parts. I think about how Jesus’ knees must have felt,  kneeling in the dirt or even on rocks, how they must have felt weak and tired. Sometimes my knees start to feel that a little bit. I become aware of soreness or tiredness in my own body and I offer that up. But usually I contrast this with how my own knees are feeling, which is mostly fine– and as I meditate on that decade, I thank God for my own lack of pain in that moment.  I realize that maybe all those aches and pains I complain about really aren’t that big of a deal and I feel gratitude for the health and mobility God has given me.  When I reach the end of the decade, I shift my focus and begin again.  

Way #4: Why am I praying this with Mary? 

When I first started praying the rosary, I was all excited about meditating– but then I realized I had no clue what some of these mysteries were doing in the rosary.  Obviously the Sorrowful Mysteries are great because they make us think of Christ’s Passion and Death. Christians should totally meditate on that. Likewise the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Resurrection– key points in Jesus’ life.  But the Finding in the Temple? What on earth is that about? 
I have to admit that I was stuck. My prayer went something like this:

Dear God, I have no idea what you want me to think about here. Jesus was super smart and way beyond his years in wisdom. I can’t do much with that. Help. Love, Christina.

Then I started to approach meditation not from a mere “what does the Bible say about this” standpoint, but from Mary’s point of view. We are, after all, asking her to pray with us and for us when we say the rosary– so why not try to glean some insight from her?

Then it dawned on me:

When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’– Lk 2:43-48

Mary was anxious for THREE DAYS because she thought she had lost her son. I imagined the time I thought I lost Sofie in a clothing store, only to find her thirty seconds later in a fitting room giving herself kisses in the mirror. I was terrified. In those thirty seconds I imagined every possible bad thing that could have happened to my precious girl. Maybe someone took her! Maybe she’s hurt! Maybe she’s dead! And here we have the key to this sorrowful mother’s heart: for three days, she thought her son might be dead.

When I put myself in Mary’s place, all of a sudden I realized the heart-wrenching foreshadowing of emotion that must have passed through her.  Did she remember those three days when she stood at the foot of the cross? Was her grief compounded because of this earlier experience? Or perhaps… did Mary’s heart contain the hope that even after she put her son in the tomb, God would again deliver him to her on the third day?

So, whenever I have problems figuring out something to meditate on, I always ask: What might Mary have felt? 

Sometimes I find that despite the obvious differences, she and I have much in common. And it helps me to think about that.

Way #5: Offering it up

And then there are some days you are so arid, so frazzled and so frustrated by everything that is going on and everything you have to do and there’s no way to quiet your house, car or brain and you just have to offer it up.

I can’t tell you how many times I have thrown my head back and squeezed my eyes shut tight, gripping my rosary beads as hard as I can saying:

Dear God, I just don’t have it in me today. You’re gonna have to handle the graces on this one because I’ve got nothing. So just take my struggles and please acknowledge that I’m going to power through this and I will offer it up. K, thanks. 

 So, there you have it! Hope some of these help. Even as I wrote them I thought: That sounded way more profound than I usually feel it is in the moment. So take everything with a grain (or twelve-hundred) of salt. Now I’d love to hear from you!

How do you manage to quiet yourself– even if for a moment– to say any prayers? 
Do you have any special techniques for saying the rosary of your own? I’d *love* to hear about them.
Are there any mysteries you have problems “figuring out”? How do you work around that? 

*Go ahead, Judgy McJudgerson. Tell me how bad that movie is and how it’s not Catholic and blah blah blah. It’s a powerful song and if it leads me to pathos for Our Lord, then I don’t know why you complain. Also, I saw him perform the role back in 2008. He was totally old and it was weird– but he totally rocked it. 

Rosary For Busy Moms: Pt. #2


Happy Solemnity of Saint Joseph!

Well, we *still* don’t have wireless back, but at least I can sit here tethered to the wall like the good ol’ days and get some posting done.  Today, I’m continuing my series on the Rosary.  In Part 1, I talked a little bit about the history of the Rosary.  In Part 2, I’m tackling the question:

How Can I Fit the Rosary 
Into My Busy Day?

