This is the fourth 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 Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary: An Overview
In the past decade or so, we have experienced a lot of unusual circumstances in the Church: the resignation of a pope and the election of a Jesuit pope from the Americas, to name a few. The luminous mysteries of the rosary are another. Prior to October of 2002, the rosary had existed basically unchanged since its original format of 15 mysteries was popularized in the 1500s. Prior to Blessed Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, the rosary consisted of 15 mysteries, concentrating on the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. Notably absent were mysteries pertaining to Christ’s public ministry. This was corrected in 2002, when Blessed Pope John Paul II introduced the concept of the luminous mysteries. Today, with the addition of the luminous mysteries, we pray a total of 20 mysteries from the life of Christ.
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), Blessed Pope John Paul II recommended, for those who choose to split up the mysteries of the rosary over the course of a week, praying the luminous mysteries on Thursdays. (I also pray them on Sundays during Ordinary Time, as it seems most appropriate to focus on these mysteries during those times of the liturgical year between the great feasts.)
This second set of five decades of the rosary, the luminous mysteries, are “a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 21). The symbolism of light has always held significance in the Church, up to and including the focus on light in the encyclical Lumen Fidei written by Pope Francis (with a little help from his friend Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). Light symbolizes truth. It provides clarity and reveals what darkness has hidden. Additionally, the power of light is palpable in our present world. Consider how the small, flickering light of one candle can illuminate an entire room, revealing what was previously hidden. Such are the luminous mysteries of the rosary. In reflecting and experiencing the teaching of Christ during his public ministry, we shed light on the truth that he came to steer us toward. Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
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 luminous 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 the life-giving truth of light during this prayer.
Not only do I find that the luminous mysteries broaden the horizon of meditating on the gospel in that they include events previously absent from the rosary, but scripturally speaking, I find it beneficial to recall events from all four gospels. The previous set of mysteries, the joyful mysteries, all have a scriptural basis in the gospel of Luke (at least how I pray it). But here, with the luminous mysteries of the rosary, we are taken on a tour of all four gospels, from Matthew, to John, to Mark, back to Matthew and Mark, and concluding with Luke and John. Like ingredients in a recipe, each gospel writer adds to and complements one another, finally presenting us with a portrait of Christ’s public ministry that would be incomplete without any one of them.
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 Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary
The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of Jesus
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. If you’ve recently prayed the joyful mysteries, think back to the visitation to St. Elizabeth. There, John & Jesus meet for the first time, albeit in the womb. John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Breathe. Then, place yourself at along the banks of the Jordan river, perhaps as an onlooker, determining whether or not this John fellow is the real deal. Use your own imagination. Ask God for help if you need it.
Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells along the banks of the river. Listen, if you can, to the buzz surrounding the prophet John. What is it like to be there? Are people curious onlookers, or are they lining up without question to experience John’s baptism? Look into John’s eyes if possible. Pay attention to his face when Jesus, his cousin, approaches. Concentrate on the mystery. Pay attention to all sources of light throughout the scene. Remember, light expels darkness and ignorance. Begin…
- In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2)
- This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” (Matthew 3:3)
- Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)
- “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” (Matthew 3:11)
- “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
- Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. (Matthew 3:13)
- John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14)
- But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. (Matthew 3:15)
- And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. (Matthew 3:16)
- And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
Pause before moving on to the Doxology. Stay with John and the crowds as Jesus leaves the scene. What does he do next? What was the sense from the crowd as Jesus’ baptism brought forth a voice from the heavens? This is not the last time we’ll hear this voice. Dwell on that for a moment. Spend some time with John while Jesus retreats into the desert. Then, move on to the Doxology, thanking God for revealing his Son.
The Second Luminous Mystery: The Self-Manifestation at the Wedding of Cana
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, perhaps a sense of anticipation about what will come next after Christ’s baptism. Jesus has experienced hearing his heavenly father’s voice, announcing him, and telling him, and all others present, that he is pleased with his son. (Briefly rest in the feeling you get when your own parent tells you how proud he/she is of you, if this is a positive experience for you.)
