Ten years ago, Blessed Pope John Paul II made a decision that affected the devotional life of millions of Catholics. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (“The Rosary of the Virgin Mary”), issued Oct. 16, 2002, he reflected on the importance of the Rosary, declared a Year of the Rosary, and enriched the Rosary with five luminous mysteries.

Public ministry

“Of the many mysteries of Christ’s life, only a few are indicated by the Rosary in the form that has become generally established with the seal of the Church’s approval,” he wrote. “I believe, however, that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his baptism and his passion.” 

Mysteries of Light
In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Blessed John Paul II added five “mysteries of light” to the Rosary:  
(1) Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan
(2) His self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana
(3) His proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion
(4) His transfiguration
(5) His institution of the Eucharist as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery
How can you pray these mysteries with greater devotion?
Use sacred art: “I often follow the daily live transmission of the Rosary in Italian from Lourdes. The transmission uses the beautiful images of the Rupnik mosaics on the facade of the Lourdes basilica,” Bishop-designate Charles Scicluna said.
Open the Bible before or during the Rosary: Elizabeth Briel recommended that Catholics “place [the mysteries] in their scriptural context; read them with the broader story in mind.”

“Consequently, for the Rosary to become more fully a ‘compendium of the Gospel,’ it is fitting to add, following reflection on the Incarnation and the hidden life of Christ (the joyful mysteries) and before focusing on the sufferings of his Passion (the sorrowful mysteries) and the triumph of his Resurrection (the glorious mysteries), a meditation on certain particularly significant moments in his public ministry (the mysteries of light),” he continued. 

Intriguing addition

Elizabeth Briel, author of “The Rosary: A Path into Prayer” (Loyola Press, $11.95), said, “The Rosary was such a long tradition — with the Church and with me — and I didn’t want anyone messing with it, not even Blessed John Paul! But then, of course, I got to know the mysteries that were being introduced, and I fell in love with them.” 

“I was intrigued when I first heard about the mysteries of light,” added Robert Fastiggi, vice president of the Mariological Society of America and professor of systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. “My spontaneous reaction was to trust in the wisdom of John Paul II for introducing these mysteries. The more I considered them, the more I liked them, because they allow us to contemplate key moments of Christ’s public ministry in the school of Mary.” 

Roots in Malta?

Much as St. Margaret Mary Alacoque fostered devotion to the Sacred Heart and St. Mary Faustina Kowalska spread devotion to the Divine Mercy, a Maltese priest who was beatified in 2001 and canonized in 2007 is linked to the luminous mysteries. In its biography of St. George Preca, the Vatican website notes that in the 1950s he “suggested the use of five ‘mysteries of light’ for the private recitation of the Rosary.” 

OSV asked Bishop-designate Charles Scicluna, recently appointed auxiliary bishop of Malta who was postulator of the cause of St. George Preca’s canonization, whether the saint’s “mysteries of light” inspired Blessed John Paul to propose the luminous mysteries to the entire Church. 

“Ten years ago, on the eve of the publication of Rosarium Virginis Mariae by Blessed John Paul II, I received a phone call from a journalist of The Guardian,” he recalled. “He told me that they had information that the five luminous mysteries that the pope was to promulgate had been inspired by Blessed George Preca. I said that I did not have that information, but could read to him the list of five luminous mysteries that Blessed George Preca had suggested.” 

Whether or not Blessed John Paul’s decision was directly inspired by Malta’s first saint, the luminous mysteries are making their mark on Catholic piety. 

“I think these added mysteries have helped Western Catholics especially appreciate God as Light, a theme very prominent in the Christian East and rooted in Scripture,” Fastiggi said.  

J.J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina.