Glorious Mysteries

Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary

The First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection of Jesus

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was the core and substance of the preaching of the apostles after the Pentecost event. Everything else followed from this. St Paul told his  converts, “If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then your faith is in vain and you are still in your sins”.  The resurrection of Jesus was a total surprise to his friends. Even when he appeared to them, ate and drank with them and let them touch him, they remained dazzled and “ incredulous for joy”. In our prayerful response we enter into their joy and grateful faith.

The Second Glorious Mystery:  The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven

Jesus had told his apostles that it was necessary that he go, but that he would not leave them orphaned. His last words were a commission for them to go and teach all nations about the Good News of salvation, and he promised them that he would be with them ( and us) even till the end of time. In his ascension Jesus enters into another way of being. He returns to his divine state of being, and now he takes his human body with him. This mystery is far beyond our comprehension, but we embrace it with humble joy in our prayerful response.

The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit

On the Jewish feast of Pentecost when about a hundred and twenty persons, including the apostles, the mother of Jesus and many others were gathered in prayer, suddenly the Holy Spirit descended upon each of them in something like tongues of fire. Their experience was a radical conversion of life. Their fearful hesitations left them, and they ran out into the streets and began to proclaim boldly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, risen and glorious. Even Mary too received a new mission as Mother of the Church. Our prayerful response is the humble request to share in the grace of  apostolic zeal.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

The Scriptures and the Church teach us that after Mary had completed the time of her sojourn on earth, she was taken up, body and soul, into heaven. This is a mystery of great hope for us, for Mary is the icon of the glorious heritage that is ours in Christ. In Mary the church, the bride of Christ, has reached the fullness of her destiny. In our prayerful response we unite ourselves with the whole Church in giving thanks to God for his love, for making known to us the beauty of his eternal plan for us.

The Fifth Glorious Mystery: Mary is Crowned Queen of Heaven and of the Universe

The Scriptures show us that in the Davidic dynasty the mother of the king was enthroned at his right hand as queen, first on his council and powerful in intercession. At the Annunciation to Mary, Gabriel had informed her that her Son would sit on David’s throne and rule over the House of David forever. Mary, as Queen-Mother, is now given to us as Queen and Mother. John and his Book of Revelation sees her crowned with twelve stars with the moon under her feet. Our prayerful response is one of filial love and confidence in our heavenly Queen-Mother.

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The First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection of Jesus

On the occasion of his Transfiguration Jesus had warned the apostles Peter, James and John, “ Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead”. We are told that as they came down the mountain, the three discussed among themselves what” rising from the dead” could mean. Thinking that this was another of Jesus’s parabolic sayings, they were probably trying to attach a symbolic meaning to it. They certainly were not expecting it to be literally true. However, even with our Christian awareness of the literal truth of Jesus’ resurrection, we can still ask the same question: what is “ rising from the dead”? How did Jesus experience it, and how shall we?

No one saw Jesus rise. His friends’ initial experience of his resurrection was the amazing fact of the empty tomb. But within a very short time he began to show himself to them, not in glorious splendor, but as a gardener, a wayfarer, and as their familiar friend, although somehow changed. We are not told why it was that his friends did not recognize him. But if Jesus chose to retain in his resurrected body the gaping holes in his hands, his feet, his side, then we might allow ourselves to think that his whole aspect had changed:  that he had aged, perhaps his hair gone white, by reason of the ravages wrought in him through a suffering that could only be fathomed on the level of the divine. In fact, John in the Book of Revelation sees Jesus with hair as white as wool. Jesus’ glory is in what he suffered for our salvation, for, as we read in the canticle in Philippians 2, it is “ therefore” that the Father has given to him the Name which is above all other names.

As followers of Jesus we cherish the beautiful accounts of the various appearances of Jesus to His friends after His resurrection. We enter into their sense of being dumb-founded by the Mystery. The Gospels give us at least eight different occasions on which Jesus had marveled at the  slowness of persons to understand Him, or to understand matters which seemed obvious (Lk 2:49;  Mk 4:13; Lk 6:3; Mk 8:17; Jn 3:10; Mt 16:3; Jn 14:8; Lk 24:25, 38). Now He calls the two disciples of Emmaus foolish and slow to believe” that the Messiah had to suffer and so to enter into His glory. This gentle rebuke of Jesus throws us back on ourselves and our own lack of comprehension.

