Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mysterious Mysteries?: An Introduction to the Rosary, Part III

"The Rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes are closed upon the shadow of this world and open on the substance of the next. The power of the Rosary is beyond description."

- Archbishop Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love

Some critics believe that the rosary is just a mindless recitation of rote prayers, but they are very mistaken. The prayers of the rosary are meant to calm the body and focus the mind upon the mysteries of the Christian faith. This is the core thought process that underlies the verbal recitation of prayer. As I said in a previous post, there are four sets of five mysteries. By praying all 5 decades in a rosary, you recite a complete cycle of one set of mysteries. You can pray any set of mysteries you like, but each day of the week is also granted its own set of mysteries, so that you can pray through the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries twice weekly and the Luminous mysteries once a week. This might sound confusing, but it helps to think of it like this:

Joyful Mysteries (recited on Mondays and Saturdays)

annunciation by henry o tanner

  1. The Annunciation
  2. The Visitation
  3. The Nativity
  4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
  5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Sorrowful Mysteries (recited on Tuesdays and Fridays)

by Sandra Boticelli

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

Glorious Mysteries (recited on Wednesdays and Sundays)


  1. The Resurrection
  2. The Ascension
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
  4. The Assumption
  5. The Coronation of Mary

Luminous Mysteries (recited on Thursdays)

the institution of the eucharist, joos van wassenhove

  1. The Baptism of Our Lord
  2. The Wedding at Cana
  3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Institution of the Eucharist

It may seem difficult at first to meditate on the mysteries while praying the appropriate prayers aloud (or silently, if necessary). This will be particularly true if you are only just familiarizing yourself with the prayers.

I recommend, before beginning the rosary, taking some time to recall each mystery. You might want to pull out your Bible and read over the Scripture accounts, as well. I love to find a word or phrase from Scripture for each mystery and use lectio divina meditation while praying the rosary. If you have young children or are currently learning the prayers and the mysteries, I would strongly suggest using visual aids to help you in your meditation. There are fantastic works of art for each of the mysteries. Why not get an inexpensive postcard, a laminated holy card, or a poster—or even a computer printout—of your favorite visual representation of each mystery and use them while you are learning to pray the rosary? has some wonderful tools for meditating on the mysteries. Their online mysteries aid has a work of art for each mystery along with a reflection (a thought or a passage of Scripture) for each of the ten Hail Marys in a decade and a spiritual fruit to meditate on and pray for with each mystery. Here is an example of what they have for the joyful mysteries. You can also purchase these and other aids in booklet or leaflet form for around $2 from their website.

If you’re unfamiliar with what any of the mysteries are, they are easily researched, but you can also feel free to leave a comment here or email me if you’d like more information. If you’re new to the rosary, I recommend finding out more about the mysteries over the next day or so before we move into the specifics of how to pray the rosary.

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