Meditations on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary

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Introduction to the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary

A Catholic priest holds a Bible and rosary in prayer. (Photo © Tom Le Goff/Getty Images)
Tom Le Goff/Getty Images

The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary are the first of the three traditional sets of events in the life of Christ upon which Catholics meditate while praying the rosary. (The other two are the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. A fourth set, the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary was introduced by Pope John Paul II in 2002 as an optional devotion.)

The Joyful Mysteries cover Christ's life from the Annunciation to the Finding in the Temple, at age 12. Each mystery is associated with a particular fruit, or virtue, which is illustrated by the actions of Christ and Mary in the event commemorated by that mystery. While meditating on the mysteries, Catholics also pray for those fruits or virtues.

Traditionally, Catholics meditate on the Joyful Mysteries while praying the rosary on Monday and Thursday, as well as on the Sundays from the beginning of Advent until the beginning of Lent. For those Catholics who use the optional Luminous Mysteries, Pope John Paul II (in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which proposed the Luminous Mysteries) suggested praying the Joyful Mysteries on Monday and Saturday, leaving Thursday open for meditation on the Luminous Mysteries.

Each of the following pages features a brief discussion of one of the Joyful Mysteries, the fruit or virtue associated with it, and a short meditation on the mystery. The meditations are simply meant as an aid to contemplation; they do not need to be read while praying the rosary. As you pray the rosary more often, you will develop your own meditations on each mystery.

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The Annunciation - The First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary

Stained-glass window of the Annunciation in St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Annunciation in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the Annunciation of the Lord, when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce that she had been chosen by God to bear His Son. The virtue most commonly associated with the mystery of the Annunciation is humility.

Meditation on the Annunciation:

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). With those words—her fiat—the Virgin Mary placed her trust in God. She was only 13 or 14; betrothed, but not yet married; and God was asking her to become the Mother of His Son. How easy it would have been to say no, or at least to ask God to choose someone else! Mary had to have known what others would think, how people would look at her; for most people pride would prevent them from accepting God's Will.

But not Mary. In humility, she knew that her entire life depended on God; how could she turn down even this most remarkable of requests? From a young age, her parents had dedicated her to the service of the Lord; now, this humble servant would devote her entire life to the Son of God.

Yet the Annunciation is not only about the humility of the Virgin Mary. In this moment, the Son of God "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself . . . " (Philippians 2:7-8). If Mary's humility was remarkable, how much more so that of Christ! The Lord of the Universe has become one of His own creatures, a man like us in everything but sin, but even more humble than the best of us, because the Author of Life, in the very moment of His Annunciation, became "obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8).

How, then, can we refuse God anything He asks of us? How can we let our pride stand in the way? If Mary can give up all worldly reputation to bear His Son, and His Son can empty Himself and, though sinless, die the death of sin on our behalf, how can we refuse to take up our cross and follow Him?

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The Visitation - The Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary

Stained-glass window of the Visitation in St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Visitation in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the Visitation, when the Virgin Mary, having learned from the angel Gabriel that her cousin Elizabeth was also with child, rushed to her side. The virtue most commonly associated with the mystery of the Visitation is love of neighbor.

Meditation on the Visitation:

"And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:43). Mary has just received life-changing news, news that no other woman will ever receive: She is to be the Mother of God. Yet in announcing this to her, the angel Gabriel also revealed that Mary's cousin Elizabeth is six months' pregnant. Mary does not hesitate, does not worry about her own situation; her cousin needs her. Childless until now, Elizabeth is beyond the normal childbearing years; she has even hid herself from the eyes of others because her pregnancy is so unexpected.

As the body of our Lord is growing in her own womb, Mary spends three months caring for Elizabeth, leaving only shortly before the birth of Saint John the Baptist. She shows us what true love of neighbor means: placing the needs of others above our own, devoting ourselves to our neighbor in his or her hour of need. There will be plenty of time to think of herself and her Child later; for now, Mary's thoughts lie only with her cousin, and with the child who will become the Forerunner of Christ. Truly, as Mary responds to her cousin's greeting in the canticle we call the Magnificat, her soul does "magnify the Lord," not least through her love of neighbor.

