Here we come to the end of our series on the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Having prayed and reflected on the conception, birth, life, Passion, and death of Jesus Christ, we now arrive at the fruition of Jesus’ salvific work.
The Glorious Mysteries explore the aftermath of Jesus’ death: His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the end of Mary’s earthly life and the beginning of her heavenly one.
The First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection
In our preceding meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, we walked through the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. His disciples were perhaps no more perplexed and confounded as when they saw (or heard about) their master hung from a cross, dying slowly, in ignominy and shame. This was not to be the warrior Messiah that some of them expected, trouncing the Romans with His mighty hand; nor was He to be a political power, rising in the system and bringing it down from within. No, He was to die. And in His death, His disciples saw defeat, and perhaps their own brutal end.
But it was not to be. Although He confounded their every expectation, Jesus Christ was indeed revealed to be the Messiah three days after His death. Resurrected from the dead, raised up and glorified by His Heavenly Father, Jesus emerged from the sealed tomb, and approached His apostles with affection, directing them to spread the word of God’s marvelous deeds.
A point which must be remembered is that Jesus was not merely resuscitated. He was not merely restored in vitality, with breath back in His lungs and blood back in His veins. This was not simply a man who was once dead, and now was alive again. Jesus had performed such miracles a number of times during His earthly ministry, on Lazarus, and the daughter of Jairus. This was different, however. Jesus did not just rise – He was resurrected.
The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension
After having spent 40 days with His disciples (now increasing in number) after His Resurrection, Jesus returned to His Father. What has become known as “the Ascension” implants a curious image in our minds, one which seems to be at odds with mature theological considerations, but upon closer inspection may indeed have significant things to tell us.
The common conception of heaven is that it is “up”. It is above us, far far above us, whatever that might mean. The cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, first human in space, is said to have remarked that he saw no gods when he had his own ascension into the heavens. We understand this is a complete misrepresentation of what Jews and Christians understand about heaven. It is not a physical realm above us, but something else entirely, somewhere else entirely. So why do we have this idea of Jesus going “up” to get to heaven and sit at His Father’s right hand?
Firstly, this comes from Acts of the Apostles: “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). The following verse gives even more vivid detail: “While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going…” (Acts 1:10). This clearly presents Jesus as physically ascending upward, when he was understood to be going to heaven. If we do not think heaven is truly up, then why did Jesus go up?
When Jesus prayed, He raised His eyes to heaven, as if to look the Father in the eyes. By ascending to the clouds and to the heavens, Jesus makes the connection in the minds of all those who saw and heard, that He was going to the house of His Father. But we know that He did not leave us alone, did not abandon us: He sent another, a helper, a Paraclete.
The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit came to the apostles with a loud crash, a bang, a thundering message that none could miss. In contrast to the experience of Elijah – who heard God not in the loud, abrasive, powerful acts of nature, but rather in the still, small voice – the apostles experienced the Holy Spirit as “a noise like a strong driving wind,” “tongues as of fire,” and the gift of speaking in many tongues (cf. Acts 2). What would it have been like to be in that room when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles?
The apostles were frightened, and knew now what to do. Jesus had been executed, but had risen from the dead, and then ascended into heaven. They were alone, without a clear sense of how to move forward. Perhaps scared of what the authorities might do to them if it was discovered that they were gathered in one place together. The Holy Spirit came with a powerful presence, and dispersed the Body of Christ, sending them out to fulfill their call to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This power is something with which not a few parishes and other communities could easily do. Who among us can say that he does not experience a certain amount of insulation, and insistence on staying within the walls of the parish center, at his church? The Holy Spirit shows us quite powerfully in this mystery just what it is that He expects us all to do. While he gave the apostles preternatural gifts, He always gives us the grace that we need to fulfill our vocation to preach the Gospel.
The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption
What, precisely, does it mean that Mary was assumed into heaven?
A linguistic distinction can be easily made between the end of Jesus’ earthly life and that of His mother. Jesus “ascended” into heaven, which connotes independence, that He rose into heaven on His own power and by His own volition. On the other hand, Mary “was assumed” into heaven – she was plucked, pulled, lifted up by another. Rather than having some sort of personal power, she relied completely on the power and will of God – which is precisely how she lived her life.
The end of Mary’s earthly life is referred to by some, including the Orthodox churches, as the “dormition” of Mary, or her falling asleep. This term avoids commenting on whether or not Mary actually died before going to heaven. While a somewhat controversial topic, it does present an interesting point to the person reflecting on this mystery: regardless of her biological status as living or dead, God saw fit to bring Mary into heaven, body and soul, as He had her Son, in a gesture of affection that has yet to be surpassed.
The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Coronation
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). The woman crowned with stars, clothed with the sun, has traditionally come to be understood as Mary herself. A woman who is crowned, appearing to have dominion, must have been crowned at some point, right? Hence the mystery of the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
This mystery is a somewhat controversial one. Many feel that they do not see the basis of this mystery in Holy Scripture, and feel that it focuses on Mary, rather than on Jesus. But let us look more closely: the woman is crowned with twelve stars, yes – but what follows immediately thereafter? “She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth” (Revelation 12:2). “She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod” (Revelation 12:5). Mary is the queen mother.
The mother of the monarch, of the King, Mary stands in as the mother of the entire kingdom. When Jesus was on the cross, and He gave John to Mary as her son, and Mary to John as his mother, He was reminding us that Mary is the mother of the kingdom. Mary is the mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church; she has given life to the Body, head as well as members (cf. Colossians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 12:27). In recognizing Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, Jesus reminds us that Mary’s words of wisdom should always guide our lives: “Do what He tells you.”
We’ve come to the end of our meditations on the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It is all too easy to think of this as “completion” of the Rosary, or to think of the Rosary itself in its “entirety” as some sort of comprehensive examination of the life of Jesus Christ. As in all things in Christ, however, this is not a finale, but a beginning. There is no such thing as having completed the Rosary, or as being done with meditating on the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ. The Holy Rosary is meant as a jumping-off point, a meditation not just on the life of a man who lived 2,000 years ago, but a playbook and set of instructions on how we are to live our lives.