Let the Luminous Mysteries Shine!
By Guillermo Moreno
Mar. 6, 2022
Among the foremost icons of Catholic identity is the Rosary. In other words, the Rosary especially defines Catholic devotion due to the visual and vocal centrality of Jesus and Mary. Visually, we have the rosary beads stringed together with a centerpiece and a crucifix hanging, depicting the sacrifice of Our Lord that won us our salvation in Him. Vocally, the prayers of the Our Father and the Hail Mary are said with the passing of each bead, typically comprising of five rosary decades. Where did this devotion come from? By addressing this question, we examine its origin, its nature, and its end. We also, specifically, address objections by radical traditionalists against the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.
The origin of the Rosary is complex to decipher due to the fact that there is no historical consensus that confirms that it originated with St. Dominic, to whom Our Lady allegedly appeared to and provided a “unique combination of preaching and prayer that would constitute the basis of the prayer form later known as the Rosary.” While Popes have attributed the origin of the Rosary with St. Dominic, biographers of St. Dominic did not because the devotion existed before him. Even if Our Lady did give the Rosary to St. Dominic, she did not present him with the form of the fifteen mysteries, due to the historical development of the Rosary (and even of the Hail Mary itself) between the time of St. Dominic (d. 1221) to 1569 when Pope Pius V authorized the form of the fifteen mysteries.
Historically, between the end of the eleventh century and the twelfth century, some aspects of the Rosary that exist are the recitation of numerous Hail Marys with the contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Jesus, as well as a Marian devotion that consisted of reciting numerous Hail Marys with rhythmic prostrations in honor of her joys and then in honor of her sorrows. Furthermore, at the time, the Hail Mary consisted only of the angelic salutation that is the first part of the Hail Mary that we use today. This practice was already in place in monasteries when St. Dominic began his apostolate among the Cathars.
The Psalters of the Virgin Mary emerged in the twelfth century. Some notes regarding these Psalters are the fact that they originated in Cistercian communities, they were originally recited by the brothers, they consisted of praying 150 Our Fathers according to the number of Psalms, and that they were eventually prayed by the lay people, who began to recite one-hundred and fifty Hail Marys. In light of this, a thesis by Father Mahé, on the sources of the Rosary, makes most sense, explaining that “the role of St. Dominic himself was less that of being the beginning of the Rosary… than adapting this already existing form of piety as a form of preaching according to his specific charism” (emphases mine).
What follows, as some historical accounts attest, is that Henry of Kalkar (d. 1408), a Carthusian monk, was the first to put forward the precise number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys, due to the Virgin Mary revealing to him how he could compose a more perfect “Psalter,” which consists of the fifteen decades of the Hail Mary divided by the fifteen Our Fathers.
Interestingly, there was a distinction between this Psalter of Mary and the Rosary. The latter referred to a series of fifty Hail Marys that were prayed by Adolf of Essen (d. 1439) every day. He would also meditate on the life of Jesus as he prayed this series. He attempted to teach this method of prayer to a young Carthusian, Dominic of Prussia, but since Dominic could not focus on the meditation, Adolf had the idea of dividing the life of Jesus into fifty phrases, or clausulae, and of joining a Hail Mary to each phrase. Dominic later published a series of one-hundred and fifty clausulae for the entire Psalter of Mary, though this Rosary was not yet composed of decades.
Next, various authors borrowed from Blessed Alan de la Roche (d. 1475), further adding to the development of the Rosary from two distinct devotions into one, and incorporating specific mysteries, which apparently were used for the first time specifically as “mysteries of the Rosary” in 1521 in Il Rosario della gloriosa Vergine Maria by Alberto of Castello.
The Rosary received official approval by the Magisterium in Pope Paul V’s Apostolic Constitution Consueverant Romani Pontifices (1569), and has kept its form used ever since, including the second half of the Hail Mary. Even then, additions to the Rosary continued, including certain prayers in different cultures and the Glory Be to the Father at the end of each decade. Furthermore, the recitation of the Creed, the Our Father, the three Hail Marys, and the formula of offering and statement of the fruits of each mystery originate from St. Louis de Montfort, who also promoted the Luminous Mysteries. The most important recent addition to the Rosary is the prayer that Our Lady provided during the Fatima apparitions in Portugal. This is important because it demonstrates that this devotion did not always have its “traditional form,” but, as Dr. Mark Miravalle, Mariology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, beautifully writes that, historically, “the Rosary is the product of a peaceful combination of both heavenly inspiration and human development as prayed and practiced by the living Church.”
Having addressed the origin of the Rosary, we can address its nature or its essence. The Catechism states that the Rosary is “[a] prayer in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which repeats the privileged Marian prayer Ave Maria, or Hail Mary, in ‘decades’ of ten prayers, each preceded by the Pater Noster (‘Our Father’) and concluded by the Gloria Patri (‘Glory Be to the Father’), accompanied by meditation on the mysteries of Christ’s life… The physical Rosary is designed to pray five decades at a time. Pope John Paul II beautifully describes the Rosary as the School of Mary. He teaches that:
Christ is the supreme Teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not just a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him.” In this regard could we have any better teacher than Mary? From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26, 16:13). But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to the profound knowledge of his mystery than his Mother…
Contemplating the scenes of the Rosary in union with Mary is a means of learning from her to “read” Christ, to discover his secrets and to understand his message.
