Today we are continuing the series we began last month on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. This month, we are looking at the so-called Luminous Mysteries, or the Mysteries of Light. Instituted in 2002 by Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, these are reflections on five events during the public ministry of Jesus, five events which illuminated the person of Jesus Christ as the “Light of the World” (John 8:12).
It was not until the late Holy Father suggested these five additional mysteries that many people realized the shortcoming in the Mysteries of the Rosary, in that the public ministry of Jesus had virtually no representation in this reflective prayer.
“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.” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 19) The Holy Father goes on to explain the naming of these Mysteries. He wrote, “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)” (ibid.).
The First Luminous Mystery: Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan
The Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary can be understood as events in the life of Jesus Christ in which He reveals Himself to us, and in which we come to understand Him just a little better. At the very beginning of His public ministry, we hear the story of Jesus’ baptism by St. John the Baptist, in the Jordan River. We should recall that John had been preaching the coming of another – and this other was his kinsman, Jesus Christ. John had called for repentance, asking the Israelites to give up their sins and listen to his teachings, in preparation for his figure about whom he preaches.
In the Eastern Christian churches, they celebrate a feast known as “Theophany,” which is a commemoration and celebration of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and several moments throughout His life in which His divinity was revealed. Traditionally, this feast commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
It is during the baptism that the world is given a clear glimpse of who Jesus Christ is. The Scripture says, “And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17). Imagine what it would be like to stand on the bank of the river, observing this monumental moment. The Son of God, incarnate on earth, inaugurating His ministry to the children He created, and the moment is emphasized by the ringing voice of the Father, debuting His Son for all mankind. The public ministry of Christ began here in this moment, in the flowing, life-giving waters of the Jordan River. A light shone on Jesus – a light which would never be extinguished, and which would guide all mankind for the rest of time.
The Second Luminous Mystery: The Wedding at Cana
St. John the Evangelist has a name for the miracles of Jesus that gives great theological depth to them beyond what we might often consider: he calls them signs, as they point toward the divinity of Jesus, and the exalted glory (yet humble service) that make Him such a profound example for us to follow. The first of these “signs,” according to John, is at the Wedding at Cana. We all know the basics of the story: Jesus is at a wedding, and when the wine is depleted, He turns water into wine at the behest of His mother, revealing Himself by a miracle. There is much to take away from this event, and much has already been said about it by others. In the context of a reflection on this event in praying the Holy Rosary, let us focus on a couple aspects of it.
First, this is one of very few scenes during the public ministry of Jesus that includes His mother, our Mother. Not only is Mary involved in the event, she is the reason that Jesus performed the miracle, the “sign,” and thus revealed Himself and His Sonship.
Perhaps it is of special significance that we reflect on this Mystery while praying the Rosary. In this event, we see the beauty of Jesus’ relationship with His Blessed Mother, and an example of how we should relate to her as our mother, as well. In spite of His warning, Mary directs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them – and Jesus listens. Here we are taught, by Jesus’ holy example, to follow the lead of the Blessed Virgin, and to trust in her guidance.
The Third Luminous Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom
In the Gospel of Mark, we read that, following Jesus’ baptism, he immediately went out and began preaching to the people. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). This was a profound thing to hear, and almost certainly was confusing, surprising, shocking, or even scandalous for many of Jesus’ listeners. While the people of Israel were waiting for their Messiah, many did not necessarily expect Him to come in their lifetime – nor did they expect Him to look like Jesus.
Perhaps many of us can relate to this sentiment. We are told that Jesus will come again at the end of time, and that it could come at any hour. No one knows the hour when the Lord will come again, and I think it is safe to say that almost nobody truly believes it will happen in their lifetime. We might be equally suspicious of anyone who went around claiming that the Second Coming was at hand. How would we have felt in Jesus’ time, hearing Him announce that the kingdom of God was before us, and calling us to repentance?
The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration
After the baptism of the Lord, and the miracle performed at Cana, Jesus’ transfiguration on the mount is yet another clear manifestation of His Divinity, and His Divine mission. The apostles who joined Him on the mountaintop expressed confusion and a complete misunderstanding of the situation. When they realized that they were no longer alone, but had been joined by Moses and Elijah, one would think that they would have had some glimmer of understanding of the gravity of the situation. How would we react if we were there?
In retrospect, it is easy for us to see a “clear” sign in the events of the life of Jesus. But if we were there, on the mountaintop, we should acknowledge that we probably would have been just as confused as the apostles, if not more. As we pray the Rosary, and recall the events of the life of Jesus, the Transfiguration is a turning point, indicating the deepest realities of the person of Jesus.
The Fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist
For Catholics, the Eucharist is the most fundamental part of the life of the Church. As such, Jesus’ Institution of the Eucharist is one of the most fundamentally important moments in His life. This is the Paschal Mystery in Sacramental representation: the suffering, death and resurrection, the sacrifice of Calvary, and the glory of the Risen Christ, in a host of unleavened bread. This is a sacrament beyond understanding, a mystery that defies comprehension, that brings the reality of the presence of Jesus Christ to us in a particular and unique way.
All of us can get bored at Mass, certainly. All of us can get distracted. Again, let us put ourselves in the shoes of the apostles. We are reclined at table, with our Blessed Lord before us. Unbeknownst to us, this is the first Eucharist, the first Mass. Does this seem boring? Jesus Christ is there, offering us His flesh to eat, sacrificing Himself, laying His life on the line for the salvation of mankind. Sounds pretty exciting, right?
Well, we must remember: this is the reality of every Mass. The priest is not alone on the altar: he is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, and it is Jesus Christ, the High Priest, who is truly the one offering sacrifice. And it is the sacrifice of Himself. It is the Sacramental power of Jesus Christ that operates in the Sacrament, and we share in the experience of the apostles at every Mass.
The Luminous Mysteries offer us an opportunity to prayerfully reflect on the public ministry of Jesus, in the context of a larger reflection on His entire life. It is fitting to recall the events of His ministry before next month’s exploration of the Sorrowful Mysteries, and Jesus’ Holy Passion.