The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary

To cite Bishop Fulton Sheen: the Glorious Mysteries are the mysteries of our Faith.  They are the mysteries of where we are going as members of the Church, of what our purpose is in the universe.

On the morning of the Resurrection all seemed lost.  This great Messiah who had come and who promised so much had now been taken from them and there seemed nothing left of Him.  Early on that morning a group of women gathered while it was yet dark.  They went to the tomb with all that was needed for a burial, to dress and properly anoint the body of one who had done so much for them and who they believed would bring the kingdom of God into the world.  This is a place to start.  These women went in faith.  They did not even know quite what they had faith in, but they went anyways.  They would not abandon their Lord even in death, so they went to Him to care for Him as best they could.  And when they arrived He was not there and this sent them into a frightful panic.  They went to fetch Peter; he came to the tomb and stooped down inside, astounded as he picked up the head covering which lay separate from the other wrappings.  Mary of Magdala met Our Lord outside and at first thought he was merely the gardener.  It was hard to recognize the Risen Christ.  He visited the apostles in the Upper Room that night and breathed the Spirit on them, giving them the power through Him to forgive sins.  The Apostle Thomas was not there and did not believe so Our Lord came to him, he fell down before Him, and acknowledged Him as divine.  No matter how dead the world wishes to make Our Lord seem He is not.  He is very much alive and we must believe.  Beati qui non viderunt, et crediderunt (Io. xx, 29).

The Ascension.  My personal meditation on the Mystery of the Ascension begins with Saint John’s account in the twenty first chapter of his Gospel of the second Miraculous Draught of Fishes after Our Lord’s Resurrection and the meeting between Jesus and Simon Peter on the seashore because it seems to have so much to do with the mission that He entrusts to his Church at the Ascension.  Simon Peter tells the others that he is going fishing on the Lake of Galilee and only six go with him.  In the boat there are then Simon Peter, the two sons of Zebedee (James and John), Thomas, Nathaniel, and two unnamed disciples.  This number of seven in the boat is significant.  The Fathers tell us that the number seven represents completeness and fulfillment.  The fishermen in the boat once again have been fishing all through the night and caught nothing.  They are now nearing the shore at first light and Our Lord who is waiting there for them commands them to cast their net over the right side which they proceed to do.  The haul is so great that they cannot hold it.  When the beloved disciple points out to Simon Peter that it is the Lord, Dominus esthe realizes that he is naked and jumps into the sea (a parallel to Adam and Eve I think).  The Prince of the Apostles then proceeds to haul the net, full of 153 fish, to the shore as the day breaks.  The foreshadowing here seems to be of the end of time, when the mission Our Lord entrusts to His Church at his Ascension is reaching its fulfillment.  Christ and Simon Peter then meet by the shoreline and Jesus prepares him a meal, while giving both the Apostle who denied Him in the courtyard and the future Church a lesson about what love truly is and preparing them for martyrdom.  Our Lord then brings the Apostles to the mount of his Ascension and utters this marvelous command and promise that it would do well for the Church of our day and time to remember: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.  Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world (Mt. 28: 18-20).”