Lots of wonderful, holy, virtuous people will tell you that making time to pray will actually make your schedule “fall into place” better.  I happen to agree with them, but one of the biggest obstacles to working on a prayer life is simply finding the “right” time in what seems like an already-packed schedule. Though saying the Rosary only takes 15-20 mins (unless you’re like me and go into ecstasy every time you pick one up– that’ll take you longer), it can seem a daunting task to find those precious few minutes.  So here’s my first tip: start by doing it at the same time you do something else. 
1. In the Car
You may be busy shuttling the kids and the groceries from place to place, but driving isn’t an activity that prohibits one from listening to music and singing along wildly– why would it prohibit you from saying the Rosary? You can either pop in this wonderful CD by the MaryFoundation…
Get Your Copy Here
…or keep track of the decades with a little pocket rosary or with your fingers. I find the latter easier because my hands are on the steering wheel anyway, so I just press a little with each finger as I go through the decade. I love doing this because the kids are always in the car with me and they absorb so much of it just by listening.  Sometimes they even pray along!
2. During Your Walk/Exercise
In summer I find myself taking advantage of the city by walking.  Some of you may have regular times when you go for a run, swim, etc.  Instead of immediately pumping up the jams, play the Rosary on your iPod. If you’re saying it on your own, though, try to match the rhythm of your breathing to the prayer.  This is an ancient meditative technique (commonly used with the Jesus Prayer) and could even help with your workout.
3. While Doing Chores
Some days, sitting on the couch for fifteen minutes just isn’t going to happen.  At time like those, I just say my Rosary while I’m washing dishes.  This poses its own difficulties because my hands are covered in soapy water and I can’t spare the fingers to grasp anything.  So I took advantage of a blank spot behind our sink and did this: 
It’s a cross with ten little decorative paper swatches taped to the wall. Fancy, no? Everyone thinks I’m just skimping on the decor, but we know better. This has been a huge help on those super-busy days and it also helps me to think about allllllllllllllll the work that I do and how it serves my family– it’s a reminder that every chore can be a form of prayer. 
4. Throughout the Day
Don’t have fifteen minutes doing any of these things? Say your Rosary in segments throughout the day. For example: 
First Decade- in the shower
Second Decade- in the car
Third Decade- in line at the grocery store
Fourth Decade- back in the car
Fifth decade- while you’re setting the dinner table
This is just a start. I can guarantee that if you’re just beginning (as I was six months ago), it will be hard. I still find it hard most days, but even on those days when my brain seems to be fighting me, I can sometimes feel a tugging at my heart that helps me.  Those are the days I expressly try to quiet myself and NOT say the Rosary at a time when doing something else.  But enough about me. Now I want to know: 
Do you say the Rosary regularly?
If not the Rosary, do you have another prayer you like to say on a regular basis? 
How do you make the time? 

Rosary for Busy Moms: Pt #1


If you want lots of heavy theology on the Rosary, go read Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

I’m here because I don’t have time to read that stuff anymore and my suspicion is neither do you, but as an aspiring Lay Dominican, part of our rule is to say a daily Rosary and so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I have to admit that for much of my life, I considered myself someone for whom the Rosary just “didn’t do it.” I have much preferred Liturgy of the Hours or even the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  For some reason, the Marian emphasis of the Rosary just threw me for a loop.

Imagine how I felt, though, when I realized that the Rosary is based on the Psalms.
(Oh no, she didn’t… she seriously must have lost it. Doesn’t she know the prayers and meditations all come from the NEW TESTAMENT? Pshhhh, I’m never coming to this blog ever again.)

Yep, the psalms. I hope to dedicate many more posts to this wonderful devotion, but today the lesson is:

A Very Brief and Incomplete History of the Rosary

Wayyyyyyy back in the ninth century, the lay people were looking for more ways to pray (good for them!). The monks had it easy, really. They prayed the Psalter (150 Psalms) regularly through the eight Canonical Hours (aka Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours) and let’s face it: just like today, it’s hard to get through all of that praying if you’re trying to run a household and raise a family.  Plus, the vast majority of people couldn’t read, so even if they magically got hold of a book they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

And so some bright person thought:
150 psalms. What if I said 150 “Our Fathers” instead? 
Some people did this. Others shortened their 150 prayers to the simple Angelic Salutation given by Gabriel to Mary: “Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee!”

The great idea caught on, but there was a little bit of trouble. “How do we keep track of 150 prayers?” Some people kept pebbles in bags (but that got heavy), some people tied knots in ropes (but these ended up being quite long and hard to carry). Finally, a smart person realized that if they just put fifty beads on a string, they could go through the beads three times and that would equal 150! Brilliant!

Then, some time in the thirteenth century, Biblical scholars started looking at the psalms and they said:

“Gee, this is interesting. There are three major categories of psalms: lament, thanksgiving and praise (liturgy). We could think about all the lament psalms in the context of Jesus’ passion and death. We could think about the psalms of thanksgiving in kind of a joyful way and all those liturgical psalms speak of the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection and the great mysteries of the Church.” 

— Verbatim Quote from Anonymous Parisian Doctor of Theology

Do you see where I’m going with this?
People were already in the habit of saying THREE rounds of FIFTY Pater Nosters/Angelic Salutations. Now, they had an easy way to divide those rounds and contemplate different aspects of Jesus’ life and mission.  At the same time, people were also contemplating the role of Mary in these great mysteries.

Then along comes…

…Father Dominic! This intense man with the fiery red hair and his little band of beggar preachers begins using these meditations and prayers as weapons against the wide-spread Albigensian heresy.  He preached the little psalter of Mary as a way to protect oneself against error and to win souls for Christ. Even though Dominic wasn’t the source of the Rosary as legend has often claimed, he and his friars are certainly a primary source of its widespread popularity.  Mary may not have fabricated the Rosary in St. Dominic’s mystical vision, but she certainly showed him how to use it.

Over many years, the form of the Rosary has solidified into the three sets of mysteries, each with five decades (totaling 150 Hail Marys).  This numerical tie to the Psalter was obscured with the introduction of the Luminous Mysteries by Pope Blessed John Paul II, but the roots of the Rosary remain the same.

The Rosary is still a wonderful weapon against error, encouraging us to meditate on the life of Jesus and to come to know Him through the Immaculate Eyes of His Mother.  I cannot say that it has been easy to try and incorporate the Rosary into my daily prayers, but it hasn’t been as difficult as I had expected.

Oh– and if anyone loves trivia as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know:

Dominicans still wear their rosaries as part of their habit, dangling down the left side of their waist–  in the place where a soldier would keep his sword.