The Rosary: Introduction to the Dolorous Mysteries


The Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world” was also conceived before the foundation of the world, raise by Joseph, potty trained by Mary, educated in the synagogue of Nazareth, raised from the dead, and crowned in glory from before the foundation of the world. Jesus is God’s eternity participating in our time, but to God things are not sequential. A thing either is or is not. Things come into being, yes: but for God they are not a process. The Dolorous or Sorrowful mysteries are the events at the End of Christ’s ministry. But to God – like all the other events of the life of Christ, they are always present. By his grace (his energy), as we contemplate them, we may enter into them:

  1. The Passion in the Garden
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar
  3. The Crowning with Thorns
  4. The Carrying of the Cross
  5. The Crucifixion, Death, and Burial of Our Lord

Perhaps these are what many people think about when they think of “meditating on the Rosary”.  Any sort of “Affective Piety” or “Pious Visualization” may give one a very stereotyped idea of someone conjuring up a mental image of the Crucifixion or the Scourging and, working themselves into an emotional state, having a good, cathartic cry.

One of the most emotionally moving, “religious feeling” experiences of my life was hearing a sermon on the medical aspects of the Passion of Christ: what one feels when one is so stressed out as to sweat blood, how the purple robe would have soaked up the blood from the scourging and then dried, like a large woolen bandage – which was ripped of Jesus’ back later, opening all the wounds again, tearing off more flesh. I was on a crying jag for about 30 mins after that sermon – which I heard in 1980 on Passion Sunday at the Methodist Church in Acworth, GA. It was one of those things that sticks with you.  The Anglican and later, Byzantine hymns of Holy Week can still leave me an emotional mess because they call to mind, 30+ years later, the image in that sermon. But feelings ain’t faith and no one was ever saved by feeling something.  Faith is a walk, not a breakdown.

We are no more try and feel sadness here than we are supposed to feel or to try and feel sentimental Christmassy thoughts in the Joyous Mysteries or giddy, triumphalism in the Glorious Mysteries. Feelings may, of course, arise: but that’s not the point. We are not here to feel something, but to grow in Christ and to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. So what are we doing here?  We are thanking God for these events – as we do in the other Mysteries – and we are calling them to mind to make their reality present in our lives. We are, in a real sense, participating in them as we are in the other mysteries.

Sequebatur autem illum multa turba populi et mulierum, quae plangebant et lamentabantur eum. Conversus autem ad illas Jesus, dixit: Filiae Jerusalem, nolite flere super me, sed super vos ipsas flete et super filios vestros. Quoniam ecce venient dies in quibus dicent: Beatae steriles, et ventres qui non genuerunt, et ubera quae non lactaverunt. Tunc incipient dicere montibus: Cadite super nos; et collibus: Operite nos. Quia si in viridi ligno haec faciunt, in arido quid fiet?

And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?

Jesus said, “if they do this to me, imagine what they will do to you when I’m not around!”  We echo our modern, whiny, and self-pitying culture if we are too fast to cry “Horrible Persecution!” when all that’s happening is a change in the tax laws.  We need to be strengthened in our faith by realizing what our God has done for us.  An Anglican priest, well-beloved of me, used to say (in nearly every sermon) that “…God, whose holy name is love, was so willing to share his love with us that he accepted steel in his hands and feet and side…” and then he would charge us in the name of love to do the same.  We need to be mindful of what happened so that we can have it happen to us.

As we enter into meditation on the Dolorous Mysteries, let us remember: this is not the Passion Theater of the Mind (or Heart). This is basic training.

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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