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Posted July 30, 2003

Article: The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary
Author: Rev. James P. McIIhone
Taken from the Bridge, The University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL


Pope John Paul II in his recent encyclical, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, "On the Most Holy Rosary," introduced five new mysteries known as the "Mysteries of Light" or "the Luminous Mysteries," which reflect the public life of Jesus. The Pope notes that these mysteries are "a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus."

It is hoped that this series of exegetical reflections might lead us to a deeper understanding of these mysteries of light, and allow us to pray and meditate on the more deeply.

The Baptism of the Lord

The beginning of the public ministry of Jesus takes place when he is baptized by John. Many had been coming to hear John preach, and receive his baptism of forgiveness for remission of sins. In this, they prepared for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus also comes to John to be baptized, not seeking forgiveness of sins, but to prepare himself for his ministry.

After Jesus is baptized by John, the heavens are opened, rending apart the traditional division between God and humanity, allowing the Spirit of God to descend upon Jesus. Then a voice is heard which affirms: "This is my Son, my beloved one, with you I am well pleased." This voice, traditionally considered to be the bath qol, is the voice of God. It affirms that Jesus is the Son of God, combining two citations from the Old Testament and one allusion.

The first citation is from Psalm 2:7 which was sung on the day of the anointing of kings in Israel. It affirms that as kings, they are sons of God (by adoption). Thus Jesus is announced as the long expected Messiah-king.

The second citation is from Isaiah 42:1, the first of the Servant Canticles. It introduces the suffering servant, the one who suffers on behalf of the people for expiation. Thus, Jesus' messiahship will involve suffering, more particularly, suffering on behalf of the people. William Barclay notes, "He knew he was chosen to be king, but he also knew that his throne must be a cross."

The allusion is to Genesis 22:2 where Abraham is told to take his son, his beloved son, and go to the land of Moriah. This text became, for Christians, a paradigm of Jesus. Isaac carried the wood of sacrifice as Jesus carried the wood of the cross. Isaac was bound for sacrifice as Jesus was bound to the cross. Thus the "beloved son" of the Old Testament is a type of the "beloved son" of the New.

Jewish tradition looked back on the binding of Isaac in Genesis as an event that was to remind God to be compassionate and merciful toward sinners, i.e., to forgive their sins.

Hence, the voice announces Jesus as the Messiah-king who will suffer in behalf of the people as Isaac suffered in being bound, and this suffering will lead to forgiveness of sins.

The Marriage Feast at Cana

Cana is a small village nestled in the hills of Galilee, and this wedding becomes the scene for the first of Jesus' "signs." Everyone in the town was probably at this wedding celebration. Jesus' mother was there. The original Greek text implies that she was there in an official capacity as a member of the groom's family. In contrast, Jesus and his disciples were invited guests.

The narrator does not mention the actual wedding ceremony, but immediately tells us that the wine ran out. The mother of Jesus approaches him with the problem. "They have no wine." Jesus questions how that situation might involve him since his "hour has not yet come."

The term "hour," prominent in the Gospel of John, refers to the hour of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus. His mother knows her Son, and she knows he will not let her down.

She commands the waiters to do what he tells them. Jesus then tells them to fill six stone jars for Jewish purification to the brim, and the servants follow the command of Jesus. He then commands that they draw some of the water and take it to the head waiter, the one in charge of festivities. Again, without question, they do as Jesus commands. Neither the waiters, the head waiter, nor the readers of John's Gospel know what has happened until the head waiter tastes the "water." Then all realize that the water poured is now wine, and not just any wine but a fine vintage wine. The problem of the celebration is solved. The water set aside for Jewish ritual washing has become the finest wine of the kingdom.

All this takes place through obedience first, the obedience of Jesus to his mother, and then the obedience of the servants to Jesus. There are no words of incantation, etc. The servants fill the jars and then draw the content, and take it to the waiter. In this simple act, the miracle takes place. The author tells us the glory of God was made manifest. This term is used to denote the presence of God. What a simple message this text contains! Simple obedience, even when we do not understand, or agree, can lead us to the presence of God.

The Announcement of the Kingdom

At the conclusion of the temptation narrative, the Gospel of Matthew and Mark tell us Jesus enters Galilee and begins his public ministry with the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom. John the Baptist has been arrested, and then Jesus comes to Galilee. He preaches the good news that comes from God.

The content of this good news is presented, "The time is fulfilled . . ." In other words, it is now the right time for God to act on behalf of his people. In Greek, there are two words for time, Chronos, which is clock time and Kairos, the word used here, something that cannot be calculated with a clock. Rather, it is the "right time," the "opportune time," even "God's time." Thus, the time of waiting for God to break into human history has been completed.

It is time for the approach of God's kingdom. The term "kingdom of God" occurs only in the New Testament but it has strong Old Testament background. From the earliest days of the monarchy, it was believed that God (Yahweh) was the king of Israel, and the earthly monarch was his representative. In the book of Psalms, it is clear that Yahweh is king over all the earth..

