Earlier today I fielded a question from Alex of the Glitch Bottle podcast (my interview with him is here), asking me:
Hi Agostino Taumaturgo – quick (general) Rosary question. What is the reason you do not use the Luminous Mysteries, aside from the reason that it is not part of the “Traditional” mysteries? Of course this makes sense, but I was wondering if there was a canonical reason or other reasons I could give to Catholics who ask me why I don;t use the Luminous. Thanks!
I get this question fairly often, so Alex inspired me to write a blog post. You rock, dude!
That said, here are my reasons for saying no to the “Glow-In-The-Dark” Mysteries.
The Short Answer
The short answer for not using the Luminous Mysteries is that it throws the Rosary out of whack. In its traditional form, the Rosary is finely balanced with the 150 Psalms in the Psalter, with the seven days of the week, with the seasons of the Church Year, and with the three stages of the spiritual life as understood in Catholic Mysticism. By shoehorning an extra set of Mysteries into the Rosary in a hamfisted attempt at giving people “MOAR JEE-ZUS,” the Rosary becomes unmoored from every one of these connections and thus loses its efficacy.
150 Psalms, not 200
The first imbalance the Luminous Mysteries create is with the Psalter, because this touches on the origins of the Rosary itself. The Rosary grew out of the people’s desire to pray the 150 Psalms every week, much like the monks did in the Divine Office. Owing to the mass illiteracy of the time, this translated into praying 150 Hail Marys a week, with each Hail Mary standing in for a Psalm. The 10 Haily Marys multiplied by 15 Mysteries results in 150 Psalms, with the three Hail Marys at the beginning symbolizing the Three Persons of the Trinity (this is shown in the St. Louis’ Secret of the Rosary, in his Prayer Before Saying the Rosary).
Now with the addition of five more Mysteries, that means 50 more Hail Marys adding up to a total of 200. Since there aren’t 200 Psalms in the Psalter, the connection is upended and the Rosary and Psalter become out of sync. This is the first balance that’s disrupted.
The Days of the Week and Seasons of the Year
The next connection that’s upended is the connection to the flow of time. In the Traditional Rosary, each set of Mysteries is said twice during the week from Monday to Saturday, while on Sunday the Mysteries prayed are linked to the Church Year. This forms a symmetrical and balanced pattern where the pray-er places him/herself in sync with time on a micro (weekly) and macro (yearly) basis.
The addition of the Luminous Mysteries disrupts this connection as well, because by shoehorning these Mysteries into Thursday, they are only said once a week while the others are still said twice (i.e. lack of symmetry). Likewise, this forces an identical pattern week-in and week-out, because Sundays are now given exclusively to the Glorious Mysteries and not synchronized with the Church Year.
If we go beyond this on a more “esoteric” level, we see more things. For example, Monday and Thursday (traditionally the Joyful Mysteries) are the days of the Moon and Jupiter, respectively, and we can see the association with initiation and growth therein. Tuesday and Friday (the Sorrowful Mysteries) are associated with Mars and Venus, where we see purgation as purifying fire and purgation as a work of Love. Wednesday and Saturday (the Glorious Mysteries) are the days of Mercury and Saturn, where we see both the knowledge of the Holy Ghost and the terminus of all our labors in the Ascension/Assumption/Coronation cycle.
The days, planets, and Mysteries are connected, as they are a product of a time when man accepted these associations rather than handwaving them as superstitious fictions of a bygone era. It almost needn’t be pointed out how inserting the Luminous Mysteries disrupts this flow, too.
The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life
Lastly we come to the three-fold division of the spiritual life as perceived in Catholic Mysticism: the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive life. The tradition is that the Sorrowful Mysteries connect to the purgative life, the Joyful to the illuminative life, and the Glorious to the unitive life. More information about these three stages can be found in Garrigou-Lagrange’s Three Ages of the Interior Life, or Devine’s Manual of Mystical Theology, or Addison’s Theory and Practice of Mysticism which may be an easier read than the other two.
