Meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary – Pope John XXIII

Annunciation of the Angel to Mary

This is the brightest point which links Heaven and earth; the greatest event of the centuries. The Son of God, the Word of the Father, by Whom all was made that was made in the order of creation, took on human nature to become the Redeemer and Savior of mankind and of the whole human race.

Mary Immaculate, the most beautiful and fragrant flower of creation, at the voice of the Angel accepts the honor of divine maternity which, with her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” was fulfilled in her at that moment. And we all, as brothers redeemed in Christ, become her sons. She is the Mother of God and our Mother.

Oh, the sublimeness and tenderness of this first mystery! Reflecting on it, it is our chief and constant duty to thank the Lord who deigned to save us, becoming man, and, as man became our brother, associating us in the filial adoration of His own Mother.

The intention of the prayer in the contemplation of this picture is, in addition to the daily habit of thanksgiving, the study and the sincere effort to acquire that humility, purity and great charity of which the Blessed Virgin gives Us such an amiable example.

Mary’s Visit to Her Cousin Elizabeth

What tenderness and what gentleness there was in that three-month visit of Mary to her beloved cousin! Both are custodians of an imminent maternity, but for the Virgin Mother it is to be the most sacred maternity that it is possible to imagine on earth.

What sweetness of harmony in those two intertwining hymns; from one, “Blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:42), and from the other, “He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid … henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).

This vision of Ain-Karim on the hill of Hebron illuminates with a heavenly light, at the same time very human, the relations of good families brought up in the ancient school of the Rosary recited each evening in the home among the members of the family.

This is done in all parts of the world, where men are called by the lofty inspiration of the priesthood, or where one is called by missionary charity or the apostolate or even by lawful motives of different natures, such as work, military service, study, teaching and the like.

What a beautiful coming together this is in which, during the recitation of the ten Hail Marys of this mystery, so many souls are united by the bond of blood, by domestic bonds, by all those things which sanctify and strengthen the sentiments of love among those closest to one another; parents and children, brothers, relatives, neighbors, fellow nationals, united in an act which supports and illuminates universal charity; the practice of which is the joy and honor of life.

Birth of Jesus in the Stable of Bethlehem

At the proper time, according to the laws of the assumed human nature, the Word of God made man emerges from the holy tabernacle which is the immaculate bosom of Mary.

He appears for the first time to the world in a manger used for feeding hay to animals. Silence, poverty, simplicity and innocence fill the scene.

The voices of angels are heard in the heavens announcing the peace which the newborn Infant brings into the world. The first to adore Him are Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His foster father. Then come the humble shepherds, called down from the hills by angelic voices. Later a caravan of illustrious men will come, led from afar by a star, and they will offer precious gifts full of significance.

Through it all, everything in that night of Bethlehem assumes a language of universality.

In this third mystery, which compels every knee to bend before the cradle, some like to see the smiling eyes of the Divine Infant in the act of beholding all the people of the earth passing before Him one after the other as in a procession.

He identifies them: Jews, Greeks, Chinese, Africans, all people from every region of the universe, from every age of history, past, present and future.

Others prefer, instead, during the recitation of the ten Hail Marys of this mystery of the birth of Jesus, to recommend to Him the countless numbers of children of the human race who have been born into the world in the past twenty-four hours of the day and night.

All of these children, baptized or not, belong to Jesus of Bethlehem and to the continuation of His reign of light and peace.

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

While still in His mother’s arms, the life of Jesus unfolds to the meeting of the two Testaments. He is light and revelation to the nations, the splendor of the chosen people. St. Joseph must be present and also participate in the rite of offering prescribed by the law.

This episode is perpetuated in the Church. As we recite the Hail Marys of this decade, it is beautiful to observe the joyful hopes of the perennial reflowering of the promises of priests, of men and women who cooperate in great numbers in the Kingdom of God.

Here also are the young students of the seminaries of religious houses, of mission students’ hostels and of the Catholic universities, those other young plants of a future lay apostolate, whose growth in numbers, in spite of the difficulties and setbacks of the present hour, harassed even by persecutions in many nations, never ceases to be a comforting sight which evokes words of admiration and joy.

Jesus Is Found Again Among the Doctors of the Temple

Jesus is now twelve years old. Mary and Joseph accompany Him to Jerusalem for the ritual prayer of that age. Suddenly He disappears from the sight of His loving and vigilant parents. There is great anxiety in the three-day search.

He is found in the temple reasoning with the doctors about the law. How significant are the words of St. Luke who describes Him so clearly! They found Him sitting in the midst of the doctors “listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

That meeting place of the doctors constituted everything in those times: knowledge, wisdom and practical directives in the light of the Old Testament.