During and after the exile when the monarchy had ended, it was thought that God would act definitively one day, to establish his rule over all peoples. This notion was presented in many Apocalyptic writings, especially in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community: "The late visionaries of the Old Testament, notably the author of Daniel, as well as later Baptist and Christian communities, discovered themselves to be living in the last days of the Old Age, or rather in the days when the Old Age was passing away and the Kingdom of God was dawning."

The response to this in-breaking of God is twofold. First, the people are to repent. Metanoia, in Greek, refers to a change of heart, or a change of attitude. It is many times translated "repent," or "convert." There is to be a turning away from the old ways of life, the ways of the Old Age and a turning toward and embracing of the ways of the New Age, the kingdom.

The second response is commitment. "Believe in the Good News." People are not just to hear the good news, they are to commit themselves to it. This message demands a radical shift and change. It is not merely intellectual assent that is demanded, belief: rather it is a total commitment to the good news of the arrival of God's definitive reign, believe in.

The Transfiguration

After Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus teaches about the necessity of the cross. Then six days later, the scene shifts to a high mountain where the Transfiguration takes place. Jesus takes Peter, James and John, the disciples of his "inner circle" who were present at key moments in his ministry.

Peter has just confessed Jesus as the Messiah; yet he does not understand what it means for Jesus to be Messiah. He is thinking about a political kind of messiah. Thus, Peter rebukes him when Jesus foretells his passion and death. This is key to understanding the transfiguration scene.

Jesus leads them up the mountain (usually considered Mt. Tabor) where he is transfigured before them. The term "transfigure" comes from the Greek metamorpheo which literally means "to transform' or "to change in form." It is a change that is outwardly visible. The description draws heavily upon Old Testament allusions. The glistening garments are a sign of the glory of God, and white is a sign of purity.

Appearing with Jesus were Moses and Elijah, representatives of the Old Testament, with Moses representing the "law" and Elijah representing the "prophets." Thus, the past of Israel is present on this mountain when Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus. Only Luke gives the content of that conversation. He says that they spoke of his exodus i.e., the going forth that would take place in Jerusalem. This is an appearance of the glorified, exalted Jesus as he will be after he has gone to Jerusalem, suffered, died and risen again.

The reaction of the disciples is immediate. Peter, the spokesman, declares that it is good for them to be there. This is closer to his idea of Messiah. He wishes to keep this experience, symbolized by his desire to build three tents, which implies remaining in place. Peter has misunderstood the vision. In fact, Mark tells us that Peter did not know what he should say for fear. That fear is the awe one experiences in the presence (or glory) of God.

As Peter is speaking, a cloud comes over them, reminiscent of the Baptism. And a voice comes from the cloud reaffirming who Jesus is: "This is my beloved Son . . ." Three is a messianic overtone here, just as there was in the Baptism, but the references to suffering servant are gone. Rather, the voice gives a command to the gathered disciples: ". . .Listen to him!" That command refers to the statements of Jesus which precede this text on the necessity of embracing the passion, and the necessity of his followers embracing the cross.

The essence of Peter's mistake is that he wants to bathe in the glory of the resurrection without passing through the agony and pain of the cross. This vision the Transfiguration is there to give him strength to walk the way of the cross.

The Institution of the Eucharist

In discussing the institution of the Eucharist, the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlights the relationship of the Last Supper and Passover in the Synoptic Gospels.

"By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus' passing over to his Father by his death and resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom" (CCC 1340).

In Exodus Twelve, the Lord commands Moses and Aaron to take an unblemished, male, one year old lamb on the 10th day of Nisan. They are to keep it until the 14th day of Nisan when it will be slaughtered in the assembly of Israel. Some of the lamb's blood is put on the doorposts, and the lamb is roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The blood identifies the Hebrew homes. That night the angel of death will pass through the land killing the first-born in Egypt.

Then, the Lord prescribes that this day become a memorial for the Hebrew people of their freedom from bondage to the Egyptians as a result of God's intervention. In the Hebrew tradition through the centuries, a memorial is more than a simple cognitive remembrance, it is a participation in the events being remembered. Rabbis used to say, "Our forefathers passed through the Re(e)d sea; and our feet got wet."

It is in the context of this memorial that Jesus chooses to celebrate his last meal with his disciples. At this meal, Jesus introduces something new, the Eucharist. In the ritual, there are three offerings of unleavened bread, and four cups of wine. In offering one of the pieces of Matzoth (unleavened bread), Jesus takes it, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples with the words, "This is my body." The bread of remembrance of the Exodus now becomes the body of Christ.

Similarly with the wine, he takes the cup, gives thanks and gives it to the disciples saying, "This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many." This is a direct reference to the events of the next day. As the Passover commemorates the events of the Exodus, so now does this new Passover which is the freedom from the bondage of sin and its wage, death. Jesus in shedding his blood on the cross, will win freedom from sin and break the bonds of death in the resurrection. This is the force of the Lucan command to "do this in remembrance of me."