The Twenty Mysteries of the Rosary?
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“When one lives by novelty, there will always have to be a new novelty.”
– Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
On October 16, 2002, Pope John Paul II marked the 24th Anniversary of his papacy with the release of the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in which he proclaimed a “Year of the Rosary” from October 2002 to October 2003. The document also contained a major innovation from a Pope whose Pontificate has been marked by a steady stream of novelties. He announced that he would add five new mysteries to the Rosary.
Word of the new mysteries was reported first on October 14 by various news agencies claiming that information was leaked from Vatican sources.
Father Richard John Neuhaus from First Things magazine found these early reports hard to believe, and told The Chicago Tribune that the Pope was not likely to alter the Rosary. “That he would suggest,” said Neuhaus “or even declare some kind of official change to the Rosary is totally atypical, totally out of character.” Neuhaus then said that the Pope does not have the authority to mandate changes in such a prayer.1
Father Neuhaus is correct that a Pope cannot mandate such changes, but he is mistaken to claim that the Pope’s change of the Rosary would be “out of character” for this Pontiff of post-Conciliar aggiornamento. Even the secular press recognizes John Paul II as a man with a passion for setting papal precedents.
The New York Times‘ Frank Bruni wrote on October 15: “Time and again, Pope John Paul II has boldly gone where other Popes have not: a synagogue, a ski slope, distant countries with tiny populations. Tomorrow, he will apparently cross another frontier, making a significant change in the Rosary, a signature method of Catholic prayer for many centuries.” 2
Bruni failed to mention that John Paul is also the first Pope to kiss the Koran,3 participate in rock’n’roll liturgies,4 allow Altar Girls, permit “lay ministers” to distribute Communion at his Papal Mass,5 suggest a “common martyrology” that contains Catholics and non- Catholics, praise documents that call the need for non- Catholics to convert to the Catholic Church an “outdated ecclesiology,” 6 take part in “inculturated” ceremonies that includes pagan ritual,7 and convoke pan-religious prayer meetings that include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Snake-worshipers.8
On the same theme, Rueters said, “Changing one of Christianity’s most fundamental prayers after nearly a millennium will be a typical way for the 82- year-old Pope to crown 24 years of a pontificate marked by bold initiatives sometimes taken against the advice of aides.” 9
The “new mysteries” of the Rosary took everyone by surprise. Thus I have postponed publication of Part III of my World Youth Day series10 in order to comment on this latest “bold initiative”.
The Apostolic Letter
Two weeks previously, the pontiff announced he was preparing a document to stress the value of the Rosary. He urged the faithful to recite the Rosary, including together as families. John Paul said then that he wanted people to “rediscover the beauty and depth of this prayer”.
The Pope, for a good part of the Apostolic Letter was true to his word. Much of Rosarium Virginis Mariae is praiseworthy, even edifying. How can one argue with the promulgation of a “Year of the Rosary” in order to revitalize practice of this Holy devotion? How can one find fault with the Pope’s call to pray the Rosary for peace? How can one complain when the Pope laments that families are fragmented, that they often get together only to watch television, and that they should set some time aside to pray the Rosary together instead?
Also of interest was the Pope’s frequent references to Blessed Bartholomew Longo (1841-1926) who was baptized Catholic, left the faith to become a satanic priest, and then repented, converted back to Catholicism and became an apostle of the Rosary. This is a beautiful lesson that conversion is possible even in apparently hopeless cases.
It is probable that the Letter will do much good in revitalizing Rosary devotion. Tens-of-thousands of Catholics who do not follow the details of Vatican events, will simply learn through the press, or from parish priests, that the Pope wants a renewed devotion to the Rosary and they will comply. I have little doubt that this Letter will produce its desired goal to inspire more Catholics in this holy exercise.
Yet at the same time, countless Catholics are baffled at the unnecessary addition of five new mysteries. What is this strange post-conciliar belief among today’s Church leaders that Catholics will not find a traditional devotion interesting unless John Paul updates it? Why is it thought necessary to disfigure our devotions in order to capture a Catholic’s attention? Why was it requisite for the Pope to put his personal stamp on the Rosary, rather than simply promote it as is: as did all the Popes before him, as did countless saints, and as did the Mother of God at Fatima?
The New Mysteries
The addition proposed by the Pope, called the Five Luminous Mysteries, also called the “Mysteries of Light,” center on the public life of Christ. They are:
- the Baptism of Christ in Jordan,
- the Wedding Feast at Cana,
- the Announcement of the Kingdom,
- the Transfiguration,
- the Institution of the Eucharist as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery.
These new mysteries, according to John Paul, are to be placed between the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries.
The Pope says that these additions are not mandatory, and explains his reason for the change. “I believe” he writes, “that to bring out fully the Christological depth of the Rosary, it would be suitable to make an addition to the traditional pattern which, while left to the freedom of individuals and communities, could broaden it to include the mysteries of Christ’s public ministry between His Baptism and His Passion.” 11
Do you know of any Catholic, any saint, any Pope who ever considered the Rosary “lacking” in Christological depth? Did not the saints and the Popes constantly speak of the excellence of the Rosary? Did they ever suggest a radical addition to alter the structure of the Rosary in order to “improve” what was already excellent?
Reaction to the new mysteries has been predictable: everything from traditional Catholics who call it an “outrage,” to Medjugorje followers who claim it “bears all the hallmarks of Divine inspiration”. Once again, the much-vaunted “Pope of unity” has launched a novelty that divides Catholics.
And the question is, why?
Perhaps we should first ask, why not change the Rosary?
The Psalter Assaulted
A constant characteristic of the pre-Vatican II Popes was to abhor novelty and to safeguard tradition, including traditional devotions.
Thus, if one could go back in time and ask any of the pre-Vatican II Popes why they never added “new mysteries” to the Rosary, the answer is easy to presume. “Because,” the pre-conciliar Pope would say, “if I add 5 new mysteries, I will have to add 5 new decades. If I add five new decades, then the Rosary can no longer be called ‘Our Lady’s Psalter’. Now Catholic tradition, my holy predecessors and Our Blessed Mother referred to the Rosary as Her ‘Psalter’, because the 150 Hail Mary’s of the 15-decade Rosary correspond to the 150 Psalms of David. It would be audacious of me to add 5 decades. This would be the decimation of the entire concept of Mary’s ‘Psalter’, a term hallowed by centuries of usage, a term that explains the origin and essence of the Rosary, a term used by the Queen of Heaven Herself. Further, if I make this radical change to the Rosary, then what is to prevent more radical changes in the future?”
The History of Mary’s Psalter
The entire history of the Rosary is bound up with the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament, otherwise known as the Psalter of David. From the dawn of Catholic history, monks and hermits prayed these Psalms as part of their daily liturgical life.
Saint Benedict, in his Holy Rule, explains that the monks of the desert recited the 150 Psalms every day. Saint Benedict arranged the Psalms for his monks so that all 150 would be recited in one week.12 This became the Divine Office (Breviary) that priests and religious recited every day until the post-conciliar aggiornamento revolutionized both Breviary and Mass.
The story of “Mary’s Psalter” reportedly begins with the Irish monks in the 7th Century. These monks divided the 150 Psalms of David into a Na tri coicat format of three groups of fifty. Arranged in such a way, the “fifties” served both as reflective and corporal/penitential prayer.13
The people of the Middle Ages in their great love of Our Lady set to fashioning “Rosariums” in Her honor. They composed Psalms in praise of Mary to match the 150 Psalms of David. St. Anselm of Canterbury (1109) made such a Rosary. In the 13th Century, St. Bonaventure divided his 150 Marian Psalms into three groups. The first group commenced with the word Ave, the next with Salve, and the final fifty Psalms each commented with the word Gaude. Such Rosaries of praise took the name of Our Lady’s Psalter.14
It was not long before the custom of reciting Hail Mary‘s became the substitute of reciting the Psalms in praise of Our Lady. “By the 13th Century” writes the Redemptorist Father James Galvin, “the number of Aves was set at one hundred and fifty to equal the number of the Psalms of David.” 15
Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that the Psalter of David, composed as it is of one hundred and fifty Psalms, is divided into three equal parts of fifty Psalms each. These three equal parts represent figuratively the three stages in which the faithful find themselves: the state of penance, the state of justice, the state of glory. Likewise, explains Father Anthony Fuerst, “the Rosary of Mary is divided into three parts of fifty Hail Mary’s each in order to express fully the phrases of the life of the faithful: penance, justice and glory.” 16
Heaven itself declared the immeasurable value of this Psalter. In 1214, Our Blessed Mother told Saint Dominic to “preach My Psalter” in order to rekindle faith, to convert sinners and to crush stubborn heresy. Saint Louis de Montfort tells the story in his magnificent work, The Secret of the Rosary.
“Saint Dominic,” writes Saint Louis, “seeing that the gravity of the peoples’ sin was hindering the conversion of the Albigensians, withdrew to a forest near Toulouse where he prayed unceasingly for three days and three nights. During this time he did nothing but weep and do harsh penances in order to appease the anger of Almighty God. He used his discipline so much that his body was lacerated, and finally he fell into a coma.”
