As with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, in which there can be layers of deeper understanding of known truths of God, the prayer of the Rosary (its meditations and most of the prayers being Scriptural) also has layers of deeper understanding. Meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary is a meditation on the life of Jesus, but it can also be seen as a pathway for the spiritual life that each of us is called to.
The first Joyful Mystery–the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary
The angel comes to Mary and tells her that she has been chosen to bring the Savior into the world. Mary, already living in the Divine Will of God immediately says “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” Mary now possesses Jesus in her very body. Yes, she had already possessed God spiritually like no other human being, and she is “full of grace” and “blessed among women”. But at the instant of her “fiat”, God became man in her womb. God does astonishing things, and so we too, as Catholics, have the privilege to possess Jesus within us in a surprising way, by receiving Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. In every mass, through every priest, Jesus acts and changes the bread and wine, so that while it still has the appearance and taste of bread and wine….it is now HIM! It is something that we cannot fully understand, a mystery, but like Mary, we trust God, and do what He asks. In this way we can truly possess Jesus as he desires.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:53–56).
The second Joyful Mystery–the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth
Now that Mary carries Jesus within her, she goes out with Him to visit Elizabeth and help her during her pregnancy. She doesn’t even hesitate to make the long journey, such is her love of neighbor.
When Elizabeth sees her, Mary has not yet spoken a word about what has happened to her before Elizabeth “knows” that she carries the Savior. “Who am I that the mother of my Lord has come to me? From the moment that your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1: 43-44) Then from Mary’s lips a beautiful prayer of exultation, praise, and humility bursts forth, the Magnificat:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed because He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name; and His Mercy is from generation to generation to those who fear Him. He has shown might with His Arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has given help to Israel, His servant, mindful of His mercy – even as He Spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
Like Mary, we too are to go out with Jesus, and bring Him to others with the same joy. But even more, others should be able to see the joy in us before we even say a word, then we can “give an account of the hope in us”.
The third Joyful Mystery–the Birth of Jesus
Tell the Good News, a Savior has been born! When Jesus was born, it is noted in the Gospel that she laid him in a manger, and many came to see Him, from shepherds to kings. Sometimes what may seem just a mention in Scripture has great meaning! I would have imagined that Mary was holding Jesus while all the visitors came, because He was her baby after all, and that would be the natural inclination of any protective mother. But from the very beginning, she showed that she was giving Her son to us all by laying him in a manger, so that each one of us can take him to himself.
We too, cannot just keep Jesus to ourselves, but must give Him to others. We must BE Jesus for others if He lives in us. We cannot hid our Light under a basket, but must make Him known by our words and actions.
The fourth Joyful Mystery –the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
We see that Mary and Joseph present Jesus and that Simeon, the prophet, recognizes Him. He “sees” the truth (even though blind) that this baby is the Savior, and “he took him.”
Some of those who we “present” Jesus to either by our words or our life may “take Him” too, though they may have been “blind”. Then Simeon tells Mary ” And a sword shall pierce your own soul too.” She knows and accepts that she will suffer along with Jesus in a supernatural way, and like no other human being, she does. We too must “take up our cross” as followers and possessors of Jesus.
The fifth Joyful Mystery–the Finding of Jesus in the Temple
Jesus is “lost” to Mary and Joseph. They cannot see Him; they cannot find Him in the crowd of people travelling from Jerusalem. So, they go back and finally find Him in the Temple.
“Why did you search for me? Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house? But they did not grasp what he said.” (Luke 2:49)
Sometimes, it is going to seem for us too that Jesus is “lost”. We will search and cannot seem to find Him in the midst of our trials. But as Catholics, we know where we can always find Him…in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church He is there waiting. At every daily mass, He is there in the Eucharist.“Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Even though, like Mary and Joseph, we cannot fully grasp how, He is present in an astonishing way, and we can know this because he said so!
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He who eats of my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. ” (John 6:51-56).
What a gift! How often do we take it for granted? Even more sadly, there are Catholics whose faith has faltered and who no longer believe in the Real Presence.
“Jesus was fully aware that his disciples were murmuring in protest at what he had said. Does it shake your faith? he asked them” (John 6:61)
Like Mary, we do not have to comprehend what the Lord is doing with us, in us, or how, but just say “be it done unto me, according to your word”, and just believe and let Him do it! While the physical presence of Jesus only remains with us for a few minutes after receiving the Holy Eucharist, the “life” of Jesus remains as long as we are in a state of grace, and all the spiritual gifts He wishes to share with us in each and every Eucharist will only come to fruition with the degree of our faith and trust. And does the world ever need the “life” of Jesus!!
“Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the man who feeds on me will have life because of me.” (John 6:57)
So this meditation on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary can help us on the pathway to being a joyful Christian, but in a deeper layer of understanding it also reveals the source and summit of the life of a Catholic, the Holy Eucharist, Jesus present with us. Jesus present in us. Jesus…for the life of the world.
“Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.” (Mt 28:20)