About a month ago, I took on a week-long babysitting job that involved playing with a little girl at her mother’s office. On Thursday morning, this little girl was unusually tired and slept most of the morning. With little else to do, I decided to pass the time by saying a rosary. I’m always excited to realize that it’s Thursday, because the Luminous Mysteries are my favorite. Anyway…sitting on a rolling chair in this cold doctor’s office, it finally hit me why the mystery of the Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven is at the center of this group of mysteries. Of all the mysteries of the rosary, I’d always understood this one the least, perhaps because it is one of the most basic mysteries. Jesus’s revelation: “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn. 18:36) shows us that this world that we can see is not all there is. There is something beyond this world. This is such a basic tenet of the Christian faith that I tend to take it for granted. So many people out there, however, do not believe there is anything else out there and therefore do not have the consolation of this wonderful fact of existence.
After this first realization, God then showed me how all of the Luminous Mysteries were related to the Kingdom of Heaven, and that there was a progression in the order of the mysteries. Baptism is our gate of entry into the kingdom—even the King himself went through this gate. The Wedding at Cana is the closest we can get, on the purely human level, to what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. First, it is a time of rejoicing and being reunited with everyone you love, a great celebration and feast, just as I often picture heaven. Second, it celebrates the coming together in marriage of a man and a woman, sexual relations being the best human image of heaven as union with the Beloved, union with God. After the Wedding, the Proclamation of the Kingdom (as mentioned above) takes us beyond the human, earthly level. In the Transfiguration, the disciples get a glimpse of this heavenly glory, seeing Jesus in his full glory as King of heaven and earth. This experience is also a confirmation for the disciples (and for us) that what was announced in the Proclamation is indeed true. Finally, in the Institution of the Eucharist, we have the merging of the two worlds, earth and heaven. The Eucharist is heaven on earth because it is physical and spiritual union with God, as well as union with the entire Mystical Body of Christ, living and deceased. It is not yet the Beatific Vision, but it’s as close as we can get on earth. Within these five mysteries, the Wedding Feast foreshadows the Eucharist, which is even more intimate than any human sexual relation.
Just now in researching the Luminous Mysteries, I came across the apostolic letter with which John Paul II introduced them into the tradition of the rosary, entitled Rosarium Virginis Mariae. I only read over it quickly, but what I did read made me see the rosary in a very new and wonderful way. (I highly recommend this letter, in case you can’t tell.) Anyway, this letter describes the Luminous Mysteries as being especially concerned with the public ministry of Jesus. “Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus” (21).
Thinking a little more on this, I realized that these mysteries are very closely tied to the sacraments of the Church. Baptism, Matrimony and Eucharist are obvious. The Proclamation, seen as a call to conversion, contains in it the offer of Reconciliation: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk. 1:15) Finding a parallel sacrament to go with the Transfiguration proved difficult. For now, I’ve settled on the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, which, while it is not one of the seven sacraments, greatly enriches our experience of the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Finally, these five mysteries contain the basic mission of Christ and his Church on earth: caring for God’s people in body and soul. Jesus provided for our physical and emotional human needs by providing the wedding guests with wine. He provides for our spiritual needs in the preaching that accompanies the Proclamation, in baptism and in forgiveness of sins. The Eucharist, of course, nourishes us both physically and spiritually. The Luminous Mysteries show us how to make a reality those familiar words that open the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
John Paul II. Rosarium Virginis Mariae. 2002. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae_en.htmlThe New American Bible. Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers, 1986.