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Month of the Holy Rosary: Reflections on the Sorrowful Mysteries

by Theresa Cavicchio

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary follow the Luminous in exact sequence. As one group ends and the other begins, the events of Holy Thursday evening descend from the heights -- the solemnity of the upper room -- to the depths at Gethsemane. Following traditional practice, we pray the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday.

We turn to some teachings of Pope Saint John Paul II in his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae for guidance in these reflections. As the Holy Father states: “The sorrowful mysteries help the believer to relive the death of Jesus, to stand at the foot of the Cross beside Mary, to enter with her into the depths of God's love for man and to experience all its life-giving power” (22).

First Sorrowful Mystery ~ The Agony in the Garden ~ Lk 22:39-46 Following the solemn events of the Last Supper, Jesus returns to a habitual place of prayer, the Garden of Gethsemane, where He “encounters all the temptations and confronts all the sins of humanity” (22). Think of the enormity of that statement! No wonder Jesus’ bloody sweat; in the past century alone, so many monstrous crimes against humanity have been perpetrated. Jesus’ spirit descends to such depths that even the ministering angel can provide scant comfort; yet, in the end, He submits to His Father. As Pope John Paul teaches, “This ‘Yes’ of Christ reverses the ‘No’ of our first parents in the Garden of Eden” (22).

Second Sorrowful Mystery ~ The Scourging at the Pillar ~ Mt 27:24-26 “The cost of [Jesus’] faithfulness to the Father’s will is made clear in the following mysteries,” beginning with His scourging (22). Pilate’s fear of the jeering crowd (“his blood be on us and on our children”) overrides what he knows to be just; he symbolically washes his hands and releases a murderer, condemning the innocent Jesus to the most agonizing of deaths. Scripture provides only a terse statement of fact: “… after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.” However, scholars familiar with such practices of the time describe the merciless nature of the treatment Jesus endured, the bloodletting of the brutal scourging only the forerunner of torments still to come.

Third Sorrowful Mystery ~ The Crowning with Thorns ~ Mk 15:16-20 A whole cohort of Roman soldiers collaborate in the epitome of mockery as Jesus is stripped and invested with the trappings of royalty: purple garment, reed scepter, thorny crown penetrating His sacred head. The wounds drip blood into His ears and mouth to mix with the spittle spewed into His face. The soldiers’ pretense of obeisance adds to the collective humiliations borne by the Suffering Servant who, “though harshly treated … submitted and did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7). Rather, Jesus teaches patient endurance and adherence to the Father’s will, no matter how painful the consequences.

Fourth Sorrowful Mystery ~ The Carrying of the Cross ~ Lk 23:26-31 Divested of the purple robe, Jesus embraces His cross for the tortuous journey over the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Each step is agonizing, yet Jesus perseveres, accepting the aid of Simon of Cyrene to carry the burdensome cross splintering His shoulder. The large crowd of spectators includes the weeping women, whom Jesus addresses, and many others, most unaware that they are witnessing the ultimate incongruity: the innocent Son of God on the road to death, accompanied by two guilty criminals sharing the same fate.

Fifth Sorrowful Mystery ~ The Crucifixion ~ Jn 19:17-37 The Gospel according to Saint John contains the account of the Passion proclaimed at every Good Friday liturgy, including many details to help place us standing by the Cross with Our Lady.

A criminal on either side, Jesus hangs in ignominy, the three-language inscription above His head labeling Him King of the Jews. On the ground below, soldiers roll dice for His seamless garment.

Three “words” of Jesus are cited in this account. In the ultimate act of generosity: “Woman, behold, your son”; and to the beloved disciple, “Behold, your mother.” “I thirst;” Jesus takes the wine offered Him; and then, “It is finished;” Jesus hands over His spirit.

A soldier’s lance thrust into Jesus’ side produces an outflow of blood and water. At that moment, when Jesus’ body is pierced, the prophecy of Simeon at the scene of the Presentation (Lk 2:35) finds its completion: Our Lady’s soul is pierced as well.

As our reflections conclude, the Holy Father reminds us: “many signs indicate that still today the Blessed Virgin desires to exercise through this same prayer [the rosary] that maternal concern to which the dying Redeemer entrusted, in the person of the beloved disciple, all the sons and daughters of the Church” (7).

Pope Saint John Paul refers to us, “all the sons and daughters of the Church,” entrusted to Our Lady with Jesus’ dying words. And are we not all in need of her “maternal concern” in all aspects of our lives? By praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, meditating on the sobering final events in Jesus’ earthly life, we participate in His suffering and in that of Our Lady; words are powerless to describe the import.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website provides brief meditations related to the cause of human life to introduce each of the Sorrowful Mysteries.

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