But Jesus does not rebuke the Magdalene;  her ardent love covers her lack of understanding. Although she, even she, does not recognize her Lord, her suffering search for Him is precisely what binds her to all that is not He. Jesus had liberated her from “seven devils’, i.e., from handicaps or sicknesses of every conceivable kind. She has known a living death, and now she finds again Him who is Life itself. And he sent her to bring the good news of resurrection to the apostles. Perhaps at one moment of prayer  we can identify with the Magdalene, and at another it is with the apostles or the two disciples of Emmaus. In any case, this Mystery of the Rosary contains a wealth of resources for us, both in understanding and in loving.

The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension of Jesus Into Heaven

This event in Jesus’ life is closely linked to his resurrection. Saint Luke recounts how the disciples experienced it. He places the event forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, saying that for these forty days Jesus appeared to them and taught them many things about the kingdom of heaven. Finally Jesus leads them out to the Mount of Olives, and after blessing them, is taken up into a cloud. The cloud, of course, is scripturally representative of God, both in Old and New Testaments. This chronology gave rise to the Church’s tradition of celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension forty days after Easter. It is a glorious time, during which we recall again and again at our liturgies, the various appearances of Jesus to his friends.

Saint John, on the other hand, in his Gospel account would seem to indicate that Jesus was taken up immediately after he had appeared to Mary Magdalene. He says to her, “Don’t cling to me for I have not yet ascended… But go, tell my disciples, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’”. Just minutes later he appears to the other women, and  seems comfortable in having them embrace His feet.

What, then, is the Ascension of Jesus?  Surely it is not essentially a matter of a place. Rather it has everything to do with a condition –  a state of being which transcends every limitation of any created category whatsoever, whether it be of time or space for form or number or modality. Astoundingly, not only the soul of Jesus, which is spirit, but his very flesh and bone and blood have passed into a divine mode of being which is absolutely unhampered. He is now and then, here and there, this and that, one and many, not only in his divine state but even as the Son of  Man.

During his sacred passion Jesus had asserted to the members of the Sanhedrin that He would take His place at God’s right hand, and that He would come in glory upon the clouds of heaven. Saint Stephen at the moment of his martyrdom looks up and sees Jesus standing at God’s right hand in glory. The Letter to the Hebrews affirms that  for the sake of the joy which awaited Him, He endured the cross and death itself. In one of His encounters with the Pharisees Jesus  challenges them to an understanding of Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

All of Sacred Scripture points to Jesus Christ, if only we could grasp it fully; but nowhere more clearly and fully than in the Book of Psalms. There we hear the prayers of Jesus in His human experience of suffering, of persecution, of combat with the forces of evil, but ultimately also in His final victory, “ Joys at Your right hand forever”.  Our contemplation of this Mystery of the Rosary can open for us a door into all the richness of the Mystery of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit

In the Book of The Acts of the Apostles Saint Luke recounts that there were about a hundred and twenty persons gathered in prayer in the Upper Room during those days after Jesus had ascended into heaven. These included the eleven apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus along with the other women-disciples, some of Jesus’ relatives and some other disciples. It was the Jewish Feast of Pentecost when suddenly the house began to shake, and there was the sound of a mighty wind. Something like tongues of fire appeared over each of them, and they began to speak in various idioms. The people of the city heard the sound and gathered outside.  The disciples, we are told, rushed out into the street and began to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. It was a scene of radical conversion: conversion on the part of the disciples, who until then had been frightened, timid people, as well as on the part of the thousands of people who heard them. On this day by the working of the Holy Spirit, the Church was born.

Jesus had on one occasion said that He had come to cast fire on the earth, and that He longed, longed to see the flame leap up. The descent of the Holy Spirit was, in a sense, the  culmination of Jesus’ work on earth. For this He had come: to hand over to the Father a world on fire with love. It was at a monstrously heavy price that he on this day set in motion through us the great work of fulfilling the Father’s dream: that “the whole world be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”. Jesus Himself lives on in us, continues His work in us. He sends us out in His own Name to preach His salvation to the ends of the earth.

