by Jo Salvaña
In his Apostolic Letter on the Most Holy Rosary entitled “ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE”, addressed to the bishops, clergy, and faithful, our Holy Father Pope John Paul II writes on the nature, beauty, value, and significance of the Rosary of the Virgin Mary, He emphasizes the fact that “the Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer… With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.”
He recalls that twenty-four years ago, on October 29, 1978, less than two weeks after his election to the See of Peter, he said, “The Rosary is my favourite prayer. A marvellous prayer! Marvellous in its simplicity and in its depth… Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul… the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life.”
The Holy Father says in his Letter: “…I set the first year of my Pontificate within the daily rhythm of the Rosary. Today as I begin the twenty-fifth year of my service as Successor of Peter, I wish to do the same.” He said he “felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary as a kind of Marian complement” to Novo Millennio Ineunte in which after the Jubilee, he had “invited the People of God to ‘start afresh from Christ’ and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother.
Proclaiming October 2002 – 2003 as the Year of the Rosary
Pope John Paul II has proclaimed the year from October 2002 to October 2003 as the Year of the Rosary, saying “…I desire that during the course of this year the Rosary should be especially emphasized and promoted in the various Christian communities.”
He said that the Rosary represents “a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery…” He said that “what is needed is a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer…and that “it is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become ‘genuine schools of prayer.'”
“To recite the Rosary is …to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ”
He says that “The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. …No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. …Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to “read” Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message,” He says further that “In the spiritual journey of the Rosary based on constant contemplation, in Mary’s company, we are able to be “conformed to him.”
He says that “The Rosary offers ‘the secret’ which leads easily to a profound and inward knowledge of Christ. We might call it Mary’s way. It is the way of the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, a woman of faith, of silence, of attentive listening.” He returns to the thought that “the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life” saying that “Anyone who contemplates Christ through the various stages of his life cannot fail to perceive in him the truth about man. …It could be said that each Mystery of the Rosary, carefully meditated, sheds light on the mystery of man.” He extends “a warm invitation to everyone to experience it personally: the Rosary does indeed ‘mark the rhythm of human life’, bringing it into harmony with the ‘rhythm of God’s own life’…”
Entrusting the Cause of Peace and the Family to the Power of the Rosary
He cites that a “number of historical circumstances also make the revival of the Rosary quite timely:” first, “the need to implore from God the gift of peace”; and second, the need to counter “the devastating effects” of the crisis facing “the family, the primary cell of society, increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration… so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution, and with it, for the future of society as a whole.”
He writes of the special significance of the Rosary as a prayer for peace and for the family. He entrusts “to the power of this prayer, the cause of peace in the world and the cause of the family”, recalling that “The Church has always attributed particular efficacy to this prayer, entrusting to the Rosary, to its choral recitation and to its constant practice, the most difficult problems. At times when Christianity seemed under threat, its deliverance was attributed to the power of this prayer, and Our Lady of the Rosary was acclaimed as the one whose intercession brought salvation.” He said that “the Rosary is by nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is ‘our peace’.” He went on to say that “As a prayer for peace the Rosary is also, and always has been, a prayer of and for the family. …The family that prays together stays together.” He also called special attention to the significance of the Rosary for children, saying “To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children, training them from their earliest years to experience this daily ‘pause for prayer’ with the family is… a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated.”
He says that “the Rosary allows us to hope that, even today, the difficult ‘battle for peace’ can be won. Far from offering an escape from the problems of the world, the Rosary obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes, and obtains for us the strength to face them with the certainty of God’s help and the firm intention of bearing witness in every situation to ‘love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony’…”
Adding a New Set of Mysteries – the “Mysteries of Light”
Our Holy Father said that in order “to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary, it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern… to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.” He said that “for the Rosary to become more fully ‘a compendium of the Gospel’, it is fitting to add following reflection on the Incarnation and the hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection (the glorious mysteries) a meditation of certain particularly significant moments in his public ministry.” He refers to these as “the mysteries of light”, citing that it is “during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: … ‘I am the light of the world.'” He proposes to the Christian community “five significant moments – ‘luminous’ mysteries” during the public life of Christ.
The Mysteries of Light or Luminous Mysteries are:
1. The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan
2. The Self-manifestation of Jesus at the Wedding at Cana
3. The Proclamation of Jesus of the Kingdom of God, with his Call to Conversion
4. The Transfiguration of Jesus
5. The Institution by Jesus of the Eucharist
In his Letter, the Holy Father provides a brief reflection on each of the Mysteries of the Rosary, now numbering twenty from the earlier fifteen.
On the new set of Mysteries, our Holy Father wrote: “Each of these Mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus. The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light. Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became ‘sin’ for our sake (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Mt 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out. Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana (cf. In 2:1-12), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers. Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mk 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk 7:47- 48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. In 20:22-23) .The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to ‘listen to him’ (cf. Lk 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit. A final mystery of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies ‘to the end’ his love for humanity (Jn 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.
“In these mysteries, apart from the miracle at Cana, the presence of Mary remains in the background. The Gospels make only the briefest reference to her occasional presence at one moment or other during the preaching of Jesus (cf. Mk 3:31-5; Jn 2:12), and they give no indication that she was present at the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. Yet the role she assumed at Cana in some way accompanies Christ throughout his ministry. The revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan and echoed by John the Baptist is placed upon Mary’s lips at Cana, and it becomes the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (Jn 2:5). This counsel is a fitting introduction to the words and signs of Christ’s public ministry and it forms the Marian foundation of all the ‘mysteries of light’.”
The schedule suggested by the Holy Father for the days of the week when each set of Mysteries would be prayed is as follows:
Joyful Mysteries: Monday and Saturday
Luminous Mysteries: Thursday
Sorrowful Mysteries: Tuesday and Friday
Glorious Mysteries: Sunday
Calling for the Rediscovery and Promotion of the Rosary
The Holy Father enjoins various groups to rediscover the Rosary as the treasure that it is, and “in the light of Scripture, in harmony with Liturgy, and in the context” of one’s daily life,” and to “confidently take up the Rosary once again”. He expresses his hope that his Brother Bishops, priests and deacons, and pastoral agents in the different ministries may “come to promote it with conviction” through their “own personal experience of the beauty of the Rosary.”
He entrusts his Letter to the hands of the Virgin Mary, echoing words from Blessed Bartolo Longo’s Supplication to the Queen of the Holy Rosary: “O Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain that unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we will never abandon you. You will be our comfort in the hour of death: yours our final kiss as life ebbs away. And the last words from our lips will be your sweet name, O Queen of the Rosary of Pompei, O dearest Mother, O Refuge of Sinners, O Sovereign Consoler of the Afflicted. May you be everywhere blessed, today and always, on earth and in heaven.”
The Holy Father writes from the Vatican, “on the 16th day of October in the year 2002, the beginning of the twenty-fifth year” of his Pontificate.