A 6 part series
BY: Mr. Mark Connolly, OP
I am writing this on Fat Tuesday. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and so I decided to do a personal Lenten reflection by doing a deep dive into the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Since Lent is focused on Christ’s Passion, and the Sorrowful Mysteries are about Christ’s Passion, it just seemed to make sense. (Well, actually the Triduum is focused on the Passion and Lent leads into it. So, in preparation for the Triduum…)
I plan on an introduction (this post) and the 5 mysteries as subsequent posts, The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and finally the Death of Our Lord.
Have you ever wondered why the mysteries of the Rosary are called mysteries? What do we think of when we hear the word mystery? Usually, it depends on the context. In a mystery novel, we know that something has happened but the explanation is hidden. The hero/detective, a very observant and rational person, slowly figures out what is hidden through research and careful consideration of clues. In the best mystery novels, the clues are there for us as well as the detective in the novel, and when he or she figures it out, we think, “Ah hah!” and it all makes sense. Mystery solved. The key point is this: We know there is an answer, we know that the mystery can be solved. And, we enjoy the search and discovery. I think in the most successful mysteries, we figure it out at the same time as the protagonist, and when all the pieces fit together we feel satisfied and think, “That was a good mystery.”
When we think of mystery in the context of religion, we generally have a different experience. We hear or read something that we don’t understand, and when we ask about it, all too often we are told, “Well, it’s a mystery.” By this is meant, “I don’t know either, we can’t figure it out, we shouldn’t try to figure it out, so just accept it on faith.”
But, isn’t this dissatisfying? Why can’t we get answers to our religious questions? Why can’t they be solved? Are we really supposed to just turn off our brains and accept things on faith? This seems dangerous to me, but mostly it just seems wrong. If there is Truth with a capital T, shouldn’t we strive for understanding?
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a hiddenness to reality. Let’s face it. Reality is mysterious. We probe reality—this is a defining human characteristic, and this is what drives all discovery—the desire to know, and equally, to understand.
And what do we want to know, what do we want to understand? While our minds and hearts are young, the answer to that question is “Everything.” But as we get older, we begin to suspect something troubling, something maybe even a bit scary.
Reality is too big.
Some are defeated by the fact that all of reality is beyond their grasp and stop questing. Losing their child-like wonder at the world, they live with a vague sense of loss and a certain weariness. Jaded and cynical, they dissipate themselves with idle diversions and ask, “What is the point?”
So, what is the point?
The point is just this: There is a point.
While we will never have complete grasp of the mystery that is life, we can always know and understand more. We can read the mystery book of life, and begin to see the clues. Rather, we can intentionally participate in this mystery. And while we may not figure it all out until the end of the story, we can always know more tomorrow than we do today.
Some recognize that this desire to know everything is simply the desire to know God. They understand that while reality is what we must work with, reality isn’t the goal.
Reality is the clue.
Mystery is the subject of knowledge. Mystery, the kind of religious mystery that we are talking about here, is not so different from that of a mystery novel. The clues are there, they need to be studied. Rather, they need to be lived. For in this particular mystery, we are not reading about characters. We are the characters.
As is always the case with mystery, the fact of mystery is the first clue. What do I mean by that? Oddly, mystery is in some ways self-revealing. It announces its presence, it says,
We will never be aware of all the mysteries, we will never see all the clues, but that’s OK. We can work with the clues we have, the ones we see in a sunset and find in the spring thaw, and the ones we have been given through Revelation. We can pursue these clues, study them, and hope to have those “Aha!” moments when we suddenly understand some piece of the grand and glorious Mystery of our lives. And what is this mystery? It is the Mystery of who we are in relation to God—it is the Mystery of Salvation. And it is this Mystery that is the subject of the Rosary.
The Rosary offers several mysteries for our consideration. Think of them as clues, insights into Revelation, insights into reality. Traditionally there have been 15 mysteries, three sets of five, known as the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries. These mysteries date back at least 400 years. In brief, they in turn focus our attention on the Incarnation, the Passion, and The Resurrection of our Lord. In 2002, Pope St. John Paul II offered a fourth set, the Luminous mysteries. These mysteries focus on Christ’s public ministry, aka the Gospel.
Succinctly, these four sets of mysteries offer us opportunities for meditations and contemplations on the birth of Christ, the life of Christ, the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. As Jesus is God made Man, they also offer us an opportunity to reflect on our own birth, our own life, our own death and our own resurrection. And in solidarity with our fellow man, we can enter into the births, lives, deaths, and yes, the resurrections of our family and friends. One more thought on mystery and knowledge: there is no theoretical limit to how much we can know. And, if to know someone is to love someone, then there is no theoretical limit to how much we can love God. Yet the question remains, “How can we know God?” The answer is obvious when you understand it—we can know God because he has revealed Himself to us.
He has revealed Himself to us.
Join me, if you will, and over the next 5 weeks we will dig into the Passion of Our Lord, beginning with next week’s post: The Agony In The Garden.
As Dominicans we contemplate and bring the fruits of our contemplation to those we know. I don’t know about you, but my contemplation is helped by the thoughts of others. Please share your thoughts in the Comments.