In every age, this is the duty of human intelligence: to gather together the voices of the centuries, to transmit good doctrine humbly to make way for the vision of scientific investigation about the future.

Christ is found everywhere in the midst of men, and that is His proper place: “You call me Master. .. and you say well, for so I am” (John 13:13).

This fifth decade of Hail Marys of the joyful mysteries is a special prayer for the benefit of all those who are called to the service of truth and charity, in research, in teaching and in the diffusion of the new audio-visual techniques.

All of them are urged to imitate Jesus: scientists, professors, teachers, journalists—and particularly journalists, who have the characteristic duty to do honor always to good doctrine in its purity without the counterfeit of fantasy.

Sorrowful Mysteries

Jesus at Gethsemane

The mind, moved with emotion, turns to the image of the Savior in the hour of supreme abandonment. “And His sweat became as drops of blood running down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44).

This expresses the intimate suffering of the mind, the extreme bitterness of solitude, the failing of the broken body. The agony is caused by the imminence of that which Jesus sees most clearly: the impending Passion.

The scene at Gethsemane encourages the exertion of the will to accept suffering: “Not my will but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42).

These are heart-rending words which teach one how to suffer, and they give the last touch to the acquisition of the most distinct merits. But they are also of real and interior comforts for all souls who suffer the most acute and mysterious pains.

In this light, what nuances of confidence and tenderness does the invocation of Mary acquire, who underwent this burning sorrow in union with her Son!

The intention of prayer is raised in devout reference to the Pope, seen in his universal responsibility, the object of pressing concerns which he keeps in his heart, but which he entrusts however to the ceaseless assistance promised by Christ to His Vicar.

The intention of this decade invokes furthermore strength and consolation for those who suffer with Christ, for those who are troubled and afflicted.

The Scourging at the Pillar

This mystery arouses memory of the ruthless torture of the beating of the immaculate and innocent limbs of Jesus.

The human being is composed of body and soul. The body suffers the most humiliating temptations. There is, then, in this mystery a call to that salutary penance which can encompass and protect the true welfare of man in his totality as a corporal and spiritual being.

A great lesson for everyone is drawn from this. We are not called to a bloody martyrdom, but to the constant and daily discipline of suffering. Along this path one arrives at an ever more perfect likeness to Jesus Christ and to a participation in His merits.

The sorrowful Mother sees Him thus scourged. How many mothers would like to have the joy of seeing their children, and to see them pass through the disciplines of education and instruction to a wholesome life. Sometimes, instead, they must weep at seeing the collapse of all their hopes and toil.

The intention here, then, will be to ask the Lord for the gifts of purity of habits in the family and in society, but especially in the souls of youth who are the most exposed to the seductions of the senses, and to ask at the same time for strength of character, for fidelity to good resolutions made and to lessons received.

The Crowning with Thorns

This is the mystery whose contemplation is better suited to those who carry the burden of grave responsibility in the care of souls and in the direction of society. It is therefore the mystery for the Popes, the Bishops and pastors, the mystery for governors, legislators and magistrates. The crown which is placed upon their heads carries a halo of dignity and distinction. It is also a crown that weighs heavily and pierces with thorns and annoyances.

Wherever there is authority, the cross cannot be wanting. Sometimes it comes in the form of misunderstanding, contempt, indifference or loneliness. Another application brings to mind the grave responsibilities of those who have received the most talents and are bound to make them bear fruit in the constant exercise of their faculties and intelligence. The service of intellect, of being a light and a guide to others, which is the duty required of those who are more gifted, must be borne with patience, rejecting temptations of pride, of egotism and of that dissension which destroys. The prayer in this decade, then, is for the leaders of men who belong to the religious and civil orders, and also those who bear the responsibilities of the pen, of thoughts and of artistic creation.

The Way of the Cross

Human life is a long, continuous and burdensome pilgrimage, down the rock-strewn hill on the path indicated for everyone.

In this mystery Christ represents the human race. Woe to Us, if there were not a cross for each one of us. Without it, man would be tempted by egotism, hedonism, insensibility, and he would succumb.

The fruit which comes from the contemplation of Jesus on Calvary is that of embracing and kissing the cross, carrying it with generosity and joy, according to the words of The Imitation of Christ: “In the cross there is protection from one’s enemies and the effusion of a heavenly sweetness.” (1)

There is likewise in this mystery an extension of the prayer to the Sorrowful Mother who followed Jesus with a spirit of participation in His merits and in His sorrows.

The intention (of the mystery) opens one’s eyes to the immense vision of the afflicted: the orphans, the aged, the sick, the prisoners, the weak, the exiles, asking for all strength and consolation which hope alone gives: “Hail O Cross, the only hope.” (2)

The Death of Jesus on the Cross

Vita et Mors, life and death, represent two precious and orienting points of the sacrifice of Christ.