Our Lady then appeared to him, accompanied by three angels. She said, “Dear Dominic, do you know which weapon the Blessed Trinity wants to use to reform the world?”
Saint Dominic asked Her to tell him. Our Lady responded:
Our Lady’s words contain two special points of interest:
- She uses the language of the Church militant. She does not speak of the Rosary in a sentimental manner in order to achieve good feelings or pan-religious unity. No, She refers to it as battering ram against heresy.
- She twice uses the term “Psalter”, which is the Rosary designated as 150 Aves that link it to the Psalms of David.
Regarding the Rosary’s traditional structure, Msgr. George Shea writes, “Because its 150 Hail Mary’s correspond to the 150 Psalms of the Psalter, the complete Rosary is sometimes called Our Lady’s Psalter. In fact, the latter was its common designation down to the end of the 15th Century, while ‘Rosary’ was reserved for a part, i.e., a third, of Our Lady’s Psalter.” 18
As late as the last quarter of the 15th Century, Blessed Alaus de Rupe protested vigorously against the use of the terms “Rosario,” “Chapelet” or “Corono,” and insisted that the title of Our Lady’s Psalter be retained.19 Msgr. Shea points out that the first indication from a Pope that the Psalter of Mary is commonly called “Rosary” is found in the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Leo X, Pastor Aeterni dated October 6, 1520, over three hundred years after Our Lady spoke to Saint Dominic.
The Constant Language of the Popes
The term “Psalter” of Mary, as a link to the 150 Psalms of David, is what we find consistently from the Popes throughout the centuries.
The Apostolic Constitution of Pope Leo X, Pastor Aeterni October 6, 1520, uses the term “Psalter of Mary” in connection to the Rosary.20
Pope Saint Pius V wrote in Consueverunt Romani of September 17, 1569, “And so Dominic looked to that simple way of praying and beseeching God, accessible to all and wholly pious, which is called the Rosary, or Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which the same most Blessed Virgin is venerated by the angelic greeting repeated one hundred and fifty times, that is, according to the number of the Davidic Psalter, and by the Lord’s Prayer with each decade.” 21
Pope Leo XIII wrote “Just as by the recitation of the Divine Office, priests offer a public, constant, and most efficacious supplication; so the supplication offered by the members of this Sodality in the recitation of the Rosary, or ‘Psalter of Our Lady’ …” 22
Pope Leo XIII later said, “The formula of the Rosary, too, is excellently adapted to prayer in common, so that it has been styled, not without reason, the ‘Psalter of Mary’.” 23
Pope Pius XI wrote in his Encyclical Ingravescentibus Malis. “Among the various supplications with which we successfully appeal to the Virgin Mother of God, the Holy Rosary without doubt occupies a special and distinct place. This prayer, which some call the Psalter of the Virgin or Breviary of the Gospel and of Christian life, was described and recommended by Our Predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII …” 24
Sadly, Pope John Paul II has made the term “Psalter of Mary” with its rightful connection to the Psalter of David, as obsolete as fund drives for Pagan Babies. Anyone who accepts the twenty-decade Rosary, and still refers to the Rosary as Mary’s Psalter, will use the term divested of meaning. Why introduce this destabilization? Would not Pope John Paul show more respect to the pious sentiments of Catholics worldwide, to his predecessors and to the Mother of God by leaving Her Psalter at peace?
Fatima: “Recite a Third of the Rosary”
At Fatima, the Mother of God did not ask for a radically updated Rosary. Through the children, she told us to recite daily “a third of the Rosary,” 25 and warned of dire consequences if Her requests were not fulfilled. Thanks to the latest update, however, every new book that recounts these words of Our Lady of Fatima will require a footnote to explain that when She said “a third of the Rosary,” She meant 5 decades, since a third of the new twenty-decade Rosary is 6.66 decades.
