Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary
The First Mystery: The Baptism of the Lord
It was in their crossing of the Jordan River that the Chosen People entered into their new life in the Promised Land. Now Jesus enters into the same waters and will begin to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus is baptized by his precursor, John, and as he emerges from the water a Trinitarian manifestation takes place: a dove (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) appears and the voice of the Father is heard. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. Our prayerful response is gratitude to the Father for giving us his Son.
The Second Mystery: The Wedding Feast at Cana
Jesus, his mother and his disciples have been invited to a wedding feast. The contemplation of this event calls us to a higher, a spiritual level of understanding. For human marriage is a symbol, an image of the marriage of Jesus with the Church, his bride. When the wine runs out it is Jesus himself who provides the best wine, which will ultimately be the wine of his his own precious Blood. Our prayerful response is to try to enter more deeply into a relationship of love With Jesus.
The Third Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom
The prophet Isaiah had foretold that the people who were in darkness with see a great light. This light is Jesus himself. He went about Healing The Sick and expelling demons, teaching the people how to be pleasing to the father. This was not easy for Jesus, because many rejected him, and even those who accepted him did not understand. Jesus began to call some disciples to follow him more closely and to share his work and bringing the good news to the people. Are prayerful responses to welcome him and ask him to teach us his ways.
The Fourth Mystery: The Transfiguration of Jesus
Jesus knows that his impending passion and death will be a difficult challenge for the faith of the disciples. So he takes three of their leaders, Peter, James and John up to a deserted mountain and lets them see as much of his glory as their weak human nature can bear. Moses and Elijah appear too, talking with Jesus. His face shines like the sun, and again, as at the Baptism, the voice of the Father is heard in a cloud: “This is my beloved Son: Listen to him”. Our prayerful response is a deep adoring love.
The Fifth Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist
At the Last Supper Jesus did not only gave his apostles his own Body and Blood as food and drink, but he gave to these apostles the power to give the same banquet to all believers for all the ages to come. “Do this”, he said, “in memory of me”. This is precisely what happens at every Holy Mass, where bread becomes Jesus’ body and wine becomes his blood. Under the Old Law the blood of animals sealed the covenant between God and his people. Now the great Sacrifice of Jesus’ death and resurrection are the marriage-bond, the “I do”, as Jesus said: “This chalice is the New Covenant in my Blood, which will be shed for the remission of sins”. Our prayerful response is in ever more ardent desire to be wholly united with Jesus.
First Luminous: The Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River
The Ark of the Covenant, sometimes called the arc of the commandments, was for the Israelites the place and the symbol of Yahweh’s presence among them. It was from the mercy-seat over the ark that he heard the prayers and received the offerings of his people. It was the ark of the covenant that led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The Fathers of the Church have taught us to see Jesus as a true Ark of the Covenant. He bears in himself not only the tablets of the written commandments, as did the arc of old, but the very Word of God himself. The Gospels tell us that the voice of the Father is heard, hovering, as it were, over Jesus and proclaiming him his beloved Son. The Holy Spirit is there also, in the form of a dove. This is a great manifestation of the Most Holy Trinity, an affirmation that Jesus is indeed divine. He leads his people into the Promised Land of redemption, renewed covenant relationship with God, and ultimately Heaven. Thus when Jesus begins his public ministry his proclamation is: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news!” For as when the Israelites did enter the Promised Land, their journey was complete, but the work of conquest was still to be carried out.
Another possible connection about the baptism of Jesus is that when Moses was getting Aaron and his sons ready to be anointed as priest, he himself (Moses) washes them. On this occasion of their ordination they do not wash themselves; they are washed by the prophet before they are anointed and vested. Of course this is only on the occasion of their ordination. Subsequently they will wash themselves whenever they are going to exercise their functions as priest. But perhaps John is the prophet (the last of the Old Law prophets) who washes (baptizes) Jesus before He is anointed with the Oil of Gladness by the Holy Spirit, i. e., before He is ordained into his eternal High-Priesthood.
The Church Fathers taught that at his Baptism Jesus sanctified the waters, i.e., the waters of our own baptism. Our baptism incorporates us into Jesus Christ in his going down into death and rising to new life.
We may find delight in the experience of the young Tobiah in the Old Testament story. Tobiah goes down into the river and is attacked by a large fish, the “monster of the deep” or The Adversary, who snatches at His heel. Tobiah (a Christ-figure, certainly,) strikes at its head and overcomes (Gen 3:15). Of course Jesus is Himself the IKTHUS, i. e., both priest and victim, who overcomes our sacrifice, are healing, our Food-for-the-Way, our propitiation with the Father (Tobit, the Good One). So perhaps the significance might be that by His descent into the waters of the Jordan Jesus conquers the Devil and becomes all these good things for us.