Place yourself as a guest at the wedding in Cana. You are surrounded by other people, enjoying themselves, and celebrating a new commitment. Mary is also present. Be seated near her. Listen as her and Jesus speak, the first time we’ve heard them interact since she found him in the Temple. Consider the scene as you would any other guest, particularly in the light of Jewish purification laws. The vessels filled with water were intended for a purification ritual, but Jesus turns this water into wine. Drink deeply of the wine, and experience all the sensations that accompany that experience. (It is helpful to remember the time as you enter this scene. There was nothing humiliating or disparaging about referring to someone as “woman,” although Jesus always chooses his words carefully. Don’t let the word disturb your experience. We’ll consider this more after this decade.) Breathe deeply, and let the sounds of a party draw you in to the scene.
- On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. (John 2:1)
- Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. (John 2:2)
- When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3)
- And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)
- His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)
- Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. (John 2:6)
- Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. (John 2:7)
- He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. (John 2:8)
- When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from […], the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:9-10)
- Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11)
Pause again before moving on to the Doxology. What just happened? You were just present for the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry. Did the crowd murmur? Were they even aware of what happened? We hear from Mary who asks for her son’s intercession. With love for his mother, he reveals (or manifests) his true identity. What feelings did you experience when Jesus called his mother “woman”? Put aside your 21st century sensitivities to consider the context. Why not “mother”? (I have my own answers for these questions, but you will find this meditation most useful when you listen to your own heart.) What about how Mary responds? “Do whatever he tells you.” Was she speaking only to the stewards? Or was she speaking to all of us, throughout the ages?
Think back to the other sensory experiences you had during this meditation? How was the wine? Did it particularly quench your thirst? Was it sweet? Move on to the Doxology, thanking the Trinity for Christ’s self-manifestation, and for Mary’s intercession. With the announcement from the heavens in the first mystery and the performance of his first miracle during this mystery, we are ready to enter into Christ’s public ministry full force. It’s time to gather disciples, and begin shining a light on truth.
The Third Luminous Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom
You’ve now experienced the baptism of Christ and the beginning of his public ministry with the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Pause to reflect on the nature of his first miracle. Unlike a magic trick where the goal is to fool and delight, Christ’s miracle was genuine, and it broke a purity code, which was sure to aggravate, if not insult the sensitivities of, some of the more religious-minded guests. Too, this transformation of water into wine prefigures the final luminous mystery, where Christ will transform wine into blood. But for now, the public ministry has just begun.
Jesus is beginning to assemble a group of disciples who will both carry his message after he is gone, as well as act as foils for the message he is imparting. By selecting the simple and the sinners, Christ is sending a message regarding the nature of his kingdom, as we are about to see.
This next mystery, the proclamation of the kingdom of God, will involve a lot of walking, so do not let your mind linger too long on any of the scriptural verses. The proclamation of the kingdom is an active mystery, as we follow Christ through a variety of scenes. (The scriptural passages selected below are the ones I find most helpful in meditating on this mystery. As usual, please feel free to consider and meditate on any of the numerous incidents during Christ’s ministry. Focus on those that announce news, a break from the old ways, or that issue a challenge. For a more focused experience, use the verses from the Sermon on the Mount.) Settle in, but be prepared to follow. Pray the Lord’s prayer, the prayer that Christ himself taught us during his public ministry, and then…
- Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)
- As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18)
- They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. […] They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21,27-28)
- In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
- […H]is companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (Mark 1:36-37)
- He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38)
- And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:39)
- Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14)
- And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples – for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:15-16)
- When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
Pause before the Doxology consider this final verse. Look upon the faces of the Pharisees as Jesus delivers this message. Are they upset? Confused? Indignant? Are they all of the same mind, or are certain Pharisees reacting in different ways? What are the other dinner guests doing? Pay attention to this, and then consider how others might consider you a sinner. Are you one of the dinner guests, or are you one of the Pharisees? Pray the Doxology and pause again before the next mystery.
The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration
Christ has traveled around the area spreading his gospel of love, rejecting purity codes, and gathering disciples near and far. His message has resonated with the poor, the oppressed, the cast out. It has also upset a great number of people who, not recognizing Christ’s true identity, perceive his words as blasphemous, and his message as a threat to the known order.