The Holy Spirit then descends upon the apostles at Pentecost.  They leave the Mount of Olives praising and thanking God but are drawn back into the Upper Room by their own timidity for they have not yet received the Spirit.  The Mother of Our Lord, the Mother of the Church, the Mother of God waits with the apostles in that Upper Room and prays for them.  Then, on the tenth day following the Ascension, a noise like a rushing wind rattles the shutters and doors of this locked Upper room.  A noise like the rushing wind that was the Spirit of God who flowed over the dark waters at the dawn of Creation.  The world is about to be recreated and the Age of the Church is born.  Tongues of fire appear over the heads of the apostles and they are imbued with the Holy Spirit just as the world was imbued with Light at its beginning.  Peter then goes forth from the Upper Room to preach a mighty sermon on the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Redemption of mankind to many of the same people who had mocked and ridiculed Our Lord at his Crucifixion.  3,000 are baptized that day the Church was born.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not spelled out specifically in Scripture.  A way to meditate on this is to meditate on the fact that though the Virgin is present in the Upper Room at Pentecost she then disappears entirely from Scripture.  What to make of this?  Tradition tells us that the Assumption probably did not occur until about twenty years after Pentecost so what was she doing?  She was praying for the early Church even when she remained on earth.  I think that it is safe to assume that she was in the background all of the time making intercession for the Church during those first crucial two decades when it was expanding throughout the Mediterranean basin and beyond, a foreshadowing of what Our Lady, Our Mother, has done for the Church through all the long subsequent centuries down to our own day.  Tradition also tells us that the Angel Gabriel, who had announced to her that she was to be the vehicle of the Incarnation, came to her and informed her that it would be time for her to leave this earth.  Her task fulfilled she remained sinless and was assumed body and soul into the realm of Light: a foretaste of what awaits all of us who believe and die in a state of grace at the Last Judgement.

The Coronation of Our Lady and the Glory of the Saints.  This can be a tough one I confess.  It requires our minds to go into realms which, in truth, we cannot really yet approach.  To contemplate Heaven and eternity is something that we can only do if God gifts us that gift.  But the purpose of this final Mystery of the Rosary I think is to keep us focused on the ultimate goal.  The victory of the Cross over the serpent.  The Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven is a fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption offered after the Fall.  The base of the Cross is planted on the head of the serpent and that one is no more.  May the prayers of the Queen of Heaven guard us from the snares of the evil one.

Pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, for its liberty and its salvation and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

I hope that these meditations have been a help to anyone considering praying the Rosary.  If you find them a hindrance then please ignore them as the thoughts are mostly my own mixed in with others gleaned from study of this subject and from praying the Rosary myself.  Any errors, misprints, and typos are also mine.

The See of Jerusalem

Si oblitus fuero tui, Ierusalem, oblivioni detur dextera mea.  Jerusalem is where it all began.  The site of Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection and Ascension.  The site of the Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, the Mass, in the Upper Room.  The site of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the birth of the Church.  These events that fundamentally and forever changed the course of human history all happened here.  Previously, through a long, glorious, and troubled history of a thousand years, the city had been the site of the Jewish cult of worship of the Most High on the Temple Mount.  That cult was perfected through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and transferred to the Catholic Church with the institution of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and is now performed throughout the world.

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The site of the birth of the New and Eternal Covenant viewed from the site of the cult of the Old Covenant. (My photo taken Aug. 3, 2011)

The Church was born in Jerusalem but has never had it easy in the city of its birth.  Its first martyrdom, that of Stephen, was suffered in Jerusalem only a few years after Our Lord’s Ascension.  The first of the Ecumenical Councils was held in Jerusalem to decide whether or not the Mosaic Law was obligatory for Christians.  For the first four decades of the Church’s existence, as she spread throughout the Mediterranean through the outpouring of the Spirit and the tireless work of the Apostles, she was constantly embroiled in conflict with the Jewish authorities in the city.  Then in 66 AD the Jews revolted against their Roman overlords provoking a long and brutal war which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman general and future emperor Titus in the year 70.

Following the destruction of the city the church rapidly diminished in both numbers and importance.  The primacy of Rome was becoming firmly established following the martyrdom of St. Peter on the Vatican Hill just before the Jewish revolt.  Following his defeat of the second Jewish revolt in 135 Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as the pagan settlement Aelia Capitolina.  The small number of believers who remained went thoroughly underground at this point.  They seemed to have retained a thorough memory of the sites associated Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection since archaeological evidence has been discovered of foreign and Latin speaking pilgrims who visited the site now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher between the founding of Aelia Capitolina and the building of the basilica.

