Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious: if I were to try to nail down four words that capture the essence of our Catholic faith — and human experience, for that matter — I would say these ones do it. They summarize succinctly the range of external and internal events that we go through as people on the planet, from womb to tomb, and they contain the stories of the faith that accompanies us through it all.
Try to think of a component of our faith or of your life that can’t be in some way be described as joyful, luminous, sorrowful or glorious. I’ve tried, and I come up empty handed each time.
I can hardly take credit for choosing these four words, though. Some of you may recognize them as the Mysteries of the Rosary, familiar from Catholic school or praying the rosary with a group or an app. If you don’t find the words or the concept of Mysteries of the Rosary familiar, though, have no fear. You’ve come to the right place for a beginner’s guide to learning about them.
Overview of the Mysteries of the RosaryThe Mysteries of the Rosary are a tool for focusing your mind and heart as you pray the rosary. There are twenty mysteries in total, and they are divided into four categories: joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious. Each individual mystery describes an event from the life of Jesus and Mother Mary, from the Annunciation to the Assumption and the Coronation of Mary.
How do we pray with the Mysteries of the Rosary?
The sets of mysteries are assigned to different days of the week, meaning that when you pray the rosary on the day of the week paired with a particular set, you focus on that set as you pray. At the beginning of each decade of the rosary, you name to yourself or out loud (if you are praying with a group) the mystery on which you are meditating for the next ten Hail Mary prayers.
What are the Mysteries of the Rosary?
The Joyful Mysteries (Monday and Saturday)The Annunciation
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
The Mysteries of Light (Thursday)The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan
The Wedding Feast at Cana
The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God
The Transfiguration of Jesus
The Institution of the Eucharist
The Sorrowful Mysteries (Tuesday and Friday)The Agony in the Garden
The Scourging at the Pillar
The Crowning With Thorns
The Carrying of the Cross
The Glorious Mysteries (Wednesday and Sunday)The Resurrection
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
The Assumption of Mary
The Coronation of Mary
Why do we use the Mysteries of the Rosary?
The rosary is a beautiful devotion that has guided the prayer lives of millions of individuals over centuries of time. The prayers within in — the Sign of the Cross, the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be — are the bread and butter of Catholic prayer life. Isn’t it enough to focus on simply the prayers themselves while praying, one might wonder, and not add the mysteries to contemplate?
The answer to this is, of course, yes. Absolutely it is enough, and adequate, and wonderful to concentrate solely on the words of the Our Father as it is prayed. I mean, Jesus himself taught us these words!
The Mysteries of the Rosary are not meant to distract us from the prayers so much as they are intended to add another dimension or layer to them. Contemplating an event — visualizing the moment in which the angel Gabriel visited Mary, for instance — uses a different part of the brain than the recitation of words. For many people, having a mental picture on which to focus during prayer enhances concentration rather than distracting from it.
And if this happens to not be true for you — if you are someone whose praying of the rosary isn’t strengthened by contemplating the Mysteries of the Rosary — than don’t worry. Name the mystery at the start of the decade (or don’t) and then move on. As a small child, I remember being gifted a decade rosary, and eagerly praying my decade, thinking I was legitimately praying the full rosary. Was God upset by my prayers? I doubt it. There is no wrong way to pray, and the beauty of a devotion as rich and intricate as the rosary is that it can be be adapted to suit various people at various phases of life.