This is the third article in a series of six focusing on the rosary. You will find links to the other articles in this series at the end of this article.
The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary: An Overview
Of the four sets of mysteries contemplated during the praying of the rosary, the joyful mysteries are where you will start. While you are free to pray whichever set of mysteries you choose at any time (and I recommend praying those that seem pertinent to your situation when you are praying), it is traditional for the joyful mysteries to come up first. For those of you who wish to split up the praying of the rosary over the course of a week, the joyful mysteries of the rosary are traditionally prayed on Mondays and Saturdays. (I also pray them on Sundays during Advent and the Christmas season, as it seems most appropriate to focus on these mysteries during that time of the liturgical year.)
These first five decades of the rosary, the joyful mysteries, “are marked by the joy radiating from the event of the Incarnation” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 20). Our own feelings of joy should join with Mary’s joy that is evident in each of these five mysteries. As we meditate on each of these events, beginning with the annunciation and ending with the final known story of Christ’s childhood, we immerse ourselves in the gospel, and come to know the joy of God made man.
The joyful mysteries are particularly suitable for understanding the rosary as a prayer of contemplation. The third decade of this mystery, which focuses on the birth of Christ, ends with the shepherds telling Mary and Joseph what they were told by the angels and heavenly host. We are told in Luke, whose writings we will be spending our time with today, that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (2:19). And what is the purpose of the rosary if not to join Mary in contemplating these mysteries?
The instructions for praying the rosary may be found in my previous article here. Below, you will find a guided meditation on the mysteries themselves, as well as Scriptural references if you are choosing to pray the scriptural version of the rosary. The passages referenced below are of my own choosing, as they are the verses I use when I pray the joyful mysteries as a scriptural rosary. If you choose to pray the scriptural rosary, you may, of course, select any passages that will aid your ability to put yourself in the scene and contemplate joy during this prayer.
If you aren’t praying the scriptural rosary, you may use the paragraphs before and after the Scriptural references as a guide, letting the scenes play out according to your own imaginations. Some people find using icons (such as the images in this article) to be a helpful starting place for each mystery, rather than praying the scriptural version. You should choose whatever method works best for you.
How to Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary
The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation
Before beginning this decade, quiet your mind, tune out distractions. As you pray the Lord’s Prayer just before the decade, check your breathing, relax. Then, place yourself at the scene of the annunciation, perhaps as a “fly on the wall.” Try not to recall movies you may have seen that depict the annunciation. Use your own imagination. Ask God for help if you need it.
You are witnessing Mary’s own experience of being told that she is pregnant and will be giving birth to the savior of the world. What does it sound like? Is it warm? Cold? Is there a breeze? What does the room look like? Was Mary expecting company? Does she look at the angel, or keep her eyes down? Does she have goosebumps? It helps, too, to remember the religious background. Mary is a devout Jewish girl, versed in Hebrew Scripture. She has been told stories of the prophets, and the coming of a Messiah.
- In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)
- And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)
- But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:29)
- The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31)
- “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” (Luke 1:32)
- “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:33)
- Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
- The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
- “And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:36-37)
- Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)
Pause before moving on to the Doxology. Stay with Mary after the angel has departed. What does she do next? The angel just announced the first words of the Hail Mary, which you have been praying throughout. Think about that. Spend some time with Mary in silence and listen. Then, move on to the Doxology, thanking God for your experience at the annunciation.
The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation to St. Elizabeth
As before (and every time you are about to begin a new mystery), be still and silent. Pray the Lord’s prayer. Settle in to the next scene. Bring with you to this next scene the feelings you had at the end of the last. Mary just received incredibly surprising news. Rather than hide, she sets out to her cousin, Elizabeth, whom she was just told was pregnant, despite her age. Is she excited? Scared? Nervous? Follow her…
- In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-40)
- When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:41-42)
- “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:43-45)
- And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Luke 1:46-48)
- “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:48-49)
- “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50)
- “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” (Luke 1:51)
- “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52)
- “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:54-55)
- And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. (Luke 1:56)
Pause again before moving on to the Doxology. What just happened? You were just present for Mary’s longest speech (prayer) recorded in the Bible. Did her face glow? Was it the glow of a pregnant woman, or was it more? Elizabeth saw it, and knew. What did Elizabeth look like? Was Mary standing while speaking? Where was Elizabeth in relationship to her? When Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” did you feel more present than you had been before, since you were saying the same words? Recall when Mary said, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,” and consider how many times the Hail Mary prayer has been spoken in the 2,000 years since. Was Mary prophesying? Did she know? Let it sink in. Pray the Doxology. Now, take a deep breath. You are about to flash forward six months…it’s a new season…the weather has changed…
The Third Joyful Mystery: The Birth of Jesus
Six months have passed since the previous mystery. Mary is now 9 months pregnant. At this point, Joseph is obviously aware of what has happened, and, after being visited by an angel himself, has taken the honorable route of continuing his engagement to Mary. He knows that the child he will raise will not be his biological son, but he is prepared to be a father to him anyway, and a husband to Mary. Pray the Lord’s prayer, then…
Picture Nazareth to start with. A decree is about to be issued. The public places are probably loud, the markets busy, and the roads filled with those who must travel. Mary is uncomfortably pregnant, and undoubtedly scared. Place yourself in the scene. What does it sound like? What does it smell like? Notice how the weather has changed since the last mystery. Take a breath… There are lots of sights, sounds, and smells in this mystery. Don’t forget to experience your other senses as well. Will you hold the newborn baby? Begin…
- In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. […] All went to their own towns to be registered. (Luke 2:1,3)
- Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)
- While they were there, the time came for her to deliver the child. (Luke 2:6)
- And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
- In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:8-9)
- But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10)
- “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
- And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:13-14)
- So [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:16-18)
- But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
Pause before the Doxology to stay with Mary at this moment. Observe as she ponders what the shepherds have told her. Stay with this as long as possible, for this is the crux of the rosary. Then, pray the Doxology and pause again before the next mystery.
