The Rosary traditionally has consisted of three sets of Mysteries – the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Mysteries.
The Luminous Mysteries, or the Mysteries of Light, were first suggested by Blessed Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Rosarium Virginis Mariae”, and were heartily taken up by the majority of Catholics. One reason for the Holy Father’s suggestion was that it was fitting to include meditations on the ministry of Christ, given that the traditional Rosary jumped from His Infancy to His Passion...and there is so much that can be gleaned from meditating on the ministry of Our Blessed Lord.It was no mistake that the Pope suggested calling these the “Mysteries of Light” because they reveal the Lord Jesus Christ (who is the Light) and His Kingdom in a special way.
The First Luminous Mystery – the Baptism of Our LordIn His Baptism, the Lord Jesus teaches us total resignation to the will of God. When Jesus came to be baptised, John the Baptist wanted to prevent it. John’s message was one of penance (or repentance) i.e. turning away from sin and self; and turning towards God. We know that Mary and Elisabeth were kinswomen (Lk 1:36); so it is very likely that Jesus and John the Baptist knew each other. This means that John would have known what kind of person Jesus was; which makes sense of his response to Jesus’ request for baptism: “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt 3:14). John’s message was about turning from sin, and he knew Jesus well enough to know that he, a sinner, had need to be baptised by the One whom he had never seen given to sin.
But Jesus’ response to John was “Suffer it to be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). This is an interesting response in light of the fact that John’s message was about righteousness – and here is Jesus, the living example of true righteousness, which is total abandonment to doing the will of His Heavenly Father. The Father Himself attests to this when, after Jesus’ baptism, He declares “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.As we meditate upon this first Mystery, we ask Our Lady to pray for us so that we can be Christ-like in being totally committed to doing the will of God. And when we imitate Him in this way, we are assured of God’s promise that He will be well-pleased with us, those whom He makes His beloved sons and daughters through the waters of baptism. Jesus tells us that when we do what God desires, His words to us will be:
“Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt 25:23)
The Second Luminous Mystery – Our Lord turns water into wineMany theologians regard the Lord’s Baptism as the start of His public ministry – and it is, to a degree. His Baptism was His commissioning by His Heavenly Father. But still His public ministry hadn’t yet begun, because He first had to undergo the forty day Temptation in the Wilderness.
So, what was the starting point of Jesus’ public ministry then? It was the performance of His first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – when He turned water into wine. It is no mistake that this miracle was performed at the request of His Blessed Mother. God, in His Divine Wisdom, saw it fit that the Lord Jesus would begin His public ministry with the commissioning of His Heavenly Father and the request of His Blessed Mother.The narrative of the Lord turning water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) is an instructive one, because it shows us the nature of Mary’s role in the life of the Christian. Firstly, she sees the needs of her children, the children that God has given to her (Jn 19:27), and intercedes on their behalf. Secondly, she always points us to Jesus and tells us to “do whatever He says” (Jn 2:5). And thirdly, she reveals the glory of her Son so that people might believe in Him. Whilst it is true that Jesus performed this first sign to reveal His own glory (Jn 2:11), we must remember that He performed it at the request of His Blessed Mother. She knew that by this request, her relationship with her Son would be changed. Yet she requested it anyway – for the sake of others, and so that Jesus’ glory could be revealed.
As Mary points us to Jesus and tells us to follow Him, she does so by the example of her own willingness to say “Yes” to God in her Fiat. She is also our example in glorifying God, when we echo her words “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46).As we imitate Our Lady, we can be assured that we, like her, will be conformed into the image of her Divine Son. Jesus’ promises to change us, just as He changed water into wine.
The Third Luminous Mystery – the Proclamation of the KingdomAfter performing His first miracle, Jesus went out and started proclaiming the Gospel. His message was a call to repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand (Matt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15).
As already mentioned in the First Luminous Mystery, repentance is turning away from sin and self; and turning towards God. But Jesus doesn’t just call us to repentance; He also gives us the means that we need to accomplish it. We cannot approach God in our own strength, for in our own strength we often stumble and fall. Rather, Christ calls us to embrace Him and His free gift of grace so that we might have our sins forgiven and be reconciled with our Heavenly Father.It has often been said that Jesus promised the Kingdom but gave us the Church. But the truth is that the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom:
“To fulfill the Father's will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.” – CCC # 763But what does the Church have to do with repentance and grace? It was to the Church that the Lord Jesus Christ gave the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:23; Matt 18:18). And it is through the Church that the Lord pours out His grace – specifically by the means of the Seven Sacraments.
