Pope John Paul II proposes a new set
of mysteries in his apostolic letter on
the rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae Tthe rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.
From my youthful years this prayer has held an important place in my spiritual life. I was powerfully reminded of this during my recent visit to Poland, and in particular at the Shrine of Kalwaria. The rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort. Twentyfour years ago, on October 29, 1978, scarcely two weeks after my election to the See of Peter, I frankly admitted: "The rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer!" Marvellous in its simplicity and its depth. It can be said that the rosary is, in some sense, a prayer-commentary on the final chapter of the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium, a chapter which discusses the wondrous pres
lence of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and the Church. Against the background of the words "Ave Maria" the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of 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 neighbour, 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".
With these words, dear brothers and sisters, I set the first year of my pontificate within the daily rhythm of the rosary. Today, as I begin the 25th year of my service as the Successor of Peter, I wish to do the same. How many graces have I received in these years from the Blessed Virgin through the rosary: Magruficat anima mea Dominum! I wish to lift up my thanks to the Lord in the words of his Most Holy Mother, under whose protection I have placed my Petrine ministry: Totus Tuus!
October 2002 October 2003: The Year of the Rosary Therefore, in continuity with my reflection in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which, after the experience of the Jubilee, I invited the people of God to "start afresh from Christ", I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the rosary, as a kind of Marian complement to that letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ. As a way of highlighting this invitation, prompted by the forthcoming 120th anniversary of the aforementioned Encyclical of Leo XIII, I desire that during the course of this year the rosary should be especially emphasised and promoted in the various Christian communities. I therefore proclaim the year from October 2002 to October 2003 the Year of the rosary.
Objections to the Rosary
The timeliness of this proposal is evident from a number of considerations. First, the urgent need to counter a certain crisis of the rosary, which in the present historical and theological context can risk being wrongly devalued, and therefore no longer taught to the younger generation. There are some who think that the centrality of the liturgy, rightly stressed by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, necessarily entails giving lesser importance to the rosary. Yet, as Pope Paul VI made clear, not only does this prayer not conflict with the liturgy, it sustains it, since it serves as an excellent introduction and a faithful echo of the liturgy, enabling people to participate fully and interiorly in it and to reap its fruits in their daily lives.
Perhaps too, there are some who fear that the rosary is somehow unecumenical because of its distinctly Marian character. Yet the rosary clearly belongs to the kind of veneration of the Mother of God described by the Council: a devotion directed to the Christological centre of the Christian faith, in such a way that "when the Mother is honoured, the Son ... is duly known, loved and glorified". If properly revitalised, the rosary is an aid and certainly not a hindrance to ecumenism!
A path of contemplation But the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine "training in holiness": "What is needed is a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer". Inasmuch as contemporary culture, even amid so many indications to the contrary, has witnessed the flowering of a new call for spirituality, due also to the influence of other religions, it is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become "genuine schools of prayer".
The rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation. Developed in the West. it is a typically meditative prayer, corresponding in some way to the "prayer of the heart" or "Jesus prayer" which took root in the soil of the Christian East
A proposed addition to the traditional pattern
Of the many mysteries of Christ's life, only a few are indicated by the rosary in the form that has become generally established with the seal of the Church's approval. The selection was determined by the origin of the prayer, which was based on the number 150, the number of the Psalms in the Psalter.
I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion. In the course of those mysteries we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God. Declared the beloved Son of the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan, Christ is the one who announces the coming of the Kingdom, bears witness to it in his works and proclaims its demands. 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).
Consequently, for the rosary to become more fully a "compendium of the Gospel", it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and the hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection (the glorious mysteries), a medi
tation on certain particularly significant moments in his public ministry (the mysteries of light). This addition of these new mysteries, without prejudice to any essential aspect of the prayer's traditional format, is meant to give it fresh life and to 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.
The Mysteries of Light
Moving on from the infancy and the hidden life in Nazareth to the public life of Jesus, our contemplation brings us to those mysteries which may be called in a special way "mysteries of light". Certainly the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light.
He is the "light of the world" (Jn 8:12). Yet this truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom. In proposing to the Christian community five significant moments — "luminous" mysteries — during this phase of Christ's life, I think that the following can be fittingly singled out: (1) his Baptism in the Jordan, (2) his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana, (3) his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, (4) his Transfiguration, and finally, (5) his institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery.
Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus. The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of lighL Here, as Christ descend into the waters, the innocent one who became "sin" for our sake (cf. 2Cor 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Mt 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana (cf. Jn 2:112), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers. Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mk 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk 7:4748): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. Jn 20:22-23). The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to listen to him" (cf.. Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit. A final mystery of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies "to the end" his love for humanity (Jn 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.