It is puzzling that the post-Vatican II Popes constantly give our Lady something different from what She requests. Our Lady asked that the Third Secret be revealed in 1960. Pope John XXIII refused its release, as did his immediate successor, Pope Paul VI. In 1964, during the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul sent a Golden Rose to Fatima, something other than what She asked. The then-Bishop of Lieria, Bishop Venancio told Father Caillon that we would have preferred receiving the Third Secret rather than holding the Golden Rose.26
Our Lady also requested the Collegial Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart. Pope John Paul II consecrated the world to Her Immaculate Heart in 1982 and 1984, something other than what She asked. Would not the best way to propagate devotion to Our Blessed Mother be to finally perform the consecration of Russia, which will bring about its miraculous conversion and the triumph of Her Immaculate Heart, and spark an unprecedented worldwide devotion to Her Heart? Sister Lucy asked Our Lord why He would not convert Russia without this consecration. Jesus responded, “Because I want My whole Church to recognize that consecration as a triumph of the Immaculate Heart, so that afterwards its veneration may grow and be put alongside devotion to My Sacred Heart.” 27
This consecration remains unfulfilled, and Russia has not converted, despite the ridiculous attempts of Fatima revisionists to claim otherwise. The mounting hostility between the Catholic Church and Russia is clear for all to see.
This past spring, for example, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church publicly called the Pope’s televised broadcast into the Russian Nation “an invasion of Russia.” 28 The Financial Times recently reported “A total of five Catholic priests have been refused access to Russia so far this year, in a campaign denounced by the Vatican as ‘persecution’.” The priests were reportedly refused residency in Russia “for religious reasons”. Father Stefano Caprio was told by Russian officials that he could only obtain Russian citizenship by marrying – hardly an option for a Catholic priest.
The Times further reported that in Russia, “Local (Catholic) priests report periodic harassment by authorities; the construction of a Catholic cathedral in the northwestern city of Pskov has been held up; and the Kremlin appears sympathetic to the Orthodox church’s persistent opposition to a visit to Russia by Pope John Paul.” 29
Other reports tell of vandalism and desecration of Catholic churches in Russia.30
Ironically, the week that the Pope issued his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary marked a new low in Vatican-Russia relations. On October 14, the same day that information on the “new mysteries” was leaked to the press, the Vatican voiced outrage that a church property in Moscow was turned into a brothel. The Vatican said it was part of a long-running smear campaign against the Roman Catholic Church in Russia.
In a statement, the Vatican said Franciscan friars in the Russian capital had rented out one of the apartments to a private individual who assured them it would be used “for charitable purposes”. Instead, it became a house of ill repute with prostitutes dressed as nuns.
Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, branded the incident “a despicable operation designed to discredit the … brothers … and through them, the Catholic Church.” The statement said the episode was part of a campaign “bent on damaging the reputation of the Catholic community.” 31 Anatoly Pchelintsev, a Russian lawyer for the Franciscans, said the reports of the brothel that appeared in Russia’s news media was “part of a smear campaign” against the Catholic Church.32
Obviously, Our Lady of Fatima’s call for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for its conversion is more urgent than ever.
Despite this urgency, the Pope’s 13,500-word Rosarium Virginis Mariae treats Fatima as practically non-existent. This is one of the most baffling aspects of his Letter.33 Fatima, along with Lourdes, is mentioned only once in passing. The Pope took the time to explain each prayer of the Rosary: the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, etc., but he makes no mention of the Fatima aspiration that Our Lady asked to be included after each decade: “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need.”
In the Apostolic Letter, this modest addition to the Rosary ordered by Our Lady of Fatima is ignored, only to give center-stage to John Paul’s radical alteration. The Letter also contains no specific mention of Our Lady’s “Immaculate Heart”, nor any word of the Five First Saturdays of Reparation. It’s almost as if Fatima never took place.
Also missing from the Apostolic Letter is any mention of the Battle of Lepanto.34 It is true that Pope John Paul recounts that October is the month of the Rosary. But October enjoys this dignity because of the astonishing victory Our Lady gave to the Catholic warships against the Muslim fleet on October 7, 1571.
The Fifth Lesson of Matins for the Feast of the Holy Rosary (October 7), which was part of the Church’s liturgy up until to Vatican II’s aggiornamento, reads:
Pope Leo XIII in Supremi Apostolatus, the first of his many Encyclicals on the Rosary, boasted of Our Lady’s triumph against Islam at Lepanto. He relates that Pope St. Pius V “after rousing the sentiment of a common defense among all the Christian princes, strove, above all, with greatest zeal to obtain for Christendom the favor of the most powerful Mother of God.” Pope Leo continues:
Pope Leo explains that Pope St. Pius V then instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory for October 7, which was changed to the Feast of the Holy Rosary by Pope Gregory XIII. Leo goes on to boast of other victories that Our Lady of the Rosary has secured against the “Turks”.36
Likewise Pope Pius XI in his 1937 Rosary Encyclical Ingravescentibus Malis spoke of Our Lady’s victory at Lepanto in a manner guaranteed to send ecumenists shrieking into the snow banks:
This omission of Lepanto occurred, no doubt, for ecumenical reasons. Pope John Paul II continually sends Vatican delegates to celebrate the laying of cornerstones in new mosques, he kisses the Koran. He praises Islam as one of the world’s great monolithic religions. Once more, in the name of ecumenism, a major Catholic event, a turning point in history, is deemed too embarrassing to mention in a Vatican document. Then again, perhaps the omission is no big deal. After all, does anyone today actually regard Islam as a threat to world peace?