The Church celebrates for each of us the beautiful Sacrament of Confirmation. Each of us on our own special day of Confirmation and ever after, ponder the meaning of a “ fiery tongue”.  It has been given us, and although we all differ in the talents, abilities and personal vocation we have received from God, we are privileged and commissioned to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And Mary the mother of Jesus? Yes, she also received the Holy Spirit for her new role in the world. Now she is no longer only the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, and no longer only the mother of the “ beloved disciple” who stood with her at the foot of the cross. Now she is mother of the Whole Christ – the Mystical Christ – the Mother of the Church.

The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven

If we are amazed that not only the spirit of Jesus but even his very flesh was raised into that other mode of being, beyond all created barriers and limitations, even more are we astounded that now Mary too, even though she is a human being like ourselves, has been taken, body and soul, into that quasi-divine condition. Saint John in his letter declares to us that in heaven “ we shall be like him (God) for we shall see him as he is” (3:2).  Of course we have no idea, nor can we possibly begin to imagine what this will be like. But Mary is given to us as a powerful evidence of what our inheritance is, in Christ. The Church teaches us that in Mary the Bride of Christ has attained her consummate perfection. She is the model, the Image, of what we shall be.  And so we celebrate Mary’s assumption with great joy and exultation.

But not only this.  Mary is not only the image and personification of our final glory. Every wonderful gift that we see eminently portrayed in Mary is given to us all so in a way shown to us by faith:  Mary, the New Eve, was conceived immaculate as was the first Eve. Now we also are conceived Immaculate in Baptism where we are conceived and born into a whole new life of grace. Mary was kept stainless during her whole life on earth; we also are kept stainless ( despite our human weaknesses) by frequent Confession, life-giving participation in the Eucharist, and use of the sacramentals. Mary acknowledged herself to be “ the servant of the Lord”, and so are we in our adherence to the will of God in our lives. Mary became the Mother of God, carrying the incarnate Son of God within her; and so are we, for as Jesus said, “ who ever does the will of the Father is mother, brother and sister to Me”.   We, the Church, give birth to our Savior in other persons by bringing them to Baptism, the “Sacrament of rebirth”. We give to Our Lady the title of “ co-redemptrix”,  and  so do we also cooperate with Jesus and his redeeming work by our prayer and sacrifice for the salvation of souls.  Finally Mary is assumed into heaven body and soul. We also, as we profess in the Apostles’ Creed, look forward to the resurrection and final glorification of our own body- person. And so we cherish our heavenly Mother, not only as a non-imitable shining light, but as a very image of who we are in Christ.

The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Crowning of Mary as Queen of the Universe

In the Book of Revelation we are given a vision of a Woman, clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and crowned with twelve stars. The Church sees this Woman as Mary. The Woman labors to give birth, and when this Child is born He is snatched up to heaven. There ensues a great battle in which the devil, thwarted  in his attempt to capture the Woman, goes to make war on her other children. Mary is the fruitful virgin-bride, and as the New Eve,  is “the mother of all the living”. She is both Mother and Queen precisely as the embodiment of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Within the Davidic dynasty it was the Queen-Mother (the mother of the reigning king) who was enthroned at his right hand. He was first on his council and powerful in intercession. It was she who shared in his power, his honor, his defeat and humiliation, as well as in the glory of his victories. Jesus, of course, is the New David, acknowledged in the Gospels as “Son of David”.  It is Mary, His mother, who sits at His right hand, acknowledged and acclaimed as Queen.

In contemplating the vision of the seer (Saint John) in his Book of Revelation we reflect that this sun and moon, the stars with which Mary is adorned, are not simply bits of colored paper or a projected painting on the walls of heaven. We can wonder if what we are given here might have a literally cosmic dimension, with the whole created world participating in the glory of the everlasting marriage-feast of Jesus with his Bride;  Mary is the Bride; she is also Mother and Queen. We love her, we hail her, and we asked her powerful intercession as we make our way into the joys of eternal life.

So in Mary we see the “Whole Church”, and this can lead us into thoughts about the great Second Coming of Christ, when “every eye shall see Him”. We are told that He will come on the clouds “with all His saints with Him –  a scene of unimaginable grandeur and power. Before that, however,  we shall each experience His coming for us at the moment of our death.

In that lovely hymn which we sing, “How Great Thou Art”, there is a line where we say, “When Christ will come with shout of acclamation to take me Home, what joy she’ll feel my heart!”  We can each look forward to that moment when Jesus will shout with joy over us, joy and taking us Home to be with Him forever!