Being Dominican

Why Five New Mysteries?

by Fr. Benedict Ashley, OP

The Five New Mysteries

The Baptism of Christ
The Marriage at Cana
Jesus' Public Ministry
The Transfiguration
 The Institution of the Eucharist
Is the Rosary an outdated devotion? Some think that Vatican II discouraged it in order to focus on the Liturgy. Certainly we no longer ought to recite it during Mass, as sometimes we once did. Some think that its emphasis on Mary contradicts the Council's promotion of ecumenism? Indeed, Marian devotion is foreign to many Protestants.

John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary of the Virgin Mary announcing the Year of the Rosary has answered these objections and urged the renewal of this centuries old devotion. It does not detract from the Liturgy but prolongs it by helping us ponder the mysteries presented to us in the Eucharist as Mary remembered and pondered them in her heart. Moreover, the first of the new mysteries the Pope has added to the Rosary is the Sacrament of Baptism. The Fifth is Eucharist, the alpha and the omega of the Liturgy. As for ecumenism, Christian baptism is the center around which all the baptized are already united and the goal of ecumenism is the day when we can all share the same Holy Meal.

Some Catholics today are resentful of the innovations of Vatican II which they think are the source of divisions within the Church and hence they may be further disturbed that the present Pope would dare to alter the traditional fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. Perhaps these troubled Catholics are unaware that when the Rosary first became a widespread devotion in the fifteenth century there was no fixed list of mysteries, although the number fifteen was chosen to imitate the 150 Psalms that had for a long time been part of the Liturgy.

The Holy Father's purpose, therefore, is not to innovate, but to help us give more attention to other aspects of Jesus' life that are especially instructive for our troubled times. He hopes that by pondering, as Mary did, these illuminating mysteries in our heart, we will be helped to overcome the divisions in the Church and be "united in one mind and one purpose" (1 Cor 1: 10). Jesus on the Cross said to his beloved disciple, who stands for all of us, "Behold your Mother" and, as John Paul writes (n. 22)

[This is] "the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church in every age: 'Do what he tells you.' (Jn 2:5). This counsel is a fitting introduction to the words and signs of Christ's public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation of all the "mysteries of light."

The Holy Father suggests that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday be given to the traditional three sets of mysteries. Then the new Luminous Mysteries can be said on Thursday. Friday can, as customary, be retained for the Sorrowful Mysteries, and Saturday for the Glorious Mysteries. This order, however,  is not mandatory.

Why "Mysteries of Light" or "Luminous Mysteries"?

Certainly all of the traditional fifteen are also full of divine light; but the first thirty years of Jesus life that we recall in the Joyful Mysteries are largely hidden from us. He was born in a stable, grew up in the small town of Nazareth, and worked as a carpenter. In his passion recalled in thee Sorrowful Mysteries Jesus became the Suffering Servant of whom Isaiah (53:2,3) had said,

He had no form or majesty
           that we should look at him.
Nothing in his appearance
           that we should desire himů
A man of suffering
           and acquainted with weakness;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
           he was despised,
and we held him of no account." 

In the Glorious Mysteries, of course, the Risen Christ is radiant, but when he rose from the tomb he showed himself only to a few disciples who were then to witness him to the world. Now only the saints in heaven behold Christ in his full glory; while here below we can see him only in the darkness of faith. John Paul II writes (no. 19),

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. Without prejudice to any essential aspect of the prayer's traditional format, [the addition of these mysteries) is meant to give [the Rosary] fresh life and enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary's place with Christian spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory.

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