Tuesday, 20 March 2012

On the Mysteries of Light

I have been thinking about the Luminous Mysteries, or Mysteries of Light; that is the five new decades proposed for our meditation by the late Holy Father John Paul ll.

Many traditionalists seem to reject them out of hand: how dare anyone, even the supreme pontiff, change the Most Holy Rosary.  This is an easy view to caricature. (OK I give in: here it is. Q: How many traditionalists does it take to change a lightbulb?  A: CHANGE?!!!)

But there is more to it than that.  There is a sense in which that which we have inherited from immemorial tradition is time-honoured, and should be changed at our peril.  The Mass is an example that springs to mind.  It had developed over centuries, nurtured countless saints, was radically changed, and the benefits elude me (to put it kindly).

However, the Rosary is a different case.  Clearly it is a devotion, rather than a part of the Liturgy.  Further, the change is optional: anybody who wants to pray the Rosary the way it was always prayed is free to do so.  Moreover, even with the change, nothing has been taken away from the Rosary.  And there, the contrast with the changes to the Mass is very stark.  In fact this change to the Rosary is much closer in style to the changes to the Mass prior to the 1950s: additive rather than reforming.  Tradition has never meant complete stagnation.

Pope John Paul ll clearly had a deep devotion to Our Lady, and all he proposed to us was that we could, in addition to the traditional mysteries, meditate on some of the key moments of Our Lord’s life, between the Finding in the Temple and the Prayer and Agony in the Garden.

Having been praying the Mysteries of Light for some years now, and particularly this Lent, when I have been praying Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries everyday, I am coming to an appreciation of the new mysteries, and how they relate to the traditional ones.  Praying all four sets of mysteries takes one right through Our Lord’s time on earth, and helps one to see links and patterns.

So, whilst I have some sympathy for the view that one should not change the Rosary, I think that saying even the Holy Father cannot promote additions to it is over-stating the case: if you disagree with me, please say fifteen decades for me (if you agree, that will be twenty, of course!)


Patricius said...

While the Baptism, Marriage at Cana,the Transfiguration and Institution of the Eucharist/Last Supper all feature in traditional Christian iconography, the "Proclamation of the Kingdom" does not. It is a relatively abstract idea- which is probably why no one thought of it before Blessed John Paul! Doubtless these are all great things to meditate upon but I wonder if the Rosary is such a great setting for them.

umblepie said...

Thanks for this interesting post. I plead 'guilty' to avoiding these new 'Illuminative' mysteries, instinctively considering anything 'new' to be better avoided. I would find it difficult to change. Which leads me to admit that I am totally lost by your conundrum! Are you sure that you've got it right? Only asking!

Ben Trovato said...

I am not saying - and nor was Blessed John Paul ll - that one should pray these extra mysteries. I just wanted to question the instinctive traditional reticence - which indeed I shared and to some extent still share - even to contemplate doing so.

If they are worthy of meditation, why not in the presence of Our Lady and in dialogue with her?

The iconography point is an interesting one, though, and relates to mine about the difficulty in meditating on the third: but I have found that difficulty can be overcome - and fruitfully - by practice.