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The Nativity - The Third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary

Stained-glass window of the Nativity in St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Nativity in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The Third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, more often known as Christmas. The fruit most commonly associated with the mystery of the Nativity is poverty of spirit, the first of the eight Beatitudes.

Meditation on the Nativity:

"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7). God has humbled Himself to become man and the Mother of God gives birth in a stable. The Creator of the Universe and the Savior of the World spends His first night in that world lying in a feed trough, surrounded by animals, and their food, and their waste.

When we think of that holy night, we tend either to idealize it—to imagine it as neat and tidy as the Nativity scenes on our mantels on Christmas Eve—or we think of the physical poverty that Jesus and Mary and Joseph endured. But the physical poverty is merely the outward sign of the inward grace in the souls of the Holy Family. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). On this night, Heaven and earth have met in a stable, but also in the souls of the Holy Family. "The Beatitudes," writes Fr. John Hardon, S.J., in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, "are expressions of the New Covenant, where happiness is assured already in this life, provided a person totally gives himself to the imitation of Christ." Mary has done so, and so has Joseph; and Christ, of course, is Christ. Here among the sights and sounds and stench of the stable, their souls are one in perfect happiness, because they are poor in spirit.

How wonderful is this poverty! How blessed we would be if we, like they, could unite our lives so fully to Christ that we could see the fallen world around us in the light of Heaven!

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The Presentation in the Temple - The Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary

Stained-glass window of the Presentation in St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Presentation in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the Presentation in the Temple, which we celebrate on February 2 as the Presentation of the Lord or Candlemas. The fruit most commonly associated with the mystery of the Presentation is purity of mind and body.

Meditation on the Presentation:

"And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord" (Luke 2:22). Mary had conceived the Son of God as a virgin; she gave birth to the Savior of the World, and her virginity remained intact; through her piety and that of Saint Joseph, she would remain a virgin for her entire life. So what does it mean to refer to the "days of her purification"?

Under the Old Law, a woman remained impure for 40 days after the birth of a child. But Mary was not subject to the Law, because of the special circumstances of Christ's Birth. Yet she obeyed it anyway. And in doing so, she showed that a ritual concerned with the purification of the body was really a symbol of the purity of soul of the true believer.

Mary and Joseph offered a sacrifice, in accordance with the Law: "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" (Luke 2:24), to redeem the Son of God, Who needed no redemption. "The Law is made for man, not man for the Law," Christ Himself would later say, yet here is the Holy Family fulfilling the Law even though it does not apply to them.

How often do we think that we don't need all the regulations and rituals of the Church! "Why do I have to go to Confession? God knows I'm sorry for my sins"; "Fasting and abstinence are manmade laws"; "If I miss Mass one Sunday, God will understand." Yet here are the Son of God and His Mother, both purer than any of us will ever be, abiding by the Law that Christ Himself came not to abolish but fulfill. Their obedience to the Law was not lessened by their purity of soul but made all the greater. Might we not learn from their example?

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The Finding in the Temple - The Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary

Stained-glass of the Finding in the Temple, St. Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. (© Scott P. Richert)
A stained-glass window of the Finding in the Temple in Saint Mary's Church, Painesville, OH. Scott P. Richert

The Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary is the Finding in the Temple, when, after a trip to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph could not find the young Jesus. The virtue most commonly associated with the mystery of the Finding in the Temple is obedience.

Meditation on the Finding in the Temple:

"Did you not know that I must be about my father's business?" (Luke 2:49). To begin to understand the joy that Mary and Joseph felt on finding Jesus in the Temple, we must first imagine their distress when they realized He was not with them. For 12 years, they had been always at His side, their lives dedicated to Him in obedience to the Will of God. Yet now—what had they done? Where was the Child, this most precious Gift of God? How could they ever endure it if something had happened to Him?

But here He is, "sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions" (Luke 2:46). "And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing" (Luke 2:48). And then those wondrous words emerge from His lips, "Did you not know that I must be about my father's business?"

He has always been obedient to Mary and Joseph, and through them to God the Father, but now His obedience to God is even more direct. He will, of course, continue to obey His mother and His foster father, but today marks a turning point, a foreshadowing of His public ministry and even of His death on the Cross.

We are not called as Christ was, but we are called to follow Him, to take up our own crosses in imitation of Him and in obedience to God the Father. Like Christ, we must be about the Father's business in our own lives—at every moment of every day.