Immediately after His baptism Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert “to be tempted by the devil”. So this desert mystery can be an alternative for meditation on the First Luminous Mystery, connected so closely as it is to the mystery of Jesus’ descent into the great Combat. The devil, of course, is very real, and the Father even allowed him to insert himself into the human experience of Jesus. But Jesus emerges victorious, and when we remain united with Jesus we share in his victory.
The Second Luminous Mystery: The Wedding Feast at Cana
What immediately catches our eye in this scene is Mary’s solicitude, her concern for the newly-weds. The wine has run out – what an embarrassment! But perhaps we make more of Mary’s casual remark to Jesus than what she was intending to stay. It may have been a simple observation, or it may have implied a suggestion that he go into town and buy some, or arrange to borrow some from family or friends. Surely during the years of their life together in Nazareth she would often have said to him such things as, “We are getting low on fire-wood”, or “The water jar is almost empty”, and Jesus would have responded to the need in a practical way. But this occasion is different. Jesus doesn’t move to solve the problem in a practical way, and Mary senses the change. In spite of his apparent resistance she intuits his readiness, and the Woman empowers the moment. “Do whatever he tells you”, she bids the waiters.
But what does Jesus tell them? Two things. First he says, “Fill the jars with water”. Very significant. Our church is a sacramental Church; we are called upon to provide the “matter” which God then make sacred by using it to confer his grace. For example, we provide the water which is used in Baptism; we provide the oil used in the Sacraments of Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick; we provide bread and wine which are used to give us Eucharist. And so Jesus directs the waiters to provide the water which he will then proceed to change into wine. The Eucharist had not as yet been instituted, but the Church in her reflections upon this Gospel story can see the Eucharistic overtones and it’s prophetic meaning. She also sees the design of the Sacrament of Matrimony prophetically portrayed.
Scholars have pointed out that the six water jars, which were used for cleansing, fell short of the fullness of seven, indicating the inadequacy of the Old Law with its rituals. They also point to the richness of wine in comparison with water, again highlighting the abolition of the Old Law to make way for the advent of the New. There is a passage in Isaiah (1:22) in which the Lord rebukes his people, saying that this once faithful city, (His bride), has now become adulterous, adding that her wine has become water. In the context of our Gospel story the implication is that the watered-down wine of the Old Testament bride of Yahweh will be made anew into the choice wine of fidelity and the bridal love of the New Testament Church. Of course this is a very strong admonition for the newly-weds: may they never allow the rich wine of their faithful love to become watered-down, to turn insipid.
The second thing that Jesus says to the waiters is, “Now draw some out and take it to the head waiter”. Who is our “head waiter”? Who has the duty and the authority to direct, to regulate, ratify, and approve the celebration of the Sacraments and all the other aspects of the life of the Church? Jesus’ words at this point give a firm foundation to the authority of his own vicar on earth, the successor of Peter, and to the apostolic nature of the Church. No wedding banquet can be successfully carried out without the presence of a “head waiter” who directs and coordinates.
It is customarily the place of the groom to provide the wine for the wedding banquet. And so Jesus is seen as stepping into the role of the Bridegroom. As we know, the Old Testament covenants (which were marriage pacts between Yahweh and His people) were always sealed with blood. At the Last Supper Jesus will declare the chalice of wine to be that of the New and Eternal Covenant in His own Blood, the indissoluble marriage bond which unites His Bride with Himself. The newly-weds are being given a very strong image: the marriage bond is sacred, indissoluble and Sacramental.
The Third Luminous Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Conversion
The Gospels tell us that when Jesus learned that John the Baptist had been thrown into prison, he came down to Capemaum and began His public ministry. The removal of John from the scene was the signal from the Father that Jesus’ time had come. The first thing He did was to call disciples to Himself. He began to teach them so that they could help Him in bringing His good news to the people. His message was, “ The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News!” The people probably wondered what “ repentance” had to do with good news, but Jesus was healing their sick and casting out demons, so they began to flock to him.
A careful study of the Gospels shows that Jesus was set upon raising the consciousness and understanding of His people to a higher sphere, so that their pristine covenant relationship with God could be renewed and they could find Life in him. Yahweh our God is incomprehensible Spirit, but wants to break through the limitations of our earth-bound condition and way of thinking. In other words, He wants to be known. The first thing needed is repentance; that is, we must make a first move to step out of the darkness and into His Light. Peter had led the way when, after he had experienced a miraculous draught of fish he cried out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Jesus taught in the synagogues, and we are told that he sent his disciples out into the towns where He was to come, to prepare the people for His coming. Certainly Jesus didn’t give these disciples a complicated course in theology before sending them out. Rather, he sent them with a simple message. In a sense he was giving them a sharing in the great mission of John the Baptist, i. e., “to prepare the way of the Lord”.They were to tell the people to be glad, because Jesus would be coming to them soon. Jesus would heal their sick, and he would teach them how to be pleasing to the Father. He would teach them about the kingdom, and how they must purify their hearts in order to receive it. Saint Matthew gives a summary of the teaching of Jesus in his great Sermon on the Mount and he gives us the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father.
