There are many different ways to pray the Rosary. The first and most obvious is to focus on the words. The words of the Rosary are powerful and filled with layers of meaning, but so are the mysteries of the Rosary that we use as a backdrop for each decade. Each set of mysteries allows us to ponder very specific events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. And each mystery, each moment in their lives, holds incredible insights for our own lives today.
Here are 5 simple steps to guide you as you pray the mysteries of the Rosary.
1. Pick a set of mysteries. The mysteries of the Rosary are the Joyful Mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. The Joyful Mysteries are typically prayed on Monday and Saturday, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday and Friday, and the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Sunday.
2. Relax. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying so hard to do it all right, using the right prayers, speaking the right words, reflecting well on the mysteries, and all the other aspects of the Rosary. But remember, it is the disposition of our heart that matters most. Don’t miss out on the peace that Jesus and Mary want to flood our hearts with during the Rosary.
3. Let Mary guide you. Place your heart in the loving presence of Mary. Allow her to comfort you and love you. Your mind will follow your heart. And remember, Mary offers a unique perspective as Jesus’ mother. Nobody sees the life of a child the way the child’s mother does—not even the father. This is Mary’s perspective on Jesus’ life. In the Rosary we ponder the life of Jesus through the eyes of his mother. This is an incredibly powerful experience if we enter into it fully.
4. Let the words float by. As you meditate on the mysteries, allow the words of the prayers to float by subconsciously. This is where many people become discouraged praying the Rosary. They try to pray the words and meditate on the mystery at the same time. Impossible! We must decide between the two.
5. Get lost in the scene. Imagine yourself there, at Jesus’ side. Place yourself in the scene, not as a fly on the wall, but as a very specific person so you can fully immerse yourself into the situation and explore what you would have been thinking and feeling if you were there.
God wants us to have complete joy. He created us for it. Jesus came so we could be immersed in complete joy: “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (John 15:11). The Joyful Mysteries celebrate when joy entered the world, when God entered into the mess of the world because of his incredible love for us.
The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation. This is Mary’s moment, the moment when her “yes” changed the world. Imagine the monumental courage that would have required. Think about it. An angel appeared to Mary, and told her she would be the mother of the savior, the mother of God. She was a teenager, only a child. And what the angel said made no earthly sense. What was Mary thinking? What would have happened if she had said no?
The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation. God turned Mary’s world upside down. What did Mary do? She rushed off to serve her cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant in her old age. It was Mary’s first reaction. Too often our first reaction is one of selfishness: “I don’t feel like it,” “I’ll do it later,” “Can’t someone else take care of it?” But Mary had an instinct to serve, an entrenched humility.
The Third Joyful Mystery: The Birth of Jesus. The world is a mess: war, poverty, corruption, greed, selfishness, violence, abuse, injustice. The face of evil torments ordinary people every day, and yet God chose to put himself in the middle of our mess. The humility of God is incredible. He places himself right in the middle of our mess as the solution to it. We don’t deserve it. We have no claim to it. God gives us a new beginning, a fresh start, freely and without merit.
The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation. Mary presented Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem, dedicating him to God according to the Jewish custom. As she did so, a man named Simeon said something astounding, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). Have you ever waited for something with great anticipation? Did you wait patiently? What are you waiting for in your life right now? Simeon had waited. He had waited patiently, and prayed patiently for the savior. Now, he took baby Jesus in his arms. Imagine the emotion as he pulled the child to his chest. His face filled with a strange combination of joy and anguish. Joy for the present, anguish for the future he knows the child will face.
The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. On their way home from celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph actually lost Jesus. God, the Creator of the universe, had entrusted Jesus the Messiah to Mary and Joseph’s care—and they lost him. Imagine what they were thinking and how they were feeling: grief, torment, distress, anguish, torture. So often we lose Jesus in our own lives and don’t even notice.
The presence of Jesus is powerful. When he was walking the earth his presence demanded a response. Especially those moments that revealed his divinity. The Luminous Mysteries, often referred to as the Mysteries of Light, capture some incredible moments filled with Jesus’ divinity. They proclaim: “This is the chosen one, the one you have been waiting upon for so very long, this is the Messiah, this is the Son of God!” How will you respond?
The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Jesus, the Son of God, went to John the Baptist to be baptized. John felt unworthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals, but Jesus stood in line with sinners and presented himself to John to be baptized. At that moment, as Jesus stood in the water, the heavens opened and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17).
The Second Luminous Mystery: The Wedding Feast at Cana. This is it. Jesus’ first public miracle. And it takes place rather quietly at a wedding. When the bride and groom ran out of wine, Mary took their need to Jesus. And he turned water into wine, a wine that was far better than the wine they had already served, and more wine than they could ever drink. The Our God is a God of abundance. Just as Jesus abundantly supplied more wine when it was in short supply at the wedding in Cana, he wants to provide abundantly for whatever is in short supply in our lives today.