As we meditate upon this Mystery, may we hear the voice of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Catholic Church calling us to a life of continual conversion and growth in holiness – because when we hear the Church, we hear Jesus (Lk 10:16). And as we listen to the Church, and make ourselves available to the Sacraments, we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.[For another reflection on the Third Luminous Mystery, click here.]
The Fourth Luminous Mystery – the TransfigurationThe episodes in Christ’s life that we meditate upon in the Luminous Mysteries are those where Christ revealed His glory. In this Fourth Luminous Mystery, we meditate upon that very visible display when His face shone like the sun and His clothes became dazzling white (Matt 17:2). As His three closest disciples gazed upon His unveiled glory, He was accompanied by the two great Old Testament Saints, Moses and Elijah. To the Jewish people, these men were the “icons” of the entire Old Testament Scriptures – Moses, the Law; and Elijah, the Prophets.
Peter, not knowing what to say, made the suggestion that three tents (or tabernacles) be erected – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (Mk 9:5-6). At this point, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from heaven proclaimed “This is my Beloved Son; listen to Him!” (Mk 9:7). The disciples became so afraid that they fell to the ground; but Jesus came to them and touched them saying, “get up and do not be afraid”. When they looked up, they saw that Moses and Elijah had disappeared, and Jesus was standing alone before them.One interpretation that the Church has given this passage is that the “disappearance” of Moses and Elijah was God’s way of saying that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. Lk 24:27). There was no need to make tabernacles for Moses and Elijah, because all that they had spoken about was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, when He made His tabernacle amongst men (see Jn 1:14 – where the word translated as “dwelt” or “lived” is in fact means “to tent or tabernacle”).
It is interesting that the words spoken by the Father to the disciples were “Listen to Him!”; because just a few days prior, Jesus had prophesied His Passion and they would not believe Him (see Matt 16:21-22; Mk 8:31-32). The disciples overheard Moses and Elijah speaking to the Lord about His Passion (Lk 9:31). Now, the Father is basically saying to them: “You are prepared to listen to Moses and Elijah. There is one greater than Moses and Elijah here. Listen to Him!”In the Second Luminous Mystery, Jesus revealed His glory through His first miracle, and we hear His Mother’s words “Do whatever He says”. Now, Jesus reveals His physical glory, and we hear His Father’s words “Listen to Him!”
If we listen to Jesus and do whatever He says, we can be sure that we will meet with persecution. After all, if the world persecuted Him, we can expect that it will persecute us. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His Passion. Listening to Jesus means that we will somehow be called to share in His Passion, for He tells us that if we want to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matt 16:24). But that is not where the story ends. After His Passion, Jesus rose again in glory – and this is His promise to us – that if we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17).
The Fifth Luminous Mystery – the Institution of the EucharistIn this Mystery, Christ reveals to us how He will remain with His Church until the end of the ages (Matt 28:20). Whilst the Fourth Luminous Mystery is about Christ unveiling His glory, this Fifth Mystery is about Christ continuing to dwell amongst His people with His glory veiled under the appearance of bread and wine.
The Luminous Mysteries really come to a climax in the Fifth Luminous Mystery, because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. Ultimately, this Mystery is about faith.If we believe that Jesus turned water into wine, as we have already seen in the Second Luminous Mystery, then it shouldn’t be hard for us to believe that He can turn wine into His own Blood.
If it is by faith that we believe that the world was framed by the word of God (Heb 11:3), then it is by faith that we believe the words of Institution change the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. If God says “Let there be light”, then there is light. In the same way, if God says “This is my Body” – then the bread that He holds becomes, by the word of God, His very Body.As we meditate upon this Mystery, we are called to increase our faith in our Eucharistic Lord, who gives His flesh for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). And for all those who worthily share in the communion of the Lord’s Body and Blood, He assures that they will have eternal life (Jn 6:54) – because He is Life.
Obtaining the Promises through Jesus ChristThe Luminous Mysteries are about revelation – specifically the revelation of the glory of the Lord Jesus. That is why these Mysteries are called “Luminous” – because they are about giving light. Jesus said “I am the Light of the world” (Jn 8:12); but He also said that the Church is the light of the world (Matt 5:14). This is because His glory is not something that He keeps to Himself. His desire is to share His glory with His Bride and Body, the Church.
As we meditate upon these Luminous Mysteries, may we grow in our desire to share in Christ’s glory, mindful of the promise that we too will shine as bright as the Son (Matt 13:43).
POST-SCRIPT:For related posts on this topic, click the links below:
Reflections on the Rosary - Introduction
Reflections on the Rosary - Part III (The Sorrowful Mysteries)