From the smile of Bethlehem, which wishes to show itself to all men at their first look upon earth, to the last breath, which contains in itself all the sorrows to sanctify them, all the sins to cancel them.

And Mary is near the Cross, as she was near the Babe of Bethlehem.

We pray to her, this pious Mother, that she herself may pray for us, “nunc et in hora mortis nostrae” (now and in the hour of our death).

Here is also included the great mystery of obstinate sinners, of unbelievers, of those who did not receive and will not receive the light of the Gospel, who are unable to take heed of the Blood shed also for them by the Son of God.

And the prayer expands into a sigh of saddened reparation, into a horizon of missionary fullness, because the Most Precious Blood, shed for all men, gives to all salvation and conversion: “Blood of Christ, pledge of eternal life.”

Glorious Mysteries

The Resurrection of the Lord

It is the mystery of death dominated and overcome; from death to the splendors of victory and of glory.

It marks the greatest triumph of the Holy Catholic Church over the adversities and persecutions of past history and those of the future.

“Christ triumphs, reigns, rules.” It is well to remember that the first apparition of the Risen Christ was to the pious women who were close to His life and His sufferings even at Calvary.

In these splendors the gaze of the faith contemplates, united to the Risen Jesus, the most dear souls, those with whom we have enjoyed the closeness and with whom we have shared the pains. Thus in the light of the Resurrection of Jesus there comes alive the remembrance of our dead! They are recalled and blessed in the sacrifice of the Risen Lord.

It is not for naught, that the oriental liturgy concludes the funeral rite with an Alleluia for all the dead. For them we invoke the light of the eternal tabernacle, while the mind thinks also of the resurrection which awaits our mortal remains: “and I expect the resurrection of the dead.”

Wait and hope in the very sweet promise, the sure pledge of which is given to us by the resurrection of Jesus.

The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven

In this picture we contemplate the consummation of the promises of Jesus. It is His answer to our longing for Heaven. The final return to the Father, from whom He came into the world, is a certainty for all of us, to whom He promised a place on high: “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

This mystery is offered to us above all as a light and guide for souls in preparation for the vocation of each person. It contains the spiritual movement which leads to sanctification, the desire for constant ascensions which prepare the soul for the “mature measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

And united in this effort for perfection are priests, men and women religious, men and women missionaries, very distinguished laymen, souls who wish to be the good fragrance of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15), and who live already in relation to heavenly life.

The teaching of this decade is an exhortation not to allow ourselves to be held back by that which weighs us down but to abandon ourselves to the Lord who bears us on high.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

The Apostles gathered together around Mary in the Cenacle to receive the last gift of Christ, His Spirit, the Comforter and Advocate.

With the descent and diffusion of the Holy Spirit, the heirs of Christ, still filled with fear and anxiety, receive the seal of Catholicity, which spreads beyond all boundaries.

The Holy Spirit continues (to pour forth) effusions on His Church every day; the centuries and the nations belong to Him. His triumphs are not always evident from without, but they are in fact rich in surprise and wonder.

The special intention embraces the beginning and preparation of the Ecumenical Council, which is entrusted to the working of heavenly grace, and which intends to be in the world “like a new Pentecost.” (3)

May the Paraclete pour upon it the fullness of His gifts.

The Most Blessed Mary Assumed into Heaven

The sweet image of Mary shines and radiates in supreme exaltation. How beautiful is the sleep of Mary, as seen by the Christians of the East. She lies in the peaceful sleep of death with Jesus at her side, and He holds the soul of the Virgin close to His breast like a child, to indicate the miracle of immediate resurrection and glorification.

It is a reason for comfort and confidence in the days of sorrow for those privileged souls—and we can all be privileged souls—whom God prepares in silence for the highest triumphs.

The mystery of the Assumption keeps us familiar with the thought of our death, in the light of peaceful abandonment in the Lord, Whom we like to hope will be close to us at the time of our agony to gather our immortal soul into His hands.

The Coronation of Mary Above All the Choirs of Angels and Saints

Behold the synthesis of the whole Rosary, which closes the great vision, opened by the herald angel. A single flux of life runs through the individual mysteries and reminds us of the eternal plan of God for our salvation: the beginning hidden, the conclusion in the splendor of Heaven.

The meditation applies to ourselves, to our vocation to become associated one day with the angels and the saints, the mysterious and comforting reality which sanctifying grace anticipates in this life.

Oh! What joy! Oh! What glory! We are “citizens with saints and members of God’s household, built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-20).

The intention prays for final perseverance and for peace on earth which opens the gates of blessed eternity.
These beautiful meditations from Blessed John XXIII were excerpted from 17 Papal Documents on the Rosary, St. Paul Editions, 1980.

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