Extra credit classes in Mary’s school

In early October 2002, while I was leading a pilgrimage in Rome, I got together for breakfast with a friend who worked in the Roman Curia. I asked him what he was working on, expecting a routine answer. He shocked me by excitedly replying, “Lucis mysteria!” 

Over an espresso and cornetto, he told me that in a couple of weeks’ time, Pope John Paul II would be declaring a Year of the Rosary and publishing an apostolic exhortation on the Rosary, in which he would give us a new set of “Luminous Mysteries” encompassing various epiphanies in Christ’s public ministry.

He asked me to guess what I thought the five new mysteries would be. I got three out of five: Christ’s Baptism, the wedding of Cana and the Transfiguration. He supplemented Christ’s announcing His Kingdom and His giving Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. 

The reason for the new mysteries, he said, was because the pope thought that in order to be a true “Compendium of the Gospel,” as the Rosary had been regarded for eight centuries, it needed to include meditations on Christ’s public ministry. That reason deeply resonated with me. 

I had been praying the Rosary for 30 years and I always thought it a little strange in the most important part of the Rosary — the contemplative meditation on the mysteries of Christ so that we might “obtain what they contain” — we would skip everything that happened in Jesus’ life from when He was found in the temple at 12 until He was sweating Blood in Gethsemane about 18 years later. That was a big hole in the consideration of Christ’s life from Mary’s perspective. 

These new mysteries, the pope wrote in his exhortation, would “bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary,” give it “fresh life” and “enkindle renewed interest in the Rosary’s place within Christian Spirituality as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory.” 

The Luminous Mysteries certainly brought fresh life and renewal to my recitation of the Rosary. Until then, especially when I was praying all 15 mysteries each day, I regularly hit a contemplative wall, when it was difficult for me to look at the mysteries from any new angles. Pondering new mysteries allowed me to rediscover how potent the Rosary is for prayerfully entering into the life of Christ. 

It also led me to begin to think whether there might be other mysteries that would help me to bring out the Christological depth of the Rosary even more, so that on those days when I would be praying more than the five mysteries prescribed for the day, I might be able to seek to assimilate other aspects of the life of the blessed Fruit of Mary’s womb. 

So I began to compose sets of other mysteries from Christ’s public mystery. When I wrote about the Rosary as part of a Christian plan of life several months ago, I mentioned some of the titles for these sets of mysteries and various people wrote asking for elaboration. 

Since October is the month of the Holy Rosary, it’s a fitting time to share them, in case any of these may help others to open the doorway to the depth of Christ’s heart. 

In the “Mysteries of Mercy,” I ponder the Calling of Matthew, the Double Healing of the Paralytic, Zacchaeus, the Woman Caught in Adultery and the Woman in Simon the Pharisee’s House. 

In the “Parables of Mercy,” I consider The Lost Sheep and Coin, the Two Debtors, the Unforgiving Servant, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Prodigal Son. 

As we approach the Year of Mercy, I anticipate I’ll be praying these two sets of mysteries often.

In the “Miraculous Mysteries,” I meditate on the Healing of the Centurion’s Son, of the Three different Blind Men, of the Ten Lepers, the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish, and the Resuscitations of Jairus’ daughter, the Boy in Nain and Lazarus. 

In “The Great Parables,” I dwell on the Sower and the Seed, the Vine and the Branches, the Pearl of Great Price and Buried Treasure, the Good Samaritan, and the Separation of Sheep and Goats. 

In the “Parables on Prayer,” I enter into Jesus’ words on the Pharisee and the Publican, the Friend at Night, the Unjust Judge, the Mustard Seed and the Wise and Foolish Virgins. 

In the “Parables on Judgment,” I look at the Rich Fool, the Talents, the Unjust Steward, the Workers in the Vineyard, and the Marriage Banquet. 

In “Jesus’ Great Sermons,” I examine Building on Rock or Sand, the Birds of Heaven and Flowers in the Field, the Beatitudes, the Bread of Life Discourse and the Seven Last Words. 

In “Jesus’ Dialogues with Women,” I ruminate on his conversations with Martha and Mary, the Samaritan Woman, the Syro-Phoenician Mother, the Adulteress and Mary in Cana and on Calvary.

In the “Petrine Dialogues,” I ponder Jesus’ conversation with Peter Walking on Water, the Double Confession in Caesarea Philippi, Peter’s Asking What He’ll Get For Following Christ, Peter’s Profession in Capernaum, and his Threefold Denial and Threefold Proclamation of Love. 

In the “Mysteries of Vocation,” I contemplate Jesus’ telling John and Andrew to “Come and See,” the Calling of the Fishermen, The Rich Young Man, the Excuse Makers, and Nicodemus. 

In the “Mysteries of the Priesthood,” I consider the Calling of the Twelve, the Washing of the Feet, the Great Priestly Prayer, the Commission to Forgive Sins, and The Sending on Mission.

Like with the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, these various sets of five decades allow me to see some of the major themes going on in Jesus’ life and ministry, to help me better understand them, live them and preach them. 

They also allow me to pray more easily for certain groups of people, suggested by the mysteries: the lost, the sick, those struggling to pray, those who are discerning their call, women, brother priests.

And they help to fill in some of the “gaps” of the contemplation of Christ’s life in Mary’s school so that the Rosary becomes even more of a means to contemplate the blessed Fruit of Mary’s womb in action, in the Gospel and in our life.

Anchor columnist Father Landry can be contacted at fatherlandry@catholicpreaching.com.

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