This school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that she teaches by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as she offers us the incomparable example of her own “pilgrimage of faith.” As we contemplate each mystery of her Son’s life, she invites us to do as she did at the Annunciation: to ask humbly the questions which open us to the light, in order to end with the obedience of faith, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 14).
In light of this, and of the development and authorization of the Rosary, Pope John Paul II set out to include the Luminous Mysteries: “the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between his Baptism and his passion… It is during the years of his public ministry that the mystery of Christ is most evidently a mystery of light: ‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (Jn 9:5).” (RVM, 19). Pope John Paul II says,
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). This addition of these new mysteries, without prejudice to any essential aspect of the prayer’s traditional format, is meant to give it fresh life and 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 light, of suffering and of glory. (RVM, 19) (emphasis mine).
As demonstrated, the traditional form of the Rosary was the result of its development through use by the living Church and its authorization from the Magisterium, after which it had still gone through some changes. Pope John Paul II had thus instituted a new tradition of the Rosary through his authorization. Among the objectors to the Luminous Mysteries are the SSPX, whose main issues are the fact that with twenty mysteries, the Rosary loses its symbolism of the 150 Psalms. They are also critical of the selection of the mysteries themselves; specifically, the third and the fifth mysteries, the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the Institution of the Eucharist, respectively.
Regarding the first objection, they readily admit that the tradition that is disrupted is tradition with a lower-case ‘t.’ They also admit that the choice of the mysteries is not untouchable, and that the form of the Rosary could equally be different. They do, however, refer to the Rosary as having been referred to as the Psalter of Mary by various popes. It’s a beautiful title, but it is a tradition that can change. Furthermore, that symbolism is not essential for the purpose of this devotion. The Psalms and the Divine Office are two distinct subjects or elements in Catholicism. The Rosary is another, and it does not lose its essence with the addition of the Luminous Mysteries.
Regarding the second, SSPX’s article on the subject suggests that the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God is not an historical event as the other mysteries are, and that it is thus difficult to meditate on. They furthermore claim that there is a “conciliar” interpretation of the third and the fifth mysteries, for which they are suspicious of. As such, “the Kingdom” allegedly has an inclusive connotation of all human beings, and “the fifth mystery refers to the ‘Paschal mystery,’ a traditional theological concept that has been reinterpreted by the new theology to signify a novel appreciation of the mystery of Redemption. These mysteries thus appear more or less imbued with the conciliar coloring which has invested them with a new meaning.”
Regarding SSPX’s arguments against the mysteria lucis, SSPX’s article does not cite any source for the claim that the third luminous mystery is not an historical event, such as an early Church source. But whether or not it is an historical event, it serves as an invitation to contemplate the Good News of the Kingdom, even by recalling Christ’s teachings on the Kingdom of God throughout the Gospels (i.e. the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13). Finally, regarding the interpretation of the Kingdom, the fact is that it has the historical, literal, and objective sense as the People of God, the Church. That others, namely dissidents, would interpret it differently to mean inclusivity is besides the point of what it actually means, and certainly besides the point of why Pope John Paul II decided to add it. John Paul says that this mystery, “calls to conversion (cf. Mk 1:15) and forgives the sins of all who draw near to him in humble trust (cf. Mk 2:3-13; Lk 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. Jn 20:22-23).” (RVM, 21). In light of this, the third luminous mystery can and should be interpreted and contemplated in its context. There is no reason to object to it because someone else would interpret it differently.
The Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary are thus good and fitting. Having examined the origin and essence of the Rosary, the objection that they are not the “traditional” ones does not disprove their worthiness or validity as mysteries of the Rosary. Furthermore, as one Pope authorized its previous form, so does another Pope authorize this form. In the end, the devotion of the Rosary is what is ultimately traditional for Catholics.
 Mark I. Miravalle, Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion (Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., 2006). Pg. 89.
 Various Authors, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons (Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., 2008). 700.
 Cf. Ibid.
 Ibid. 707.
 Ibid. 701.
 Ibid. 703.
 Cf. Ibid, and Introduction to Mary, 90.
 Mariology, 703.
 Ibid. 704-705.
 Ibid. 706.
 Ibid. 706-707.
 Introduction to Mary. 90-91.
 Ibid. 91.
 Mariology. 709.
 Introduction to Mary. 92.
 Ibid. 93.
 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church (United States Catholic Conference, 2000). p. 897.
Miravalle, Mark I. Ed. Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., 2008.
Church, Catholic. Catechism of the Catholic Church. United States Catholic Conference, 2000.
Pope John Paul II. On the Most Holy Rosary, 2003.
Miravalle, Mark I. Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion. Mark I. Miravalle, S.T.D., 2006.
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