Jesus drew the poor, the sick, the blind and the lame to himself, and cast the demons out of any who were possessed, because the Kingdom of heaven was a hand. The prophet Isaiah had foretold that the people of Galilee would see a great Light, and upon a land shrouded in darkness a great Light would shine. Of course Jesus was the Light, and he shed his light upon the people and the groups of people according to what they were able to grasp. Apparently in some of the towns of people were of a more sophisticated bent, and to them, seeing that they were not accepting his unsophisticated and simple message, he eventually began to speak to them in parables. Later on when Pharisees and Sadducees were drawing near him ( with evil intent), he began to speak to them sternly – even harshly. He did so precisely because he loved them all, and would try every avenue into their hearts. The basic substance of what Jesus came to proclaim was the Father’s intent that earth itself become heavenly. The prayer which Jesus taught the disciples is an image, a charter, as it were, of the kingdom; the kingdom which is the family of God, the very antechamber of heaven itself.
The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration
The Gospel tells us that when on Mount Tabor the three apostles, Peter, James and John, saw Jesus transfigured before them, He was conversing with Moses and Elijah. They were speaking of his “passage, which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem”. Was it the contemplation of his suffering, death and resurrection that was producing such a radiance in the face of Jesus? On one occasion Jesus had exclaimed in the hearing of the people, “ I have a baptism with which I am to be baptized, and what anguish I feel till it is over!” He would even indicate to James and John on one occasion that he would also drink the cup and share in the bath of suffering which He would endure. The intensity of His prayer at this hour on the Mount transfigures Him to such a degree that His face – even His very clothing – shine more brightly than the sun. The Father responds to the humanity of His divine Son, and calls out from the Cloud, “ This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!”
The disciples are caught into the glory of the moment, and Peter responds in the only way he can, not even realizing what he is saying. He wants to stay there forever, but he is brought back to himself when he looks up and sees no one, only Jesus. On the way back down Jesus tells the three, ( still reeling from the impact of what they had just experienced,) that they are “not to tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has risen from the dead”. What could that mean, they wonder. But they are plunged more deeply into wonderment, the mystery of this Jesus whom Peter had already confessed as “the Messiah, the Son of God”.
In pondering this Mystery of the Rosary we encounter another detail which can be enlightening for us in the context of our endeavors to pray well. It is the fact ( the surprising fact) that Jesus had reached such intensity of prayer while conversing with Saints! It confirms us in our faith in the Communion of Saints, and in the teaching of the Church that the Saints, the blessed souls who have reached their goal and are with God in heaven, are vitally aware and concerned for us. They are available to us and, following Jesus’ own example, we can pray to them, ask their strengthening help.
The Fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Holy Eucharist
Dr. Scott Hahn, prominent lecturer and professor of Scripture and Theology has pointed out that it was the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday night that made the crucifixion and death of Jesus to be a Sacrifice rather than simply a roman execution; and it was the resurrection of Jesus that made that Sacrifice to be a Sacrament, rather than simply a once-and-for-all accomplished deed. Jesus not only changed bread into His body and why into His blood, but He gave His apostles the commission and the power to “Do this in remembrance of Me”, thereby instituting both the Sacrament of Holy Orders and that of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the living Body of Christ, the living Jesus who has suffered death for us and now lives forever.
God our Father has a dream. It is expressed in the prophecy of Isaiah ( 11: 9) and again in that of the prophet Habakkuk (2:14): that “ the whole world be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”. He proceeds fulfilling this dream Eucharistically, in the Sacramental lives of His holy people. One can say that a new economy of global transformation was inaugurated when Jesus gave us the Eucharist. We help to move it forward by our own Sacramental lives of participation in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus.
The most incomprehensibly divine works of God are accomplished in the most quiet ( humanly speaking unnoticeable) ways. Thus it was that the Incarnation had taken place, and thus it was that on the night before He died, Jesus, gathered with a dozen apostle- friends under the dim light of an oil lamp, instituted the new Priesthood and the most holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the pledge of our own future glory. In our Eucharistic adoration we enter into the quiet awesomeness of that eternal moment. We ask that our understanding be expanded and our affections be enkindled. We ask that our Father’s dream be fulfilled ever more beautifully in our lives and in the lives of those we can touch. The Eucharist, the Bread of Life, was prefigured in the Old Testament most powerfully in the manna which fell from heaven with the dewfall each day during the Israelites’ forty years’ journey through the desert. But we also reserve the Blessed Sacrament in our tabernacles for our devotion. The “show-bread”, which was sprinkled with frankincense and reserved on the pure gold altar before the Lord in the Old Testament Temple (Lev 24:5-9), gives an image of the reservation of the Eucharistic Bread, the very Body of Our Lord.