John Paul II marked the 24th anniversary of his pontificate with the proclamation of the Year of the Rosary, and the publication of an apostolic letter on the Rosary.
In his new apostolic letter, entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary), the Pope presents the Marian prayer -- if prayed “with devotion and not mechanically” -- as a “meditation on the mysteries of the life and work of Christ.”
“By repeating the invocation of the Hail Mary, we can reflect profoundly on the essential events of the mission of the Son of God on earth, which have been transmitted to us by the Gospel and by Tradition,” the Pope explained.
And, given that in the 15 mysteries of the rosary prayed up until now, the great events of Christ’s public life were not contemplated, in the new apostolic letter the Pontiff adds five mysteries, which he calls the “mysteries of light.” They include moments in Christ’s public life, beginning with his baptism in the Jordan and ending with the passion.
“Is there, perhaps, a better instrument than the prayer of the rosary for the demanding but extraordinarily rich endeavor to contemplate the face of Christ together with Mary? To do so, however, we must rediscover the mystical profundity enclosed in the simplicity of this prayer, so dear to popular tradition,” the Pope continued.
In the second place, and by way of reinforcing his proposal, the Pope proclaimed the “Year of the Rosary,” which extends from this month to October 2003.
The Holy Father explained that the proclamation celebrates three significant moments: the start of his 25th year in the papacy; the 120th anniversary of Leo XIII’s encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio, which initiated a series of documents on the rosary; and the appendix to the Holy Year 2000.
In “the history of the Great Jubilees the good custom existed that, after the Jubilee Year dedicated to Christ and to the work of the Redemption, one was proclaimed in honor of Mary, as if imploring her help for the fruition of the graces received,” the Pope explained.
In bidding the pilgrims farewell, he said that the “Year of the Holy Rosary, which we will live together, will certainly produce beneficial fruits in the hearts of all, it will renew and intensify the action of grace of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and will become a source of peace for the world.” The greatest novelty in John Paul II’s new apostolic letter on the rosary is the proposal to include five additional mysteries in the Marian prayer.
Explaining his decision, the Pope describes the rosary as a “compendium of the Gospel” oriented to the “contemplation of Christ’s face” through Mary’s eyes and the repetition of the Hail Mary.” Each day, five mysteries are contemplated, and 10 Hail Marys are prayed on each mystery.
Up until now, the 15 mysteries of the rosary -- the joyful, sorrowful and glorious -- lacked decisive moments in Christ’s public life, the Pope explains.
Because of this, the Pope suggests the inclusion of “the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion.”
John Paul II explains that he calls them “the mysteries of light” because Christ in his public life manifests himself as the “mystery of light”: “‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (John 9:5).”
The new document articulates the five “mysteries of light” of Jesus’ public life, and explains the mystery that the Christian contemplates in each one of these passages:
(1) His baptism in the Jordan
“The Baptism in the Jordan is first of all a mystery of light,” the Pope writes. “Here, as Christ descends into the waters, the innocent one who became ‘sin’ for our sake (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21), the heavens open wide and the voice of the Father declares him the beloved Son (cf. Matthew 3:17 and parallels), while the Spirit descends on him to invest him with the mission which he is to carry out.”
Another mystery of light is the first of the signs, given at Cana (see John 2:1- 12), when Christ changes water into wine and opens the hearts of the disciples to faith, thanks to the intervention of Mary, the first among believers,” the apostolic letter adds.
“Another mystery of light is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God, calls to conversion (cf. Mark 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mark 2:3-13; Luke 7:47-48): the inauguration of that ministry of mercy which he continues to exercise until the end of the world, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation which he has entrusted to his Church (cf. John 20:22-23),” the document continues.
Explaining the fourth “mystery of light,” the Holy Father continues: “The mystery of light par excellence is the Transfiguration, traditionally believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor. The glory of the Godhead shines forth from the face of Christ as the Father commands the astonished Apostles to ‘listen to him’ (cf. Luke 9:35 and parallels) and to prepare to experience with him the agony of the Passion, so as to come with him to the joy of the Resurrection and a life transfigured by the Holy Spirit.
“A final mystery of light is the institution of the Eucharist, in which Christ offers his body and blood as food under the signs of bread and wine, and testifies ‘to the end’ his love for humanity (John 13:1), for whose salvation he will offer himself in sacrifice.”
In No. 38 of his Apostolic Letter the Pope suggests that the luminous mysteries be prayed on Thursday.
He then proposes that the joyful mysteries be prayed on Monday and Saturday, the sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and the glorious on Wednesday and Sunday.
According to current practice, Monday and Thursday are dedicated to the joyful mysteries, Tuesday and Friday to the sorrowful, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday to the glorious.
“Where might the ‘mysteries of light’ be inserted?” the Pope writes. “If we consider that the ‘glorious mysteries’ are said on both Saturday and Sunday, and that Saturday has always had a special Marian flavor, the second weekly meditation on the ‘joyful mysteries,’ mysteries in which Mary’s presence is especially pronounced, could be moved to Saturday. Thursday would then be free for meditating on the ‘mysteries of light.’ (ZENIT News Agency)