The Rosary: Introduction to the Luminous Mysteries


To the traditional 15 Decades of the Rosary, Pope St John Paul II suggested another 5, the Mysteries of Light or the Luminous Mysteries. He did this in his letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae on 16 October 2002.  Whilst these have been accepted by most Roman Catholics, they are not in very common use by other Christians who prefer to stick with the “traditional Rosary”.  (Some TradCaths also reject them.) These five “new” mysteries are:

  1. The Baptism of Christ
  2. The Wedding of Cana
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom of God
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Mystical Supper

It may surprise some Orthodox – even those Byzantine Rite folks generally supportive of the Western Rite and also Western Rite folks in general – but I advocate the use of John Paul the Second’s “innovation”.  I do so for three reasons:

  1. It does (as the Pope said) expand this devotion to encompass the whole life of Christ.
  2. It expands the meditation to the Holy Sacraments.
  3. It makes (by both 1 & 2 together) the entire meditation more Orthodox.

1. The Whole Life of Christ

The existing 15 Mysteries focus our attention on the Birth and the Death and Resurrection of Christ, but it is the entire presence of God with us that is salvific. The Catechism underscores this:

 Christ’s whole earthly life – his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking – is Revelation of the Father. Jesus can say: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”, and the Father can say: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Because our Lord became man in order to do his Father’s will, even the least characteristics of his mysteries manifest “God’s love. . . among us”.

517 Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of his cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life:

– already in his Incarnation through which by becoming poor he enriches us with his poverty;
– in his hidden life which by his submission atones for our disobedience;
– in his word which purifies its hearers;
– in his healings and exorcisms by which “he took our infirmities and bore our diseases”;
– and in his Resurrection by which he justifies us.184

518 Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation: When Christ became incarnate and was made man, he recapitulated in himself the long history of mankind and procured for us a “short cut” to salvation, so that what we had lost in Adam, that is, being in the image and likeness of God, we might recover in Christ Jesus. For this reason Christ experienced all the stages of life, thereby giving communion with God to all men.

These five new mysteries then widen out the scope of the prayer to teach that every action of God from the Annunciation (and before) to the Glorification (and beyond) was part of our salvation.

2. The Holy Sacraments

Each one of the Luminous mysteries seems, to me, to point to one of five Sacraments:

  1. The Baptism of Christ – Our Baptism
  2. The Wedding of Cana – Holy Matrimony
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom of God – Holy Orders
  4. The Transfiguration – Confirmation/Chrismation
  5. The Mystical Supper – The Holy Eucharist

I recognize that #4 is a stretch, but we’re talking poetic meditation here, not doctrinal teaching.

3. More Orthodox

I realize that for some Catholics and also Orthodox (as I mentioned at the top of the post) these things are too new. They are “modernism” because the Pope dared to change something. But he changed a devotion not a doctrine. The Rosary – long beloved in the West – is not part of the universal deposit of the faith, it’s not a teaching of the church. In fact, if considered in this way at all, it falls into the realm of “private revelation” to St Dominic. It cannot be made compulsory. But it is rich in grace, tradition, and piety. There’s no reason not to address the contemporary needs of the Church with this wholly salutary way.

If the main objection that the Orthodox have to the Rosary (as I have heard) is not “it’s Roman Catholic” but rather “too Western” (whatever that means), I think the addition of the Mysteries of Light fixes that. They remove the focus from all the “sad stuff”, widening it out to “all the stuffs”. It makes it a more holistic discussion of the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of the God-Man, or, to use a mid-century modern phrase, the Christ Event.

Those of you who didn’t drop your reading device at the end of the last paragraph are begged to pray for me.  I will wrap up this intro now and on continue the five posts in this series.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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