In these mysteries, apart from the miracle at Cana, the presence of Mary remains in the background. The Gospels make only the briefest reference to her occasional presence at one moment or other during the preaching of Jesus (cf. Mk 3:315; Jn 2:12), and they give no indication that she was present at the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist Yet the role she assumed at Cana in some way accompanies Christ throughout his ministry. The revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan and echoed by John the Baptist is placed upon Mary's lips at Cana, and it becomes the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). This counsel is a fitting introducriOn-to the words and signs of Christ's public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation of all the "mysteries of light".
Mystery of Christ, mystery of man In my testimony of 1978 mentioned above, where I described the rosary as my favourite prayer, I used an idea to which I would like to return. I said then that "the simple prayer of the rosary marks the rhythm of human life".
In the light of what has been said so far on the mysteries of Christ, it is not difficult to go deeper into this anthropological significance of the rosary, which is far deeper than may appear at first sight. Anyone who contemplates Christ through the various stages of his life cannot fail to perceive in him the truth about man. This is the great affirmation of the Second Vatican Council which I have so often discussed in my own teaching since the Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis: "it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man is seen in its true light". The rosary helps to open up the way to this light. Following in the path of Christ, in whom man's path is "recapitulated", revealed and redeemed, believers come face to face with the image of the true man. Contemplating Christ's birth, they learn of the sanctity of life; seeing the household of Nazareth, they learn the original truth of the family according to God's plan; listening to the Master in the mysteries of his public ministry, they find the light which leads them to enter the Kingdom of God; and following him on the way to Calvary, they learn the meaning of salvific suffering. Finally, contemplating Christ and his Blessed Mother in glory, they see the goal towards which each of us is called, if we allow ourselves to be healed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. It
could be said that each mystery of the rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man.
Twenty-five years later, thinking back over the difficulties which have also been part of my exercise of the Petrine ministry, I feel the need to say once more, as a warm invitation to everyone to experience it personally: the rosary does indeed "mark the rhythm of human life", bringing it into harmony with the "rhythm" of God's own life, in the joyful communion of the Holy Trinity, our life's destiny and deepest longing.
Tor Me, to Live is Christ' I mentioned in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte that the West is now experiencing a renewed demand for meditation, which at times leads to a keen interest in aspects of other religions. Some Christians, limited in their knowledge of the Christian contemplative tradition, are attracted by those forms of prayer. While the latter contain many elements which are positive and at times compatible with Christian experience, they are often based on ultimately unacceptable premises. Much in vogue among these approaches are methods aimed at attaining a high level of spiritual concentration by using techniques of a psychophysical, repetitive and symbolic nature. The rosary is situated within this broad gamut of religious phenomena, but it is distinguished by characteristics of its own which correspond to specifically Christian requirements.
In effect, the rosary is simply a method Oftontemplation. As
a method, it serves as a means to an end and cannot become an end in itself. All the same, as the fruit of centuries of experience, this method should not be undervalued. In its favour one could cite the experience of countless saints. This is not to say, however, that the method cannot be improved. Such is the intent of the addition of the new series of mysteri,a lucis to the overall cycle of mysteries and of the few suggestions which I am proposing in this letter regarding its manner of recitation. These suggestions, while respecting the well-established structure of this prayer, are intended to help the faithful to understand it in the richness of its symbolism and in harmony with the demands of daily life. Otherwise there is a risk that the rosary would not only fail to produce the intended spiritual effects, but even that the beads, with which it is usually said, could come to be regarded as some kind of amulet or magic object, thereby radically distorting their meaning and function.
Distribution over time The rosary can be recited in full every day, and there are those who most laudably do so. In this way it fills with prayer the days of many a contemplative, or keeps company with the sick and the elderly who have abundant time at their disposal. Yet it is clear — and this applies all the more if the new series of mysteria lucis is included — that many people will not be able to recite more than a part of the rosary, according to a certain weekly pattern. This weekly distribution has the effect of giving the different days of the
week a certain spiritual "colour'', by analogy with the way in which the liturgy colours the different seasons of the liturgical year.
According to current practice, Monday and Thursday are dedicated to the "joyful mysteries", Tuesday and Thursday to the "sorrowful mysteries", and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday to the "glorious mysteries". Where might the "mysteries of light" be inserted? If we consider that the "glorious mysteries" are said on both Saturday and Sunday, and that Saturday has always had a special Marian flavour, the second weekly meditation on the "joyful mysteries", mysteries in which Mary's presence is especially pronounced, could be moved to Saturday. Thursday would then be free for meditating on the "mysteries of light".
This indication is not intended to limit a rightful freedom in personal and community prayer, where account needs to be taken of spiritual and pastoral needs and of the occurrence of particular liturgical celebrations which might call for suitable adaptations.
What is really important is that the rosary should always be seen and experienced as a path of contemplation. In the rosary, in a way similar to what takes place in the liturgy, the Christian week, centred on Sunday, the day of Resurrection, becomes a journey through the mysteries of the life of Christ, and he is revealed in the lives of his disciples as the Lord of time and of history.
The full text of Rosarium Markle is available on the Vatican website at www.vatican.va