Place yourself in the company of Peter, John, and James as they are about to be led up the mountainside where they will encounter the legends of the their faith discoursing with their master. Consider what happened when Abraham led his own son up a mountainside, determined to sacrifice him to satisfy a command. In the end of that story, God relented. Now God himself is about to be led up the mountain, and there will be no relenting. At its peak, Christ will be transfigured in the sight of his disciples (and you), and we hear again the voice from the heavens confirming what we are beginning to suspect (despite all the evidence prior to this which might have been enough). Christ will be transfigured, and will converse with the heroes of the Old Testament, those who helped to instate and reinforce the purity codes. Of all the luminous mysteries, this one is most clearly connected to “light” as we know and experience it in our lives. Take a breath, put one foot in front of the other, and begin ascending the mountain…
- Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. (Matthew 17:1)
- And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. (Matthew 17:2)
- Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (Matthew 17:3)
- Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4)
- While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)
- When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. (Matthew 17:6)
- But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” (Matthew 17:7)
- And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (Matthew 17:8)
- As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9)
- So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. (Mark 9:10)
Descend the mountain slowly, purposefully, with Christ and your brother disciples. You’ve been let in on a secret, and you’re not sure what it means. You are descending back to level ground where life remains much like it was when you ascended the mountain. Your eyes are still adjusting after the light you have seen, and you’ve heard a voice from the heavens. Walk slowly, but purposefully away from the summit. Are you terrified? Questioning your own sanity? You are descending in silence, trying to make sense of what you have just experienced. The “rising from the dead” comment has furthered your confusion. Was this another parable? Let the mystery of it all sink in. Try not to think ahead, but experience the confusion with the other disciples. You will know, soon enough, what Christ meant. Pray the Doxology, and move to the fifth and final luminous mystery.
The Fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist
Place yourself at the table in the upper room where you are prepared to celebrate the passover meal. This is a special occasion, but familiar enough that you know precisely what will happen. Allow the first two verses of the scripture quoted below to reinforce the ordinariness of the situation. Forget what you know about what is about to happen. Experience it as it happened, with the other disciples. Let the words take you by surprise. Begin…
- Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-8)
- So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. (Luke 22:13)
- When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. (Luke 22:14)
- He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)
- Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:17-18)
- Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
- And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)
- Jesus said, “[…] I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” (John 13:34)
- “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
- “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Again, pause before the Doxology. Consider what you have just heard. This has not been the passover meal to which you have grown accustomed since your youth. The lamb’s blood of the previous covenant that signified to the Angel of Death that your household may be passed over has been transformed. There is a new covenant, one based on love, and sealed with Christ’s own blood. Jesus mentioned that he is about to suffer. Perhaps you feel uneasy about this. You were on the mountain at the transfiguration, saw what you saw, and heard Jesus mention the raising of the dead. Now you’re being asked by Jesus to reenact the passover meal in the years to come in remembrance of Christ. Where is he going? Pray the doxology, and let your praise of the Trinity answer these questions for you…
The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary: Conclusion
Blessed Pope John Paul II’s addition of the luminous mysteries of the rosary was what reawakened in me a desire to pray the rosary as a meditative experience, rather than as a mere repetition of prayers. In our lives, we are often exposed to the stories of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. They have been portrayed in film, art, song, and theater. The great liturgical feasts of Christmas and Easter, which take up much of the year, are focused on these moments. We see crosses and crucifixes in our daily lives; at Christmas, we are reminded incessantly of the nativity story.
And yet, without the luminous mysteries, the rosary is incomplete. It tells an important story, but not the full story. With the addition of the luminous mysteries, we spend more time concentrating on the other stories in the gospel, stories that too often fall to the background. The luminous mysteries inspire us in ways that the other mysteries don’t. They inform us about how we are to live our lives. We cannot of our own accord be born in a stable, be killed by Romans, or rise from the dead. However, we can listen to the words of Christ and take action on his commandments. These luminous mysteries are the action sequences of the gospels. In meditating upon them, we get a more complete picture, and the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries are put into their appropriate context.
I hope that you have enjoyed experiencing a different way of praying the mysteries of the rosary, and that you will consider making the luminous mysteries part of your rosary-praying repertoire. Thank you for joining me in this series. I hope that you will stay tuned next Sunday for the article on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, and again on the following Sunday, when we complete this series by turning to the glorious 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