New Luminous Mysteries

© Copyright 2003 Grace D. MacKinnon

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. Readers are welcome to submit questions about the Catholic faith to: Grace MacKinnon, 1234 Russell Drive #103, Brownsville, Texas 78520. Questions also may be sent by e-mail to: You may visit Grace online at

This past October of 2002, our Holy Father John Paul II began the twenty-fifth year of his Pontificate, and just as he had done at the beginning of his service as Successor of Peter, he chose again to focus on the Rosary. Calling it his favorite prayer and a marvelous prayer in its simplicity and depth, he proposed in a new apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary) that five new mysteries be added. These are called the luminous mysteries, or “mysteries of light.” Many people, like you, are wondering why our Holy Father has proposed these. In order to fully understand this, we must first know what the Rosary is.

The Rosary is a combination of both vocal and mental repetitive prayer, of which the whole purpose is to help the Christian to meditate on the greatest Gospel mysteries in the life of Jesus Christ, so that in doing this, he or she will come to understand more deeply the great love of Christ for us. The experience may be described in different ways. It is, if you will, like sitting by a window, accompanied by Mary, and watching the events in the life of her Son. One of the more beautiful points the Holy Father made in explaining the rosary was to say that it gives us a vehicle to contemplate Christ through the eyes of Mary, who was closer to him than any other human being.

The Rosary as we know it today evolved over many centuries, but meditation on the mysteries of the life of Christ, our salvation, has always been its central focus. Until recently, the full rosary consisted of fifteen “decades” of ten Hail Marys each, divided by an Our Father. Each of the decades has always been devoted to a major event in the story of our salvation. As the Rosary evolved, these fifteen decades, or mysteries, came to be grouped into three sets of five mysteries each, known as the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries — the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious parts of Jesus’ life.

The joyful mysteries center upon the early life of Christ and His Incarnation. The sorrowful mysteries focus on the Redemption of Jesus and His Passion and death. The glorious mysteries recount Christ’s victory over death in His Resurrection. In other words, when we pray these mysteries of ten Hail Marys each, we are to meditate on Jesus’ life and what He did for us out of love.

The reason for the addition of five new mysteries is so that the Rosary may now have an even greater Christological depth. What the Holy Father means by this is that there is an essential part of Jesus’ life that up to now has been left out — His public ministry, that part of His life that came between His Baptism and His Passion. He says that the truth that Jesus is the light of the world is especially brought out in His public life (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 19).

The pope gives the following explanation: “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” (RVM, no. 21). Thus, we now have a fuller story — a fuller “compendium of the Gospel.”

The Holy Father makes it clear that the addition of the new mysteries to the traditional pattern is left to the freedom of individuals and communities, but he of course highly recommends that they be added because they will give us a more complete story. And where will the luminous mysteries be inserted? He suggests that Thursday would be a good day. “If we consider that the ‘glorious mysteries’ are said on both Saturday and Sunday, and that Saturday has always had a special Marian flavor, 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’” (RVM, no. 38).

Praying the rosary is a spiritual exercise that is meant to draw us closer to God. The idea is not merely to have a rule or a count of how many prayers we recite. Our Holy Father calls the Rosary “a training in holiness” (RVM, no. 5) in that it commits the faithful to contemplate the Christian mystery. This is the key and secret to the power of the Rosary — it is a beautiful method of contemplation that leads us closer to Christ, and this in turn will lead us to desire to become more like Him and love as He did.

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