Shining a light on the seven sacraments
Luminous mysteries of the rosary aide reflection on Christ's life and work
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
We celebrate an anniversary this week, one akin to a July 4th celebration complete with fireworks, which draw our eyes heavenward.
On Oct. 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter on the rosary - Rosarium Virginis Mariae - in honor of his 25th anniversary as pontiff and to announce the holy year of the rosary (2003).
In that letter, he proposed an addition to the 500+ year tradition of the rosary: the luminous mysteries. In this, he drew upon the work of Blessed George Preca, founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine, who proposed "the mysteries of light" in 1957.
The rosary dates back to the 14th century - though pious tradition says St. Dominic, who died in 1221, was given the rosary by the Virgin herself. The rosary has always been a Marian devotion, even though its 150 prayers grew out of the monastic practice of praying the 150 Psalms daily. And the rosary is sometimes called Mary's Psalter.
As Pope Pius XII noted in 1946, though, the rosary is truly a "compendium of the entire Gospel." As such, it is a way of contemplating Christ through the eyes of Mary.
However, Pope John Paul - recognizing the value of contemplating the Gospels - felt "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. In the course of those mysteries, we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God."
To bring us to focus on Jesus' mission on earth, the pope proposed what have come to be called the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary: Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan; his self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana; his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion; Jesus' Transfiguration; and the institution of the Eucharist.
John Paul intended, through luminous mysteries, to remind us that the mystery of Jesus Christ's saving actions was revealed in history, and is still active and with us today. The Kingdom of God is present to us, in our daily lives - as it was to the people living in Jesus' time. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical on Marian devotions, also noted how all the mysteries of the Rosary show us how the Word of God "entered into human affairs" to bring about redemption.
As we contemplate the luminous mysteries, we can grow in understanding how Jesus does this through his own actions in our lives, which are especially made visible to us through the sacraments, "by which divine life is dispensed to us" (CCC 1131).
The luminous mysteries help us see the link between the gospel and the sacraments - and our lives today.
The seven sacraments - all instituted by Jesus during his earthly mission - are baptism, Eucharist and confirmation (the sacraments of initiation); reconciliation and anointing (the sacraments of healing); and marriage and holy orders (the sacraments of service and mission). We can see each of them represented in the various luminous mysteries:
- The first luminous mystery - that of Jesus' baptism - clearly shows a link to the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. Not only does Jesus descend into the waters, thus making them holy for all who follow him, but, as Pope John Paul said, "the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out."
- The second luminous mystery - the wedding at Cana - reveals Jesus at one of the most joyful events of life. This wedding, recorded in John's Gospel, took place at the start of Jesus' public life. The catechism (1613) reminds us that the church views this as "confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ's presence" (the official definition of a sacrament).
- The third luminous mystery is the proclamation of the Kingdom, which encompasses Jesus' teaching and healing ministry. Pope John Paul called this "the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation ... " In the same fashion, the healings of Jesus reflect the sacrament of anointing of the sick, the second sacrament of healing.
- The fourth luminous mystery - the Transfiguration - does not readily link to any one sacrament. However, since the event revealed the glorified Christ, it points us to the goal of all the sacraments: our own glorified destiny that is complete union with God.
- The last luminous mystery has the most obvious link to sacraments - Eucharist, which Vatican II called the "source and summit of the Christian life." Also, since the Last Supper of the Lord is also seen as the day on which the priesthood was instituted, this mystery also links us to the sacrament of holy orders.
Mysteries of light, shining in everyday life. Like fireworks in the night, they draw our eyes to heaven and remind us that darkness is only passing, but the light of Christ is eternal.
Sources: Rosarium Virginis Mariae; Catechism of the Catholic Church; Marialis Cultis (Pope Paul VI); Lumen Gentium (Vatican II).