After the Edict of Milan brought the Church out from underground in the Roman Empire the Emperor Constantine sent his mother St. Helena to Palestine to discover and commemorate the sites associated with the events of the life of Jesus Christ.  Jerusalem would be a Christian city for the next three centuries.  Basilicas and monasteries would arise to give memorial to the life of Our Lord and the apostles.  Pilgrims flocked to the city from throughout the Empire even after the fall of the Western emperors.  Jerusalem was a part of the Pentarchy along with Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria that were the great and most influential Sees of the Church and before the rise of Islam  The city was sacked and briefly occupied by the Persians during the early part of the seventh century, but then regained by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius.  The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14 celebrates in part the return of the relic of the True Cross, stolen by the Persians, to the city in the year 629.

The return of the Byzantines was to be short-lived however.  Within a decade Islam had stormed out of the Arabian desert and Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia and the Muslims took the city of Jerusalem in 637.  The Muslims stayed where the Persians had not, and the flow of Christian pilgrims flowed to a trickle.  The conquests of Islam along the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean cast a veil between Rome and the holy city and there was little interaction between the two for the next half millennium.  The emperors in Constantinople tried during that time, with varying degrees of success, to protect the holy sites and the pilgrim route to Jerusalem.  The church once again diminished owing to the slow wearing away of the Faith and the general fall into apostasy of those who had been believers in all of the lands of the Levant now ruled by Muslims.

Then came the launch of the First Crusade in the year 1095.  Responding to a plea for help and the defense of Constantinople against the Turks from the Emperor Alexius Comnenus Pope Urban II called on the leaders of western Europe who sent forth a great army of men.  Alarmed by the presence of this large (much larger than he had wanted) foreign army within his borders he sent them south away from Constantinople and to the amazement of everyone, except possibly themselves, they conquered first Antioch in 1098 and then Jerusalem in the summer of 1099.  The brief Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was then established which lasted less than a century before it fell to Salah ad-Din in 1187.

Jerusalem then floundered for the next seven centuries, once again cut off from Rome and from Christendom.  Local Christians remained but the city’s church fell into decay.  The Franciscans were granted custody of the holy sites for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church by virtue of St. Francis of Assisi’ positive encounter with the Egyptian Sultan Malik al-Kamil not long after the Muslims reclaimed the city, a custody which endures to this day.  The Ottoman Empire conquered Jerusalem during the early 16th century and held it for the next four centuries.

The city had shrunk down to a population of 60,000 by the onset of the First World War.  The British Army took Jerusalem on December 8, 1917 and opened a new era in the city’s history.  Christian pilgrims flocked back to the city for the first time since the Crusades, and new basilicas and monasteries were once again built where the ancient ones had fallen into ruin to commemorate the holy places but the British hold was short lived.  The increase in Jewish immigration as a result of the Zionist ideology and the resulting conflict with the local Arabs made the situation untenable for the British after the carnage of the Second World War.  They then left Palestine to the warring Jews and Arabs in 1948.  The city was then divided into west and east between the new State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The Israeli army conquered the eastern half of the city in 1967 and reunited it under Jewish control.  The city of Jerusalem, owing to the enthusiasm of the Zionists for their ancient capital, is now more developed and a greater metropolis than it has ever been in its history but its Christian population is rapidly shrinking.  The Christian population are mostly Arab Palestinians who are hostile to the Jewish masters of the city and therefore suffer from a want of favor among the local governing authorities and being caught somewhat in the middle of an increasingly fanatical Muslim-Jewish religious conflict.

There are several Patriarchs of Jerusalem at present to serve the diminishing Christian population and protect the holy sites but they find themselves often in conflict with one another due to ancient theological and current political conflicts.  The Armenians and the Greek Orthodox have a very strong presence in the holy city due to their historical proximity to the place.  The Latin Patriarchate was lost after the failure of the Crusades but reinstated in 1847.  The current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is Fouad Twal appointed in 2008.

Do not forget Jerusalem.  Offer the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, for its liberty and its salvation and the restoration of its ancient position as a pillar of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.  Pray that the birthplace of the Church will once again become a pillar of the Church.