Returning to our reflections on that mightiest of weapons in our arsenal of spiritual warfare, The Rosary, I desire to write one post for and on each mystery of the Rosary, but before I do, I just wanted to discuss this particular aspect of the Rosary: the Sacred Mysteries on which we meditate when we pray the Rosary.
I remember, back when The Passion of the Christ had come out, I was preparing to do a talk on it at a youth group that I ran at the time. I searched it on the Internet, and, among some good resources I found, I found one article titled "Animated Crucifix", which decried the movie as Catholic propaganda and mariolatry and many such things, and attempted to make these criticisms seem like bad things by sharing their own fundamentalist protestant view of the movie and the "problems" which they address.
One of the points that they make is that the movie is basically a "Visual Rosary", and then they explain what the Rosary is, and about the Sorrowful Mysteries. They actually explained things fairly accurately, so I had no real qualm, and wondered, quite frankly, what could they find wrong about meditating on Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, His scourging, His crowning with thorns, His carrying His cross, and His Crucifixion. I wondered, what could any Protestant actually find wrong with that.
Well, what the author found wrong, first, was the name of the Mysteries. He called them "Sorrowful Mysteries" to begin with, but then, in order to criticise them, he had to change their name:
What is wrong with the five sorrowful mysteries? First, the Rosary is a method of praying that Jesus condemned (Matt 6:7). Second, they are an unscriptural devotion of Catholics. Nowhere in the Bible are these five identified as mysteries. Some true mysteries of the cross are election, adoption, atonement, justification, redemption, sanctification, and glorification. The mystery of the cross is what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah (I Cor 2:6-16; Eph 1:3-12; I Tim 3:16).We've already dealt in previous articles with the bulk of this author's complaint, but I wanted to address his points that the Bible doesn't call these events in Christ's life "mysteries", and that the real mysteries of the Cross are "what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah."
What is a Mystery
St. Louis de Montfort defines a Mystery as simply "a sacred thing which is difficult to understand" (The Secret of the Rosary, p.54). Thus we speak of the Mystery of the Trinity--that God is One Being subsisting in Three Persons. It will take all eternity to really puzzle through that. Yet, the Trinity is never "identified" as a mystery in the Bible. Jesus being both completely God and completely Man, all in one Person, through the Incarnation--having these two natures, inseparable but unconfused--that is a Mystery, though it is never called one in Scripture. In truth, the Bible doesn't give us a complete catalogue of the Mysteries of the Faith somewhere, saying, "We believe X, which is hard to understand. We believe Y, which is hard to understand. etc."
But this post is too quickly becoming a polemic against the author in question, and a tirade against Sola Scriptura, which was not my intent. My intent was hopefully to explain what it is that we mean by "mystery", and why the events in Jesus' and Mary's lives, upon which we meditate in the Rosary, are, in fact, "Mysteries".
If, then, a mystery is a sacred truth that is difficult to understand, then how is it that the particular events in the lives of Jesus and Mary qualify? St. Louis says it thus:
The works of Our Lord Jesus Christ are all sacred and divine because He is God and man at one and the same time. The works of the Most Blessed Virgin are very holy because she is the most perfect and the most pure of God's creatures. The works of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother can be called mysteries because they are so full of wonder and all kinds of perfections and deep and sublime truths which the Holy Spirit reveals to the humble and simple souls who honour these mysteries (ibid.).That is to say, that the Mysteries of the Rosary fit our definition of "sacred truths difficult to understand", because they are, first, true--they happened. Second, they are sacred, because the people who did them, namely, Jesus and Mary, are sacred. And finally, the work or event itself is so thoroughly charged and pregnant with significance and meaning for our faith and salvation, that we could plumb their depths for all eternity and never reach the bottom. And yet, St. Louis reminds us, the Holy Spirit draws us into these mysteries when we approach them with humility.
And yet, when we think of "Mysteries", we tend to think of abstract theological doctrines, such as the Trinity, or the Hypostatic Union of Christ, or Predestination and Free Will, or some other thing that theologians love to describe to the minutest detail using words with far too many syllables, which seem to have very little to do with the nuts and bolts of our day to day life of faith. It seems that the author of the condemnation of The Passion, of the Rosary, and of Catholicism in general, takes a very similar view, when he says, "The mystery of the cross is what Jesus did spiritually to secure reconciliation with an offended Jehovah" (emphasis mine).
Physical, tangible events in the day to day lives of people (even the God-Man), don't seem like mysteries because, at least on one side, they seem almost ordinary. Well, almost. It's the so-called "spiritual" things that are the mysteries. It's what Jesus did "spiritually" to save us.
Well, hold on--what did Jesus do to save us?
For us men and for our salvationWhat Jesus did to save us, to reconcile us with an offended God (No comment about the accuracy or appropriateness of using the name "Jehovah" at this time), was physical. It was tangible. It was Incarnational. Every mystery that exists in the Christian faith is a result of Christ's becoming Man, suffering for our sins, and Dying on the Cross!
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
The mysteries of the Rosary, then, remind us of two things: first, that what Jesus did to "spiritually reconcile us to God" was all physical. That is, God's not in the business of "saving souls" as so many think of that expression. He's in the business of saving people. Second, they remind us that those high-fallutin' abstract theological doctrines really do apply to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day life, whether or not we ever learn words like "Hypostatic", "Homoousious", "Transsubstantiation", "Eschaton", or "Vestigium Dei", or what they mean. The mysteries show us that our faith is built on real things--that theology and doctrine are built not on intellectual philosophy, but on People and Relationships. In other words, in the mysteries of the Rosary, as Pope John Paul II put it, "with Mary we contemplate the face of Christ."
I've already detailed in previous posts what the mysteries of the Rosary are, and so I will not belabour that point. It is my intent, from here on out, essentially to "preach" a sermon for each Rosary, rather than to offer "apologetics", strictly speaking. As I said, the depths of mystery contained in each event in the lives of Mary and of Christ are unfathomable, and what I want to do is not to try to sound their depths or exhaust their mystery. Nor can I. I simply want to write my own reflections on each. There will definitely be apologetic content in each. There will certainly be theological content in each. But my prayer is that what will never be absent is a deeper love for Mary, and most of all for her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as she leads us ever closer to Him.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)