Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony of Jesus in the Garden
The eternal divine love of God our Father had moved him to give us his only Son, who would offer himself in sacrifice to save us. Jesus saw that his sacrifice would be futile for so many, for those who would reject him and reject his gift of salvation. It was his great love for us that caused him to suffer a bloody agony on the night before he died. Meanwhile his chosen friends slept, and Judas arrived with his band, to betray Jesus with a kiss. Our prayerful response can be to enter into Jesus’ burning desire for the salvation of souls.
The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging of Jesus
Jesus is arrested, bound and led first to Annas, then to Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod and back to Pilate, the Roman procurator. Pilate finds no cause for condemning Jesus to death. He has the Jesus, but the crowd is insistent, and he fears falling out of favor with the emperor. His cruel blunder, “ I find in him no cause for condemnation; I will chastise him therefore…” leads to Jesus’ being taken by the cohort and scourged mercilessly. Our prayerful response leads us to the desire to seek truth and mercy in our hearts always.
The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning With Thorns
The pitiless scourging Jesus did not satisfy the soldiers. They proceeded to weave a crown of thorns to press onto Jesus’s head, and there followed a scene of mockery and further insults. They threw over his wounded body a purple cloak and stuck a mock-scepter in his hand. They pretended to do him homage, crying out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” bending their knees and striking him on the head with the reed. Our prayerful response is to claim Jesus as the King of our own hearts.
The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carries His Cross to Calvary
Jesus is again brought out to Pilate, who says to the crowd, “Behold the Man!” But the crowd repeats its demand, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate washes his hands of the affair and turns Jesus over to them to be taken out and crucified. He is loaded with the heavy cross and led through the streets and up the hill to the place of his execution. He is accompanied by both friends and enemies. Surely his mother is there, sharing in the pain of each step and each fall. Our prayerful response is to accompany Jesus, offering him all the pains of our daily life.
The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus is Crucified and Dies on the Cross
We hear Jesus speak seven times from his cross, offering forgiveness, welcome and comfort, crying out with his burning thirst for our love and yielding his life into the hands of his Father. His suffering, both physical and spiritual, is far beyond what we can imagine. We unite ourselves with Mary, our Sorrowful Mother, as she suffers every pain with her dying Son. With our whole heart we offer our own lives to Jesus Christ in his great redemptive work, praying that his Sacrifice on the Cross not be in vain for any one.
The Sorrowful Mysteries are unique among the groupings of the Mysteries of the Rosary. Whereas in the other groupings, events are proposed which takes place over the course of days, months, or years, the Sorrowful Mysteries are all compressed within less than twenty-four hours. So although the five Mysteries are named separately and each focuses upon a subsequent step within the narrative of Jesus’ sacred passion and death, one might simply walk through the contemplation of these tragic events, stopping longer at whichever scene most strongly holds one’s prayerful attention.
First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony of Jesus in Gethsemane
According to the Gospel accounts, the overpowering sadness and trembling of Jesus began while he and the apostles were still in the room of the Last Supper. Jesus had dismissed Judas and had foretold the denials of Peter and his abandonment by the others. Most importantly, he had given his body and blood Eucharistically in the anticipated accomplishment of his Sacrifice. His hour had come. As they left that upper room, he could attest,” My soul is sorrowful even unto death”.
What was really at the core of Jesus’ agony? He had foretold to the apostles three times that he would suffer torture and be put to death, and we are never told that he showed any emotion in making these predictions about his own sufferings. On the other hand, we are told that he weeps over Jerusalem, and emits a cry from his heart: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you would not!” We might then conclude that Jesus’ agony is not about his own impending ordeal, but rather about the eternal perdition of the souls whom he so loved. He pleads with his Father three times that this cup pass him by, but he is left in desolation.
The agony of God! Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God, whose unlimited purview takes in all of creation and penetrates the deep places within every human heart – he alone could know the mortal danger which threatened us all. Jesus on one occasion had said,” I have come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be enkindled!” He had tried first of all, in so many ways, to set this flame ablaze in the hearts of his own close disciples. Now he comes to the closest of these friends and finds them asleep. Meanwhile Judas and his band draw near, and the unthinkable occurs: Judas betrays his Master with a kiss, and the disciples, all leaving him, flee. He is arrested, bound, and taken off to be judged and condemned to death. The sense of aloneness, the sense of failure, but surely have been a heavy part of what the Father permitted are saving Lord to experience in this “his hour”.
