The Luminous Mysteries “Mysteries of Light”

You know you are living in a historic moment when USA Today is teaching people how to pray the rosary. Its October 17, 2002, edition featured an article that included a typical USA Today visual aid graphic with very atypical content: a diagram of the rosary.

The graphic offered clear instructions on how to pray the rosary, explaining which prayer—Our Father, Hail Mary, or Glory Be—should be recited with which bead. While one might expect to find such a picture and explanation in pamphlets in the back of a church, it was surprising to find it in the pages of the secular press and, no less, in one of our nation’s most widely read newspapers.

What was the impulse for such catechetical instruction in this most unusual of settings?

The day before the article’s publication, Pope John Paul II published his Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae. The letter announced the Year of the Rosary and called on Catholics to renew their devotion to this traditional prayer. However, what grabbed the attention of USA Today and the entire Catholic world was John Paul II’s proposal of a whole new set of mysteries for contemplation in the rosary, the “Mysteries of Light” or “Luminous Mysteries.”

John Paul II suggested that reflection on the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry would help Catholics enter more fully into the life of Jesus through the rosary: “To bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which…could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his passion” (RVM, 19). ­e pope proposed the following scenes to be contemplated: (1) Christ’s baptism, (2) the wedding feast at Cana, (3) the proclamation of the kingdom, (4) the Transfiguration, and (5) the institution of the Eucharist.

­The pope’s invitation to reflect on these mysteries makes a lot of sense. As some have noted, in the traditional form of the rosary, the transition from the fifth Joyful Mystery to the first Sorrowful Mystery seemed rather abrupt. We moved from Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy found by his parents in the temple to Jesus as a 33-year-old man about to be crucified on Calvary. ­The Mysteries of Light fill in the gap.

­The pope also said he hoped the addition of new mysteries would give the rosary “fresh life” at a time when the rosary was devalued in many parts of the Church. He hoped this new vitality would help “enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary’s place within Christian spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory” (RVM, 19). Indeed, the Mysteries of Light seem to be not only a most fitting development of the rosary, but also a providential one for our age and one that is likely to stand the test of time.