When I went away for school one year, I was amazed to find that an entirely new city had sprung up while I was gone. Lo and behold, an entire section of Arlington, VA had been re-developed as “Pentagon City,” complete with a new mall bearing the same name. What had happened? How could things have changed without me? I had the same feeling when, after years of absence from praying the Rosary, I went back to it and discovered that there were new mysteries! What were these strange, new Luminous Mysteries that sounded like a skin cream for older women? (“Want to know the secret of my glowing skin? It’s Luminous Mysteries.”) How had they happened without my knowledge? I was determined to find out.
It turns out that the Luminous Mysteries turn Sweet 16 today, October 16, 2018. They were introduced in 2002 by St. John Paul 2 in the apostolic letter Rosarium Virginius Mariae The Pope introduced the new mysteries to “illuminate the person of Jesus Christ” and to focus our meditations on the public life of Jesus. Of course, controversy followed. Some were offended that the Pope had introduced new mysteries, as the original Joyful, Glorious, ad Sorrowful mysteries had been given to directly by Mary. Some said that the Pope was inspired (aka, stole material from) St. George Preca, a Maltese priest who created 5 new “Mysteries of Light” for the Rosary, that are very similar to St. JP2’s . Others were furious that the symmetry of the original 15-decade Rosary as it related to the 15 psalms of the Psalter was now broken. And I can understand the outrage! Not really. I think most people today would have no idea what this refers to. To me, it does not seem to be a very meaningful argument in today’s practice of the religion.
St. John Paul was devoted to the Blessed Mother for his entire life and I think he was qualified to make the new mystery call. He also lessened the blow to traditionalists by saying that praying the Luminous Mysteries was discretionary. It was up to each person praying the Rosary to decide whether or not to include these mysteries. St. John Paul 2 wanted to honor the Blessed Mother on the 25th anniversary of his papacy and the Luminous Mysteries seem like a great way to do this. As St. JP2 himself said:
…The joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through – we might say – the heart of his Mother. At the same time our heart can embrace in the decades of the Rosary all the events that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind. Our personal concerns and those of our neighbor, especially those who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life” …. I set the first year of my Pontificate within the daily rhythm of the Rosary. Today, as I begin the twenty-fifth year of my service as the Successor of Peter, I wish to do the same.
JP2 called the Rosary a “harvest of holiness,” which seems appropriately seasonal right now, especially as October is the Month of the Rosary.
For my part, I think the Luminous Mysteries fill a much-needed gap. The Joyful Mysteries cover Advent and the Christmas season, the Sorrowful Mysteries comprise Lenten events, and the Glorious Mysteries pretty much take us through the Easter Season. The Luminous Mysteries are the only ones that address Jesus’ three-year public ministry, which includes the institution of the Eucharist. The Luminous Mysteries are a great way to focus our attention on the Gospel during ordinary time, although very few of them could be seen as ordinary.
We start with the Baptism of Jesus, which seems benign until the Holy Spirit appears above Him as a dove and a voice comes down from the sky. Next, we are at any ordinary wedding, until…the first public miracle is performed. I also like the Wedding at Cana mystery because it’s such a great mother-son exchange. To modern ears, it sounds like Jesus is a little annoyed/embarrassed that his mother is asking him to deal with the wine shortage, “Woman, it is not yet my time,” And Mary, in a classic Mom Move, completely ignores this and tells the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” The third mystery encompasses the Sermon on the Mount and the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, which transforms a picnic into a miraculous declaration. We start going into Heavy Mystery Time with the Transfiguration, where Christ reveals his divinity to Peter, and end up with possibly the most out-there mystery of all, the Eucharist. We take the oddness of the Eucharist for granted these days, but remember, Jesus telling us to eat His body and drink His blood lost him a lot of market share at the time.
I also think Mary is on board with St. JP2’s call here. What mother wouldn’t want to highlight the achievements of her son’s career? The Luminous Mysteries show that our faith is a living thing, capable of change and new insight. I can’t promise you that praying the Luminous Mysteries will give you a brighter complexion, but they will certainly illuminate your spiritual life.
So, join me in wishing a Happy Birthday to the Luminous Mysteries! Keep your light shining.