The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation at the Temple
Pray the Lord’s prayer, and as you do so, consider to whom the prayer is addressed. Recognize that the baby that was just born, perhaps even the baby that you just held, was God…is God.
Eight days have gone by. Mary and Joseph are still new parents, learning how to parent a human baby, while also aware that he is more. Recall that the angel told Mary that the baby would be called Jesus. The baby is, as yet, unnamed, as was the custom at the time. Now that eight days have passed, he is finally given a name: Jesus. This was a common name at the time, but as Mary and Joseph are bringing the baby to the temple, they are well aware that their Jesus is anything but common. Ever the faithful Jewish couple, Joseph and Mary are presenting the child in the temple where he will be circumcised. They will also, as you will see, meet other people at the temple who, like them, are aware of who Jesus really is. While still joyful events, there are now indications of what will come to pass.
Take in all the sights and sounds of the temple, and the Jerusalem that surrounds it. Imagine the clothing that is being worn, the sense of reverence that permeates the atmosphere, and keep an eye on the older man in the scene. Is he watching? Does he lean against a wall for support? Listen to the sounds of all the offerings being brought to the temple. When the man speaks to Joseph and Mary, pay attention to Mary’s face. Take a breath. Enter.
- After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)
- When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, […] and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22,24)
- Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. (Luke 2:25)
- It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:26)
- Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when he parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms. (Luke 2:27-28)
- [Simeon] praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:28-32)
- And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. (Luke 2:33)
- Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
- When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. (Luke 2:39)
- The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)
Linger on the final bead. Consider the words of the tenth Scripture passage: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” What does that mean? Allow it to play out in your mind. Imagine Mary and Joseph, after hearing the words of Simeon, also watching Jesus grow and become strong, becoming filled with wisdom. Knowing what Simeon told them, do they view his growth any differently? Does time go by just a little faster for them? Pause and observe. Then, pray the Doxology, and move to the fifth and final joyful mystery.
The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding of the Child Jesus
Jesus has grown in strength and wisdom. He is now 12 years old. So much time has passed by, but here we get to linger on the small snippet of details we have about Christ’s childhood. Savor this mystery. Pray the Lord’s prayer.
For twelve years, Jesus has lived with Joseph and Mary, participating in everyday life, learning Scripture and manual work. He has played, sung, danced, and laughed. He’s now a precocious twelve-year-old, accompanying his parents once again to Jerusalem, just like they do every year together as a family.
Pay attention to the appearance of Joseph and Mary. See how they have aged in twelve years. Mary was a young mother, but twelve years have gone by. Joseph had been older to begin with, so what does he look like now? Picture Jesus at twelve, walking with his family, and the other families traveling with them. Does he interact with the other children? Picture all the people headed to the festival, but don’t spend too much time on the festival itself. Let it happen, and then immediately join Mary and Joseph. Observe them as they realize what has happened. Listen to their words while they search. Listen, too, to Jesus’ voice, which we hear for the first time.
- Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. (Luke 2:41-42)
- 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 travelers, they went a day’s journey. (Luke 2:43-44)
- Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. (Luke 2:44)
- When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. (Luke 2:45)
- After three days they found him in the temple. (Luke 2:46)
- [He was] sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:46-47)
- 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.” (Luke 2:48)
- He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:49-50)
- Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:51)
- And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (Luke 2:52)
Again, pause before the Doxology. Consider Jesus increasing “in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” What do those words mean? How did that play out? The next time we join him, Jesus will be closer to thirty years old. Experience the intervening years as if you are watching a slide show, or perhaps a silent movie. Then, close with the Doxology.
The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary: Conclusion
In his apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginia Mariae, Blessed Pope John Paul II writes:
To meditate upon the “joyful” mysteries, then, is to enter into the ultimate causes and the deepest meaning of Christian joy. It is to focus on the realism of the mystery of the Incarnation and on the obscure foreshadowing of the mystery of the saving Passion. Mary leads us to discover the secret of Christian joy, reminding us that Christianity is, first and foremost, euangelion, “good news,” which has as its heart and its whole content the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the one Savior of the world.
I hope that you have enjoyed experiencing a different way of praying the mysteries of the rosary. The joyful mysteries are some of my favorite mysteries to pray. I get special joy from the second mystery, the visitation to St. Elizabeth. The importance of family in Mary’s life is a human desire, and one that I can easily connect with. And listening to Mary’s Magnificat, her long prayer of thanksgiving and joy when she speaks to Elizabeth (which has long been one of my favorite prayers) is a better experience for “being there” and hearing it in your own mind.
Thank you for joining me in this series. I hope that you will stay tuned next Sunday for the article on the newest addition to this ancient prayer, the luminous mysteries of the rosary, and in the coming weeks to learn about the other mysteries. October, the Month of the Most Holy Rosary, is right around the corner.
Publishing Schedule with Links
- September 6: The Rosary: An Introduction
- September 7: How to Pray the Rosary
- September 8: The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary
- September 15: The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary
- September 22: The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
- September 29: The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary