When Pope St. John Paul II introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary in 2002, there’s no indication that he saw them as Lenten devotions. He proposed them in an Apostolic Letter on Oct. 10 that year “to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary” by including “the mysteries of Christ's public ministry between his Baptism and his Passion”. In the almost 15 years since their introduction, the Luminous Mysteries have been included in most Rosary devotionals and meditation aids.

Some have resisted the option to use these mysteries for various reasons, some of which Pope John Paul anticipated in his letter: Mary, the Mother of God, is absent in all but one of the mysteries (the second); the addition of five more mysteries breaks the linkage between the 150 Aves and the 150 Psalms, and one of the mysteries is termed hard to meditate upon (the third). The five Luminous Mysteries are: 1) The Baptism of Jesus; 2) The Marriage Feast of Cana; 3) The Proclamation of the Kingdom; 4) The Transfiguration; 5) The Institution of the Eucharist. Pope St. John Paul II provided some guidance for meditation on each of these mysteries in his Apostolic Letter, noting that “we contemplate important aspects of the person of Christ as the definitive revelation of God” because “each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus”.

 

A Luminous Lent

For Lent this year, I decided to alternate between the Luminous Mysteries and the Sorrowful Mysteries, starting on Ash Wednesday with the Sorrowful. Each of the Luminous Mysteries lends itself to a Lenten interpretation.

The Baptism of Jesus is both an event for Christmas time and for Lent: it is part of Jesus’s Epiphany, or manifestation, as He is proclaimed the Father’s Beloved Son and St. John the Baptist testifies to Him as the Lamb of God. That title points to His death on the Cross on Good Friday. After Jesus is baptized, He goes into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, fasting and praying. He withstands the temptations of the Devil and gives us our pattern for Lent.

The Marriage Feast of Cana is the third manifestation or Epiphany of Jesus, along with the visit of the Magi and the Baptism. Jesus’s first response to Mary’s request for a miracle is that His hour has not yet come. When he performs this miracle of changing water into wine, however, He begins His messianic mission, which is to suffer and die for us on the Cross, and then rise from the dead. For more about this exchange and especially Jesus’s use of the word “Woman” when responding to His mother, read this explanation.

The Proclamation of the Kingdom offers a wide range of themes to meditate on: the healings, the miracles, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees and Scribes, and the parables. If this mystery is hard to meditate upon, that’s just because there is so much to choose from. The central message of the proclamation of the Kingdom is the message of Lent: repent and believe in the Gospel for the Kingdom of God is at hand. As He proclaims the kingdom, Jesus testifies to the disciples that He will suffer, die and rise on the third day. 

The Transfiguration takes place in the context of that testimony and warning: in the three Synoptic Gospels the sequence is that St. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah; Jesus foretells His Passion and Peter remonstrates with Him; Jesus rebukes Peter, and then He is Transfigured with Elijah and Moses, and the voice of the Father commends Him again, as at the Baptism. Peter, James, and John are there and they remember this event after His Passion and Resurrection. After the Transfiguration, Jesus foretells His crucifixion again. (We hear the story of the Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent.)

The Institution of the Eucharist takes place just before The Agony in the Garden, the first Sorrowful Mystery. Since the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated on Holy Thursday evening, the connection is clear: Our Lord’s Sacrifice on the cross is re-presented in an unbloody manner at each Mass; He instituted both the priesthood and the Mass the night before He suffered and died, leaving us a memorial of His Passion. 

This practice of praying the Luminous Mysteries with Lenten meditations for personal devotion is a way to honor Pope St. John Paul’s original intentions. He wanted to revive and renew the tradition of the Rosary, making it a more complete compendium of the Gospel, and encouraging Catholics to deepen their contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus Christ. Through the Luminous Mysteries this great Marian pope and saint hoped “to 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.”