I’m old enough to remember when the Holy Rosary only had fifteen mysteries. Just fifteen hard-working old-fashioned mysteries about the infancy, suffering, and glory of Jesus Christ. Then this new hip saint named John Paul II came along and decided we should be praying five more mysteries, the “Mysteries of Light.” What?!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of the Luminous Mysteries. It seems a mystery in itself that it took until the 20th century for a set of mysteries regarding Jesus’s ministry to develop. It is a natural fit between the Infancy Narratives and Our Lord’s Passion. At the same time, though, there seems to be someone missing from most of the Luminous Mysteries who is present throughout the rest: Mary.
The direct role of Mary is really evident in the development of the Rosary. If you’ve read The Secret of the Rosary by Saint Louis de Montfort, you know how many Marian apparitions have been involved in shaping the Rosary as we pray it today. Even since de Montfort died in 1716, the effects of apparitions have been evident. The “O My Jesus” prayer appended to each mystery comes from Our Lady of Fatima’s appearances in 1917.
If even so small a prayer as the O My Jesus was introduced through a Marian apparition, I feel like the promotion of an entire new set of mysteries wasn’t done on a whim. It’s the first new group of five mysteries since they were put into three groups four and half centuries ago, and it’s almost certainly the last new meaningful set of mysteries that the Universal Church will enjoy. Saint John Paul the Great had such an intense devotion to Mary, making his personal motto “Totus tuus, Maria” and including her “M” on his coat of arms. Considering his devotion, and the numerous apparitions which have marked additions to the Rosary, I firmly believe that his promotion of the Luminous Mysteries was preceded by some sort of direct message from Our Lady. I don’t know what kind of message that was; I’m just saying: these mysteries were purposeful.
Saint Louis de Montfort, quoted by Saint John Paul in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae introducing the Luminous Mysteries, says:
“Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ. Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ.”
The Rosary is obviously a devotion to Mary, and the Luminous Mysteries are no less part of that devotion. So lately I find myself looking for Mary in the Luminous Mysteries. She is so obvious in the Infancy Narratives of the Joyful Mysteries, and the Passion of the Sorrowful Mysteries, and in her participation in her Son’s Glory. But the Luminous Mysteries are not so often as clearly Marian.
Within the Luminous Mysteries, Mary is most evident in the Wedding at Cana. She asks Jesus directly for what she almost certainly knows will be a miracle, and then this becomes the occasion of Jesus going forth from her side. From Scripture, Mary doesn’t appear to physically be at the Transfiguration (witnessed by Peter, James, and John) or at the Institution of the Eucharist (a command to the Twelve). Though less clear, there’s no indication that she’s present either for Our Lord’s Baptism or at the Sermon on the Mount.
Of course, the Rosary is an exercise in Christological reflection, so Mary doesn’t necessarily have to be front-and-center in every mystery, whether physically or mystically. But John Paul uses the message that “among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary” to introduce us to these mysteries. I don’t think that message was meant to refer to Mary’s participation only in the Miracle at Cana.
So where is she in those other four mysteries? I don’t have all the answers to that question. The Eucharist is indeed to her “flesh of my flesh.” The Transfiguration shows us what she already knows about Jesus. But beyond those fragments, I don’t really know. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. So I’m going to put the thinking on you for a bit: Where do you see Mary in the Luminous Mysteries?
Art Credit: The piece at the top is by “Genzoman” and is one of my favorite pieces of digital sacred art. You can find it and more by the artist here.