As of this weekend, we will now have not one, but two new canonized Pope/Saints in the Church who each fulfilled their Papacies, beginning to end, within my lifetime. Yes I am that old! Laying that thought of my ever-increasing ancientness aside, both contributed to the Church in ways so numerous and far-reaching that it was fitting they be canonized together, and as a duo they “bookended” the 2nd Vatican Council, one by starting the process, and the other by interpreting it in practical and definitive ways so that we could live it out.
One of those ways was in (soon to be) Pope St. John Paul the Great’s gift to the Church of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. In writing this I am somewhat taking for granted that you, the reader, know what these are. I hope you do. But if not, do just a bit of research on your favorite Catholic search engine and you soon will. They prayerfully illustrate the life of Christ as an adult and throughout His earthly ministry, and add a crucial element to the other three sets of mysteries which were already part of this most marvelous suite of prayers. Like the 72 “books” of the Bible itself, they are both one huge overarching prayer and well over 50 individual ones. They are a powerful and needed gift to us all, and as I alluded to in the title of this piece, were part of what Pope St John Paul the Great called his “favorite prayer.” And mine too, I must say. And many of yours.
But, if you are like me, there are times when it all just gets jumbled up while praying. For instance, and I am pretty sure I am not the only one who has done this, have you ever been halfway through the Glorious Mysteries only to realize that it was actually the day for the Sorrowful ones? I did that just last week. Of course that is no sin, perhaps God’s way of teaching us something we needed to know that particular day. Nevertheless it can be frustrating. Here\’s one possible solution to that dilemma, a suggestion that will perhaps make that day’s Rosary even more meaningful. I call it “praying across the mysteries.” It works like this:
Say, for instance, that you are praying the Joyful Mysteries, meditating on the Annunciation. Lovely thoughts cross your mind as your fingers pluck the Hail Mary beads like a guitar, thinking of the blessed Archangel St. Gabriel announcing to our Blessed Mother that one day soon she would be tabernacling the Messiah within her sacred womb. Then it hits you. You were supposed to be thinking about Jesus agonizing in the Garden! Quite a contrast—or is it? At that point you have three choices—to start all over, meditating on the proper mystery of the day, to move forward with the mysteries you were praying, albeit mistakenly, or to step across from one to the other. This, the third choice, is what I most often do when I make such heavenly blunders.
While it may not seem that the Annunciation and the Agony in the Garden are particularly connected, make an attempt to think of how they might be after all. For one thing, in both cases, Mary and Jesus are saying the most difficult “fiats” of their lives. They both say “yes” to the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, reputations, and any chance for what the rest of us might call a mercifully average life. Each are ministered to by angels too, in the case of Mary, St. Gabriel, and in the case of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, unnamed but very real heavenly creatures come to strengthen Him for the task ahead. They both had the capacity to say no as well. Neither would have done so, thanks be to God, but both had free will and could have found an easier way out. Neither chose to walk away, even for a moment, from their heavenly calling. In short, the two outwardly disparate mysteries have far more in common than at first glance.
If you really wish to take this a step further, try sometime praying all five decades in this manner, and give yourself some extra time as this may take a while, but it will be time well-spent. The other two first mysteries are the Resurrection and the Baptism of Our Lord. Again, who is specifically mentioned in all four of these first mysteries? Angels, angels, angels, and angels. How much time do we spend thinking of these heavenly beings and their many interventions in our lives, at conception, birth (and re-birth through baptism), impending death, and our ultimate victory and entrance into the Kingdom through shedding this physical body? Angels are present and active during all four of these personally historic moments in each of our lives. One could likewise take note of the sets of choices to be made during each. Strumming across, rather than simply plucking through each of those mysteries and appreciating their interconnectedness to one other brings a whole other dimension to the salvation story not readily seen alone.
And this is only a teaser, as there are limitless possible combinations of such “cross” (pun definitely intended) pollination of the seeds of Life within the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. None are right or wrong. But all will enrich your experience with those holy beads of power held within your hands. Add this dimension to the already rich gift of a strong profession of the Catholic/Christian Faith in the Apostle’s Creed while holding tightly to our Lord hanging on the Cross for us, repeating six times the bold declaration which the Sacred Liturgy quite literally dares us to speak to our Heavenly Father in the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father, another six fresh breaths of worship to the Triune Godhead via the Glory Be to the Father, and finally the heart of the prayer, the Hail Mary, which is built upon Sacred Scripture itself and which \”hinges,\” (again John Paul’s word) on the mention of the name of Jesus in each and every one. A more Christo-centric prayer format does not exist aside from the Liturgy and Sacred Scripture itself.
Finally each Rosary, prayed well, includes the intentions or prayer requests of ourselves, our friends and neighbors, the Church, and the world. The sweet Fatima prayer, “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy” which is another addition to the Rosary added after those amazing apparitions of our Blessed Mother to three Portuguese peasant children nearly 100 years ago, gives us the final essential outward-looking vision beyond our sometimes small Church worldview which Pope Francis has so often exhorted us about, a view indispensable to carrying out our parts in the New Evangelization. In that short prayer we ask for forgiveness, pray for mercy for all, and obey Christ’s command to love our enemies by praying for them daily.
No wonder it was this holy Pope of the Divine Mercy’s “favorite” prayer.