The Third Luminous Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom. When Jesus spoke about the kingdom, he perplexed people. They had a certain image of God and his ways, and Jesus turned them upside down and inside out. In our own ways, we too have images of God and ways of thinking about how God does things that he wants to turn upside down—which as it turns out will be right side up.
The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration. Jesus wants to show us what is possible. Too often our vision is too earthbound. He wants to open our hearts and minds to all that is possible far beyond our limited thinking. The disciples, like you and I, could only see Jesus in a very limited way because of their limits. Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on the mountain so God the Father could open their spiritual eyes wider than ever before and see Jesus in all his glory.
The Fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist. Do you know what happened at the Last Supper? Most of us would say yes, and then recite the facts and mechanics of that historic experience. But really, what we don’t know about the Last Supper dwarfs what we do know. What we don’t know about God makes what we do know about him look like a grain of sand in the Sahara desert.
For more than 2,000 years, the heroes, champions, and saints of Christianity have been meditating on the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is time we all spent a little time exploring the genius of the cross. The world changed at three o’clock on that Friday afternoon when Jesus laid down his life for us. The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary meditate on key moments in the passion and death of Jesus.
The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden. Stay awake. Jesus said it three times. But his disciples could not. They let him down. Imagine how alone he felt that night in the garden. Have you ever been in agony—physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological? Multiply that by infinity and take it to the depths of eternity, and you may get a small glimpse of what Jesus was experiencing that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar. One sentence. “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged” (John 19:1). Eight words. But it would have been enough to kill most people. The flesh on his back torn in a hundred places, blood dripping from each, small pieces of his divine body that had been ripped off scattered on the ground—the body of Christ. Still, this was almost nothing compared to what he was to go through.
The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns. They crowned him with thorns and used a stick to smack the crown down on his head driving the thorns deep into his skull. He felt it all. He accepted it all. He embraced it all. It seems we will do anything to avoid pain and suffering today. But not Jesus, he embraced every experience of pain and suffering. He allowed each thorn, each taunt to strengthen his resolve to do what was before him.
The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross. As Jesus carried his cross, it was a wonder how he was even still alive. He was beaten by the guards as he struggled to carry the cross. He collapsed three times, magnifying his pain. The guards knew he would not make it to Calvary, so they forced Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus so he would not die along the way.
The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion. There is a time and place for everything in God’s plan, and every debt in the universe needs to be settled eventually. This was the day, Calvary was the place, two thousand years ago was the time, that God decided to settled our debts.
In the Glorious Mysteries, we not only see the beautiful glory of God, but we see the incredible dream that God has for each one of us. He wants us to live lives of incredible joy and purpose, and ultimately live with him for eternity.
The First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection. It must have been astonishing Sunday morning. The city would have been drowning in gossip and emotion. But few, if any, would have recognized that this was the main event of human history. Jesus rose from the dead. On that day there was no doubt many who ignored it, and many others who doubted it, rejected it, were skeptical or cynical. These people have existed in every age and exist today, but you see them wandering through their lives confused. It is simply impossible to make sense of life and history without acknowledging the Resurrection.
The Second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension. After spending 40 days with his disciples, Jesus ascended body and soul into heaven. Jesus did exactly what he said he would do. He was a man of his word. Why do we ignore and doubt his words so often? He said he would return one day. Do you ever think about it? Imagine if he came today. Are you ready? Would you recognize him?
The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were afraid. Most of us have probably never experienced fear like the fear they were gripped with. They were afraid they would be killed for being Jesus' followers. But if they weren't killed, what were they to do, now that Jesus was gone? Then the Holy Spirit descended upon them and transformed them. Their fear was banished and they were filled with courage. This is the greatest before-and-after sequence the world has ever seen.
The Fourth Glorious Mystery: The Assumption. Mary’s radical humility is an encyclopedia of lessons about the inner life. Imagine how rich her inner life must have been. Imagine what it was like for the first Christians to seek her counsel and guidance. Then at the end of her life, Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. Her reward for a life lived entirely for God. What’s keeping you from just giving everything to God?
The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Mary’s courage, fidelity, and humility greatly pleased the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. They crowned her queen of heaven. There is no greater title on earth than “Mother of God”—and no greater creature than Mary has ever existed. This Mary, your spiritual mother and the Queen of heaven, is the most celebrated women on earth and in heaven. Who is greater than Mary? None but God.
The mysteries of the Rosary invite us to reflect on many profound moments in the lives of Jesus and Mary. If we approach the mysteries with open minds and hearts, we can discover beautiful insights and applications in our own lives.
That’s the beauty of the Rosary. It is ever fresh and ever new. It meets us wherever we are, and it speaks into our lives in a deeply personal way. Like a faithful friend, the Rosary is patient with us, encourages us to grow, challenges us to change, and comforts us in times of doubt, discouragement, and confusion. Pray the mysteries of the Rosary, seek to understand how God is working in your life, and you will find peace, direction, and the incredible love God has for you.