On this score, the Luminous Mysteries don’t disrupt the association between the Rosary and Catholic spirituality, but ignores that association altogether and shoehorns its way in without a connection. Is there a fourth stage after the unitive? Or between the purgative and the illuminative? It’s like a Chewbacca Defense to try justifying their insertion here because it does not make sense!
More Jesus for the Sake of “Moar Jesus!”
A final criticism I have of the Luminous Mysteries is predicated on JP2’s own reasoning behind instituting them. In Rosarium Virginis Mariae in 2002, the pontiff explicitly said that:
“In these mysteries, … the presence of Mary remains in the background.” (italics in original)
Now one could claim the presence of Mary is in the background for the Sorrowful Mysteries, too, except that in these Mysteries Mary is very present with Jesus, witnessing and suffering with him as a mother suffers when seeing the torture and execution of her child (this is emphasized in the Stations, which overlaps with the Sorrowful Mysteries in this regard).
We also have in the Sorrowful Mysteries the person of Jesus dying for and expiating our sins, while in Joyful and Glorious Mysteries the person of Mary is the representation of ourselves in our own spiritual quest to “become as it were gods.” (Catechism. I, 13, 6)
The Jesus in the Sorrowful Mysteries is not the representation of us, but the representation of his work on our behalf, and the Mary-Who-Represents-Us is present mourning as we are called to mourn. The difference between Mary and us here is that she was conceived without Original Sin, but even that virtue is what transfers to us through the Sacrament of Baptism, placing us as being symbolized by her and receiving both the benefits and the sorrows of what happened on that cross.
In the Luminous Mysteries we have no such equivalence, as with the exception of Cana we’re discussing events where Mary was absent entirely. This forces a shift in focus where we’re in the person of Christ instead of the person of Mary; granted this happens briefly in the First Glorious Mystery and possibly the Second (in fairness we don’t know whether she was present at the Ascension), but by no means is it maintained for more than that brief space and even then the focus is Mary’s joy at seeing her tortured and executed son coming back to life and assuming his rightful place. We are still praying not in the person of Jesus, but that of Mary.
With the shift in the Luminous Mysteries’ focus to the person of Jesus instead of that of Mary – a focus the pontiff does not try to hide – the Luminous Mysteries represent an attempt to cast the Rosary as a Christological devotion rather than as a Mariological one. Granted all Marian devotion is ultimately Christological, as are the Four Marian dogmas. In this manner it could even be forgivable to shift the focus off her for one quarter of a devotion’s run, but it really seems like the good pontiff was just inserting more Jesus into the Rosary for the sake of having more Jesus in it, just like how the good Bugnini created the three-year lectionary to introduce more Bible into the Church Year for the sake of having “Moar Bible.” (Then he advertised it as being for “ecumenical reasons,” although his advertising was totally false. Another blog post for another time!)
As a conclusion, I’d point out that the Luminous Mysteries are optional and thus no one is required to say them against their will. Ultimately one could argue (from an exoteric perspective) that their inclusion is adiaphora which – solely from an exoteric perspective – I’m okay with conceding.
Yet on an esoteric level, the Luminous Mysteries form a break between the Rosary and every part of Catholic life to which the Rosary has been connected previously, and over centuries had become finely balanced and finely attuned. This is not the first time someone in the hierarchy has tried to change the Rosary, and this change is rejected by Traditional Catholics for all kinds of exoteric reasons. The reasons they give are valid, when combined with what I’ve just discussed on an esoteric score, I see no reason to accept them into my spiritual practices.
I fully and perfectly acknowledge the freedom of others to disagree and use the Luminous Mysteries in their own spiritual life. I simply see no reason to incorporate them into mine.
For more information on the Rosary, please check out the blog post How to Do Basic Rosary Magic and my books We Pray the Rosary and How to Pray the Rosary and Get Results.
Wow, you happen to have more wisdom than the pontiff. I will follow your opinion and guidance, instead of his.
Thank you, but I’m not really all that wise. This just seems to be the path where common sense takes me.
Antipope JPII, spawned by the Judas Council, was/is not to be followed.
Thank you so much for this explanation! I was never comfortable saying the luminous mysteries and now I know why.