The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging of Jesus
But the unfolding of the events of Jesus passion leads him through encounters with the Jewish leaders, Annas, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin before he is finally sent to Pilate. Jesus has tried in every way to break through the blindness and the hardness of these leaders without success, and now as he stands before them the agony is still tearing at his heart: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” On a former occasion he had told them, “ No one takes my life from me; I lay it down freely. And I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again.” These leaders do not understand power. They think they have it but they are self-deceived, for the only power is love, whereas they are filled with hate.
The “ trial” before the Sanhedrin issues in Jesus being sent to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. Meanwhile a crowd of people had gathered. Pilate doesn’t know how quite to handle the situation, for as he attests over and again, he finds no cause against Jesus. He makes an attempt to escape by sending Jesus to Herod, but Herod too finds himself stymied. Jesus stands silent before him, and he has no way out except to send Jesus back to Pilate, clothed in mockery. Pilate’s wife sends him a message to “ have nothing to do with that just man”, but, beset by the shouts of the crowd and seeing himself cornered, he makes one more attempt to extricate himself from an intolerable situation. “I find no case in this man which calls for condemnation. I will chastise him therefore and let him go.” And so Jesus is led into the pretorium to be scourged.
The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning With Thorns
The first indignity occurs when Jesus is stripped of his garments. Who of us would not experience the offense, the inner shock upon having a stranger reach out and strip us of so much as a sweater, a tie, a pair of glasses? But Jesus is stripped to the skin by anything but gentle hands, gazed upon – shall we say glared at? – by anything but sensitive eyes. He is fixed to a pillar and scourged brutally, the words of Pilate ring in our ears and wrench our heart, “Why?! What evil has he done?! I find no cause in him!”
Having exhausted their strength or their interest in this harrowing exercise, they have Jesus sit down while they throw a purple cloak over him and proceed to weave a crown of thorns to press upon his head. There follows a scene of “ Hail, King of the Jews!” as the soldiers bend the knee and pretend to do him homage. The prophet Isaiah had said of him in prophecy,
“Where would you yet be struck…?
The whole head is sick, the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot to the head
There is no sound spot:
Wound and welt and gaping gash,
not drained, not bound nor eased with salve.”
And Jesus is led back out, a spectacle to the crowd.
The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carries His Cross
It is the crowd, who, we are told, is incited by the Jewish leaders to demand the condemnation of Jesus. Pilate tries one last desperate time to have him released. He proposes an alternative to the crowd: Jesus – or Barabbas. Which of the two shall he release? Of course, Pilate’s whole dilemma, the desperation of his situation, his whole series of attempts to escape – the whole scene is his own self-making. As procurator, Pontius Pilate has the authority to release Jesus; he does not need the consent of the crowd nor of the Jewish leaders. But these leaders know Pilate’s weak spot. “ If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar’s…” and every resistance within this man’s conscience collapses. The case is closed. Jesus is taken out, loaded with the cross, and led through the streets and up the hill to his place of execution.
Christian piety and a tradition which has grown up in the Church has given us the “Stations of the Cross” to help us in our meditations upon the various scenes of this most painful and sorrowful way. As we pray this Mystery of the Rosary we draw near to Mary, the dear mother of Jesus and our own. If Jesus had told his disciples three times that he had sufferings and death ahead of him, surely we must presume they had he had also told his mother. But whereas the disciples had taken these words of Jesus to be just another parable and had wondered what it meant, Mary understood. She comprehended the magnitude of what was transpiring because she had learn from Jesus how to read the Scriptures. She knew who Israel was, its history and its destiny. And she knew who Jesus was. She knew that this was Sacrifice, not mere execution, and she knew that it was not the last word.
The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus.
During the course of Jesus’ teaching ministry he had once told his followers, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. Surely, in hearing his seven last words spoken from the cross, we can gain an entrance into the abundance of the Sacred Heart of Our Savior. Jesus had always known that he would face his ordeal alone. Yet he knew too that in the Father’s mysterious and loving plan, there would be a place for companionship, there would be a place for someone in need of forgiveness, there would be a place for us. And so his Heart reaches out to those who nail him, and he is crucified between two sinners. He is aware of his mother, and of ourselves, so in need of a mother, standing there in the person of “the beloved disciple”. He cries out his thirst for our love. “ Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often have I longed – but you would not. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”
But now it is finished. He can commend his spirit into the hands of his Father, for he has accomplished the work for which he was sent. He breathes his last, and his bloodied battered body can be laid away to await its awakening.