Door Opened to a Jazzed-up Rosary?
The dramatic announcement of “new mysteries” eclipsed notice of another major innovation to the Rosary proposed at the document’s end. In Section 42, Pope John Paul II opens the door for children and young people to take a “creative” approach to the Rosary. This is a means of subjecting the Rosary to the precepts of the “New Evangelization” that is “new in its ardor, new in its method, and new in its expression.” 38
He writes: “To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children, training them from their earliest years to experience this daily ‘pause for prayer’ with the family, is admittedly not the solution to every problem, but it is a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated.” So far so good. But then we read:
An impoverished method of praying it?
What does this mean? The traditional method of silence and reverence? Is this suddenly considered “too much” for children and young people? If so, what was the point of beatifying Jacinta and Francisco of Fatima if we do not look to them as a model for how children and young adults should pray the Rosary. They are an example to us all.
Yet Jacinta and Francisco are not held up as a model for today’s youth on how to pray the Rosary. No, the new model is the “pastoral” and “creative” approach to prayer as is found at World Youth Days!
The Letter reads:
As CFN readers know, I’ve been to World Youth Day and reported extensively on its radical notion of jazzed-up prayer. I’ve said repeatedly that the dominant atmosphere of World Youth Day is not Catholicism but the rock ‘n roll culture. World Youth Day is built on the falsehood that young Catholics find Catholicism boring (impoverished) unless we make it bouncy and fun, unless we shuck it of reverence, unless we enliven it with rock ‘n roll rhythms.
At World Youth Day, the Papal Mass was “livened up” with rock ‘n roll music and hokey gimmicks. The Papal Vespers, presided over by John Paul, was “livened up” with rock music, pop-rhythms, liturgical dancers, and a Magnificat sung in folk style by a young man with a guitar who sounded like Gordon Lightfoot on a bad day. The World Youth Day Stations of the Cross contained the “creative” approach of “hymns” with funky beats.
The Pope sees the acres of young people grooving to the music during his papal mass and he praises it as “remarkable results”. Within this context, how can the Pope’s proposal for a “pastoral approach” to the Rosary that is “positive, creative and impassioned … as shown by World Youth Days“, be seen as anything but a nod to invest the Rosary with pop-culture, modern music and endless “creative” innovations? The Youth Ministers will have a field day.
Everything Must Change?
Until October 2002, the Rosary was the only major Catholic institution to escape renovation. The Mass was changed to accommodate Vatican II’s new ecumenical religion, we now have a “new theology,” a “new evangelization,” a new catechism, a new Code of Canon Law, Religious Orders liberalized their Rules and Constitutions, seminaries “loosened up,” church interiors were gutted, the Breviary was revolutionized, Pope John Paul II changed the traditional Way of the Cross in 1991, adding a fifteenth Station.39
Now the Rosary will never be the same. The insatiable lust for change and novelty, a defining element of post-Conciliar pontificates, increasingly takes the form of an in-the-flesh manifestation of one of Modernism’s chief precepts.
Speaking of the Modernists, St. Pius X warned, “First of all they (modernists) lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject – dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself.” 40
Here Saint Pius X refers not only to the falsehood of Darwinian/biological evolution, but also to the belief that in a “living religion” everything must always be in a state of movement and flux. This shows that the religion is alive!
Today, the modernist notion that “everything must change” is called the continuous aggiornamento of the Council.41 The Holy Rosary, once thought beyond the reach of man’s tinkering, has now fallen victim to Vatican II’s evolutionary rage.
This is one of the many reasons that my family and I will adhere to the 15-decade Rosary of Saint Dominic, and not adopt the new 20-decade novelty. Nor will I teach the Rosary to my children through the pathetic medium of World Youth Day antics. Our Blessed Mother at Fatima taught the children to pray the Rosary as is, and to pray it with maturity, reverence and attention. I will teach my children to do the same.
Dear Holy Father, we are happy that you wish to revitalize the Holy Rosary. But by downplaying Fatima, and by needlessly subjecting the Rosary to the continuous aggiornamento, you tear our hearts again.